Final Four: Raw talent yes, but also ‘sticking to the fundamentals’ and ‘playing simple basketball’

The Elite Eight are one game away from being the Final Four, and Kentucky is the only team left from my initial picks. 1312322394_Clip_Art

But even with the excitement and intensity of the games, I’m trying to learn from the best of the best in basketball by looking past the fast-paced moments on the court to see what got them there.

It is interesting to hear the coaches’ philosophies on growing a solid team that knows how to win with humility and how to lose with grace. I’m also intrigued with how the coaches teach and develop the players as individuals and as a team.

One coach urged his team to “play simple basketball” while another echoed the sentiment with “stick to the fundamentals.”

And then another coach said “don’t be afraid to take a risk but make the risk count.”

The “play simple basketball” and “stick to the fundamentals” instructions reminded me of the time I attempted to camouflage an English paper in school with a fancy cover sheet, binder and fonts. I don’t remember how weak the writing of the paper was but for some reason I felt compelled to decorate it, likely in an attempt to earn points for presentation.

My English teacher saw right through me and called me out on it. She said I needed to spend more effort developing the fundamentals of the paper and less time trying to make it look good — that if the paper were solid in and of itself, then the rest wouldn’t matter. It would stand on its own.

Her coaching in that moment has guided me in a lot of areas in life well beyond writing English papers, news articles and first-person columns.

And her words come to mind every time I see an organization, team or even church trying too hard to “decorate” itself to earn points with those considering joining it.

Why do we sometimes think a polished image and glossy appearance is more important than securing the core of the structure?

Think about some of the most precious experiences in your life. The surroundings might have been truly beautiful or they might not have been special at all, but most likely whatever was happening was because it was simply what it was meant to be — with no extra, unnecessary decorations.

Tell me about a basketball game or other event in your life when “sticking to the fundamentals” made the difference.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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He’s only 9, but he’s stepping up

Jack is a good-looking kid with a lovable smile who lives life in full-throttle and has a thirst for activity, adventure and amusement. He also can be a bit loud, but the volume merely represents the excitement he is experiencing in the moment.4x3 Jack quote RGB

Jack was a good big brother to Belle. With only two years’ difference in their ages, they were buddies, roomies and confidants. He protected her as a big brother should and he challenged her as any sibling would.

Belle’s fight against cancer ended Jan. 17. Jack and his sisters Taylor and Emily stood by her side through it all and were so strong as they said goodbye. They, along with their mommy and daddy, miss her beyond anything words can describe. So many of us do, but theirs is a pain only they can understand and a hurt so deep that climbing out of it seems impossible at the moment.

Brotherly instincts

And while Jack is the younger brother to Taylor and Emily, I can already see those brotherly instincts to protect his older sisters kicking in. I have a younger brother myself and he has those same instincts. The age order doesn’t always matter when it comes to brothers looking out for their sisters.

Jack was already prepped to make this move because he had turned a corner last summer. I’m not sure what clicked when he turned 9, but he was different. His mannerisms changed and he developed a protective and courteous spirit toward lots of us that we had not seen before then.

New maturity

And that new maturity continued to grow and develop through the fall and into winter, right in line with the decline of Belle’s health.

As I watch Jack help shoulder grief and pain that comes with the loss of a child in a family, I also see him embrace his mom and dad’s decision to “praise the name of the Lord” in all circumstances (Job 1:21).

Even at his young age, he gets it. He lives with hope and peace and knows that “God works all things together for good for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

I can’t wait to see the young man he becomes. His life is richer because Belle was his sister and I know he won’t waste an ounce of the part of his heart that belongs to her.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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My heart forever polished in hot pink

Belle cardWe said our official goodbyes to our sweet Belle last night at her celebration service — complete with a sprinkling of hot pink throughout the sanctuary filled with nearly 1,000 people.

To see a glimpse of her silly and sassy spirit and the sweet girl we all loved so much, click here.

To read more about Belle, visit and the September Rashional Thoughts post.

—Aunt Jen Jen

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Let the 20th year begin

It’s hard to comprehend that with the turn of the calendar to 2015 came the start of my 20th year with The Alabama Baptist (TAB) newspaper. I know you are shocked as well. How did I manage to edit the state Baptist paper during those first few years while also being in high school, right? Ha!

Well crazy enough I’ve actually been out of high school 25 years now as well, but none of it seems possible.

The well-known phrase “the more I learn, the less I know” certainly applies to me in so many areas of life. And as I begin this 20th year with TAB, I want to focus in on a few specific areas of growth.

What should be on my list of the Top 20 things I learn, determine, finalize, polish, etc., during this coming year? Be as specific as you can but generic suggestions also welcomed.

Bring on the 20th! I’m ready!

—Jennifer Davis Rash



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On a scale of puny to healthy

0520932978003Think all that is good related to Thanksgiving and know that is where I am, breathing in the warmth of family, good food and a slower pace.

And while this blog isn’t really holiday related, the topic did spark a funny memory from Thanksgivings past — the “healthy” versus “puny” grandmother test.

Once I left for college I only saw my grandmothers at holidays and on special occasions and of course they both were quick to assess the weight situation the minute they saw me.

I remember one Thanksgiving when Grandma Davis told me she was going to tie rocks to me because she was afraid I was going to blow away. And Granny McCaig rated me as “puny” once or twice. Admittedly these were the grandmother evaluations I preferred.

However, the more consistent assessment from both grandmothers was “healthy” — not what I wanted to hear but always honest and accurate.

Do I really want to know?

It’s never easy to have our less than successful areas pointed out but it does provide an opportunity to improve.

Still we all handle critiques differently. Some welcome feedback and soak up every word tossed their way. Others dare you to say one thing that indicates they aren’t perfect. Many people fall somewhere in the middle with a healthy or semi-healthy view and application of constructive criticism.

The Alabama Baptist editorial staff and the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions communications staff are currently working together to broaden the evaluation process for work done among Baptist communicators.

The rating scale ranges from “needs improvement” to “excellent” with “good” falling in the middle. Someone receiving a ranking of “good” on this scale means they performed at an acceptable level. Their product or project was adequate.

Go big or go home

I’m sure you can guess by now that I’m not happy if my rankings aren’t tipping the scale off the right side. Not only do I want the “excellent” rating, but I also want a note indicating that my effort was beyond the scale.

Of course, I can’t achieve this in every area but it is still hard for me to receive an evaluation of “good” much less anything less than “good” — at least in the areas that are officially rated.

What about the parts of life that flow along rarely evaluated? Our time with the Lord, having clear minds during our time with the Lord, the amount of sleep we get, our stressed-induced appetites that keep us from being truly healthy, our quality of life in general.

And what about our knowledge level of areas in which we should be informed?

Are we faking our way through conversations?

A work colleague recently described how most people 45 and younger listen to or read news headlines only to be able to stay afloat in conversations they may find themselves in. He said they (we) really aren’t interested in understanding the full story or knowing all the details, they (we) merely want to know enough of the main points to contribute to the conversation.

That made me think of the latest election and how much time I spent researching the candidates and amendments on the ballot. I did some reading and research, but I certainly didn’t have a thorough understanding of the full ballot when I walked in to cast my vote. But sadly I was ahead of so many others my age who didn’t even slow down long enough to vote, much less register to vote.

Skimming the surface

And if this is how we are living life in general, what keeps us from skimming the surface of God’s word in the same way? Are we living on past encounters with the Lord rather than experiencing fresh ones every day? Are we consistently seeking Him at deeper levels?

My grandmothers would likely both agree my evaluation in spiritual disciplines would be “puny” and this time “puny” is not the desired ranking.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Disciple-making one step at a time

My entire house was spotless. I had cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. I even took each potted plant and cleaned its pot, freshened up its soil and wiped down each leaf individually.

Granted that isn’t the way my house looks right now but there are moments when it definitely shines, and this was one of those times.

I tend to obsess about cleaning when I’m overly stressed or overwhelmed about projects or assignments that are weighing heavily on me. The closer the deadline comes for the project, the bigger and more impossible it seems. That’s when I can only focus on cleaning.

Odd ways to procrastinate

It’s actually kind of humorous to me how I will procrastinate on cleaning my house or organizing my office because both of those projects seem overwhelming at the time. It is only when I’m procrastinating on an even bigger project that I’m all of a sudden ready to tackle the cleaning project that should have already been done anyway.

I’m sure you have experienced those moments from time to time — staying busy working on something but not necessarily what should be priority at the time.

For instance, I’m writing this column several weeks ahead of the deadline, which is good in and of itself, but not the best idea because I set aside this time to write a paper for my Old Testament continuing education class at Samford’s Ministry Training Institute. (Ahem, don’t mention that part to our instructor, Dr. Norris.)

Comes down to discipline for me

While there are likely as many different reasons for procrastination as there are different personality types who procrastinate, I know for me it comes down to discipline.

One of my mentors in my mid-20s (the late Eleanor Terry) taught me about backcasting and how to start with the end date of a project and work backward with small goals to achieve between now and then. Working on a project in bite-size pieces is much more manageable and less stressful. It also keeps you focused so you are working efficiently and in proper order and allows for lots of moments of achievement rather than waiting for that one large moment that seems so impossible to reach. It also prevents the famous all-nighter so many of us have pulled more than once to meet a deadline.

Living the D-Life

The same concept can be applied to our Bible-reading plan. My pastor is currently challenging all of us at NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville, to embrace that concept. We are calling it D-Life and wrapping it around the concept of living a full life of discipleship where we commit to becoming disciples who make disciples.

The idea is that we will join or start a discipleship group that meets weekly anywhere, anytime and follow a Bible-reading plan together — one chapter of the New Testament five days a week. Read the Scripture, meditate on what you read and jot down a few things that come to mind about what it said to you. Meet together with your group and discuss a set of study questions.

The goal is that each member of the group will eventually start his or her own discipleship group and continue the same routine, which means the members of the new group will eventually start his or her own group, and on it goes. A larger goal is that each person will develop and grow through the process, leading him or her to deeper studies of Scripture as well as expanded opportunities of service for the Kingdom. And the ultimate goal is that we learn to live out the gospel in all aspects of life, sharing with others as we go about our daily routines.

It’s not the same as a life group or Sunday School class. It’s strictly focused on reading the Scriptures together, growing in the Word and keeping each other accountable. And it’s working — one chapter a day, one discussion a week, one group at a time.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Life lessons lead me back to ‘love’

The date: Sept. 24, 2009, exactly four months after her second birthday.

The report: Rare brain tumor … malignant.

Belle Is HereThe prognosis: Bleak.

And thus began Susanna Belle Mitchell’s cancer journey. We call her Belle, like the princess.

On one hand, she is indeed a princess. On the other, she is a rock star. There are few places Belle goes where she isn’t known, and she achieved the one-name-only status before age 3.

She captivates you almost immediately by her smile, spirit and sassiness. Her sweet giggles and silly nature draw you the rest of the way in.

And for a time her chemo-induced bald head escalated her ability to mesmerize people.

Belle draws a crowd easily, and her friend list is long. If you’ve met Belle, then you are on that list. Even her “frienemy” Sara Beth is her BFF.

Belle loves people unconditionally like … well, like Jesus. He definitely shines through her, and she is a beam of light for His glory.

I can’t imagine life without Belle. I might just be her biggest fan. (I guess I have to compete with her parents and siblings and about 30 other close friends and family members, but I’d sure give them a run for their money.)

Belle-TroubleLearning from Belle

As we approached the five-year mark of Belle’s cancer journey (Sept. 24, 2014), I reflected on five life lessons I’ve learned from Belle.

1. Mommy is impy and other Belle-invented sayings.

Be silly whenever you can and laugh a lot — A LOT. Live life to its fullest and find the joy in everything, even chemo and radiation. Love people and find the good in them. Nurture and protect your relationships.

2. Don’t forget Knuffle Bunny.Belle - Aug 2014

Belle’s go-to stuffed animal, which travels everywhere with her, is a light-green rabbit — the main character in a series of children’s books by Mo Willems. Belle received Knuffle Bunny as a gift not long after arriving at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis in 2009, and he has been by her side through the entire cancer journey.

We all need our own version of Knuffle Bunny — people who will love us no matter what and stick with us through the ups and downs. People who lift us up, make us more secure and give great hugs.

3. Don’t drag the bag of IV fluids alone.IMG_20140704_195726

Make sure Mommy and Aunt Jen Jen are nearby to carry it for you. And keep Daddy close at hand to scare away the monsters.

Share your burdens with others and allow them the blessing of helping you carry the weight and protecting you from what you cannot see coming.

4. Purple Gatorade is the best. Enough said.

Do your research, make an informed decision and commit to the path. Don’t look back and don’t second guess. #WinFromWithin

5. “This girl is on fire.”

Belle loves to sing and dance to many of today’s popular songs.Belle dress up Aug 2014

She practices over and over for her performances and doesn’t settle for a mediocre show. She will start over from the beginning multiple times to get it just right.

She also performs in costume and personally designs individual tickets for everyone attending the show. This girl doesn’t slack.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).

A phrase made popular in the past decade — Live. Laugh. Love. — has become a bit trite, but it describes Belle to a tee.

She truly lives life, laughs consistently and loves purely and unconditionally.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

—Jennifer Davis Rash, aka Aunt Jen Jen

(To donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in honor of Belle, click here.)

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