Editor’s Note — Enjoy this special Christmas post by my mentor and friend Terry D. Newberry. Be blessed! ~Jennifer Davis Rash
By Terry D. Newberry Ok, Ok, Ok… Before you start, hear me out. I know I go overboard at Christmas. It is well documented. Newspaper stories have been written. TV specials have aired. Heck, the White House even called one time and asked if I was trying to upstage them. It is a character flaw. Even my kids fuss at me about it. It all started a long time ago. When I was a kid, like many of you, we didn’t get much at Christmas, and usually what we received was used; donations from some well-meaning charity. But that was cool, I appreciated the thought. I had no idea what I was missing until That Day. That Day. That fateful day. I was 14. It was Christmastime and I was hanging out with one of my brothers from the foster home I where I was living. We went to his girlfriend’s house. Her name was Beth. She invited us in and took us to the den, and WHAM! It hit me like I’d been kicked in the head by a reindeer or smacked by the Abominable. The den in her home was amazing. There was a fire blazing in the hearth, bathing the room in a warm yellow flicker. It provided a soundtrack to the experience as the logs sizzled and popped, sending showers of sparks up the flue. The mantle was festooned with evergreen garland decorated with small ornaments and holly berries, all intertwined with tiny twinkling lights. I’m here to tell you, the room was decorated to the nines. Lights, tinsel, garland, the whole works. Santa Clauses and reindeer and snowflakes and angels and you-name-it. I’m pretty sure there was even a Grinch. Every surface was decorated. Every wall had Christmas art. Every table had Christmas figurines. There were Christmas rugs on the floor. And down at the far end of the room, in the place of honor, right by the front window so the whole world could see, was the tree. Exactly where it should be. It was probably a 6-footer, but to me it looked 50 feet tall. It filled my eyes and my mind and my heart. The fragrance filled my nose with a scent that to this day I associate with Christmas; bright and piney and crisp and fresh. The tree was perfectly decorated and surrounded by more gifts than I ever imagined could be found in one place. They filled the space under the tree and around the tree. They were stacked on the furniture. They were stacked on the floor. And around the walls of the room. They were stacked on the mantle. They were piled next to the couch and the chairs and the ottoman. They were everywhere. There were large gifts and small gifts, square ones, round ones and rectangular ones. There were boxes and bags and ribbons and bows and wrapping in bright Christmas colors. It was a child’s Christmas paradise. Right then and there I made a decision. It wasn’t even a conscious choice — it just happened. I decided that one day, I was going to have a Christmas like that. A tree like that. Decorations like that. And gifts like that. Gifts everywhere, all over the place. Not used gifts – new stuff. New stuff for everyone I knew. And so it began. True to my promise, every Christmas I go just a little crazy. I think about what the perfect gifts might be, and wrap them in brightly colored paper with matching ribbon and sometimes add a little decoration, like a drum or a bell. And have a blast doing it. There is a workstation set up in our home with dozens of paper choices, a ton of ribbons and bows, gift bags and tissue… it’s like we hijacked a Hallmark truck around here. I put on some Christmas music and wrap while listening to everyone from Bing to Casting Crowns. I imagine the look on the faces of my friends and family when they open their gift. I hope to give them, for one brief moment, the joy that I felt that day at Beth’s house. Because once they feel that, Christmas comes alive. Now before my Baptist friends get all up in arms and start calling me to tell me about the real meaning of Christmas, I get it. I know that presents and gifts and bows are not what it is about. Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. I understand. And because of that, I try to celebrate my faith every day. When Christmas comes around it allows us all to share the joy that is in our hearts. As Charles Dickens put it so well. “I have always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely….” That’s how I feel. My faith births a joy that began that Christmas in Bethlehem so long ago, and which is cherished and celebrated in my stubborn heart every day of the year. But then Christmas Day comes around and that joy spills over and becomes a splendid madness with giving at its center. So, I hope that you, gentle reader, you, my dear kids, (and the White House) will forgive me for my indulgences during the season. I promise I am going to be more responsible and not give so many gifts. Starting next year.
Father, uncle, son, grandfather, nephew, brother, husband, cousin, other family members and close friends (male and female) — each of us on the TAB Media team is closely connected to a veteran of the United States military.
One of our staff members — Richard Maddox — served in the U.S. Navy (Submarine Service) from 1970 to 1974.
And a few days ago, another staff member was helping her grandson complete his paperwork for admission into the U.S. Army. He leaves for boot camp right after Christmas.
We all have varying levels of experience with someone who has or will be serving; and we all have tremendous respect for those who have served, are currently serving and will serve in the days to come. We are grateful for their service.
We want to personally thank all of you who served our country.
The sacrifice is not lost on us, and we are indebted to the role you played in keeping our country safe, as well as to provide the freedoms we enjoy as American citizens.
May we never take those sacrifices — past, present and future — for granted.
While November provides a day on the calendar for us to salute our veterans, hold parades and remember, we urge all who live in this land (that so many worldwide covet for themselves) to never forget those who have served.
They not only faced dangerous situations but also missed milestone moments at home and gave up creature comforts during their service.
So many carry the horrible past experiences of war with them each day, choosing to tuck the nightmarish memories down deep while continuing to function as strong and contributing citizens.
We recognize you graciously accepted the lifelong sentence of what you endured — saw up close and personal, felt in your heart, worked to comprehend in your mind and maybe even had to do — so the rest of us would be spared those difficult circumstances.
Thank you for your service, dear veterans. Know you are loved and appreciated.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
A straight-line decline in membership for more than 50 years should sound an alarm for Southern Baptists, something several ardent researchers and ministry leaders in the convention have attempted to do in various ways for many years.
What could be the reason for the consistent decline?
Did we get so caught up in growing the numbers for numbers’ sake that we forgot to focus on making disciples?
Have we spent most of our energy recruiting church members rather than sharing Christ with those who don’t know Him and helping individual believers grow in their faith?
Do we use the church statistical data to judge each other unfairly and thus push people away?
Have we overcomplicated and overextended what it means to be part of a church family?
The Church and politics
In his 1997 book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” author Philip Yancey noted, “In the 1950s and 1960s, mainline denominations moved away from proclaiming the gospel toward a more political agenda, and the pews began to empty, cutting membership by half.
“Many of these disaffected churchgoers sought out evangelical churches, where they heard messages more directed to their spiritual needs. It would be ironic indeed if evangelical churches repeated the error.”
—Jennifer Davis Rash
Graduates, the nugget I want to leave with you today is the importance of holding on to the capability to learn.
As the Class of 2020, you are being touted as the class above all classes because of what you experienced during your final semester. You know, that little pandemic thing.
You’ve proven you’ve got what it takes.
You learned in only a few months what most of us had the luxury of a few decades to learn — how to adapt and still flourish when life doesn’t work out like we planned.
But with this praise comes a great deal of pressure and responsibility, which can be managed with success if you maintain a spirit of teachability.
The ability to continue learning at every step of your journey will always serve you well.
Some days, good enough truly is good enough, but most days should be about excellence, no matter how insignificant the tasks of the day may seem.
Part of being excellent is owning up to mistakes.
Mistakes are part of the journey so being mature enough to own yours will lighten the load for everyone involved, including yourself.
It’s also important to learn from them — yours and others.
One mistake we all make at some point is to believe the world revolves around us.
And while today is rightfully all about each of you — most days are not.
In fact, the more we focus on helping others instead of ourselves, the more at peace we will be.
Being a graduate of a religious institution of higher learning means you know a bit about the Bible, so you already know Scripture teaches our greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
And the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
As you leave the college nest and prepare to tackle the world, clinch tightly to those commandments.
And recognize that to achieve both, you must also love yourself.
Scripture is clear that each one of us is created in the image of our Father, the almighty God, so humbly loving ourselves reflects our love for Him and teaches us how to love others.
You only have one life to live here on earth, and you’ve started well.
I urge you to commit today to also finish well — with confidence in who you are and assurance of Whose you are.
The fact is, we need you.
We need your light. We need your kindness. We need your smarts. We need your energy. And we need your teachability.
A few ABCs for the road …
A — Always be honest but be kind in the process, and always give people the benefit of the doubt as your first response.
B — Be forgiving and able to let go of past hurts.
C — Calm the chaos around you by giving more than you take and being part of the solution.
Congratulations, Class of 2020. You are beautiful. You are valued. You are loved. You are strong.
And remember, we need you — the very best version of you God has in store.
Editor’s Note — Commencement address delivered by Jennifer Davis Rash at Judson College in Marion, Alabama, on June 27, 2020.
Dear Ms. Cooper-Jones,
Watching your interviews with various media outlets drew me to you. The depth of your grief alongside the calmness of your spirit speaks volumes.
I can’t begin to imagine what these past two and a half months have been like for you, nor can I truly ever understand the pain for the African-American community as a whole, but I do want you to know I join the hundreds of thousands, and possibly more like millions, of Christians who care and are grieving with you.
Read the full letter here: My Rashionale
—Jennifer Davis Rash
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” —Romans 12:18
By the time we realized March Madness for the year 2020 would not describe basketball brackets, rivalries and surreal roundball moments, the normal activities of life as we know it had practically shut down.
COVID-19 became a household term, and our homes, offices, schools, churches and devices might just be the cleanest they’ve ever been.
Online screenings and drive-thru testing centers emerged seemingly overnight.
Many conferences, classes and church services were canceled, rescheduled or moved online.
Airlines and hotels removed all rescheduling and cancellation fees. They even made it super easy to go online and click through the necessary items in a matter of seconds.
Leaders at all levels assessed, reassessed and worked hard to make the best decisions they could for the people for which they were responsible, as well as for the businesses and organizations they lead.
And when Alabama’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced this morning (March 13), the assessments narrowed to an even more laser-focused stance.
While our team at TAB Media is working to stay up on all the latest reports and announcements, we also are performing appropriate assessments related to our staff and office as well.
Crisis management plan
Past experiences of unforeseen difficult events, such as the Snowpocalypse winter storm of 2014, the April 2011 tornado devastation in Alabama, the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009 and other experiences through the years, provided opportunities to develop crisis management plans we still use today.
As crises emerge along the way, we always try to dust off our existing plans and put those into play while also adapting as needed to the current situation and accounting for new techonology and resources available to us.
Learning from each experience makes us better and more prepared for the next event sure to come our way. Having a crisis management and communications plan prevents panic and uncertainty because team members trust the leadership and are informed early, consistently and with clarity about what to expect and how to prepare.
Even a basic plan such as knowing who is in charge during a crisis and naming one person to handle all outgoing and incoming communications gives an advantage in focusing quickly on determining priorities.
Opportunity to shine for Jesus
As we find our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m confident history will report amazing stories of people of faith shining for Jesus.
Volunteers trained in medical missions and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief will undoubtedly be on the front lines.
Believers with a chaplain’s heart will work to calm the masses, and people of prayer will unite across the globe to call on God to lead us through this journey.
And I believe the best of each of us will surface as we come together.
Take this opportunity to calm your heart and mind and sling some Jesus all around.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
Stepping into this new year and new decade brought a significant milestone for me personally.
I’ve now spent half my life serving Alabama Baptists through The Alabama Baptist/TAB Media — and I can’t think of anywhere else I would have rather been.
I joined the TAB team on Jan. 1, 1996, at 24 years old, and on Jan. 1, 2020, I celebrated 24 years with TAB.
Countless people have poured into me through the years, and many continue investing in my growth, something I truly treasure as a big believer in mentoring and cross training.
A quick look back over the years shows clearly how God was working all along the way.
‘If God called me …’
While I had no idea how the calling would work itself out nor what all would appear along the path, I trusted that if God called me to do it, He would guide me step by step —
and He has been faithful.
He has provided continuous opportunities to learn and grow, and He has put many amazing mentors and co-workers in my life to teach me along the way.
The deep friendships formed through the years fill my heart and make me even more grateful to be part of the broader Alabama Baptist family.
But how did I get here?
Drawing a line down the middle of your story can be an interesting exercise. For me, there are two sets of 24 years.
In the first set, you will find my growing up years on a farm in Phil Campbell, Alabama — a rural community in the northwest corner of the state.
During those years I thought the norm for all children was to grow up in a safe, loving environment with plenty of food and parents who taught life skills and a strong work ethic.
Experiencing life outside those early years has taught me many people didn’t have that opportunity and what a privileged upbringing I had.
Also in my first set of 24 years, you will find two years spent studying at Northwest Community College and another two years spent studying at the University of Alabama.
And while I grew up in church and part of a large extended family of believers, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I truly gave my heart and life to Christ.
It also was during college that I surrendered to a call to full-time Christian service, which led to a search for what that meant.
After college graduation, I spent two years serving with the International Mission Board as an editorial assistant with Caribbean Christian Publications focused on the English-speaking Caribbean.
God provided intense opportunities for me to grow spiritually, professionally and relationally during those two years. When the term ended, I found my 24-year-old self at TAB with no idea where that would lead.
Reflecting on my current mid-point marker and these past 24 years at TAB helped me realize just how many strides have been made by a variety of different team members who were under the direction of Bob Terry for most of those years. What a gift to get to tag along for the ride.
Since 1996, the TAB team has moved from focusing on one product — a weekly newspaper — to becoming a full media group with multiple daily deadlines in 2020.
The first webpage came along in 2000 and a fully functioning website in 2004. TAB found its way onto social media platforms in 2007–2008 and then launched the digital version of the print publication in 2010.
Augmented Reality was added to the mix in 2015 and lasted for a few years, along with several attempts at live streaming and video newscasting.
A robust new multilevel website was developed in 2016 along with the debut of a new logo and rebranding effort.
In 2018, the TAB News radio show and podcast hit the airwaves, and in 2019 a visually impaired cartridge and new glossy magazine were added.
Granted, technology advancements allowed for much of the expansion to take place, but it also took vision, courage and training to make the moves.
With the various new elements in the picture, it could be easy to let the print product slide away, but the focus on the newspaper continues to be an important part of the team’s work.
We plan to continually polish the 177-year-old weekly newspaper currently entrusted to our care. It has won more than 250 national awards in less than 25 years, and we are determined to keep it among the best available.
We also are excited to introduce a trickle of new glossy magazines being produced by TAB for special events and specific emphases.
Coming to the airwaves will be more podcasts available on the TAB Media channel as well as more growth in the audio digest version of TAB for the visually impaired.
And our online presence through social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube), web resources and the digital version of the paper will no doubt continue to adapt to that constantly changing realm.
What changes will we see in the next 24 years? I’m not sure, but I’m confident we are ready to figure it out step by step.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
Five years in Glory — Keep painting those pink skies, sweet Belle. We are making our way to you.
Thank you, sweet Jesus, that our separation is only temporary for those who know You — by grace through faith in Christ alone. (John 3:16, 1 John 1:9) #teambelle
We are at the front end of a pristine new 20s. Whether we refer to our new decade as the “twenties” or the “twenty-twenties,” we have been handed the opportunity to blaze a new, yet healthier, path by learning from the past.
What will history write about the 2020s one day? What statement will we make? How will we be branded?
We truly can shake off the past, let go of whatever is holding us back and make this our decade. Why not make it our goal to see and live with the clarity of 20/20 vision in the decade of the 2020s?
Read the full My Rashionale piece here.
—Jennifer Davis Rash