Hooyah says it all

I struggle to remember the various team names of my nephews and nieces, but I’m convinced I will never forget the Wild Boars youth soccer team from Thailand’s Chiang Rai province — a group of kids I had never heard of before June 23. I’m guessing you know them now too.

The latest extraordinary survival story truly captured the heart of a global audience. And the ability and willingness of a community to share the story through the news media and various social media outlets as it unfolded allowed all of us to be up close and personal with the situation.

Thai cave boys 

Thai Cave boys screen grab

Thai cave boys when they were discovered alive by two British divers July 1, 2018. (Screen grab from video shared with news media outlets)

Twelve boys and their coach — the Thai cave boys as they are known — became our nephews, our sons, our grandsons, our neighbor’s kids and our students. It didn’t matter how or why they were in that cave; all that mattered was that they all came out alive.

Rescuers, medical personnel, governmental leaders and other experts focused and showcased crisis management at its best. The odds were stacked against the operation and the loss of 38-year-old former Navy Seal diver Lieutenant Commander Saman Gunan in the operation reminded a watching world just how impossible the mission seemed.

It’s no surprise the Thai Navy Seals posted on Facebook when it was all over: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, science, or what.”

World showed up

People from around the world showed up to give everything they had to pull the rescue mission off. A glimmer of hope remained despite the constant obstacles — more rain coming, oxygen levels dropping, boys can’t swim, navigating route out of cave treacherous even for experienced divers, etc., etc., etc.

But all involved were committed, invested and going to see the operation through until the end. They knew their individual assignments well and worked to deliver their best to the team and overall effort. Deep concern for the boys, fears of what could be, compassion for the families, sheer determination, a never-give-up attitude and a tightly clenched hold to pure hope unified the people and the effort. 

And while I am among the 1,727,707 people who have now visited the Thai Navy Seal Facebook page and add my own thumbs up to their Seals’ affirmative “#Hooyah” response to the mission, the effort also included an army of ordinary people who stepped up in the process.

Ordinary people, extraordinary effort

Media reports indicate individuals in the community found specific roles they could play to be productive and helpful. Some made sure access to food was easily available to the rescuers, strategists and media. Some used their own vehicles and gas to transport those leading the effort to where they needed to go in the area. Some even voluntarily cleaned the portable toilets — can you imagine the selfless nature of the sweet people who determined that is where they could best serve?

All of this certainly indicates a movie will be produced soon and the layers of story lines might prove difficult to narrow. I also sense a strong sermon series could be developed from what we all watched and felt for those nearly three weeks in late June and early July.

Two aspects I hope are included in whatever way this story becomes historically documented are:

—How the world came together and put aside differences to fight for, cheer on and pray for the boys, the rescuers, the families and the situation in general.

Media reports allowed all of us to remain front and center, be informed, know how to pray, understand the situation and determine what roles we could play. We focused on the situation and the overall goal — not worrying about which news media brought us the story or calling each other names, not pushing our own agendas in the midst of a crisis, not determining someone’s political alignment or faith background before stepping up to do the right thing, instead basically working together, showing compassion and understanding what really mattered in the moment.

—How the parents reached out to Coach Ake through the message they sent him in the cave. “Don’t blame yourself. … The mums and dads, none of them are angry at you,” the letter to the coach said. The parents said they were glad he was there, asked him to take care of their boys and made sure he knew they also were concerned about his safety.

What a showing of forgiveness and grace in the midst of what had to be many moments of fighting off their greatest fears.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Walking the lonely path of regret

 

 

Regret — it can be a tortuous wave of despair that keeps on rolling over and over through our lives.

Whether it be one momentary lapse of good judgment or a season of unhealthy patterns that form the perfect storm, the actual event that leads to regret changes everything. And it is rarely ever a solo punch.

Most often the lives of everyone connected to the person suffering from regret are changed in some way — and some forever.

It is more than being disappointed about getting caught or offering false remorse for receiving negative pushback. It is a genuine feeling of repentance that grips us at the center of our soul.

Regret is a true feeling of remorse, deep repentance and extreme sadness over what has happened. You will know it when you see it. The humility, the despair, the brokenness seep from the person’s pores.

Surviving the initial blow, humiliation and blowback is the first step. And while that first step is hard the lonely journey that follows might be even harder for the truly repentant.

Space for grace

But brokenness leaves the regret-filled person with a choice just as it offers those around them an opportunity.

For the person walking through regret, it can provide a space for God to show us His grace in a way never experienced before. When we know more of the depth of our sin and brokenness, we can marvel even more at the unfathomable love and forgiveness offered to us through Christ.

Power in the pain

But we have to make that choice. We have to choose to let those painful memories drive us to worship and experience gratitude for our forgiveness. We have to choose to let our pain push us toward Christ and away from deeper sin.

And for people who are surrounding the person carrying regret, it’s a chance to remember God’s grace and remember our own sins too.

None of us is perfect. We all have the ability to dive headlong into sin. We have to call each other to right choices, but when someone is truly repentant, we can choose to walk alongside our broken brother or sister in love.

That’s who we are. We strive for holiness. We repent with sincere hearts. We bind up our wounded. The key is real repentance — and real love.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Birthday boost

Happy Birthday, Belle!

Belle would have been 11 today so if you are part of Team Belle, or would like to be, the goal for today is to find 11 ways to make others smile … it might merely be smiling at them first. Belle always brought joy with her and never failed to leave enough behind to carry the rest of us for a while.

Let’s celebrate Belle with an extra outpouring of joy. The world could sure use a Belley boost — and we were trained by the best. #foreverauntjenjen #goteambelle

 

How did middle school become the ‘wild, wild West’?

Middle School

The depth of her pain broke my heart. There wasn’t anything I could do but listen so that’s what I did — then I prayed.

I continue to pray because her wounds are deep. I’m talking affect-you-for-the-rest-of-your-life deep.

Her parents and grandparents are doing everything they know to do to help her. She is loved. She is talented. She is beautiful inside and out, and she has a sweet, compassionate heart but every day of her middle school life is a struggle.

And she isn’t alone.

Four other friends of mine are parents of middle schoolers who are fighting similar battles.

“Middle school is like the wild, wild west,” one friend said as she described the pressure kids experience from other kids as well as what they are being exposed to at such a young age. And suicide is discussed routinely and without reservation, she added.

Another friend was concerned about her daughter recently when she was being shunned by a particular group of girls. Winning the affection of this group was so important to my friend’s daughter that she started acting out trying to impress them.

My friend responded by taking her daughter’s phone away for a significant period of time. The daughter protested angrily at first but by the time the punishment was over she had calmed down and returned to her true nature. She even started hanging out with the family again — and actually enjoyed it.

Connected 24/7

Other friends have noted similar situations and how limiting their kids’ time on phones and social media has made a difference in various areas of concern.

After all, they are connected to their friends 24/7, one friend commented. Not only do they never get a break from each other — and thus a break from the drama — but they also form a dependent community in which they seek guidance, solace and approval, she said.

As she talked, I wondered if the consistent late night texting and chatting could impair the kids’ ability to think clearly. Could it weaken their emotional state? Is it possible a little more sleep and a few hours away from the screens here and there could make those difficult middle school years a bit more bearable?

Whatever you do, don’t tell my nephews and nieces that I’m advocating limiting anyone’s phone time. I might lose my cool aunt status. 

But I am concerned about the emotional state of so many in this age group.

Will the intensity of the pain these middle schoolers are carrying lessen as they make their way to high school? Or will it finally become unbearable?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

How we define ourselves

 

Bennett 1

March 16, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Virginia Cavaliers head coach Tony Bennett during the first half against the UMBC Retrievers in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Spectrum Center. (Jeremy Brevard—USA TODAY Sports)

No excuses, no whining — Coach Tony Bennett of the University of Virginia Cavaliers calmly and respectfully gave props to the UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) team and coach for taking care of business.

“We got thoroughly out played,” Bennett said in the March 16 post-game interview about the Retrievers’ historic upset of the top-ranked Cavaliers. UMBC won 74–54 and became the first-ever No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men’s tournament.

Hats off to UMBC

Definitely the Cinderella story of this year’s March Madness, UMBC’s victory was the unlikely event that put the school on the map despite losing the next game in a nail biter to Kansas State on March 18.

Thousands of us became Retrievers’ fans, even if just for a weekend, and cheered for the obvious strength of character, pursuit of excellence and never-give-up attitude brilliantly showcased by this honors’ university team.

Our hats off to Coach Ryan Odom and the UMBC Retrievers.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 9.59.50 PM

(Jennifer Davis Rash screen grab of UMBC’s Twitter page on March 18, 2018)

Making history

And on the other side of the court, kudos goes to Bennett in the way he handled the historic loss in the first round of the tournament.

“[This was] a historic season in terms of most wins in the ACC. A week ago we’re cutting down the nets and the confetti is falling,” he said March 16. “And then we make history by being the first one seed to lose.

“It stings,” he said. “I told the guys, ‘This is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times and you gotta be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with it. That’s the job.’”

Bennett not only showed good sportsmanship, but also a well-rounded perspective on life — and he modeled this for the young men on his team as well as a nation of basketball fans watching it all play out.

That one moment

“It can’t define you,” he said.

How often do we allow one moment to define us — good or bad, win or lose — rather than the sum of all the moments, and how often do we do this to others?

In the movie “Sully,” Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, played by Tom Hanks, says, “I’ve delivered a million passengers over 40 years, but in the end I’m going to be judged by 208 seconds.”

He’s referring to the true story of his forced water landing on New York’s Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009, when he saved the lives of all 155 aboard U.S. Airways Flight 1549.

In the end Sully’s legacy was untarnished and he was catapulted into American hero status but for about 48 hours he wasn’t sure how it would play out.

When life-changing moments occur

Every day we all move through our routines, doing what we are called and trained to do, making decisions to the best of our abilities (at least I hope we are all giving our best). And at any moment one of those decisions, or even a routine task, could put us in a win or lose situation.

Some moments are minimal and cause few waves but others are monumental and change life for everyone involved.

How the leader leads when those times come sets the tone for all who are following, and how the team responds influences the level of dignity, perseverance and value each individual maintains on the other side of those moments.

Summing up the slices

But they are still separate slices among an entire lifetime of countless slices. If we define ourselves by that one great achievement, then that is likely all we will ever be. And if we mark ourselves as a failure because of that one historic loss or bad decision, then we certainly won’t have the strength to move past it.

We must take the good with the bad, the wins with the losses, and learn from each experience. And in all situations we can hold on to the promise from 2 Corinthians 12 that in our weakness, the power of Christ is made perfect. We merely need to trust Him to work in and through us.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

The humbling nature of the fruit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

“I honestly believe if we would do more praying and less criticizing we would have a better nation,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines said Feb. 14.

Speaking to a group of writers, editors and communicators, Gaines shared how at 60 he can look back now and see he has grown in this area himself.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten kinder,” he said. “(I want to be) prudent, wise and merciful.

“I used to be a little bit more hard than I am now. … A lot of it is how you see the people you are preaching to. I no longer see them as rebels who need to repent. I see them as people who are hurting and need to be set free.”

Gaines added, “If we are filled with the Spirit, it is the fruit of the Spirit that is going to come out.”

As I listened to Gaines share that day, I recalled how the fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5:22–23 became a foundational Scripture for me as soon as I chose Jesus fully and completely at 19 years old.

I stray often but the simple, straightforward outline of qualities God desires for our lives to exhibit are always there to keep me grounded and bring me back when I slip — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Essential characteristics

The goal is for all of these characteristics to exist in our hearts.

I’ve heard some note how starting with love allows you to develop each of the traits, one building on the other.

I’ve also heard how they are not individual attributes in and of themselves, that they are all essential characteristics of the fruit and must all be present for there to be fruit.

It’s always humbling to me when I go back to Galatians and recenter on each of the nine and see where some are missing and the ripple effect that caused.

If we were to only consider the first one — love — because it is February, then we might think about the depth of what that means and how we are called to love our enemies as well as our friends.

Real kind of love

Some people are hard to love, it’s true. And even the ones who aren’t hard to love still come with complex natures and baggage that sometimes surface whether intentionally or unintentionally.

No matter the relationship, we aren’t called to a fake, syrupy kind of act but a true, sacrificial, real kind of love.

It’s certainly not possible in our own strength. We must see others through the eyes of Christ.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Review, reboot, recenter

2018

Search the hashtag #resolutionfail and you may break one of your resolutions if it is to spend less time on social media. The never-ending list of entertaining tweets consumed an hour of my — eh hem — research time.

For example, @JustSomeGuy8675 posted on Jan. 1: “My #NewYearsResolutions were to avoid Twitter and to start eating breakfast. Woke up at noon, checked Twitter and had two coffees. Best of luck to the rest of you! #resolutionfail”

On Jan. 3 @tpfeifer posted: “Oh the irony of driving past a gym as cars circle the lot to get a parking spot close to the door. #resolutionfail.”

January a natural time to look back, reprioritize goals

But despite all the jokes made about New Year’s resolutions, January does provide a natural opportunity for evaluation.

At The Alabama Baptist (TAB), we take time in early January to select our best work from the past year for awards competitions.

Without looking back and assessing we might not remember to celebrate when we got it right nor appreciate the moments when we made a difference.

The evaluation time also provides us opportunity to improve our work going forward.

And with each evaluation process I always find an article, column or letter to the editor that reminds me of something important in my spiritual journey, work experience or life in general. It’s never the first time I’m reading that particular nugget of information, but it isn’t in the forefront of my mind until I see it again.

If this is true with issues of TAB, then I have to believe it happens in our Bible reading, job descriptions, wedding vows and those moments when we spill our guts to friends and stay up all night evaluating our lives.

Periodic reviews help with focus, purpose

Are we guilty of reading through these documents — or thinking about all that was shared in a heart-to-heart conversation — only once and determining the content is seared forever in our minds and hearts, never to be overridden or forgotten? Or maybe we only skim the information and feel confident we understand it and will stay true to it.

To remain on the right path with clarity, focus and purpose, periodic review and reflection are necessary.

As I self-evaluate and attempt to recenter each January, I am amazed at the clutter and unproductive habits I’ve allowed in my life over the previous 12 months. I realize the importance of pulling weeds from my life to avoid becoming enslaved to the clutter pressing down on me.

So I commit to reboot and start again — determined not to repeat the negative parts of last year, hopeful to add more positive results in the coming year and grateful for the reminders God scatters along the path.

—Jennifer Davis Rash