Facing the fact we do have limits


The books needed a purpose again. They had been boxed up for too many months and either needed to find residence on a shelf in my office or find a new owner. They weren’t doing anyone any good hidden away from the world.

I don’t remember what motivated me that particular day to clean out my books and slice open the tape on the box, but that’s what I did. I organized the books by categories and determined to start reading through them one at a time, then pass them along to others.

But where to start?

I settled on the leadership category, the discipleship category and the relationship category — all areas that continuously need polishing in my life.

As I glanced over the titles, my eyes noticed a handful of books focused on balancing life and creating margin.

Margin — the space between ourselves and our limits.

I remember understanding that word for the first time about 10 years ago when a colleague pointed out I had none. He wasn’t the first nor the last to note this about me, but he was the first I remember using this particular word.

I didn’t really worry about it at the time, but life — as life tends to do — exposed my true deficit of margin and recently I’ve landed in a season where margin is vital.

Toothpick world

When we leave no space in the area between ourselves and our limits, then every day can feel like it is out of control and the more we try to gain control of our lives, the more we lose the battle.

And don’t even get me started on how the toothpick world in which we live comes crumbling down the minute one thing doesn’t line up in order.

As I reflected on my personal battle with margin that day, I focused on the titles trying to decide which book to pull off the shelf.

When I saw one simply titled “Margin,” that seemed like the best place to start. I pulled it out of the lineup, laid it on top of the other books and within minutes forgot about it.

Reading, learning

But that book wouldn’t be invisible for long.

A few weeks later in a conversation with a group of friends attempting to navigate their own margin struggles, at least three people suggested I read Richard A. Swenson’s book, “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.”

I made a note to get the book and even started looking up where to buy it when it hit me — there was a book with the title “Margin” already pulled out on my shelf ready to read. Sure enough, it was the same book.

And when I thought through why I had the book but had never read it before, I realized I had actually purchased the book in the mid-1990s right out of college.

I don’t remember exactly why I purchased it, but it made me realize that despite many years of ignoring the need for margin my quest for it has been a 20-year journey.

Oblivious to issue

Swenson says most people don’t realize their need for margin nor the fact they have eliminated it in their lives. We are working through pain, overload, stress and frustration, not realizing we are furthering the difficulties the longer we fail to create space. And we are hurting our relationships to self, others and God in the process.

Problems one at a time are perhaps manageable, he says, but “they just won’t stand in line. Instead they grow from problem pile into problem mountain and then all fall on us at the same time.”

Jennifer Davis Rash

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What I Am Reading

In His Place: A Modern-Day Challenge in the Tradition of Charles Sheldon’s Classic “In His Steps” by Harry C. Griffith IMG_20160819_111524

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a novel built around incarnating Christ in our everyday lives, but once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. In fact, if it weren’t for previously scheduled commitments that afternoon I would have finished the book in one sitting.

The story definitely convicted me of areas where I fall short in my Christian walk and reminded me of how many people are hurting and misunderstood around us. It challenged me to always be thinking about how to be Christ to the world around me.

I also connected with the characters in the story and bonded with them almost immediately. And along with the content I loved the weight and feel of the book itself, the torn edges of the pages and even the cute doggie on the cover.

Thank you to my friend, Betty Baggott, for sending me the book and thank you to Harry Griffith for transporting me to the center of the story and challenging me at the same time.

—Jennifer Davis Rash


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When news reporters get it wrong

The print version of the article hit the newsstands the day after the interview. The digital version was live only hours after the reporter wrapped up her questions.

My kind of reporting — immediate. But with that kind of turnaround also comes the potential for mistakes.

I knew the potential so I carefully pointed out the misunderstandings made by other reporters earlier in the day, but she made other errors.

And I will admit it was frustrating to see my name in print as having said something I did not say and having described something in words I would never use.

Plus everyone personally acquainted with the story knew what was incorrect in the article, so my pride kicked in because I feared they wouldn’t know it was a reporting error and would think it was my mistake.

I had a decision to make. Would I contact the reporter and yell at her or would I think about the situation calmly and be part of the solution rather than create more havoc?

Being a journalist and knowing what it is like to be on the other side of the situation, I decided to be part of the solution.

Yes, she made mistakes in the reporting, so she needed to correct the information.

That’s where I started.

Correcting the facts

I emailed her to thank her for covering the story and turning it around so quickly. I also noted that I understand the difficulty of trying to grasp every angle of a story in a matter of about 30 minutes, then write a story on it in less than two hours.

It is similar to being assigned a research topic in school — something you are not personally familiar with — and having to crank out a summary of the most important points of the topic in a few hours.

Yes, those who carry the reporter title have (or should have) been trained to do the job and are more versatile than most to know which parts of the story are vital and which can be left out. But it is still a tremendous amount of pressure to reconcile in your own mind what exactly the story is and then to relay all the points with perfect factual accuracy.

Focusing on the facts

And you also have the challenge of knowing for sure who the expert is on the subject and who isn’t as well as working to keep the source on topic so you don’t get distracted with unnecessary pieces of information.

Print journalists have an advantage over broadcast journalists because they have a little more time to verify the facts of the story and work to gain a better understanding, but in all news reporting cases, time is extremely limited.

My recent personal experience with being misquoted reminded me of how grateful I am when those we report on in Baptist life take the time to provide information for us in advance so we have a better chance of reporting accurately.

It also helps to have the basic who, what, when, where, why and how spelled out in a fact sheet or news release of some sort to save us time chasing down those basic bits of information.

I also realize how all of us can improve our communication in general by remembering that those outside our bubbles cannot understand the parts of the stories we are living at the same level we do. Using slang terms makes for insider language others might misinterpret. Leaving out important details or making assumptions also causes confusion.

Telling our stories clearly and succinctly — and showing a bit of grace — goes a long way for the greater good.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Carrying the weight of the world

It may feel like you are the only onOverwhelmede with all the weight of the world on your shoulders, but that feeling is shared by more people than you think.

People everywhere — in various types of jobs, ministries an
d life situations — are expected to do more with less,
no matter what other loads they are carrying at the moment.

We are all putting more and more pressure on ourselves and each other by nature of tight financial times, a resistance to draw boundaries and the mind-boggling speed at which technology increases daily.

And social media has created a new form of anxiety — FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) — which piles on another layer of pressure.

Trying to do it all

So here we all are trying our absolute best to manage our families, spend quality time with our families and friends, do more than any one human could possibly do in a day at our jobs, be super involved in countless church activities, volunteer with a specific ministry or charity, participate in our communities, keep our homes and cars in decent order, make sure our children are part of every possible activity available to them and maybe find a few minutes to exercise. Oh, and try to be available to everyone at all times while attempting to find moments here and there to spend time in God’s Word and clear our minds long enough to pray (for real, not just say some words) — and maybe, if we are lucky, get more than four hours sleep a night.

Whew, I’m exhausted just writing that paragraph, but I’m guessing more than a few of you can relate.

You might be overwhelmed if …

Do you ever want to pause everyone and everything so you can catch up?

Have you ever secretly wished you would end up with a temporary but serious illness, maybe something that would hospitalize you, so you would have a good excuse to drop everything for a few weeks?

Does it feel like everyone you know is pouring guilt on you and/or you are continuously disappointing every person in your life?

Have you ever felt overly frustrated when others don’t do what you want them to do?

Negative results

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, then you are likely overwhelmed with life right now. If you aren’t aware of that fact or if you aren’t working toward finding balance, then you aren’t only hurting yourself, you are most likely negatively affecting those around you as well.

I know when I’m at my most stressed-out points, I impose unrealistic and unfair expectations on others. I convince myself that my responsibility list is more important than everyone else’s. Frustration sets in when others don’t cooperate.

And if two of us in the same circle are overwhelmed at the same time, then a collision is almost guaranteed. Emotions are usually raw and overreactions happen easily. Hurtful words may be spoken and unfortunate decisions may be made in the process.

Three immediate actions to take

The answer has multiple layers and will have to be customized to some degree to the person’s specific situation. But things all of us can do to prevent spreading the problem are:

1. Commit to stop piling pressure on those around us. Avoid the temptation to pass our issues on to others who are not obligated to help such as might be expected with an official team at work, church or the community.

2. For one project or one day, help a fellow struggler by doing exactly what they ask (assuming it is nothing harmful) so you are the one person in their life not resisting them. It encourages both parties because we know from experience how much it means for someone to help without resistance. It also opens the door for a conversation about how we can help each other in the struggle.

3. Accept that you are overwhelmed and commit to start the process of correcting the problem. A good first step is to freeze your calendar until you can clear some space to breathe.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Select the best, toss the rest

IMG_20160610_091241My head and heart are full — full of ideas cushioned with a sincere desire to see them come to life, all of them. So many different thoughts coupled with scores of angles to develop each one.

The excitement builds as my mind chases the possibilities and dot after dot connects as if I’m in a virtual game of Frogger leaping from one log to the next, systematically making my way to the prize.

But in a flash my cute little froggy misses one of those logs and lands in the water.

Game over.

With a fresh game and a few more lives I try again and this time the screen changes to a highway with cars whipping past me. I dodge them for a while but my concentration drops for a millisecond and splat, I’m dead.

Too many ideas

The same is true with the constantly multiplying basket of ideas spilling out of my brain. Many of them are actually pretty good thoughts with lots of potential.

I work hard to make sense of each one, organize it a bit and actually start developing a plan of action. But then splat.

I’m blindsided by life, possibly something unexpected that throws everything off course or maybe nothing unexpected at all, merely a reminder of all that is already on my plate.

Applying the 5 Ws

Who, what, when, where, why and how — these are not only questions a good reporter always asks but they also are front and center in my mind as I so desperately attempt to implement a new idea.

Focusing on prioritizing projects and goals while learning to be super selective in what new assignments and activities I add to my responsibility list is a daily battle for me.

‘Worth doing well’

Anything I choose to do — as well as anything that is imposed on me — will be given lots of attention. I tend to agree with the principle of “anything worth doing is worth doing well” (Hunter S. Thompson).

And while I don’t always achieve the highest ranking for the goals I set, I do always start out intending for that mark.

Of course I consistently complicate things even more with all the fresh ideas. It is so tempting to spend my energy each day dreaming about and orchestrating what could be as I filter through the latest list of applicants in the new ideas department.

Managing the excess

A new discipline I’m attempting is to not start anything new until I can complete some of my existing projects. I’m trying it in all parts of life.

At work

At work I’m putting all new ideas on a wish list rather than working on them as soon as they pop in my head. Each time I complete a project I can go to the wish list and select one item to put in motion, but only one.

At church

At church I’m resisting the urge to volunteer for every need that surfaces and focus solely on the roles I have committed to play at the moment. I try to remind myself that if I try to do too many things, then I won’t do any of the roles well.

I also try to remember what a former minister of education taught me — that just because someone wants a certain ministry or activity doesn’t mean it is supposed to be offered.

He believed in letting the person with the vision for the proposed idea work to bring it to life rather than allow people to order it up and expect others to do it. His philosophy was that if church leaders had to beg people to participate in or volunteer for a certain ministry or activity, then it probably wasn’t something the church needed to do anyway.

At home

At home I’m constantly scanning my closet for items to donate or discard. And if I acquire a new piece of clothing, then I have to find at least one item to remove.

A friend told me recently how she turns all the hangers in her closet the same way on Jan. 1 and each time she wears a piece of clothing she turns the hanger the opposite direction. Then on Dec. 31 she goes through and pulls out all hangers that were not turned.

She doesn’t give herself a chance to look at nor debate whether to keep those pieces of clothing. She pulls them out right away and donates them. She says that if she didn’t wear the piece of clothing even once in a year, then it can’t be that vital.

Practice of purging

My friend’s annual practice of purging her closet made me wonder if we could expand that to all of life.

I think about all the stacks of undone projects sitting around my office and in my drawers at home. I wonder what would happen if I forced a true, hard deadline of one year on all those projects.

Would I have more energy and motivation to complete them and thus experience the victorious feeling of accomplishment while also making more room for new ideas to flourish?

Would the feeling of achievement and satisfaction of knowing I finally completed the projects provide a new level of rest and rejuvenation for my mind?

Courage and perspective

Would I have the courage to admit that some of the projects need to be tossed and feel the freedom from removing the guilt and heaviness connected to those particular projects?

Would all of this provide a new perspective and ability for me going forward? A perspective still filled with fresh concepts and dreams but this time under an approach to better filter, manage and distribute the best of the best and discard the rest.

And in the midst of drawing boundaries and living with margin in our lives, what if we slowed down to assess what already exists in the various areas of ideas rumbling around in our minds?

Should we always start something new? Is it possible a resource already exists and we shouldn’t recreate the wheel, so to speak?

The hard questions

Could we trust someone else to be in charge and purposefully choose to be a follower rather than the leader?

If we happen to be the leader, are we willing to listen to others who are interested and have ideas to share?

Are we willing to compromise on the nonessential parts of the plan, activity, project, ministry, etc., and pool our resources rather than work as individuals and actually end up competing against each other unnecessarily?

Lots of questions to ponder and not many answers, but thanks for hanging with me until the end. I would love to hear from you and learn how you are creating balance and margin in your life.

I’m also interested in knowing what you think about spending more energy pooling our resources to streamline and improve existing ministries and/or services instead of constantly starting something new. Comment here, email me at jrash@thealabamabaptist.org or message me @RashionalThts.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Reflecting on marriage

Jason and I mark 19 years of marriage tomorrow (July 12). I remember poring through so many books and articles on marriage that first year and trying to do everything exactly right to have the perfect marriage. What I didn’t understand early on, what actually took years to understand, was that I couldn’t manufacture enough of the tips and how-to suggestions to develop a marriage like what was in my head. It wasn’t something I could control. It would take total sacrifice for Jason and seeking God above all else (and vice versa on Jason’s part). While I finally understand marriage in itself is a lifelong learning journey, I would like to share some of what I have discovered along the way. More about sacrifice can be found below and a little on forgiveness can be found by clicking hereJ and J 2-14-16


When my nephew, Jared, was a little bitty thing, he would get all over his brother with a consistent reminder, “It’s not all about you, Jacob!”

The boldness of his approach and the intensity behind his words always made me smile, but the clear truth behind his appeal has stuck with me since the first time it rolled out of his mouth.

The key to strength in any relationship points back to whether the two parties are going to be self-centered or other-centered. This is true with friends, co-workers, all formulas of family relationships and especially in marriage.

“It’s not all about you” was the focus of a recent article in Relevant magazine, “Marriage Isn’t About Your Happiness.”

An excerpt from the article by Debra K. Fileta says:

“Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s not even about you. It’s about love — which is something we choose to give time and time again. It’s about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving — and then doing it all over again. … Often, we’re choosing ‘personal happiness’ over real commitment, over real love.

“They say marriage teaches you more about selflessness than you ever wanted to know. … Because at the heart of it, real love is all about sacrifice. About the giving of yourself, in ways big and small.”

It’s about sacrifice

I agree with Fileta. Real love truly is all about sacrifice.

The seasons where my husband, Jason, and I focus sacrificially on each other at the same time bring such great blessings and richness to our relationship.

When one or the other decides to be less other-centered and more self-centered, frustrations mount and life is more strained.

And the times we decided to focus on ourselves rather than the other — simultaneously — it basically led to confusion, insecurity, disappointment and pain.

Being married long enough to have a variety of seasons (19 years tomorrow) also has given us the opportunity to truly start learning and growing in the process. And we both agree we prefer the sacrificial model hands down.

I do know that putting Jason’s needs before my own and sacrificing for him in big ways and small ways brings tremendous fulfillment and allows me to demonstrate real love, true love.

And I learned through the precious five and a half years we fought alongside our niece, Belle, in her cancer journey that the purity of the love received in return is worth all the pouring of yourself into another.

Ultimate model

It seems so obvious to me now but it took years for me to get to this point. I’m not sure why because we were given the ultimate model of sacrificial love to follow — Jesus Christ.

It seems silly to not figure it out sooner. The example is so powerful.

But if you, like me, struggle to focus entirely on Jesus in everyday life, then how much more will we struggle with giving of ourselves to ordinary humans?

My friend and colleague, Grace Thornton, reminds me often that we are to desire God first, before ourselves and anyone or anything else. And from that place we are to let our lives flow outward.

“His heart is for us to know Him,” Grace says, “making that the entire goal of our life and then trusting Him no matter what happens.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Can we agree to disagree?

I look back now and see that it was actually kind of rude of me to dump all of my frustrations on my friend and colleague. He didn’t have any control over the decisions that were being made nor the seemingly disrespectful way they were being carried out. Sure he was employed by the organization but he was not among the leaders making the difficult moves.Donuts image

Why I let the situation upset me so much I don’t recall, but I do remember the graciousness with which my friend handled me. He stopped what he was doing and let me vent, which actually left him with a late night working to finish up a deadline because I held him hostage debating the issue that was forefront in my mind.

I never once thought of his schedule, his responsibilities, his energy level nor even what heavy burdens he might already be carrying. I used him as a sounding board whether he wanted to be or not.

And he kindly sat there and listened, nodding sympathetically as I talked. I asked him why but my question was not sincere. My mind was made up and I wasn’t really interested in why nor any of the details that led to the decision. And I certainly wasn’t interested in hearing viewpoints from the other side. I really thought that if I could convince my friend to agree with me then we might have a chance to change the leaders’ minds.

Gracious response

When I finally took a breath, he said he understood how frustrating it must be to hear the news without having been part of the internal discussions. He also agreed there was no guarantee the decision was the right one, but he reminded me that I was not privy to all the information and that sometimes tough decisions have to be made for the greater good. Sometimes individuals or even groups have to sacrifice their preference in a situation if it means unifying the whole.

Granted there are essentials of the faith on which we as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ must never compromise. But when the issue falls in the nonessentials category, there must be a willingness to — at the very least — have calm, controlled and open dialog.

When it gets personal

What gets hard is when people on the various sides speak disrespectfully to each other or when one side tries to shut down the other side without a fair hearing. When this happens, it takes a lot of discipline to control emotions and not take the comments personally.

The difficulty level rises if conversations about controversial topics develop into a time of tossing blame or indicating the way it is being done by an opposing force is “wrong” merely because the person doing the talking disagrees. Conversations where all parties are respectful to the various viewpoints being shared are certainly more productive.

I know it disappoints me when my opinion is not valued, even if my opinion is still being shaped as I’m attempting to understand a situation.

Understanding all sides

Another friend shared with me recently that he enjoys reading articles and comments from people on all sides of an issue. He said it helps him better understand the issue. Many times it serves to solidify his own thinking while helping him know how to converse with those who disagree. And then other times, he might even adjust his own way of thinking.

As I attempt to learn from the wisdom of my two friends, I also am reminded to seek direction and wisdom from the Word of God in how to relate to others (Gal. 5:22–23), truly stay in tune with God (2 Chron. 7:14) and live life in general (Luke 10:27).

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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