Shockingly speechless

Yes, the rumors are true. I can confirm I was indeed left speechless earlier this month — not only once but twice. Many were shocked to witness the historic events.

Editor Bob Terry and The Alabama Baptist staff get all the credit as they found a way to surprise me with a feature article and a party celebrating my 20th anniversary with Alabama’s state Baptist newspaper. And if that weren’t special enough, I also received calls, emails, letters, texts, Facebook posts, tweets, video messages, gifts and personal appearances by friends and family from various parts of the state, across the nation and around the world.

It is still hard for me to believe all of that was done for me. I remain speechless and thank all of you for honoring me the way you did.

I know that finding me speechless once, much less several times, is hard to believe, especially for the number of you who referred to my “gift of gab” in the notes you wrote. And you know me well, I do like to talk — a lot.

But 2016 has discovered a more contemplative version of me so far. Along with the celebratory moments, another anniversary struck other emotions.

Marking the date

January 17 marked one year since my young niece and goddaughter Belle Mitchell left us for heaven (to read more about her cancer journey, visit the “Snapshots of Belle” category here on rashionalthoughts.com).Belle with Aunt Jen

It is true what the grief experts say — you do adapt and learn to live without the person you are missing — but the ache of missing him or her lives on. I’m not sure I realized the degree of how much I missed Belle would actually increase with time but it is happening. I find myself continually needing a hug from her, wanting desperately to hear her laugh and/or wishing for one more silly moment with her.

Still I hold on to what others have shared with me — each day we live is one day closer to being with her again. And each day we have an opportunity to do great things for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We can choose to tackle each day and make a difference for the Kingdom or we can fall into a pit and let the enemy convince us we are not able to keep moving.

Believe me, I’ve fallen into the pit a few times and some days I might have been easily convinced to stay there, but every time a friend or family member came along and pulled me out, reminding me to keep my eyes on Jesus.

Again, I am overwhelmed with the love surrounding me, and I am convicted to not take it for granted nor overlook others who might slip past our gaze and be falling further and further into their own pit.

The lyrics in Sidewalk Prophets’ “Save My Life” touch on this point:

“… You come here every Friday night; I take your order and try to be polite; And hide what I’ve been going through;

“If you looked me right in the eye; Would you see the pain deep inside; Would you take the time to;

“Tell me what I need to hear; Tell me that I’m not forgotten; Show me there’s a God. …

Belle taught me how to love unconditionally (consistently showing grace, mercy and forgiveness while also showing others there is a God), live life to its fullest (despite the obstacles that undoubtedly will appear in your path) and laugh as much as possible (even amid the pain and fear). She knew how to celebrate life — and I want to be like Belle when I grow up.

—Jennifer Davis Rash (aka Aunt Jen Jen)

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Considering a fresh start?

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 9.02.37 PMWho doesn’t love a fresh start? It might be buying a new house or car and enjoying the freedom from repairs (at least for a few weeks). It might be cleaning out the pantry, joining a gym and beginning a new healthy lifestyle.

And then there are natural fresh starts that allow us to breathe in the excitement that comes with new opportunities.

Transitioning from high school to college was one of those moments for me. It was a chance to reinvent myself without all the baggage of the past 12 years. New interests, new experiences and new people to meet allowed me to figure out more of my potential and what opportunities lay before me. And believe me, I grabbed hold of everything I could juggle in my arms and tied strings to my belt with the things I couldn’t. I threw myself in deep and swam through the endless hours of academics, activities and achievements.

Following college graduation I committed to a short-term missions assignment.

Diving in deep

For the next two and a half years, I swam even deeper — growing in my faith like I had never before experienced, developing life-changing relationships and refining my intense desire to serve others.

Next came my transition to The Alabama Baptist (TAB). What started out as a short-term job to get me through Beeson Divinity School at Samford University turned into a beloved career. Now, 20 years later, I look back and realize I’ve been swimming so far and so deep that I can no longer see the shore. I am one with the sea — but not just with TAB, in all aspects of Alabama Baptist life. I love this people group and am honored to be one of them and serve them.

But even with the depth of my love for Alabama Baptists, are there moments I’m tempted to bail for a fresh start? Absolutely.

The weight from dealing with daily life issues year after year, the frustrations that lie continuously beneath the surface, the disappointments, the unmet expectations, the exhaustion from carrying each other along the journey — they are real.

Holding on to the rope

It isn’t any different than the decisions all of us face in life.

It may be a difficult choice in your personal life. It may be in church life — to revitalize the dying congregation or plant a new one. It may be in the workplace or volunteer role — to dig deep to find freshness in a long-term position or make a change which guarantees new energy.

It isn’t that one answer is necessarily right and one is wrong; it is about determining what is best despite the cloud of emotions, exhaustion, etc., that might be tainting our view.

Sometimes life gets so marred down that escaping to a blank slate seems like the only way to survive. And in many cases, that truly is the best move to make.

But we also should evaluate if gaining some relief, taking a break or making a specific adjustment would release us from the lack of enthusiasm, loss of love or hopelessness we might be feeling. After all, fresh starts are a never-ending desire and it won’t be long before that which is new is old again — complete with its own heavy luggage.

What makes the most difference, whichever decision we make, is to hold on to the rope that connects us to Christ. I may be battered from being pounded in the storm and continuously tossed up against the side of the rescue boat but I hold on tight, knowing with confidence He won’t let go of His end.

We may need a fresh start sometimes. But what we need even more is the consistency of a God who doesn’t let us go — a God who works in both our current situations and our fresh starts.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Finding forgiveness for a wounded heart

1

It was as if the verse had been penciled into the Gospel of Luke when I wasn’t looking. Had it really been there all along?

Luke 19:8 — “Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much” (NASB).

The Gospel According to Luke — written by the only Gentile author in the New Testament who was described by Paul as the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14) and known for being a detailed historian — has been a consistent part of my readings since becoming a Christian a little more than 25 years ago. With the theme of the book focused on Christ as the perfect and compassionate Son of Man offering salvation to the whole world, it became a favorite book of mine almost immediately.

Journalist-like

Luke, who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, acknowledges in Luke 1:2 that he was not an eyewitness of the life of Jesus Christ but his writings are extremely detailed.

I appreciate Luke’s style. He reminds me of an investigative journalist as he dives in deep, consulting as many eyewitnesses as he can find, keeping copious notes and working hard to tell the full story.

Thoroughness

He did thorough research and sought to totally understand the story before writing about it. You can always tell when a journalist doesn’t understand the story he or she is writing about because you (as the reader) don’t understand it either. Luke is careful to avoid this pitfall in his writing.

While a journalist might not choose to go with a chronological approach, this seemed to work best for Luke (1:3) who undoubtedly had an overwhelming amount of content to weave together in a readable form.

Life lessons

The Gospel of Luke has helped me learn more about Jesus and understand His teachings. The Lord’s Prayer in chapter 11 and the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 6 as well as the 35 parables (19 unique to Luke) have continued to challenge and grow me in my discipleship journey.

And while the book has helped me understand so much of Jesus’ life and the various ethics, values and morals of the Christian life as well as the basic ways we as believers should live, Zaccheus’ decision to make right his wrongs slipped past me — at least until I truly needed to see it.

About two years ago, God began to disclose some dark places in my heart and the conviction to deal with them was strong enough to lead me deeper into Scripture to seek the proper path. It all had to do with forgiveness — forgiveness of those who had hurt me and seeking forgiveness from those I had wronged.

No limit on forgiveness

The list was a manageable length but that didn’t make it any easier. Every conversation was going to be hard.

Luke — who had carefully researched and documented his book, which is thought to have been written between 59 and 62 A.D. — said in 17:3–4 we are to forgive our brother (or sister). And there is no limit to how many times we should forgive him or her no matter how many times he or she sins against us.

There were eight people on my list to forgive and this passage burned in my mind. I started down my list right away and checked off four within the year and worked through the other four this past year.

And wouldn’t you know it, within days of being free, I ended up with another exercise in forgiveness, and just a few weeks after that I encountered a hurt that knocked the breath out of me — one that I’m currently working through, trying to reach the point of forgiveness.

Seeking forgiveness

Of course, the journey of learning to forgive others uncovered my own wrongdoings that need forgiving. Five people came to mind right away. I sought out the first three people immediately and asked for forgiveness. The other two were a bit harder, but I worked through them.

In all of the forgiving and asking for forgiveness I realized God is faithful to show us where we need work if we will pay attention. And Luke shows us the complete picture of what forgiveness means. It is not only about making amends and seeking forgiveness but also about being willing to truly forgive without holding a grudge. Matthew 18:21–35 provides another great lesson in forgiveness, reminding us that we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us.

Not always easy

Still I’m the first to admit that knowing we should forgive when we have been wounded doesn’t take the difficulty away of actually being able to do it.

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

Which is harder for you — forgiving someone who has hurt you or asking for forgiveness when you’ve hurt someone else?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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When no one wants to tell you

Cartoon 1613_001 BW edited

It was a bit disappointing and hurtful that I wasn’t asked to help with the event — much less direct it. After all the project fit perfectly in my wheelhouse and I would have been brilliant in the lead spot — or at least in my opinion I would have.

So why would those handing out the assignments not pick me? Surely they didn’t realize what they had done. It had to be an innocent mistake.

I decided to prevent the blunder from happening again by alerting those in charge that I was interested and skilled in that particular area.

‘We’ll keep you in mind’

Right on cue they thanked me for my interest. They said they would definitely keep me in mind for future projects. I walked away feeling good about what must have been amazing communication skills on my part to have worked out everything so quickly and easily.

But when the next opportunity came I was overlooked again. And again. And again.

Then it hit me. The group had worked with me once a few years prior. They had brought me on to assist with a project because of my skill set and had asked me to serve in a support role.

Once the assignment got underway, I looked around and realized we were not working efficiently nor effectively and we could do a lot better job if they would do it my way. I elbowed my way to the top spot, took over the project and completed the assignment.

The end result turned out well as far as quality of the project was concerned; group morale not so much.

Overstepping the role

It may be true I had a higher level of experience and training in the area but that wasn’t the point. I was not selected to be in control of the project. I was asked to serve a support role. When I didn’t honor what I had agreed to do, the group took note and made sure never to invite me to help again.

I’ve also been on the other side of the situation and not appreciated when someone who thought they knew more than I did — even if they did — took over a project that was mine to lead. If I were chosen to manage the project, then those assisting should play the specific roles they were asked to do even if I seem to be missing some important insights, right? Not exactly.

After all a leader should want to be challenged and sharpened by his or her team. That means allowing team members to have the right to make suggestions for improvement. It doesn’t mean the leader has to do all that is suggested, but encouraging feedback and then sincerely listening and considering the concepts suggested help make sure the leader is thinking around all sides of the subject.

At the same time, team members must remember to be respectful of the leader and the leader’s decisions. Discussions, debates and even disagreements can happen while a topic is being decided, but once a decision is made, the team needs to be unified around the decision in order to function smoothly and healthily.

Working with a mismatch

Of course the difficulty comes in a situation when the leader is a mismatch for the project and no one wants to tell him or her. Or when a team member can’t handle not being the one in control and continuously causes issues for the team because he or she won’t cooperate appropriately. And no one wants to tell this person either.

I often wonder why we are so afraid to speak truth to one another. Yes some people make it hard because they are offended easily and end up pouting about it. Others don’t know how to deliver truthful messages with compassion. They only know one style and it cuts deep.

We all should do more self evaluating and determine what we are doing to make people afraid to be honest with us. We also should welcome honest feedback and not be so easily offended.

At the same time we should work harder at sharing (with grace and love) our concerns with those in our lives rather than avoiding them or humoring them with fake responses.

The truth hurts sometimes but it hurts more to discover that someone you trusted didn’t tell you the truth.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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What I am reading

“90 Minutes in Heaven” 

10th anniversary edition 

By Don Piper with Cecil Murphey90 Minutes in Heaven

I never slowed down to read “90 Minutes in Heaven” when it first came out, so when I saw the 10th anniversary edition I decided it was time to read it. I’m glad I waited because this edition adds updated comments from author Don Piper, his wife, his son, co-author Cecil Murphey and the book’s publisher. Hearing from them 10 years after the book was originally published gave an interesting insight into how the success of Piper’s book as well as the demand for him as a guest speaker has affected his family. The book also shares personal stories from people walking through tragedy and how reading “90 Days” helped them in their situation.

And while Piper’s recounting of his heaven experience is certainly inspiring and an exciting reminder of what is to come for those of us who have given our hearts and lives to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it was the details of the struggles he has endured while here on earth that captivated me the most. His story especially spoke to me about how we truly are all in this journey together and can learn from each other, help when it’s our turn to help and allow others to help us when we need help.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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And we’ve launched — a new #dlife group is born

“Jesus’ vision was not a church filled with ‘discipleship programs’ but a church filled with passionate disciple makers living a lifestyle of making and multiplying disciples in all the world,” says D-Life author Bill Wilks, pastor of NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville.IMG_20151026_180647

While I have experienced a variety of discipleship studies in the past 25 years, it is the simplicity and accountability aspect of Dr. Wilks’ D-Life that is teaching me how to truly make our commission as believers “to make disciples who make disciples” become a lifestyle.

I began D-Life with a group facilitated by Lisa M. (fellow member of NorthPark) in 2013–2014. The group was hungry to grow. They challenged and encouraged me to grow as well. In 2015, it was time for me to help launch a new group and thus multiply our group. And my friend Haley P. and I launched that group tonight.

Stay tuned for what we are learning along the journey. For more information about D-Life, click here.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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What I am reading

“Every Day Can Be a Great Day” by Gary Hardin9781498441346_lg

The Psalms have become a great source of comfort and strength for me this year, so when my friend Gary sent me a copy of his latest book, I started reading it right away.

Focusing on Psalm 34, Gary walks through the verses in eight easy-to-read chapters, explaining the “treasure-trove of promises from God” and how to apply them to our everyday lives. The book is a smooth, seamless read and almost feels like you are having a conversation with Gary in person.

Gary says, “The premise behind this book is that when we trust the promises of God, every day can be a great day.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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