Truly absorbing and retaining what someone says takes work; it’s much more involved than hearing them talk

My granddad used to grab my hands and hold them still when he needed a break from my nonstop chatter.

He would joke with me that I wouldn’t be able to speak if he handcuffed me — and that’s not far from the truth.

Recently I kept a tight grip on my hands during a video shoot to not only stay within the time restrictions but also to slow down my pace. 

The more free my hands, the faster I talk and the more animated I become. It’s as if I need to draw the story for you in the air as it rolls out of my mouth.

And I do talk really fast especially when I’m excited about what I’m sharing.

Active listening takes concentration and intentionality. It requires focus, processing what is being said for understanding and the ability to respond appropriately. And if you are able to actually remember what was said, then you know you succeeded.

To listen for understanding of what is being said and not merely being polite by letting the other person talk may be more rare than we realize.

Try it out this week. You’ll know when you are only hearing the other person rather than truly listening and you’ll start noticing when it happens to you.  

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Sweet smells from special family recipes, specific tastes from certain foods, other sensory-related experiences help resurface memories

Scuppernongs

My coworker and friend asked if I had ever tasted “these” as she pointed to a package of scuppernongs at the farmer’s market.

I didn’t recognize the look nor the name so I answered no — until she said the name aloud. Once I heard it pronounced I knew exactly what it was and realized how long it had been since I had seen, tasted or even thought about a scuppernong.

We had scuppernongs in our backyard when I was growing up and mom and dad would let my brother and me taste them from the vine. 

That memory flooded back to me the minute I heard the name but I couldn’t remember what they tasted like so I bought some the next day.

And the same thing happened — as soon as I tasted one of these muscadine grapes I was right back there in our backyard with mom or dad pulling scuppernongs off one at a time, hoping the sweet flavor wouldn’t vanish as quickly as it always did.

The same thing happens to me with figs. Memories of the fig tree we could see out Papa and Granny McCaig’s kitchen window becomes front and center in my mind when I taste a raw fig.

We always had our fill of figs when the tree was producing — and Granny spent hours making a winter’s worth of fig preserves.

She loved that fig tree and because of that I always think of her whenever I’m around anything related to figs.

Our senses help us hold on to special memories. Let’s all be known for something endearing in our sensory legacies.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Teachers need our prayers, support

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The buses are rolling and those new backpacks won’t be crisp and clean for long now that school is back in session.

With the start of a new school year comes a combination of excitement and nerves for both students and teachers. And in many cases the exhaustion has already set in for teachers — exhaustion from burnout, discouragement and endless frustrations.

Think about the school teachers who made a difference in your life. 

Also think about those who had lost their joy for teaching by the time you were in their class. How many opportunities to change the life of a child for the good did they miss? Did their lack of energy and enthusiasm for the role end up holding students back in life at some point down the road?

I’ve known several people who truly wanted to make a career out of teaching. They love kids, enjoy teaching and embrace the milestones that come with watching a child learn and grow.

But the overwhelming administrative requirements, overcrowded classrooms and the volume of difficult life issues impacting so many around them finally beat them down.

Making a difference

While the school boards and governmental leaders debate the structural and financial details of how to improve schools and teachers’ salaries, church groups and community members can continue helping in small ways such as sending notes, volunteering and donating. We all can help in a big way by praying for the teachers in the school near us by name.

It’s not hard to find out what a school district or individual school needs most. From there, follow the proper channels to help and encourage others to join the effort.

After all, teachers are molding the minds and lives of our children as much as anyone. 

Shouldn’t we want teachers at their best?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Want more wisdom? Absorb a chapter of Proverbs a day and never stop — start back over with each new month

Proverbs 17:22–24

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

“The wicked accept bribes in secret to pervert the course of justice.

“A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.”

Proverbs 18:1–7

“An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels.

“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.

“When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes reproach.

“The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.

“It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice.

“The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating.

“The mouths of fools are their undoing and their lips are a snare to their very lives.”

Proverbs 19:16–21

“Whoever keeps commandments keeps their life, but whoever shows contempt for their ways will die.

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.

“Discipline your children for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

“A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them and you will have to do it again.

“Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Proverbs 20:9–12

“Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?

“Differing weights and differing measures — the Lord detests them both.

“Even small children are known by their actions, so is their conduct really pure and upright?

“Ears that hear and eyes that see — the Lord has made them both.”

(New International Version)

—Jennifer Davis Rash

What would the world be like if adults could have and share even half the joy the children in our lives bring us?

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Church hopping isn’t my typical routine but Sunday, July 28, provided a fun opportunity to participate, at least to some level, in three different church services.

All were different styles and sizes but each were filled with love, joy, smiles, a buzz of excitement and a warm welcome for all who showed up.

It really does make a difference to sense you are noticed and sincerely appreciated.

I spent most of my time that day at First Baptist Church, Carbon Hill, for their special Children’s Ministry Day — and the kids didn’t hesitate to swallow me up with lots of love.

If only all of us could be that bold to show the grace and love of Jesus.

Pastor Scott McCullar said it best during his sermon: “Children have a great value in the kingdom of God. We can learn lessons from them. They hold nothing back.”

“We adults try to squeeze our experiences into the word of God … but children are bold and full of faith. They have joy and take each day as it comes,” he said.

“Children serve the Lord with everything they have and often times we adults hold back a little bit. We should come to the Lord like little children — joyful, faithful and bold.”

McCullar’s words reminded me of the importance of investing in the lives of the children around us. 

They need us to believe in them, remind them of their value and teach them how to navigate life. 

They need us to model for them how to express love and joy for our Savior in adulthood. 

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Some days are tough, even for the most optimistic and energized among us — even for those who hide it well

My friend recently opened up about his three-year battle with deep depression. A few years on the other side of it now he finally feels confident to share — determined he isn’t going back into the pit.

I’m not around him often so it’s not surprising he was able to hide the debilitating experience from me. But I do remember contacting him once or twice during that time and receiving an oddly cold reception, almost as if he were annoyed at my call.

Instead of checking on him or acknowledging that something seemed out of character I determined I must have called at a bad time and let it go.

An interesting note about this particular friend is that he is the one who many years ago introduced me to the concept of always being kind to others no matter how they behave because we don’t know what’s happening in their lives at that moment.

‘Be kind’

There’s a famous quote about this concept: “Be kind for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” 

For as long as I’ve know him my friend has used a version of this quote along with a Scripture reference at the end of his email messages after his name.

I haven’t located the original source of the quote. It seems to have been attributed most often to a variety of Greek philosophers and on occasion to a handful of modern-day bloggers.

No matter who first said it the point is clear and a good reminder to all of us. 

And Colossians 3:12 says it even better: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

So when someone in the service industry is rude to us or our friend doesn’t return our calls and texts we should respond with kindness and love, showing grace, rather than getting upset.

If someone close to us chooses not to share about a health concern or difficult situation he or she is facing, we can find other ways to support and care for him or her. We can still pray without knowing the specifics — and we can always be kind.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

To the fathers out there — sometimes it’s the little things, the routine moments that make the biggest difference

Sometimes things don’t work out like you planned. You can pitch a fit, get angry and pout about it — or you can adapt. 

That’s a lesson my daddy has modeled for me my entire life.

It might mean an obstacle like a flat tire causes you to miss an important appointment. 

Or maybe a team member fails to carry his or her weight and you have to pick up the slack.

It could be any number of unexpected events that disrupts your day. The best way forward is to assess the situation in front of you, adjust to take care of it and work to get back on track as best you can.

It also may mean changing your plans entirely if the derailment is severe enough — but if that’s what you need to do, then that’s exactly what you do, says my dad.

Living on a farm in rural Alabama offers a special opportunity to be surrounded by the beauty of God’s world, experience a calmer existence and participate more fully in the daily moments of family.

But farming and working acres and acres of land also brings with it consistent problems — equipment breaks down, tools wear out, the weather doesn’t cooperate, people get sick, the community experiences a tragedy, etc.

I can remember many times when I would be so frustrated because something didn’t work out right and dad would be frustrated too, but he didn’t waste time being upset like I did. He would calmly and quietly figure out what all needed to be done and do it without any drama.

Sometimes it meant dealing with a serious issue in the chicken house in the middle of the night; sometimes it was taking a break from the plowing he had planned for that day to rescue me from a broken-down car.

There’s always a way

Whatever it was then and whatever it might be today, I am better because my dad chose — and continues to choose — not to let the disruptions of life defeat him. I sense that same calmness in myself even in my weakest moments when I want to cry, scream or pull the covers over my head.

Thank you, daddy, for teaching me there’s always a way through the problems in front of us, disruptions are temporary and a calm spirit steadies the environment for everyone involved.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Anyone else tempted to drive to the U.S.-Mexico border to find ways to help, assess the situation for yourself?

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Line of demarcation on the U.S.-Mexico border at San Ysidro, California. (Photo by Josh Denmark/www.cbp.gov)

I’m not properly equipped to outline a solution for the humanitarian crisis taking place at the U.S. border but I do know the situation pulls at all of our hearts no matter our stance on how best to deal with the overall issue of illegal immigration.

I’m confident none of us want anyone’s child to be afraid or lacking basic securities, care and love. It’s one thing to be in the dark about sufferings happening around us; it’s another to know about it and choose to sit back and do nothing.

After all with knowledge comes responsibility — but then there’s the problem of determining exactly what it means to be responsible.

Reconciling levels of responsibility

We know we should be the ones responsible to care for ourselves and our families which also means protecting them.

We know we are called to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength” and “love your neighbors as yourself.”

But how do we reconcile these specific responsibilities when it comes to the border crisis?

We may be able to help with immediate actions to alleviate some of the suffering but we can’t stop there.

Our country’s leaders must set aside their political agendas to find a workable solution. They’ve done it before and are more than capable of doing it now, but I do think they need to know we will not punish them for sitting across the table together to figure it out.

We also must remember to pray for all involved and find ways to help.

While U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities currently are not accepting any donations of supplies to help migrant families and children, we can look for other ways to assist current ministry efforts.

For instance, West Brownsville Baptist Church is one church ministering in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. The church recently began serving as an overflow respite center to shelter migrants and has lots of needs related to that role.

Purchase items from the church’s Amazon wishlist for Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville Respite Center here.

Other Baptist organizations accepting relief donations include:

San Diego Southern Baptist Association: Choose “Juvenal Gonzalez-Tijuana” fund (church planting catalyst missionary in Tijuana serving migrants) and give online at https://app.easytithe.com/App/Giving/sdsba.

Baptist Convention of New Mexico: Choose “Disaster Relief” fund and give online at https://bcnm.com/give/.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention: Choose “Disaster Relief” fund and give online at https://www.shelbygiving.com/App/Giving/sbtc.

Arizona Southern Baptist Convention: Specify an amount, then choose “AZSBC Disaster Relief” to give online at https://azsbc.org/give/.

The Alabama Baptist staff will continue researching appropriate ways to contribute, send supplies and provide teams to help.

If you are interested in assisting the efforts or have information to share, then reach out to us at news@thealabamabaptist.org or by calling 1-800-803-5201, ext. 103.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Two coins made everything OK

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Edited version of photo by Matt Borsic on Unsplash

Circling the block one more time, I decided I might actually make it to the meeting on time when I saw the car pull out of the spot directly in front of the building.

It meant I would have to parallel park though — not my best skill. The other option was to drive another four blocks to the lot with my kind of parking spots — straight on.

Parallel parking won out and I actually pulled off a respectable parking job.

Right on time, I bounced out of my car and headed to the meter, only to discover I had no change to feed it. Not one dime, nickel, quarter, nothing. 

How could I have forgotten the meter?

My momentary win with the parking saga quickly faded into frustration as I hurriedly plundered the console in my car, looked between the seats and scanned the sidewalks.

How could I have not thought to bring change for the meter? Why did I not give myself more time so I could have walked from the free parking area? 

On and on I went scolding myself until a man with a gentle spirit passed by me on the sidewalk. 

Two quarters would make everything OK in that moment so I swallowed my pride, got his attention and asked if he might cover the price of my meter.

He didn’t hesitate nor did he linger. He put the two quarters in the meter, turned the knob and challenged me to do the same for someone else in need.

Challenge accepted

I thanked him and accepted his challenge — but I also determined I would take it one step farther.

Instead of having to be asked, I determined I would strive to be so aware of my surroundings and those around me that I can sense when there is a need. 

My friend Janet advocates for this type of kindness as one way to share the Light inside us. 

It might be letting the person with only two items go in front of you in the grocery line or allowing the car stuck behind the stalled vehicle back over into the flow of traffic, she says.

Maybe it is leaving a larger than normal tip. Or maybe it is feeding two quarters into a stranger’s meter. 

Whatever it might be, our simple, kind gestures will always leave a lasting impression.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Difficulty of the darkness hovering around us, pressing in on us has no chance against the Light within us

An endless stream of concerns, debates and ideas circle nonstop in my mind as I attempt to pinpoint the most timely news or life issue to cover. 

Nationally, a fresh and fierce debate over abortion has erupted and Alabama is among states at the center of the strategy.

Statewide, the thoughts of a lottery and other possible gambling expansions have several people and entities wanting a piece of the pie. At the same time opposing forces are working endlessly to remind citizens of the social ills that come with any form of gambling.  

Politically, the rhetoric between the two main parties continues to provide a daily dose of hate and anger — almost as if they think we enjoy the ugliness.

Denominationally, internal conflict is brewing — and unlike the major fight 30 years ago, the current arguments are playing out over social media and blog posts.  

If all of that weren’t enough, then news reports from a variety of faith-based media outlets (including TAB) and the mainstream media have us thinking about topics such as: believers being persecuted for their faith, religious liberty fights nationally and internationally, how to handle illegal immigration in the U.S., how Christians can exist godly and neighborly in a society with same-sex couples and families, strife in the Middle East, random plane and helicopter crashes, flooding, tornadoes, drive-by shootings, college bribery scandals, etc.

I’m confident you can fill in the blank with a dozen other situations happening all around us.

Light pierces the darkness

Some days it seems impossible to push through all the darkness, but for those of us who know Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, we can have confidence that no matter how difficult or discouraging the world around us becomes, we possess the ultimate Light.

And there’s no defeating Him — now or ever. Light will always pierce the darkness. 

If you don’t know Jesus, then let us tell you about Him. There’s plenty of room to join us.

—Jennifer Davis Rash