Fighting through the dark areas

“The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict” by The Arbinger Institute

“The Principle of the Path: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” by Andy Stanley

My brother and brother-in-law both recommended books to me within a few days of each other recently, and I scooped up both immediately. They have different purposes and styles but reading them over the course of the same few weeks reminded me how vital it is to fight through the ugliness and deceptiveness of the world around us and keep our hearts pure.

Both books are quick reads, well-written and convicting. Specific areas, experiences or episodes in your own life will likely surface as you read them, but you also will think of others you want to share the book with as soon as you are finished reading.

A major takeaway from Andy Stanley’s “The Principle of the Path” is: “The direction of your life will determine your destination. … What captures our attention influences our direction. Attention, direction, destination. That’s the principle of the path in three words. And as your attention goes, so goes your life.”

The story in “The Anatomy of Peace” takes the reader through a process to grasp the full picture of resolving conflict but a few key points revolve around seeing others as people, not objects, and how to value others despite having extreme differences.

One passage says, “The people … appeared more concerned with their own burdens than with others’. … It would have been well for them and their cause if they had begun to think as carefully about others as they did about themselves. … What are [their] challenges, trials, burdens and pains? How am I, or some group of which I am a part, adding to these challenges, trials, burdens and pains?”

And a concluding message of hope noted in the book is, “However bleak things look on the outside, the peace that starts it all, the peace within, is merely a choice away. … If we can find our way to peace toward [those who have hurt us], what mountains are too high for human hearts to scale?”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

A model in ‘finishing well’

My dear friends marked their daughter’s 44th birthday on Saturday, the way they’ve faced it for nearly 20 years — with sweet memories, thoughts of what might have been, a desire to share special moments with her and a deep slice of grief permanently attached to their hearts.

I met this inspiring couple about a year after their daughter’s car accident and formed an instant bond that has only grown stronger through the years.

In February of this year I met a new friend — Janice Pitchford, of Abbeville — who was marking her daughter’s 44th birthday that month in a similar manner.

It was the 30th time for Janice but I found it interesting that the two daughters’ birth years were the same — only two years after my own. And the more I learn about both young women, the more I feel certain the three of us would have found many common bonds if we had had the chance to know each other.

Janice shared about her daughter Dawn’s battle with cancer in 1987 and how she entered her “eternal rest” seven months after her 14th birthday. Journaling the details of that devastating time (January through October 1987) became a therapeutic exercise for Janice, and now she hopes the rawness of those captured moments helps others who are fighting similar battles.

In 2015 Janice pulled her journal entries together, added a section about how their family survived losing Dawn and published a book — “Finishing Well: My Daughter’s Journey Home.”

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Dawn’s sweet spirit, compassionate heart and fierce determination come alive through the pages of Janice’s storytelling. Dawn definitely had an extra dose of grace, perspective and maturity, similar to what I observed in my niece Belle, who fought a five-and-a-half-year battle with cancer starting at age 2.

So much of Dawn’s story reminded me of Belle’s journey and how it impacted her parents and siblings. I connected quickly to Dawn’s Aunt Sherry and saw the familiar faces of an entire community of extended family, friends, church family, doctors, nurses, teachers and so many more as Janice walks us through each step.

The details related to the medical procedures and pain Dawn endured help fully tell the story. The transparency Janice offers in the struggles she faced as mother and primary caregiver keep the story real and relatable.

Janice’s writing style is clean and easy to read but you will need tissue within reach. She also does a good job with the pace. While the book can be read relatively quickly, it took me several months to finish because of the emotional connection to the topic. Janice’s ability to bring the reader into the hospital room alongside the medical staff is definitely what you want in an author — and the reason I could only read for a while before having to step away from it. The experiences Dawn and Janice faced are extremely real for the reader.

Each chapter left me inspired and hopeful despite the sadness of knowing the end of the story.

“As a family we have faced some difficult and painful days,” Janice writes in the epilogue, “but I have to say that through it all we have become stronger and we have grown in ways that I could have never imagined.

“I find that as a Christian, I now see death not as a defeat but a victory,” she continues. “We were dealt a devastating blow by Dawn’s death but our choice was to cherish the memories and reach out to help others through that suffering. In Isaiah 58:10 it says, ‘If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness and your darkness shall be as the noonday.’ I believe without a doubt that the way through our personal darkness is found by reaching out to others.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Life lessons from ‘The Sender’

A review of The Sender: A story about when right words make all the differenceimg_20170311_092500.jpg

Admittedly a fan of leadership books in general, I was certain to like Kevin Elko and Bill Beausay’s The Sender. But what I didn’t anticipate was the wave of emotions I would experience while bonding with the characters in the story.

My friends Diane Covin and Larry Byrd of The Sterling Group shared the book with me, noting they thought I would enjoy it — and they were right. There are a few editing slips that distracted me for a second but nothing that confuses the content in any way.

Not only does the book have valuable leadership and personal motivational tips based on Scripture but it also presents practical and strategic concepts in clear, everyday, manageable steps — not necessarily easy but simple. It all comes down to our choices each day, the authors explain.

And despite the adversities that come with life, we can still choose to fight rather than be defeated and flourish on the other side.

University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban said in his recommendation of the book that “Dr. Kevin Elko has certainly contributed to our success in providing a new twist on focus, attention to detail, team work and grit.”

Elko’s background and work with numerous college and professional football coaches and teams leaves no surprise that the main character in The Sender is a football coach.

Maybe my love for football, especially SEC football, made the book even more endearing or maybe it was because of the engaging storytelling ability of co-author Beausay. Then again it could be because the story was set in Alabama, specifically the Birmingham area.

And while all of those reasons certainly made the book appealing, I’m pretty sure my strongest attachment to the story resulted from 10-year-old Max’s amazing attitude and influence on people despite his heart-wrenching battle with cancer. My precious niece Belle would have turned 10 this coming May. Max’s resolve, joy, peace and overall character remind me of Belle. He is a rock star at the fictional pediatric cancer center much like Belle was in real life.

The section on fighting weary also made me think of Belle and how she mastered the ability to live life to its fullest every second when we all knew she had to be truly depleted. She could always dig deep and pull from this amazing reserve of something — something all of us around her clung to with everything we had.

When the motivational letter writer in The Sender addresses the concept of fighting weary, he says: “It’s easy to fight when we are fresh. But how you have success in parenting, success in business, success with our health, overcoming the condition of cancer, is we learn how to fight weary … and survive the assault. Here comes your opponent’s assault but it was just an assault. It wasn’t a victory. Your energy stayed even. … Every relationship has an assault to it. … When you start to feel tired and when you start to feel frustrated, it is a sign you are getting close.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

‘So You Love a Prodigal’

“So You Love a Prodigal: What You Can’t Do, What You Can Do, Why You Can’t Quit” by Rita Aiken MoritProdigal

I’m only one-third of the way through Rita Aiken Moritz’s “So You Love a Prodigal” and I’m anxious to consume every word. I can already tell Rita’s transparency about her own pain, the lessons she’s learned along the way and a consistent thread of biblical truths make the book a “must read” for anyone who has experienced, is experiencing or will experience a broken heart.

Before I begin reading a book I typically flip through all the chapter headers and skim the subheads, sidebars, pull-out quotes, etc. My skimming of this book indicates I will learn and grow from every chapter. The chapter “Who’s to Blame?” reminds us that the choices a prodigal makes is not our fault but is related to the condition of his or her own heart.

Several chapters deal with practical ways to and not to respond “when the roof falls in.”

And the chapter where Robert Smith Jr., beloved preacher and the Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, shares how God moved him to forgiveness of the man who killed his son — there are no words to do it justice. Just be ready for God to move as you read.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

 

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

 

What I Am Reading

Crosson

I love reading books on leadership, management and organizational skills. While I always learn at least a few tips from each book, some books are better than others. There are those that leave you longing for and imagining a world in which what was described in the book could be true, but we all know it is totally unrealistic. And then there are some that are realistic but too complicated and complex to embrace. When you find one that combines a realistic view with manageable concepts, then you know you have a winner.

“What Makes A Leader Great” by Russ Crosson is one of those winners. It not only is realistic about what is possible but also has the most clearly articulated concept of the importance of the “why” of leadership that I’ve read to this point.

Russ Crosson says, “We lead in order to replace ourselves.”

And he is speaking to all forms of leaders, not specifically to business leaders.

“At some point all of us will have opportunities to make decisions that can potentially change the course of a situation or the life of another person. Men and women from all walks of life are asked to lead but few have the tools or the motivation needed to teach others to do the same.

“Great leadership isn’t about the leader at all — it’s about the mission of the organization, church, business or even family where the leader serves. And it is about who will replace the leader when he or she is gone.”

With only 153 pages, the book is a relatively quick read and is packed with rich nuggets and challenging concepts I plan to implement.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

What I Am Reading

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I’ve never been interested in reading much more than a few paragraphs about how a particular organization or group got its start but Rosalie Hunt’s new book Her Way: The Remarkable Story of Hephzibah Jenkins Townsend has stretched my interest in this area.

While only a third of the way through the book, I already feel a connection and admiration for the main character. I love her spunk and determination. Yes, the book certainly achieves the goal of helping share the history of national Woman’s Missionary Union because Townsend was founder of the first missionary society in the South but it does so much more. It also reminds us that our true strength comes from the Lord and, despite the difficulties life brings, we can all make a difference for the Kingdom.

Hunt showcases a true storytelling ability that has me anxiously awaiting the events described in the next chapter. And I love how Hunt developed Townsend’s voice and personality by piecing together the available historical documentation and then basically “becoming” Townsend for a season as she wrote the book.

For more information on Her Way, click here.

—Jennifer Davis Rash