Commencement address to Judson College’s 2020 graduates

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Jennifer Davis Rash

Graduates, the nugget I want to leave with you today is the importance of holding on to the capability to learn.

As the Class of 2020, you are being touted as the class above all classes because of what you experienced during your final semester. You know, that little pandemic thing.

You’ve proven you’ve got what it takes.

You learned in only a few months what most of us had the luxury of a few decades to learn — how to adapt and still flourish when life doesn’t work out like we planned.

But with this praise comes a great deal of pressure and responsibility, which can be managed with success if you maintain a spirit of teachability.

The ability to continue learning at every step of your journey will always serve you well.

Some days, good enough truly is good enough, but most days should be about excellence, no matter how insignificant the tasks of the day may seem.

Part of being excellent is owning up to mistakes.

Mistakes are part of the journey so being mature enough to own yours will lighten the load for everyone involved, including yourself.

It’s also important to learn from them — yours and others.

One mistake we all make at some point is to believe the world revolves around us.

And while today is rightfully all about each of you — most days are not.

In fact, the more we focus on helping others instead of ourselves, the more at peace we will be.

Being a graduate of a religious institution of higher learning means you know a bit about the Bible, so you already know Scripture teaches our greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

And the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

As you leave the college nest and prepare to tackle the world, clinch tightly to those commandments.

And recognize that to achieve both, you must also love yourself.

Scripture is clear that each one of us is created in the image of our Father, the almighty God, so humbly loving ourselves reflects our love for Him and teaches us how to love others.

You only have one life to live here on earth, and you’ve started well.

I urge you to commit today to also finish well — with confidence in who you are and assurance of Whose you are.

The fact is, we need you.

We need your light. We need your kindness. We need your smarts. We need your energy. And we need your teachability.

A few ABCs for the road …

A — Always be honest but be kind in the process, and always give people the benefit of the doubt as your first response.

B — Be forgiving and able to let go of past hurts.

C — Calm the chaos around you by giving more than you take and being part of the solution.

Congratulations, Class of 2020. You are beautiful. You are valued. You are loved. You are strong.

And remember, we need you — the very best version of you God has in store.

Editor’s Note — Commencement address delivered by Jennifer Davis Rash at Judson College in Marion, Alabama, on June 27, 2020.

Use global halting of events as opportunity to rest in Him

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Photo by Jennifer Davis Rash

By the time we realized March Madness for the year 2020 would not describe basketball brackets, rivalries and surreal roundball moments, the normal activities of life as we know it had practically shut down.

COVID-19 became a household term, and our homes, offices, schools, churches and devices might just be the cleanest they’ve ever been.

Online screenings and drive-thru testing centers emerged seemingly overnight.

Many conferences, classes and church services were canceled, rescheduled or moved online.

Airlines and hotels removed all rescheduling and cancellation fees. They even made it super easy to go online and click through the necessary items in a matter of seconds.

Making assessments

Leaders at all levels assessed, reassessed and worked hard to make the best decisions they could for the people for which they were responsible, as well as for the businesses and organizations they lead.

And when Alabama’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced this morning (March 13), the assessments narrowed to an even more laser-focused stance.

While our team at TAB Media is working to stay up on all the latest reports and announcements, we also are performing appropriate assessments related to our staff and office as well.

Crisis management plan

Past experiences of unforeseen difficult events, such as the Snowpocalypse winter storm of 2014, the April 2011 tornado devastation in Alabama, the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009 and other experiences through the years, provided opportunities to develop crisis management plans we still use today.

As crises emerge along the way, we always try to dust off our existing plans and put those into play while also adapting as needed to the current situation and accounting for new techonology and resources available to us.

Learning from each experience makes us better and more prepared for the next event sure to come our way. Having a crisis management and communications plan prevents panic and uncertainty because team members trust the leadership and are informed early, consistently and with clarity about what to expect and how to prepare.

Even a basic plan such as knowing who is in charge during a crisis and naming one person to handle all outgoing and incoming communications gives an advantage in focusing quickly on determining priorities.

Opportunity to shine for Jesus

As we find our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m confident history will report amazing stories of people of faith shining for Jesus. 

Volunteers trained in medical missions and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief will undoubtedly be on the front lines. 

Believers with a chaplain’s heart will work to calm the masses, and people of prayer will unite across the globe to call on God to lead us through this journey.

And I believe the best of each of us will surface as we come together.

Take this opportunity to calm your heart and mind and sling some Jesus all around.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Interesting exercise to draw a line down the middle of your story

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Stepping into this new year and new decade brought a significant milestone for me personally. 

I’ve now spent half my life serving Alabama Baptists through The Alabama Baptist/TAB Media — and I can’t think of anywhere else I would have rather been.

I joined the TAB team on Jan. 1, 1996, at 24 years old, and on Jan. 1, 2020, I celebrated 24 years with TAB.

Countless people have poured into me through the years, and many continue investing in my growth, something I truly treasure as a big believer in mentoring and cross training. 

A quick look back over the years shows clearly how God was working all along the way.

What I thought was a short-term position while completing my studies at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University quickly became home and the obvious place where God had called me to serve.

‘If God called me …’

While I had no idea how the calling would work itself out nor what all would appear along the path, I trusted that if God called me to do it, He would guide me step by step —
and He has been faithful.

He has provided continuous opportunities to learn and grow, and He has put many amazing mentors and co-workers in my life to teach me along the way.

The deep friendships formed through the years fill my heart and make me even more grateful to be part of the broader Alabama Baptist family.

But how did I get here?

Drawing a line down the middle of your story can be an interesting exercise. For me, there are two sets of 24 years.

Early years

In the first set, you will find my growing up years on a farm in Phil Campbell, Alabama — a rural community in the northwest corner of the state.

During those years I thought the norm for all children was to grow up in a safe, loving environment with plenty of food and parents who taught life skills and a strong work ethic.

Experiencing life outside those early years has taught me many people didn’t have that opportunity and what a privileged upbringing I had.

 Also in my first set of 24 years, you will find two years spent studying at Northwest Community College and another two years spent studying at the University of Alabama.

And while I grew up in church and part of a large extended family of believers, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I truly gave my heart and life to Christ.

It also was during college that I surrendered to a call to full-time Christian service, which led to a search for what that meant. 

After college graduation, I spent two years serving with the International Mission Board as an editorial assistant with Caribbean Christian Publications focused on the English-speaking Caribbean.

God provided intense opportunities for me to grow spiritually, professionally and relationally during those two years. When the term ended, I found my 24-year-old self at TAB with no idea where that would lead.

Reflecting on my current mid-point marker and these past 24 years at TAB helped me realize just how many strides have been made by a variety of different team members who were under the direction of Bob Terry for most of those years. What a gift to get to tag along for the ride.

Second half

Since 1996, the TAB team has moved from focusing on one product — a weekly newspaper — to becoming a full media group with multiple daily deadlines in 2020.

The first webpage came along in 2000 and a fully functioning website in 2004. TAB found its way onto social media platforms  in 2007–2008 and then launched the digital version of the print publication in 2010.

Augmented Reality was added to the mix in 2015 and lasted for a few years, along with several attempts at live streaming and video newscasting.

A robust new multilevel website was developed in 2016 along with the debut of a new logo and rebranding effort.

In 2018, the TAB News radio show and podcast hit the airwaves, and in 2019 a visually impaired cartridge and new glossy magazine were added.

Granted, technology advancements allowed for much of the expansion to take place, but it also took vision, courage and training to make the moves.

With the various new elements in the picture, it could be easy to let the print product slide away, but the focus on the newspaper continues to be an important part of the team’s work.

We plan to continually polish the 177-year-old weekly newspaper currently entrusted to our care. It has won more than 250 national awards in less than 25 years, and we are determined to keep it among the best available.

We also are excited to introduce a trickle of new glossy magazines being produced by TAB for special events and specific emphases.

Coming to the airwaves will be more podcasts available on the TAB Media channel as well as more growth in the audio digest version of TAB for the visually impaired.

Going forward

And our online presence through social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube), web resources and the digital version of the paper will no doubt continue to adapt to that constantly changing realm.

What changes will we see in the next 24 years? I’m not sure, but I’m confident we are ready to figure it out step by step.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

What will history write about our version of the 20s?

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We are at the front end of a pristine new 20s. Whether we refer to our new decade as the “twenties” or the “twenty-twenties,” we have been handed the opportunity to blaze a new, yet healthier, path by learning from the past.

What will history write about the 2020s one day? What statement will we make? How will we be branded?

We truly can shake off the past, let go of whatever is holding us back and make this our decade. Why not make it our goal to see and live with the clarity of 20/20 vision in the decade of the 2020s?

Read the full My Rashionale piece here.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Few moments without mobile devices might be our new ‘apple a day’ remedy

 

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When I sorted through the mail a few weeks ago and discovered a four-color Christmas catalog for toys — Amazon’s Ultimate Wish List — my mind jumped immediately to my childhood when we received the annual Sears Christmas Wish Book.

Everyone received the Wish Book back in the day. It’s how we made our list for what toys and gifts we wanted for Christmas — that and the commercials on Saturday morning of course. The Wish Book had all the latest toys displayed in four color. 

The Sears Wish Book is no longer printed but even if it were I can’t imagine it would have the same impact as it did then — with no internet and no mobile devices with which to compete. 

While it seems ironic that in this high-tech, digital age an online sales company mails out print catalogs, it does make sense as a way to stand out. Children and their parents are bombarded with digital screens in every part of life now so the promotions and ads all kind of run together sometimes.

‘Strength overdone becomes weakness’

Multimedia offers countless positive aspects and we at TAB are excited about ways we will continue growing our digital presence. But the saying “strength overdone becomes weakness” applies in the area of multimedia as much as any other.

Too many hours a day looking at a screen, especially without proper body alignment and rest breaks, will cause physical issues that come with any type of overuse situation. And emotionally and mentally the scars from overuse will no doubt run deep. 

A few moments talking in person rather than texting and silencing the nonstop dings around us might just be our new “apple a day” remedy for the negative side effects of too much screen time built up over years of use. 

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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

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

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