Congratulations to new Alabama Baptist convention officers

Looking forward to partnering in ministry with the new Alabama Baptist State Convention officers, elected Nov. 14:

ABSC new officers 2018-19

 

President Tim Cox (center, being choked … ha!) — pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, Chelsea.

First Vice President Buddy Champion (left) — pastor of First Baptist Church, Trussville.

Second Vice President Morgan Bailey (right) — pastor of Canaan Baptist Church, Bessemer.

Dedicated group of pastors for sure — and lots of fun as well.

A note of congrats also goes out to John Thweatt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Pell City, who wrapped up his time as convention president Nov. 14. Prior to his final act as president, Thweatt shared with The Alabama Baptist some of what he learned during his time in the role.

Alabama Baptists have a lot of thriving, “incredible” ministries, and watching them at work was a good reminder to keep the Great Commission central and work together to accomplish it, he said.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

 

Hooyah says it all

I struggle to remember the various team names of my nephews and nieces, but I’m convinced I will never forget the Wild Boars youth soccer team from Thailand’s Chiang Rai province — a group of kids I had never heard of before June 23. I’m guessing you know them now too.

The latest extraordinary survival story truly captured the heart of a global audience. And the ability and willingness of a community to share the story through the news media and various social media outlets as it unfolded allowed all of us to be up close and personal with the situation.

Thai cave boys 

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Thai cave boys when they were discovered alive by two British divers July 1, 2018. (Screen grab from video shared with news media outlets)

Twelve boys and their coach — the Thai cave boys as they are known — became our nephews, our sons, our grandsons, our neighbor’s kids and our students. It didn’t matter how or why they were in that cave; all that mattered was that they all came out alive.

Rescuers, medical personnel, governmental leaders and other experts focused and showcased crisis management at its best. The odds were stacked against the operation and the loss of 38-year-old former Navy Seal diver Lieutenant Commander Saman Gunan in the operation reminded a watching world just how impossible the mission seemed.

It’s no surprise the Thai Navy Seals posted on Facebook when it was all over: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, science, or what.”

World showed up

People from around the world showed up to give everything they had to pull the rescue mission off. A glimmer of hope remained despite the constant obstacles — more rain coming, oxygen levels dropping, boys can’t swim, navigating route out of cave treacherous even for experienced divers, etc., etc., etc.

But all involved were committed, invested and going to see the operation through until the end. They knew their individual assignments well and worked to deliver their best to the team and overall effort. Deep concern for the boys, fears of what could be, compassion for the families, sheer determination, a never-give-up attitude and a tightly clenched hold to pure hope unified the people and the effort. 

And while I am among the 1,727,707 people who have now visited the Thai Navy Seal Facebook page and add my own thumbs up to their Seals’ affirmative “#Hooyah” response to the mission, the effort also included an army of ordinary people who stepped up in the process.

Ordinary people, extraordinary effort

Media reports indicate individuals in the community found specific roles they could play to be productive and helpful. Some made sure access to food was easily available to the rescuers, strategists and media. Some used their own vehicles and gas to transport those leading the effort to where they needed to go in the area. Some even voluntarily cleaned the portable toilets — can you imagine the selfless nature of the sweet people who determined that is where they could best serve?

All of this certainly indicates a movie will be produced soon and the layers of story lines might prove difficult to narrow. I also sense a strong sermon series could be developed from what we all watched and felt for those nearly three weeks in late June and early July.

Two aspects I hope are included in whatever way this story becomes historically documented are:

—How the world came together and put aside differences to fight for, cheer on and pray for the boys, the rescuers, the families and the situation in general.

Media reports allowed all of us to remain front and center, be informed, know how to pray, understand the situation and determine what roles we could play. We focused on the situation and the overall goal — not worrying about which news media brought us the story or calling each other names, not pushing our own agendas in the midst of a crisis, not determining someone’s political alignment or faith background before stepping up to do the right thing, instead basically working together, showing compassion and understanding what really mattered in the moment.

—How the parents reached out to Coach Ake through the message they sent him in the cave. “Don’t blame yourself. … The mums and dads, none of them are angry at you,” the letter to the coach said. The parents said they were glad he was there, asked him to take care of their boys and made sure he knew they also were concerned about his safety.

What a showing of forgiveness and grace in the midst of what had to be many moments of fighting off their greatest fears.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Birthday boost

Happy Birthday, Belle!

Belle would have been 11 today so if you are part of Team Belle, or would like to be, the goal for today is to find 11 ways to make others smile … it might merely be smiling at them first. Belle always brought joy with her and never failed to leave enough behind to carry the rest of us for a while.

Let’s celebrate Belle with an extra outpouring of joy. The world could sure use a Belley boost — and we were trained by the best. #foreverauntjenjen #goteambelle

 

How we define ourselves

 

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March 16, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Virginia Cavaliers head coach Tony Bennett during the first half against the UMBC Retrievers in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Spectrum Center. (Jeremy Brevard—USA TODAY Sports)

No excuses, no whining — Coach Tony Bennett of the University of Virginia Cavaliers calmly and respectfully gave props to the UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) team and coach for taking care of business.

“We got thoroughly out played,” Bennett said in the March 16 post-game interview about the Retrievers’ historic upset of the top-ranked Cavaliers. UMBC won 74–54 and became the first-ever No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men’s tournament.

Hats off to UMBC

Definitely the Cinderella story of this year’s March Madness, UMBC’s victory was the unlikely event that put the school on the map despite losing the next game in a nail biter to Kansas State on March 18.

Thousands of us became Retrievers’ fans, even if just for a weekend, and cheered for the obvious strength of character, pursuit of excellence and never-give-up attitude brilliantly showcased by this honors’ university team.

Our hats off to Coach Ryan Odom and the UMBC Retrievers.

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(Jennifer Davis Rash screen grab of UMBC’s Twitter page on March 18, 2018)

Making history

And on the other side of the court, kudos goes to Bennett in the way he handled the historic loss in the first round of the tournament.

“[This was] a historic season in terms of most wins in the ACC. A week ago we’re cutting down the nets and the confetti is falling,” he said March 16. “And then we make history by being the first one seed to lose.

“It stings,” he said. “I told the guys, ‘This is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times and you gotta be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with it. That’s the job.’”

Bennett not only showed good sportsmanship, but also a well-rounded perspective on life — and he modeled this for the young men on his team as well as a nation of basketball fans watching it all play out.

That one moment

“It can’t define you,” he said.

How often do we allow one moment to define us — good or bad, win or lose — rather than the sum of all the moments, and how often do we do this to others?

In the movie “Sully,” Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, played by Tom Hanks, says, “I’ve delivered a million passengers over 40 years, but in the end I’m going to be judged by 208 seconds.”

He’s referring to the true story of his forced water landing on New York’s Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009, when he saved the lives of all 155 aboard U.S. Airways Flight 1549.

In the end Sully’s legacy was untarnished and he was catapulted into American hero status but for about 48 hours he wasn’t sure how it would play out.

When life-changing moments occur

Every day we all move through our routines, doing what we are called and trained to do, making decisions to the best of our abilities (at least I hope we are all giving our best). And at any moment one of those decisions, or even a routine task, could put us in a win or lose situation.

Some moments are minimal and cause few waves but others are monumental and change life for everyone involved.

How the leader leads when those times come sets the tone for all who are following, and how the team responds influences the level of dignity, perseverance and value each individual maintains on the other side of those moments.

Summing up the slices

But they are still separate slices among an entire lifetime of countless slices. If we define ourselves by that one great achievement, then that is likely all we will ever be. And if we mark ourselves as a failure because of that one historic loss or bad decision, then we certainly won’t have the strength to move past it.

We must take the good with the bad, the wins with the losses, and learn from each experience. And in all situations we can hold on to the promise from 2 Corinthians 12 that in our weakness, the power of Christ is made perfect. We merely need to trust Him to work in and through us.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Review, reboot, recenter

2018

Search the hashtag #resolutionfail and you may break one of your resolutions if it is to spend less time on social media. The never-ending list of entertaining tweets consumed an hour of my — eh hem — research time.

For example, @JustSomeGuy8675 posted on Jan. 1: “My #NewYearsResolutions were to avoid Twitter and to start eating breakfast. Woke up at noon, checked Twitter and had two coffees. Best of luck to the rest of you! #resolutionfail”

On Jan. 3 @tpfeifer posted: “Oh the irony of driving past a gym as cars circle the lot to get a parking spot close to the door. #resolutionfail.”

January a natural time to look back, reprioritize goals

But despite all the jokes made about New Year’s resolutions, January does provide a natural opportunity for evaluation.

At The Alabama Baptist (TAB), we take time in early January to select our best work from the past year for awards competitions.

Without looking back and assessing we might not remember to celebrate when we got it right nor appreciate the moments when we made a difference.

The evaluation time also provides us opportunity to improve our work going forward.

And with each evaluation process I always find an article, column or letter to the editor that reminds me of something important in my spiritual journey, work experience or life in general. It’s never the first time I’m reading that particular nugget of information, but it isn’t in the forefront of my mind until I see it again.

If this is true with issues of TAB, then I have to believe it happens in our Bible reading, job descriptions, wedding vows and those moments when we spill our guts to friends and stay up all night evaluating our lives.

Periodic reviews help with focus, purpose

Are we guilty of reading through these documents — or thinking about all that was shared in a heart-to-heart conversation — only once and determining the content is seared forever in our minds and hearts, never to be overridden or forgotten? Or maybe we only skim the information and feel confident we understand it and will stay true to it.

To remain on the right path with clarity, focus and purpose, periodic review and reflection are necessary.

As I self-evaluate and attempt to recenter each January, I am amazed at the clutter and unproductive habits I’ve allowed in my life over the previous 12 months. I realize the importance of pulling weeds from my life to avoid becoming enslaved to the clutter pressing down on me.

So I commit to reboot and start again — determined not to repeat the negative parts of last year, hopeful to add more positive results in the coming year and grateful for the reminders God scatters along the path.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Peace amid the sparkling lights

DSC_0251May you truly experience peace, hope and love from the One who is Peace, Hope and Love on this Christmas Day and every day … “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).

—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