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

Polishing the rough spots

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The distance and coldness slapped me in the face. I knew my friend had a lot on her mind so I didn’t worry about it — at first.

When it happened again, I asked if she was OK because she seemed upset about something. She said she was and didn’t offer any explanation.

After a few days of the same experience, I investigated because she obviously wasn’t OK. I thought back to what might have happened and realized I was what happened.

In a pressure-filled, deadline-crunched, sleep-deprived moment, I had barked at her about a project we were both working on. In the moment, I didn’t realize I had been hurtful.

My words were not meant to target her. I was actually frustrated with myself because I had not prepared as thoroughly as I thought I had.

Rebuilding trust

As soon as my aha moment came, I ran to my friend to apologize. She appreciated the acknowledgement and eventually warmed up to me — but it wasn’t immediate. She kept me at a slight distance for months.

It hurts me deeply when I hurt another person and yet I’m extremely capable of doing it.

I don’t tend to panic nor react frantically in tense situations. I’m the person who stays calm, assesses every side of the situation and determines the plan of action. But with this calmness under pressure comes a laser focus and sharp directness that can easily stomp on another’s feelings.

While I’m continuously working to improve in this area, I’ve also learned to show others grace when the situation is reversed. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t targeting me, that they are merely under a lot of pressure at the moment.

Many friends have modeled that same grace for me through the years.

Reading the right cues

In fact, another friend of mine and I had a rough season once when we were misreading each other’s emotions as being upset with the other. Once we realized what we were doing, we made a pact that we would always tell the other if something was wrong in our relationship rather than forcing each other to guess.

The experience was so freeing that I challenged myself to move quickly to resolve any conflict that might arise in all my relationships.

My goal is to stop myself the second I realize I’m being unfair or hurtful, take responsibility and apologize, then regroup in a way to have a calm and mutually respectful conversation. I’m learning to truly validate the other person’s feelings and decipher the facts of the situation while trying to avoid emotional responses. I’m also learning I don’t have to always be right — yes, that might have been the hardest one for me to swallow.

When I’m on the other side, I’m trying to calmly alert the person right away that what he or she did or said was hurtful to me. From there, my goal is to be kind, forgive and not leave any awkward feelings between us. It is really hard to tell another person when he or she has hurt or frustrated you, so I’m also working hard to not react defensively when someone is bold enough to share.

Worth all the effort

Some days merely attempting to live in relationship with the vast number of people in our lives can stretch our abilities, but I’ll be the first to say it is worth all the effort. I can’t imagine my life without all the amazing people who make it so rich, joyful and fulfilling. I’m just thankful they choose to love me despite my many shortcomings.

—By 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

 

Reflecting on marriage

Jason and I mark 19 years of marriage tomorrow (July 12). I remember poring through so many books and articles on marriage that first year and trying to do everything exactly right to have the perfect marriage. What I didn’t understand early on, what actually took years to understand, was that I couldn’t manufacture enough of the tips and how-to suggestions to develop a marriage like what was in my head. It wasn’t something I could control. It would take total sacrifice for Jason and seeking God above all else (and vice versa on Jason’s part). While I finally understand marriage in itself is a lifelong learning journey, I would like to share some of what I have discovered along the way. More about sacrifice can be found below and a little on forgiveness can be found by clicking hereJ and J 2-14-16

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When my nephew, Jared, was a little bitty thing, he would get all over his brother with a consistent reminder, “It’s not all about you, Jacob!”

The boldness of his approach and the intensity behind his words always made me smile, but the clear truth behind his appeal has stuck with me since the first time it rolled out of his mouth.

The key to strength in any relationship points back to whether the two parties are going to be self-centered or other-centered. This is true with friends, co-workers, all formulas of family relationships and especially in marriage.

“It’s not all about you” was the focus of a recent article in Relevant magazine, “Marriage Isn’t About Your Happiness.”

An excerpt from the article by Debra K. Fileta says:

“Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s not even about you. It’s about love — which is something we choose to give time and time again. It’s about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving — and then doing it all over again. … Often, we’re choosing ‘personal happiness’ over real commitment, over real love.

“They say marriage teaches you more about selflessness than you ever wanted to know. … Because at the heart of it, real love is all about sacrifice. About the giving of yourself, in ways big and small.”

It’s about sacrifice

I agree with Fileta. Real love truly is all about sacrifice.

The seasons where my husband, Jason, and I focus sacrificially on each other at the same time bring such great blessings and richness to our relationship.

When one or the other decides to be less other-centered and more self-centered, frustrations mount and life is more strained.

And the times we decided to focus on ourselves rather than the other — simultaneously — it basically led to confusion, insecurity, disappointment and pain.

Being married long enough to have a variety of seasons (19 years tomorrow) also has given us the opportunity to truly start learning and growing in the process. And we both agree we prefer the sacrificial model hands down.

I do know that putting Jason’s needs before my own and sacrificing for him in big ways and small ways brings tremendous fulfillment and allows me to demonstrate real love, true love.

And I learned through the precious five and a half years we fought alongside our niece, Belle, in her cancer journey that the purity of the love received in return is worth all the pouring of yourself into another.

Ultimate model

It seems so obvious to me now but it took years for me to get to this point. I’m not sure why because we were given the ultimate model of sacrificial love to follow — Jesus Christ.

It seems silly to not figure it out sooner. The example is so powerful.

But if you, like me, struggle to focus entirely on Jesus in everyday life, then how much more will we struggle with giving of ourselves to ordinary humans?

My friend and colleague, Grace Thornton, reminds me often that we are to desire God first, before ourselves and anyone or anything else. And from that place we are to let our lives flow outward.

“His heart is for us to know Him,” Grace says, “making that the entire goal of our life and then trusting Him no matter what happens.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash