Honoring veterans by living lives worthy of the sacrifice

The retired serviceman’s sincere, straightforward approach to his time in the military intrigued me. And the more I thought on his words, the more I realized the depth and intensity of what he was saying.

“When I’ve been in uniform throughout my career, random people have walked up to thank me for my service or buy my lunch,” he said. “There also have been times when applause broke out as I walked through a restaurant or an airport.

“While I appreciate their appreciation, what I really wanted to say was, ‘Don’t thank me. Don’t buy me lunch. Don’t applaud me. Just live a life worthy of living so my service and the sacrifices I made for you were not in vain.’”

Millions have served sacrificially

The U.S. military was officially established by Congress at the urging of President Washington in 1789. 

With hundreds of thousands of people serving in the early days and more than 2.5 million combined active and reserves serving today, my mind can’t quite grasp exactly how many individual people have dedicated their lives during these past 229 years. 

Each of those men and women served sacrificially. Many saw and experienced horrific events that they carried or will carry for their entire lives. Most choose to protect the rest of us from the worst of the details and are hesitant to even admit how heavy the load really is. 

In many cases, those who served are now sentenced to a life of attempting to manage post-traumatic stress disorder, continual nightmares and/or difficulty assimilating back into civilian life. Alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide rates among former military personnel continue to climb. Family relationships and friendships will never be the same for them. Some find a way to push through and quietly battle their internal demons while balancing a loving and caring relationship with family who could never understand. Some do better in isolation or at least by keeping a defined distance from others.

Millions of our fellow Americans stood in the gap for us in past years. Millions more are serving right now or are within days, weeks or months of taking their turn to serve. They have protected and continue to protect the freedoms and way of life we enjoy as U.S. citizens. 

Do we take those sacrifices for granted?

But how often do we really think about the sacrifices so many have made for us?

Military families are typically the best at honoring those in service, caring for those returning and being sensitive to the reality of the situations. And most of us likely have a family member, at least an extended family member, who has served at some point.

It is good to honor those who have served on Veterans Day. We also remember those who died in service on Memorial Day. Most often the 4th of July includes a shoutout to our current military and Lee Greenwood’s famous “God Bless the USA” is sung with sincere gusto.

But outside of those three holidays, how often do we remember the men and women who fought and in some cases died for our freedom? Do we actually grasp and respect the concept of true freedom?

Are we living lives worthy of all those who sacrificed for us? 

Are we making the United States better because we are citizens? 

Responsibility of citizenship

And for those of us who are believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, do we fully grasp the sacrifice He made for us? 

Are we living lives worthy of Him? Do we allow His love and grace to shine through us as He describes in Matthew 5:14–16?

Does our faith journey showcase the fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5:22–23 — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control?

Being an eternal citizen of heaven along with our current citizenship in the U.S. both bring great privilege and blessings and with both come great responsibility. 

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Avoiding the cynical path

Path

The path leads one of two ways I was told — in our service through Christian communications, the only options are to become deeply pious or doggedly cynical.

I couldn’t quite grasp what my mentor was saying. After all I had only recently stepped into my first position with The Alabama Baptist newspaper and was still warming up to the fact that I did have a calling in the area of communications.

How that would look over time I did not know, but I knew I would give it everything I had at every point. For me, it has always been a calling to the concept and goal of communications — specifically within a faith-based arena — not necessarily to a position.

The positions have been there and I’m always grateful for them, but the heart of what we do in striving to effectively connect people, build relationships and share information is what has kept me motivated. 

Now I can look back and see what my mentor meant all those years ago. 

Danger lies ahead

Developing an attitude of cynicism is a real danger — not only because we work in an area where we often see behind the curtain of ministry life but also because of the endless opportunities to be hurt by others. Of course, this isn’t necessarily different than any other area of work or life.

The fight to keep optimism alive and to stay positive is sometimes hard enough on our own, but when we are called to motivate and lead others to do the same, then it truly requires digging down deep and staying intimately connected to God to make it happen.

Think about how many people in your circles regularly complain, show frustration or spew angry sentiments. And think about how much energy you use absorbing all of it. 

While we can technically be cynical without being ugly, cynicism typically brings a negative attitude and general “what’s the use” spirit. After all, everyone is out for him- or herself, right? There’s no hope left for humanity, right? 

Distrust, suspicion, disgust and frustration are related feelings. When these traits are present, peace and joy get squashed and overshadowed — and our general presence definitely is not winning any popularity contests. 

Grasping the power of peace and joy

Without peace and joy, we start down a path of negativity, selfishness and maybe even ugliness. And without a steady diet of God’s word and connection with Him, our defenses will weaken over time.

Many of us say we are tired of the divisive culture we’ve found ourselves in, but what are we doing to change it? Are we willing to evaluate our own hearts first?

Are we willing to challenge others to be the best they can be by believing in their potential even when they can’t find the strength to do it themselves?

It is sometimes hard to love others and believe in them, but think about the possibilities if we keep trying. 

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Stepping out in confidence

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September 1993

The weeks leading up to my arrival on the missions field in the early 1990s were filled with the normal activities of packing, researching the area where I was headed and saying goodbye to friends and family.

While it was only a two-year missions position, the decision to go was major for me. I had turned down several tempting job opportunities following graduation from the University of Alabama in May of that year and said yes to serving the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean.

The position definitely matched my training and educational experience in communications, but my exposure to the world outside the Southeast — and missions work in general — was pretty limited.

The internal battle was fierce. Fear of the unknown, moving outside my comfort zone, conceding to uncertain living conditions and a deep feeling of inadequacy in working alongside career missionaries surfaced daily.

But each time anxiety threatened to convince me to bail on the plan, the peace that drew me to the decision in the beginning returned and washed over the fears. Sometimes there isn’t a logical explanation, but when God calls, draws and directs, we know what we need to do.

And so I answered and many stood with me.IMG_20180929_212720

Churches raised money to assist with the needed resources and committed to pray as I served. My pastor, Sammy Taylor, and home church, Mountain View Baptist in Phil Campbell, prepared me for service and made sure I never forgot they were home holding the ropes while I was on the field.

My friends and family supported, prayed and stayed connected through the two years. My mom researched the types of clothes and other items I would need and made sure I had plenty of options. My dad put me to work with him on the farm between college graduation and leaving day — for a much-needed therapeutic mental break.

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My sweet peers on the missions field in the early 1990s. We all went in different directions after our terms ended but not before becoming lifelong friends.

When I left Phil Campbell 25 years ago this month (September 1993) I had no idea what would happen next. God taught me so much about life, others, missions and ministry. He certainly expanded my world and drew me to Him like I had never experienced before.

The years since then have brought a whole lot of life — good, bad and everything in between — and through it all God has been faithful, providing the peace, confidence and strength I needed at every point.

As I enter the next season of the journey with the coming new position at The Alabama Baptist, I step with excitement, anticipation and confidence not only because of the clarity of the call and a peace from the Lord but also because of the strength, support and encouragement of those surrounding me.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Could people of faith be the answer?

Prison reform, prison overcrowding, funding for new prison facilities, prison problems, prisons, prisons, prisons — we’ve heard it, read about it and watched the news clips on it until we can’t process it any more. 

I’m not sure many people even notice the media reports, legislative debates and pleas for help any longer. They have become white noise nagging at our consciences but easy enough to ignore if we aren’t personally affected. Plus when it comes down to it, the numbers, options for help and degree of hopelessness are all truly overwhelming.

But if we as Christians believe what we say we believe about the gospel, about grace, about forgiveness, about being a new creation in Christ, then why are we not walking alongside every single inmate striving to truly change? Why are we not knocking down the prison gates trying to make a difference?

Yes, discernment, appropriate boundaries and wisdom are needed in this area. Learning the dos and don’ts are a must. 

But with nearly 1 million names on the rolls of the more than 3,200 Alabama Baptist churches, what type of reforms would naturally take place in the correctional system if every church was intentional about making a difference? If every church decided to focus on even one specific item needed by one specific chaplain at one specific prison facility? If each church saw the closest prison facility to them as a missions field?

Grace and forgiveness

What if church members prayed for those in prison by name? What if volunteers from the churches consistently showed kindness to those behind bars, sharing the gospel with unbelievers and encouraging believers? What if they intentionally built relationships, sincere relationships, with those on the inside?

And what if churches became an immediate and automatic support system for those in their congregations who have a family member in prison or jail? What if the church culture was a safe place without fear of shame for those families as they shoulder the pain and daily difficulties of having an incarcerated family member? 

What if those same churches encouraged, mentored, loved on and discipled the incarcerated men and women who are seeking forgiveness and grace? And what if the church was present during court hearings, on visitation days and when those returning citizens walked outside the prison gates?

The re-entry period is critical, prison ministry advocates contend. Attempting to transition from behind bars alone most often is disastrous, they say, noting reports and statistics that prove the greater the support system, the greater the chance of becoming a positive, contributing member of society.

With more than half of those released from prison returning for parole violations or new crimes, it seems logical that an easy place to start on solving the overcrowding problem is at re-entry.

The federal government agrees, said a Prison Fellowship representative, noting billions of dollars a year go into re-entry programs. But the money, which is funded by taxpayers, is basically wasted when there’s no one to walk with and mentor the returning citizen. He described it like teaching someone to drive, giving them the tools to build a car and helping them build it, but then forgetting to provide a road on which to drive.

“We’ve got to provide the opportunity for people to know what they owe, pay it, be accountable … and live in a world where punishment has an end, where men and women with a criminal record are valued and can give back to their communities at their highest potential,” he said.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Walking the lonely path of regret

 

 

Regret — it can be a tortuous wave of despair that keeps on rolling over and over through our lives.

Whether it be one momentary lapse of good judgment or a season of unhealthy patterns that form the perfect storm, the actual event that leads to regret changes everything. And it is rarely ever a solo punch.

Most often the lives of everyone connected to the person suffering from regret are changed in some way — and some forever.

It is more than being disappointed about getting caught or offering false remorse for receiving negative pushback. It is a genuine feeling of repentance that grips us at the center of our soul.

Regret is a true feeling of remorse, deep repentance and extreme sadness over what has happened. You will know it when you see it. The humility, the despair, the brokenness seep from the person’s pores.

Surviving the initial blow, humiliation and blowback is the first step. And while that first step is hard the lonely journey that follows might be even harder for the truly repentant.

Space for grace

But brokenness leaves the regret-filled person with a choice just as it offers those around them an opportunity.

For the person walking through regret, it can provide a space for God to show us His grace in a way never experienced before. When we know more of the depth of our sin and brokenness, we can marvel even more at the unfathomable love and forgiveness offered to us through Christ.

Power in the pain

But we have to make that choice. We have to choose to let those painful memories drive us to worship and experience gratitude for our forgiveness. We have to choose to let our pain push us toward Christ and away from deeper sin.

And for people who are surrounding the person carrying regret, it’s a chance to remember God’s grace and remember our own sins too.

None of us is perfect. We all have the ability to dive headlong into sin. We have to call each other to right choices, but when someone is truly repentant, we can choose to walk alongside our broken brother or sister in love.

That’s who we are. We strive for holiness. We repent with sincere hearts. We bind up our wounded. The key is real repentance — and real love.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

How did middle school become the ‘wild, wild West’?

Middle School

The depth of her pain broke my heart. There wasn’t anything I could do but listen so that’s what I did — then I prayed.

I continue to pray because her wounds are deep. I’m talking affect-you-for-the-rest-of-your-life deep.

Her parents and grandparents are doing everything they know to do to help her. She is loved. She is talented. She is beautiful inside and out, and she has a sweet, compassionate heart but every day of her middle school life is a struggle.

And she isn’t alone.

Four other friends of mine are parents of middle schoolers who are fighting similar battles.

“Middle school is like the wild, wild west,” one friend said as she described the pressure kids experience from other kids as well as what they are being exposed to at such a young age. And suicide is discussed routinely and without reservation, she added.

Another friend was concerned about her daughter recently when she was being shunned by a particular group of girls. Winning the affection of this group was so important to my friend’s daughter that she started acting out trying to impress them.

My friend responded by taking her daughter’s phone away for a significant period of time. The daughter protested angrily at first but by the time the punishment was over she had calmed down and returned to her true nature. She even started hanging out with the family again — and actually enjoyed it.

Connected 24/7

Other friends have noted similar situations and how limiting their kids’ time on phones and social media has made a difference in various areas of concern.

After all, they are connected to their friends 24/7, one friend commented. Not only do they never get a break from each other — and thus a break from the drama — but they also form a dependent community in which they seek guidance, solace and approval, she said.

As she talked, I wondered if the consistent late night texting and chatting could impair the kids’ ability to think clearly. Could it weaken their emotional state? Is it possible a little more sleep and a few hours away from the screens here and there could make those difficult middle school years a bit more bearable?

Whatever you do, don’t tell my nephews and nieces that I’m advocating limiting anyone’s phone time. I might lose my cool aunt status. 

But I am concerned about the emotional state of so many in this age group.

Will the intensity of the pain these middle schoolers are carrying lessen as they make their way to high school? Or will it finally become unbearable?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

The humbling nature of the fruit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

“I honestly believe if we would do more praying and less criticizing we would have a better nation,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines said Feb. 14.

Speaking to a group of writers, editors and communicators, Gaines shared how at 60 he can look back now and see he has grown in this area himself.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten kinder,” he said. “(I want to be) prudent, wise and merciful.

“I used to be a little bit more hard than I am now. … A lot of it is how you see the people you are preaching to. I no longer see them as rebels who need to repent. I see them as people who are hurting and need to be set free.”

Gaines added, “If we are filled with the Spirit, it is the fruit of the Spirit that is going to come out.”

As I listened to Gaines share that day, I recalled how the fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5:22–23 became a foundational Scripture for me as soon as I chose Jesus fully and completely at 19 years old.

I stray often but the simple, straightforward outline of qualities God desires for our lives to exhibit are always there to keep me grounded and bring me back when I slip — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Essential characteristics

The goal is for all of these characteristics to exist in our hearts.

I’ve heard some note how starting with love allows you to develop each of the traits, one building on the other.

I’ve also heard how they are not individual attributes in and of themselves, that they are all essential characteristics of the fruit and must all be present for there to be fruit.

It’s always humbling to me when I go back to Galatians and recenter on each of the nine and see where some are missing and the ripple effect that caused.

If we were to only consider the first one — love — because it is February, then we might think about the depth of what that means and how we are called to love our enemies as well as our friends.

Real kind of love

Some people are hard to love, it’s true. And even the ones who aren’t hard to love still come with complex natures and baggage that sometimes surface whether intentionally or unintentionally.

No matter the relationship, we aren’t called to a fake, syrupy kind of act but a true, sacrificial, real kind of love.

It’s certainly not possible in our own strength. We must see others through the eyes of Christ.

—Jennifer Davis Rash