Autumn is on the way

Friday night lights and Saturday college game days always turn my mind away from summer and toward fall. And as the nights begin to cool down and the first hints of color peek out of the sea of green leaves, then I know autumn is truly near.

Wednesday, Sept. 23, is the official first day of fall, the Autumnal Equinox if you will, and the Wednesday prior (Sept. 16), I spent the day with sweet friends from the missions field and beyond looking for more hints of fall and breathing in the relaxing air only found in Mentone, Ala.

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Holding the ropes

Katelyn stood before our church this past Sunday as we had a special time of prayeIMG_20150714_121448r for her before she leaves for a new season of life — life in another part of the world focused on missions.

In early June, Mallory also stood before our church as we prayed for her summer in Ecuador. A Sunday in late May, Bryce stood before his church in northwest Alabama as he prepared to leave for his summer missions work in Uganda.

And countless congregations across the state have held similar prayer moments recently as they sent out their young adults for a missions experience.

It is not only prayer for the summer missionary and the work he or she will do, but it also is prayer for his or her family. It is a prayer for peace as they release their child into the hands of missions and ministry teams in faraway places. Even a location across the state can seem faraway for parents sending their young adult child out for the first time.

A church “holding the ropes” for those serving in short-term and long-term missions experiences truly can make a difference for the missionary and his or her family.

No matter how strong your call to serve, there will be moments of loneliness and discouragement. And even the most excited of young adults are sometimes shocked to discover the difficulties and frustrations that come with adapting to a new culture, adjusting to the new area and feeling overwhelmed when they see the enormity of the work.

But knowing their church family is back home praying for them truly makes a difference when those weak moments surface.

Facetime and Skype had not been invented when I served a two-and-a-half-year term with the International Mission Board back in the mid-1990s, but a phone call here and there, an email on occasion and definitely cards in the mail became welcomed touches from home that kept my spirits lifted. I also remember the banner Pastor Sammy Taylor hung at Mountain View Baptist Church, Phil Campbell, that said “Mountain View holding the ropes for Jennifer.” I knew their prayers continued throughout my term and weren’t only spoken that Sunday I stood before the congregation to be sent out.

As special as the prayers prayed over you as you leave are, the ones that are consistently being  lifted during your missions service are the ones that sustain you.

Alabama Baptist students and young adults are serving in a variety of ways in Alabama, through ministries in many states across the nation and on missions fields around the world. They may not send back regular reports of their work while they are away, and it is easy to skip days and even weeks of praying for them without a consistent reminder.

Prayer cards, email notes and social media posts are good ways to keep the need in front of church members and others who would like to pray for those participating in summer missions. Posters, banners or other types of visuals in the church also are good reminders.

The Alabama Baptist regularly reports on students and young adults doing missions. When those stories appear, it is another good reminder to pray.

The prayers really do make a difference. I remember many times feeling a sense of strength, peace and focus I knew came from the prayers of those holding the ropes for me. I also remember the confidence and courage I felt with the love and support of family, friends and an amazing church. If someone inquired deeper about the experience, then my enthusiasm grew as I shared my story.

The privilege of praying for Katelyn, Mallory and Bryce provides an opportunity for me to give back by supporting the next generation of young adults following God’s call. Who will be your Katelyn, Mallory and Bryce?

Jennifer Davis Rash

Happy Birthday, sweet Belle

Belle’s Ball

May 24, 2015 — Belle would have turned 8 today.

By Catherine Williams (friend of Belle’s Aunt Jen Jen)

Belle my sweet girl we still miss you soBelle dress up Aug 2014
You are with Your heavenly Father, this we all know
Your smile brightened our day, bravery inspired us too
We were always amazed by the things you could do
You loved the Disney Princesses, for a princess you are
God loaned you to us, but He is never very far
Belle on your birthday we miss your sweet smile
For you have been the Belle of the ball for quite a while
We miss you sweet Belle, this fact is true
And although you are in heaven we still miss you!
One day in the future we too will dance at Belle’s Ball
But for now may our love be a beacon of hope for all!

—————–

We shared a sIMG_20150524_222514pecial weekend together as a family celebrating Belle’s birthday (for the first time without her here). Along with lots of sweet memories and laughing at so many fun Belle stories, we did a few things in her honor such as wearing (temporary) tattoos of characters in Disney’s Frozen. She would have gotten so tickled to see her Daddy with an Elsa tattoo on his hand. Of course, she would have picked out each of ours for us as well as where they would have been placed if she had been with us.

To learn more about Belle’s story or to read Belle’s birthday post by her Mommy visit  www.caringbridge.org/visit/bellemitchell.

—Jennifer Davis Rash (aka Aunt Jen Jen)

Final Four: Raw talent yes, but also ‘sticking to the fundamentals’ and ‘playing simple basketball’

The Elite Eight are one game away from being the Final Four, and Kentucky is the only team left from my initial picks. 1312322394_Clip_Art

But even with the excitement and intensity of the games, I’m trying to learn from the best of the best in basketball by looking past the fast-paced moments on the court to see what got them there.

It is interesting to hear the coaches’ philosophies on growing a solid team that knows how to win with humility and how to lose with grace. I’m also intrigued with how the coaches teach and develop the players as individuals and as a team.

One coach urged his team to “play simple basketball” while another echoed the sentiment with “stick to the fundamentals.”

And then another coach said “don’t be afraid to take a risk but make the risk count.”

The “play simple basketball” and “stick to the fundamentals” instructions reminded me of the time I attempted to camouflage an English paper in school with a fancy cover sheet, binder and fonts. I don’t remember how weak the writing of the paper was but for some reason I felt compelled to decorate it, likely in an attempt to earn points for presentation.

My English teacher saw right through me and called me out on it. She said I needed to spend more effort developing the fundamentals of the paper and less time trying to make it look good — that if the paper were solid in and of itself, then the rest wouldn’t matter. It would stand on its own.

Her coaching in that moment has guided me in a lot of areas in life well beyond writing English papers, news articles and first-person columns.

And her words come to mind every time I see an organization, team or even church trying too hard to “decorate” itself to earn points with those considering joining it.

Why do we sometimes think a polished image and glossy appearance is more important than securing the core of the structure?

Think about some of the most precious experiences in your life. The surroundings might have been truly beautiful or they might not have been special at all, but most likely whatever was happening was because it was simply what it was meant to be — with no extra, unnecessary decorations.

Tell me about a basketball game or other event in your life when “sticking to the fundamentals” made the difference.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Blitzing my way to freedom

With my birthday being the same day as this week’s publication date of The Alabama Baptist, it seems more than fair that I should be featured on the front page, right?

I agree, but I was unsuccessful in convincing others on staff. Oh well, at least my column was scheduled to run in this issue, so I could still sneak in a shameless plug.

And I know you are all thinking I must be getting close to 30 by now, but I will have to admit this is year 43.

Birthdays always send me into reflection mode and make me think about what was accomplished over the past year and what wasn’t. You might even remember that turning 40 in 2011 launched my journey to find balance in life — spiritual, physical, emotional, etc.

Two steps forward, one step back

The journey has been a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of experience, but I continue to make progress. My most recent single-tasking focus is actually helping quite a bit.

In fact, the overwhelming stack of undone projects is nearing a manageable level. It may take the rest of this year to achieve that level, but I’m encouraged by the ability to see the goal line for the first time.

One way I’m finding success is by using the blitzing method. My friend and mentor Terry Newberry taught me about blitzing in his book “The Boss” (www.terrynewberry.com/the-boss.html).

Bring on the dreaded

“Blitzing the most difficult or dreaded job first provides a huge sense of accomplishment and momentum,” Newberry writes. And he is right.

Once the ball gets rolling, new energy appears to tackle another project and another and another.

I’ve been working on this at home and the office. We even had a Project Blitz Week recently at The Alabama Baptist (see the May 29 issue, page 1).

It was fun to watch the weight lift from everyone’s shoulders and the energy level escalate throughout the staff.

And with new energy comes clarity and focus if we let it.

I gained a new appreciation for seeing clearly after having an allergic reaction in early May that landed me in the emergency room for five hours. My eyeballs swelled quite large and then my eyelids swelled shut — yes you may laugh at the image I’m sure you have of me right now.

Making room to hear

I could not see anyone around me, but I heard the gasps and “oh mys” clearly as I made my way through the ER waiting room. It was hard for me to be so dependent on others and not be able to see. It was an odd feeling knowing so many people could see exactly what was happening to me while I relied solely on the reports of those with me.

And while I couldn’t see at all for a while and then couldn’t see clearly for several days, I realized how much more carefully I listened when I wasn’t able to use my eyes to their fullest ability.

So many things compete for my attention and I’m constantly looking here and there and everywhere to take care of this task and that project and whatever else shows up unexpectedly. But with all the attention to daily life details, it’s sometimes hard to hear God’s still, soft voice.

Can I hear what He is saying?

What is He saying to me today? Am I truly listening to Him? Did I run right over what He was impressing on my heart because I was focused on everything else around me?

And if I’m truly honest, is it possible that I am actually more comfortable staying too busy and being too distracted to really hear Him because I’m not sure I’m ready for what He has to say?

It’s exciting when you know you’ve heard from the Lord, but it also can be pretty scary. Will I be able to follow through with what He is asking?

— Jennifer Davis Rash

Preparing to be prepared

being preparedWhen his truck’s gas tank nears half full, my father-in-law can’t rest until he finds a gas station to fill the tank again. He likes a full tank of gas.

I’ll admit I’ve teased him about this obsession for years — even as I’ve prayed myself to a gas station many times while driving on fumes.

He likes to be prepared and knows what it is like to be on alert for a mandatory hurricane evacuation out of South Florida. A full tank of gas can change everything for the better in the midst of trying to flee north on I-95 with thousands of other cars.

I’m guessing that most Alabamians and north Georgia residents have a different perspective about a full tank of gas and other emergency supplies since the Jan. 28 weather catastrophe. I know I do.

It seems that everywhere I go, someone is talking about how he or she has put together an emergency kit for the car, is now leaving extra toiletries and clothes at the office or has worked out a new work-from-home plan when bad weather is predicted.

It is smart to learn from difficult experiences and develop plans for similar issues that might happen in the future. We now have firsthand experience of what is needed to be prepared, at least to some degree, and we certainly should not be taken off guard again.

But I wonder how long the memory will last and how prepared we will stay.

Staying up-to-date

Will our emergency kits be up-to-date a year from now? How about two years from now, especially if we don’t have to use the kits in the next two years?

Think about your first-aid kit or other emergency kit you once put together. Do you know where it is? Have you replenished its supplies lately? Are there fresh batteries in it? Will the kit work if there is a true emergency?

And while this year’s extreme level of winter weather for Alabama has given us plenty of time to think about being prepared, we also can plan to freshen up our kits annually around this time.

After all, February is now Disaster Preparedness Month for Alabama Baptists. It not only is a great time to review our personal emergency plans, but it also is a good time for churches to host activities for church members and the community related to the theme.

Disaster Relief funds

Church leaders might also use the annual observance as a time to review their disaster plans and appoint a few members of the congregation to serve as point people for any disaster-related situation that might occur.

Two good websites about this topic are www.sbdr.org and ready.gov.

Be sure to check out the annual Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) offering resources at the sbdr.org site as well.

A $1 offering from every Alabama Baptist church member once a year would allow DR officials to maintain and upgrade necessary equipment in an ongoing fashion and allow them to respond immediately to a disaster rather than having to wait for funds to come in after a situation arises.

It also is a good time to consider signing up as a disaster relief volunteer. There are several ways you can serve, and the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions provides training opportunities throughout the state. The sbdr.org website is the best place to start. You also can call 1-800-264-1225 and ask for Mel Johnson. Be sure to tell him I suggested you call. I need all the brownie points I can get!

No matter what is right for you, your family and your church, at least think through a few aspects of being prepared for the “what ifs.” It will relieve a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Clearing the clutter starts with me

By Jennifer Davis Rash

It’s that time of year again — time to start fresh, set new goals, attempt to improve.

Clutter

Could this be the best year yet? Or at least could I be the best me yet?

I’m sure going to give it a shot, starting with answering these questions adapted from www.ampersandphotoblog.com:

•What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

•What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your relationships this year?

•In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

•What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

•For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

•What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

•What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

•What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in 10 years? In eternity?

Working with these questions related to our relationship with God and others should help keep our focus properly aligned. It is certainly a different approach from setting goals such as adapting a proper eating plan, exercising more and kicking bad habits. Those are good goals to have and most of us should still try to achieve them, but think about the true joy we could experience and impact we might have by primarily focusing on our relationship with God and others. What if we really could take all of our spiritual disciplines to new levels?

What is the spiritual discipline I want to make the most progress in this year? Prayer.

What am I going to do about it? Practice it more, read about it more and seek God’s direction through His Word.

I’m a doer naturally. When I see a need, I take care of it — whether it’s my responsibility or not. I enjoy helping others and serving in areas that are sometimes neglected.

I’m also a problem-solver. If something needs taken care of, then I’m your gal. I rarely hesitate. I simply take care of it.

Could be annoying

I’m also full of ideas — to an annoying level sometimes. Inviting me to a brainstorming session will guarantee lots of ideas floating around, but it also may mean that I’ll just go ahead and solve the problem while we are sitting there, thus leaving no reason to review the list of ideas.

Sure this helps account for my need for efficiency and means I am a really hard worker, but as one of my mentors frequently reminds me: “strength overdone becomes weakness.”

Spending time in prayer and seeking God’s direction about the issue before me is where I need to improve. It’s too easy for me to make the decision quickly and go with it.

One particular area in front of me is how I can be a better church member and help our church leaders make some important decisions that lie ahead of us.

Sharing, serving

Some of the moves that need to be made are obvious, but others are not.

How can we as a church family grow and develop in the best way to help our members deepen their relationships with Christ as well as advance the gospel through praying, giving and going?

How can we serve and offer areas of service without overwhelming our members, whose lives are already packed with activities at all levels?

Is it possible to actually break the 80–20 rule that we so easily accept — 20 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work? And does that apply to giving and going as well? What about praying?

What if every person who walked in the front door of the church came to truly worship God and grow as an individual believer? What if the appearance on Sunday morning wasn’t because of a cultural obligation or to be seen or for purely social reasons?

What if we all emptied ourselves and allowed God to fill us? What if we listened to His guidance and followed in obedience? How amazing would our church services be, and how amazing would our service to the world outside the church be?

And while the go-getter in me wants to push the masses to embrace the same vision, I realize I must start with a time of prayer.

I have to clear the clutter from my own heart and mind and settle all of this within myself before I can ask others to consider a similar path.