Getting pushback? Embrace the opportunity

Pushback

The pastor seemed sad but determined as we talked. His young adult daughters had recently left the denomination and he was disappointed.

They grew up in Alabama Baptist churches where he had always been their pastor — and now they wanted out. Not out of the faith, not out of church activity but out of Baptist life. It was oppressive and narrow-minded, they claimed.

Their decision hurts their dad more than they know and he challenges them when appropriate, but family discussions on the subject tend to end up heated. So he pulls back. He makes his case, reminds them of the benefits and then loves them unconditionally. They consistently advocate for their position and provide justification — at least justification that makes sense to them.

Opportunity to spar

The dad said he counters carefully and wants to make sure they always feel safe to share with him — and even spar with him. He wants to be their sounding board, no matter how much it hurts.

As he talked, I thought of how my dad has allowed me the same freedom to debate with him as I’ve worked to figure out life through the years. We have agreed on some items and disagreed on others but in every case I knew my daddy’s love for me had not changed.

I’ve experienced a similar environment in the ministry where I serve and work. The leader under which I serve has given me the freedom to pushback through the years as I’ve journeyed through various life and learning stages.

Each opportunity to articulate the concept being debated has helped me clarify my own thinking while also gain a better understanding of the opposite side, which reminded me to value the other person as a person even if we disagree.

What a privilege it is for those of us who have mentors who don’t try to control our every thought and opinion. They allow us the opportunity to figure out life and faith and where we fit while in the safety of a loving, godly space — even if it disappoints, hurts or scares them in the process.

Maintaining bond

Finding the perfect balance of helping guide and sharing wisdom while not imposing a top-down, forced directive isn’t an easy skill to achieve. And sometimes conversations do end up heated with lines drawn but if both parties remember the core of their bond, then what better place for those coming up through the ranks to find their way?

I would much rather process and navigate my way through life issues in an environment where I know I’m loved, trusted and respected. And when I make mistakes the recovery rate is so much quicker because of that support system helping me learn and grow from those mistakes rather than leaving me alone and defeated.

And what about all those questions we bounce around in our heads? So many times we need more information to truly understand. Sometimes we need to ask difficult, uncomfortable questions to get there.

Who can you trust?

But finding someone you can trust with the most vulnerable parts of your heart, mind and soul is difficult. Who can you trust to love you anyway, not give up on you, not be harsh and scolding because you asked such questions? Who in your life — outside of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ — can handle watching you wrestle with the specifics of our value system and worldview?

Are we developing ministry leaders, mentors and believers who are secure enough and studied enough in their faith to encourage questions from those searching to find their way? And are we kind enough to embrace the questions as an opportunity rather than shutting someone down for even asking?

—Jennifer Davis Rash 

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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

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Simple act of love or veiled criticism?

My attempt at a gentle teaching moment for a child I’m close to but who is not my actual child wasn’t met with appreciation.

I certainly never intended to overstep. I care deeply about a large number of kiddos in my life, this one included, and think a lot about ways I can assist their parents in developing the good parts of their character.

But the parent took my offering as indictment rather than assistance in what I know is already being taught in the home.

Obviously I have no experience as a parent and don’t claim to have any advice for raising children.

I merely recall how many times I clung to every word and piece of advice offered by extended family members, mentors, teachers, coaches, church leaders, public figures and other such heroes in my life growing up while thinking my parents didn’t have a clue.

Obviously, I discovered how wrong I was about my parents’ level of wisdom once I moved into adulthood myself. And the older I get the more I appreciate the advice, direction and concern my parents provided and continue to provide.

Still it is the rare child who discovers during his or her childhood the value of listening to parents who truly have their best interest in mind and are striving to follow God as they fulfill their role.

Built-in resistance

And because of that built-in reaction to resist and stake our independence, we need a collective force to help us grow into what we hope would be considered responsibile adults.

It’s certainly an extra load none of us have to add to our already overpacked schedules but I’ve found it fulfilling to watch a young person grow and mature, sometimes knowing I had the privilege of contributing to his or her development.

Of course, it can be discouraging at moments as well, like when they refuse to listen to anyone with rational intentions or when they take full credit for something that someone else actually taught them.

I’m guessing parents deal with that scenario on a daily basis.

Trust issues

And, if I’m honest, I can see how another person attempting to share life lessons with a child could upset a parent.

As long as the advice being shared or actions being modeled are in sync with the parents’ comfort level, I’m sure they would normally welcome the reinforcements.

But in a day when criticism is tossed about so freely and flippantly, it is possible the ones who take offense are often times misreading simple acts of love and kindness as veiled judgmental stabs. Then again, it really is hard to tell these days.

I’ve found myself in several day-to-day situations (nothing to do with children) defending a straight-up answer to a question or simple request for assistance in a certain area as being exactly what I outlined. The accusers claimed that what I was saying could not be as simple as I said, that there had to be a hidden agenda.

It hurts a bit when the person saying this to you is someone you thought knew your heart, but it has made me realize the unfortunate degree of how much we as family members, friends, co-workers and believers in general have built walls because of past hurts.

And it inspires me to keep fighting to share God’s love and light, and to remember I desperately need His guidance and strength — and the support of fellow believers — to push through the darkness.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Touch of kindness makes a difference

Big Jim

Alabama’s Jacob Tidwell (left) and Kaylee Roth (center) assist Big Jim Salles of Texas as he registers for the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix on June 13. (Photo by Jennifer Davis Rash)

Big Jim didn’t like the formality at all. “James Salles” on his nametag just wouldn’t do.

He promptly requested a Sharpie and took care of it. Now that’s better, he said.

The proud Texan and his wife, Sue, (or Mother, as he called her) were late registering for the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix. They had car trouble along the way and were exhausted by the desert heat but the sweet southern accents and polite nature of two young Alabama Baptists made everything right again.

Jacob Tidwell of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, moved immediately to creating a new nametag for Big Jim with the approved nickname so he didn’t have to wear the Sharpie-
corrected version.

Tidwell showed the same care for “Ms. Sue” as he made sure she collected her book of ballots, convention program and nametag. Tidwell’s astute observation skills and polite but quick action combined with Judson College student Kaylee Roth’s sweet banter pulled big smiles and lots of laughter from the Salles family.

‘Honey bunches’

And Roth’s warm smile and Cracker Barrel-trained “thanks, honey bunches” sealed the deal — Big Jim and Ms. Sue felt totally at home.

Tidwell and Roth were among 23 college-age young adults from Alabama Baptist churches serving at the SBC registration counters and as greeters and ushers at the doors.

Once I knew the secret code — they were all wearing white golf shirts — then they were easy to spot in the crowds.

As I approached the front door to the convention center the next morning, friendly smiles and warm welcomes greeted me. And yes — white shirts. More Alabama Baptist young adults representing our state and our faith with joyous hearts and gracious spirits.

Alyssa McGee of Hillcrest Baptist Church, Maplesville, and a student at the University of Alabama; Korey Cowart of Central Heights Baptist Church, Florence,and a student at the University of North Alabama; and Rita Pearson-Daley of First, Montgomery, and a student at UAB — all showcasing the Light as they served.

‘Staying with the stuff’

These roles aren’t seen as glamorous like the activities of the platform personalities or the featured presenters at the top-level exhibits but they are acts of service that affect the experience of the participants. They are what a friend of mine calls “staying with the stuff.”

There must be a dependable support team in place consistently working through the routine parts of any ministry, organization or event. Without that team the people called to be out front wouldn’t be able to sustain their responsibilities.

My co-worker Wanda emailed me a prayer as I departed for Phoenix: “May God bless you in your coming and going. May you be so full of the Holy Spirit that He splashes out wherever you walk.”

Her words resurfaced in my mind as I watched our Alabama students in action. What a difference a touch of kindness, joyous heart and gracious spirit make — even in the routine moments.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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I can fix that, but should I?

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How has life been this week? Working through any disappointments?

It’s hard for me to watch anyone be let down. I tend to take responsibility for reversing such situations even when it’s not my responsibility to bear. I also will carry an unhealthy level of guilt if I discover there was something I could have done but didn’t do to prevent someone in my life from experiencing disappointment.

The desire to serve others in this way includes everything from helping co-workers with daily responsibilities to being there for friends in need to keeping up with all that happens with extended family.

My hubby, Jason, and I have been known to drive five hours one direction to spend Christmas Eve with one side of the family, stay until everyone goes to bed, and then drive seven hours over night another direction to make it to Christmas morning breakfast with the other side of the family.

Difficult decisions

I know, many of you are shaking your head right now and scolding me for that kind of nonsense. But ask any young married couple about the struggle over where to spend various holidays during the first few years of marriage — it can be a difficult season of life transition.

In our case, we couldn’t dream of disappointing either side so we found a solution that kept everyone happy — at least we thought. We soon realized we actually caused anxiety for both sets of parents because of all the travel we were doing with no sleep.

And while it has been almost two decades since first facing those kinds of family-related decisions, I continue to fight an internal battle every day about how I can best serve those around me. The difference now comes with tough life lessons teaching me to work with the information and resources I have to determine what is best for everyone involved, not necessarily what prevents disappointment.

God moments

I still hurt when others are unhappy and I always want to “fix” things but I’m learning to step back, assess the situation and pray for guidance about my proper role. So many times I have rushed to take care of something or someone without working through it with God first.

God has provided several life-altering, face-on-the-ground-grateful-to-Him opportunities to serve since I gave Him my heart and life atage 19. The most profound opportunity revolved around Belle, my precious niece who snuggled her way into countless hearts during her courageous five-and-a-half-year battle with cancer.

So when I can evaluate such impactful seasons such as what God gave me through Belle, why would I dare snatch every random opportunity to help as if they were really all for me? Could I be swiping another person’s chance to serve and thus be stealing his or her blessing?

Internal battle

And why would I not strictly follow Him to the specific areas of service He has in store?

I’m sure part of it is because of the desire to prevent unhappiness in others. Another aspect is likely a need to be needed or the fulfillment that comes with making others happy. And then there is the extreme need for efficiency I have as well as the ability to quickly assess a situation — these two traits allow me to solve problems quickly.

But as one of my mentors always reminds me, “strength overdone becomes weakness.”

Another lesson I’ve learned in recent years is to be mindful of each person’s tolerance level related to frustrations and what is really a call for help versus a verbal processing of anxiety.

My typical response to being overwhelmed or experiencing distress is to focus, prioritize and get to work. I will attempt to chip away at each item, starting with the most urgent and maneuvering my way from there. I intend to handle everything put on me without ever asking for help. Granted, this is not necessarily the right thing to do nor is it always possible but it is where I start.

Built differently

So a lesson I learned the hard way is that while I personally will wait until it is nearly too late to be rescued before I will dare ask for help, others aren’t built that way.

Some are much healthier in their approach and know the proper time to request assistance as well as specifically what is truly needed from others and what they can handle themselves. They know the right thing to ask from the right person at the right time.

However, there are others — none I know of course (eh hem) — who start expressing fret, disappointment, unhappiness, fear, etc., the second anything changes in their day or something doesn’t work exactly right. Combine their immediate screams for help and my innate desire to take care of others and I’m forced back into an internal battle.

How do you react?

For me it is about setting boundaries and learning to hesitate unless I know it is a serious issue in which I need to assist.

For others, if you are one who reacts quickly, loudly and with anxiety to frustrations in your day, please know you are likely taking others down around you without even realizing it. Finding a way to cope through calmer and more productive methods could be your way of truly serving and improving the quality of life for those around you.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Called for a specific moment

“We built this city, we built this city on rock and roll.” When I read Nehemiah, Jefferson Starship’s 1985 Grammy Award-winning song “We Built This City” pops in my head.

I wonder how the lyrics might have been written in 445 B.C. during the 20th year of King Artaxerxes in the Persian city of Susa (capital city of Elam), specifically as they would have applied to the king’s cupbearer, Nehemiah.

Brokenhearted over the broken walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah was granted leave from his position of managing, protecting and serving the royal family’s wine. His heart was full of compassion and desire to help rebuild the walls around the Israelites’ holy city.

Grief and prayer

Even though Nehemiah was born during the Babylonian captivity outside Jerusalem, he still loved his people and their home city. The lyrics might have gone something like: “We built this city, we built this city on grief and prayer.”

After much grief over the situation, Nehemiah turned to prayer as he prepared for his journey to Jerusalem, organized the work to be done and watched the walls come together. Prayer became the foundation for every move he made.

Nehemiah and Ezra

The Book of Nehemiah is thought to be a collection of his memoirs, which leads many to believe he is the author. However, some believe Ezra could be the author because the two books were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible.

Together they tell the story of the restoration of the returned remnant from exile in Babylon. Ezra deals with 2 of the 3 parts of the experience — returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple. Nehemiah deals with the third part — rebuilding the city walls, something he accomplished in an astonishing 52 days.

Related to the Christology of the book, we see Jesus portrayed in the restoration act of what Nehemiah does with rebuilding the city walls.

Just as Nehemiah was the restorer of the walls for Jerusalem, Jesus is the restorer of communion with God for mankind. Nehemiah also was committed to the goal and stayed focused on it despite the ridicule and opposition that came, just like Jesus did during His earthly ministry and ultimate sacrifice to pay the sin debt owed by the human race.

Leadership skills

Nehemiah’s leadership and organizational skills are what draw me to this book. Here is a respected layman already demonstrating his character and work ethic by achieving a role not allowed for just anyone and taking it to the highest level by earning the trust and confidence of the king.

It would have been easier and much more comfortable for him to continue in his position and ignore the yearnings of his heart. After all he did not seem to have an extraordinary experience or explosive vision from the Lord. It reads more like a sense or call, so no one else would have known if he did not answer the call.

Heart and soul

But Nehemiah knew he was the one chosen to help the others and he could not get away from that quiet yet powerful tug. His resolve is inspiring. His energy and unselfishness can only happen because of his total dependence on God. His integrity, his humility, his love — they are models for how we all should live.

Nehemiah had a heart for the people and the project. He believed in it, cared for them and kept the faith. He knew God had called him to this moment and he gave the credit back to God rather than taking it for himself.

“He built this city, he built this city on heart and soul.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Introverts living in extroverted world

She bounced into The Alabama Baptist student intern role with no hesitation, blending right in with the staff in such a way that we felt as if we had always known her.

We’ve been blessed with a great number of high quality interns passing through our ministry and she was certainly among the group.

It has been several years now since she served in that role but the positive contributions she made to the team and the work being done can still be seen.

Along with assisting us at the office, this particular student intern also taught me some helpful lessons about life and interacting with people.

Time to revive

While her personality was extremely outgoing and she was involved in just about everything she could be at school, she would periodically crash and end up hiding away from the world for a few days. She would call in sick and skip her classes but then in a day or two be back attacking everything at full throttle. And then a few weeks later, she was out again.

Once I noticed a pattern, I became concerned and talked to her about it. Surprisingly, she seemed to have more self-awareness than I expected from a 20 year old.

She shared with me how she enjoyed being active and participating in everything she could possibly squeeze into her schedule. She also loved being with and around people but somewhere along the way she always hit a wall, she said.

Overwhelming level of activity

The pressure, the demands, the deadlines would finally overwhelm her and her escape was sleep. She could sleep for days when she got overwhelmed, she said.

As she talked I recalled my own insane level of activity in college and how Saturday mornings (except during football season of course) were spent sleeping in and catching my breath to gear up for the next week. I’m sure I would have found myself collapsing periodically like she did if I had not scheduled that weekly downtime.

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While I imagine all would agree I’m an extrovert, I’m not sure about her. Maybe she is and truly just pushes herself too hard all the time. But I also think she might be an introvert who figured out how to live and succeed in an extroverted world. Still she couldn’t ignore her innate need for periodic isolation even though she tried.

Navigating through a world of extroverts

I have several introverted friends who have maneuvered a similar path and are now careful to guard their much-needed alone time. It isn’t something to hide or be embarrassed about. It is a real part of their world but we extroverts may not understand and end up stomping all over their sacred ground.

The time alone, processing, regrouping and gaining the energy to re-enter the sea of people and embrace them with the often-required extroverted style is vital.

‘Staring at the wall’

One friend likes to call it “staring at the wall.” She will avoid any human interaction for a day or so after an intense few days with people and then be ready to go again.

Another friend strategically isolates herself at the end of each workday, only interacting with her husband after that time so she can reset for the next day.

Both of these friends are successful at what they do and I believe they will be able to maintain that success because they know themselves well and what is needed for proper care. They have friends and family who support those needs as well.

How often do we try to force ourselves or someone else into a mold that isn’t made for us or them? And how often do we refuse to even try to understand a different approach and different needs merely because we’ve convinced ourselves that the world inside our head is the only logical option?

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