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

Ever feel like you are letting everyone down?

Keeping count of the number of friends and family who feel they are letting everyone around them down can no longer be done with my fingers. I’m not sure what has so many stuck in this season right now but it is a feeling I fight from time to time myself.

I’ve determined it is never quite as extreme as it seems but when the feeling hits, it is hard not to believe it is every bit as bad as it feels.

When I experience the “letting everyone down” moment, I am typically overwhelmed.

Because high expectations and countless requests are part of my everyday life, I count it a success that most days I can bounce between them all — whether successfully or not — with energy and a smile.

But some days are different. What changes when the routine becomes discouraging?

For me, I am more vulnerable and emotional when I’m overly committed, tired, not exercising and spending too little time in God’s Word.

But even then I don’t tend to move into the “letting everyone down” mode until I begin sensing disappointment from those closest to me that I’m not focused on them enough. It might mean I’m not physically present; it might mean I’m not in tune emotionally; it might mean I’m not doing enough to help out.

Can be crippling

I can’t speak for others nor have I done any research to truly understand where they are and what they are facing, but I know how they are feeling and understand the crippling nature of where it leads.

As for my journey, I’ve determined what I’m sensing in those moments is my own guilt and disappointment in myself. I truly want to be present for everyone in my life and I want to be caring and helpful at all points but sometimes there are more needs than I can handle alone.

It is always hard for me to not step up, jump in or assist. It’s equally as hard for me to admit I’m not always the best or right choice to help and, in some cases, that I’m already overcommitted and can’t add another item to the list.

Working through it

But what about the unexpected serious needs that arise, those things we absolutely know need our attention?

Those are the times we do what we have to do and figure it out in the mix of it all. And we continuously work to build margin in our lives so there’s wiggle room in our schedules to handle the unexpected without taking us down in the process.

Remembering to share the load is another good choice to make. It may mean one person gets more credit than another. It may mean some roles are more popular than others. But if we can humble ourselves to do what needs to be done and not worry about who gets to do what or who gets credit, then we can be a powerful force of assistance in taking care of the need at hand.

I expect a lot of myself and others. Others expect a lot of me. I’m thankful for that because I do believe high expectations keep us sharp, growing and doing our best.

Prioritizing expectations

At the same time, I’m still learning how to prioritize the expectations so those who should be receiving the best of me aren’t getting the leftovers.

I’m also working to give a gift to those in my life I sense are overwhelmed by being super selective about what I ask of them. I’ve decided not to be a person who is only focused on clearing my own to-do list each day.

Instead I want to find something I can do every day to make someone else’s load a little bit lighter (preferably something unexpected) while also being realistic with the load I’m choosing to carry. And with helping someone else comes a bonus blessing that chips away at any discouragement that might be looming — for in that moment I’m lifting others up rather than letting them down.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Why justify less than our best?

Sunset Ecclesiastes 9_10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”chaser

Justification is an interesting action. Have you ever noticed how much you justify to yourself or others why you did or didn’t do something?

My moments of justification tend to focus on why I failed to follow through with a commitment I made. It might be a commitment to myself to exercise routinely or get more rest. It might be a commitment to someone else that I would take care of a project or task by a certain time frame.

Because I’m extremely skilled at justifying my own actions, I always notice when others are justifying their actions as well.

Recently I heard a friend note that he knew he wasn’t giving a client his best work but because he had agreed to do the work at a reduced price he felt justified in delivering less than his best.

The more I thought about his reasoning, the more it bothered me.

The saying “you get what you pay for” is true in many cases, but I would hope that we as believers would always give our absolute best in all that we do, even when we aren’t getting paid what we think we might be worth.

‘With all your heart’

Scripture is clear about doing our best in all that we do.

Colossians 3:23–24 says, “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart. … It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Romans 12:11 says, “Never be lazy in your work but serve the Lord enthusiastically.”

Galatians 6:9 says to never tire of doing good.

Second Timothy 2:15 reminds us to present ourselves to God “as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

And Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

Keeping our focus on Christ and seeking to be more like Him would demand a pursuit of excellence on our part, especially excellence of character and how we behave.

Soul searching

Representing Christ as a believer should mean we are aware if our lives are truly mirroring Him or not. We should always work to show grace and love while standing on truth.

If we are not able to give our best to all that we do as we journey through this life representing our Lord and Savior, then we really should do some soul searching and self-evaluation — eh hem, talking to myself here.

Certainly there are seasons and times when we have no choice but to give second best — and even to fail — but those moments should be because of situations out of our control not because we don’t care. And they shouldn’t happen because we are selfishly leaving the work for someone else to do.

We must find ways to reduce the demands on our lives so we can be in top form for those depending on us, and we must help each other in the process.

What does it say about our relationship with Christ and the condition of our heart if we purposefully agree to a job or task knowing we never intend to provide quality results or service? How do we justify such actions?

And how easy will it be to make a similar choice next time once we lower our standards and expectations of ourselves?

How far could we go down this path before we don’t even remember what our best looks like?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Processing reality of suicide

The details are foggy about that morning but the tragic reality never leaves me. I remember the call, the intense grief and the hours my younger brother, even younger cousin and I spent playing in the car as the adults in our family surrounded my Aunt Sybil and Uncle Jim.

The scene was too much for the three of us kids, so our parents tucked us safely away where they could keep an eye on us but not expose us directly to what was happening inside the house.

My oldest cousin, Steve, had committed suicide a few hours before daylight.

It has been about 35 years since that difficult day but I can still sense the intensity surrounding it all — especially the devastation and heartbreak of my Aunt Sybil, who found him that morning. She never spoke of Steve again in public. There were no photos of him in her house. Everything of his disappeared. I’m sure she had it stored away somewhere safe but it was not to be discussed.

My Aunt Sybil held tightly to her faith and served everyone she could with every ounce of energy she had. She took great care of my Uncle Jim, who suffered from several serious health issues.

She grieved hard when she buried him too, but there was something different about the grief she walked through with her son.

Making sense of it all

I remember spending a lot of time at Aunt Sybil’s house, especially after Steve’s death. She loved to spoil her nephews and nieces, and we loved how she spoiled us.

Every once in a while I would actually be the only one there with her. I don’t remember how or why but I treasured those moments because that’s when she would talk about Steve and her relationship with the Lord and how she was surviving each day on the journey.

Her eyes always welled up with the biggest tears and she could never look directly at me as she talked, but she would share until the pain was too much to bear.

She couldn’t understand why he would take his own life, why he didn’t want to live.

She described the pain as having an entire section of her body ripped away with a gaping wound that remained eternally raw.

I’m not exactly sure how I processed all of that as a preteen and young teenager, but I know I hurt deeply for my aunt and uncle as well as our entire family.

There has been another incident of suicide in my extended family and at least two moments when I was the one on the phone for hours talking someone down from threatening suicide.

Overwhelming emotions

It’s truly an overwhelming experience and I found myself angry at times — angry because the person seemed to be acting so selfish in that moment. How could he or she do this to the rest of us? How could he or she hurt his or her parents like that?

As I’ve researched articles through the years, heard people’s stories, talked to experts and learned more about the tendencies of suicide, I’ve realized that a person at that point truly doesn’t see a way out. There are a number of reasons that lead to the pivotal point, but in all cases the person needs professional assistance.

The Alabama Baptist recently published a package of articles on teen suicide — including a report on the Netflix series that gained so much attention earlier this year. I urge you to check out the information and use it as a resource if/when needed. The articles have challenged me to also stay aware of the moods and needs of those in my life and work to help everyone I know realize they are truly valued, and they are not alone.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Fighting through the dark areas

“The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict” by The Arbinger Institute

“The Principle of the Path: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” by Andy Stanley

My brother and brother-in-law both recommended books to me within a few days of each other recently, and I scooped up both immediately. They have different purposes and styles but reading them over the course of the same few weeks reminded me how vital it is to fight through the ugliness and deceptiveness of the world around us and keep our hearts pure.

Both books are quick reads, well-written and convicting. Specific areas, experiences or episodes in your own life will likely surface as you read them, but you also will think of others you want to share the book with as soon as you are finished reading.

A major takeaway from Andy Stanley’s “The Principle of the Path” is: “The direction of your life will determine your destination. … What captures our attention influences our direction. Attention, direction, destination. That’s the principle of the path in three words. And as your attention goes, so goes your life.”

The story in “The Anatomy of Peace” takes the reader through a process to grasp the full picture of resolving conflict but a few key points revolve around seeing others as people, not objects, and how to value others despite having extreme differences.

One passage says, “The people … appeared more concerned with their own burdens than with others’. … It would have been well for them and their cause if they had begun to think as carefully about others as they did about themselves. … What are [their] challenges, trials, burdens and pains? How am I, or some group of which I am a part, adding to these challenges, trials, burdens and pains?”

And a concluding message of hope noted in the book is, “However bleak things look on the outside, the peace that starts it all, the peace within, is merely a choice away. … If we can find our way to peace toward [those who have hurt us], what mountains are too high for human hearts to scale?”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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 

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