Life lessons from ‘The Sender’

A review of The Sender: A story about when right words make all the differenceimg_20170311_092500.jpg

Admittedly a fan of leadership books in general, I was certain to like Kevin Elko and Bill Beausay’s The Sender. But what I didn’t anticipate was the wave of emotions I would experience while bonding with the characters in the story.

My friends Diane Covin and Larry Byrd of The Sterling Group shared the book with me, noting they thought I would enjoy it — and they were right. There are a few editing slips that distracted me for a second but nothing that confuses the content in any way.

Not only does the book have valuable leadership and personal motivational tips based on Scripture but it also presents practical and strategic concepts in clear, everyday, manageable steps — not necessarily easy but simple. It all comes down to our choices each day, the authors explain.

And despite the adversities that come with life, we can still choose to fight rather than be defeated and flourish on the other side.

University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban said in his recommendation of the book that “Dr. Kevin Elko has certainly contributed to our success in providing a new twist on focus, attention to detail, team work and grit.”

Elko’s background and work with numerous college and professional football coaches and teams leaves no surprise that the main character in The Sender is a football coach.

Maybe my love for football, especially SEC football, made the book even more endearing or maybe it was because of the engaging storytelling ability of co-author Beausay. Then again it could be because the story was set in Alabama, specifically the Birmingham area.

And while all of those reasons certainly made the book appealing, I’m pretty sure my strongest attachment to the story resulted from 10-year-old Max’s amazing attitude and influence on people despite his heart-wrenching battle with cancer. My precious niece Belle would have turned 10 this coming May. Max’s resolve, joy, peace and overall character remind me of Belle. He is a rock star at the fictional pediatric cancer center much like Belle was in real life.

The section on fighting weary also made me think of Belle and how she mastered the ability to live life to its fullest every second when we all knew she had to be truly depleted. She could always dig deep and pull from this amazing reserve of something — something all of us around her clung to with everything we had.

When the motivational letter writer in The Sender addresses the concept of fighting weary, he says: “It’s easy to fight when we are fresh. But how you have success in parenting, success in business, success with our health, overcoming the condition of cancer, is we learn how to fight weary … and survive the assault. Here comes your opponent’s assault but it was just an assault. It wasn’t a victory. Your energy stayed even. … Every relationship has an assault to it. … When you start to feel tired and when you start to feel frustrated, it is a sign you are getting close.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Friends that ‘outdo one another’

Greater love image revisedMy dear sweet friend had more on her to-do list than 200 people could accomplish in one week, but she didn’t flinch when my situation changed her plans.

She looked into my eyes and saw the 98-mile trek back home was going to be a challenge for me to accomplish on my own. She made a few quick adjustments to her return-trip plan, grabbed my car keys and tucked me safely into the passenger seat.

It was merely one of those crazy headaches I get every once in a while, but it was enough to make a simple hour and a half drive on the interstate seem daunting.

The day before another sweet friend secured a babysitter and hit pause on her routinely hectic day so we could celebrate our May birthdays over lunch. She also stuck around for several hours to help me with an important assignment that was on a tight deadline.

For the past few weeks — really for the past five months — my dear friends at The Alabama Baptist have worked extra hours or gone out of their way to help me with so many different personal and professional tasks, projects and assignments.

‘Love one another’

And then there are friends from church, my neighborhood and beyond who constantly surprise me with an encouraging word, a needed hug or a random act of kindness.

I am so blessed to be surrounded by such a crowd of special friends.

The Word tells us in John 15:12–15: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

“You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

Romans 12:10 says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

And in Colossian 3:12–14, Paul says: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Doing life together

I sometimes have a hard time accepting help. I’m stubborn like that but I’m learning I really can’t walk life’s journey on my own. I definitely need the help of friends, and I love doing things for friends as well.

The little things are really fun and something I hope I never forget to do, but it is the helping in times of extreme need that fills my heart.

It is such a special gift for me when I get the privilege of doing something for someone that I know is truly needed and appreciated.

In fact, I had an opportunity like this recently when a friend was in a bind and needed someone to pick her up. It was really a simple request but it was urgent and it was such an honor to get the call asking if I could help.

And a few days before that my husband and I had an opportunity to assist a woman who was going to be stranded for hours had we not stepped in. We ended up having several mutual friends in common and connected on a spiritual level as well.

I could have easily ignored what I was hearing as she talked on the phone near me. She didn’t realize I was there and would have never known if I hadn’t helped, but I would have known.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Playing the game of life

The Game of LIFEBy Jennifer Davis Rash

Executive editor, The Alabama Baptist

The one-inch long, plastic automobile holds up to six miniature pegs roughly shaped like people. It exists solely to move along the path marked out from high school graduation to retirement. What happens on the journey in between those two events depends on the result of each spin.

It’s The Game of LIFE, and I became an expert player over the Christmas holidays. My 10-year-old niece, Taylor, unwrapped the game Christmas morning and well before New Year’s, we had played the game several times.

She and her 8-year-old sister, Emily, both took to the game quickly and enjoyed the major life events they experienced as we all jockeyed to retire with the most money.

And while Taylor and Emily had to learn loans must be paid back with interest, day care costs money and houses are expensive, one of the two of them managed to win every game we played. Turns out, they are both pretty good at playing LIFE.

Maybe in some ways we all are good at “playing” life. We know how to check the right boxes and show up where we need to show up. We are programmed to move methodically from one phase to the next, participating in all the expected activities and throwing a little of ourselves in a lot of directions.

Even when the difficult and unexpected parts of life come our way, we eventually adjust and find our new point on the path.

But is there a chance we are missing some of the richness of life because of our robotic movements?

Sure, as believers in and followers of Christ, we would all say there is more to life than the hustle and bustle of the worldly routines. After all, there is Jesus, right? Life is all about Him because without Him there is no real life, only death.

At some point during Christmas, I am confident that Christian believers everywhere acknowledged Christ’s birth as the true meaning of the holiday. And in a few weeks, we will remember His death on the cross and celebrate His resurrection.

But what about the days in between these two holiday celebrations?

How does Jesus fit into our daily lives? Are we becoming more and more like Him each day or is He just one of the many categories in our lives into which we toss a little of ourselves?

Is Jesus truly the focus of our life’s journey or are we living for retirement and ourselves?

As I played The Game of LIFE with Taylor and Emily, I noticed how quickly we moved through the various seasons of our pretend lives to retirement and “game over.”

In all reality, the board game might not be far off the real thing. Some of us went to college; some didn’t. Some moved quickly into successful careers; some didn’t. Some bought lake houses and sail boats; some didn’t. Some gave generously to charities; some didn’t. Some had children; some didn’t.

Where I couldn’t compare real life with The Game of LIFE was in the area of faith. Or could I?

While the board game offers no reflection of the spiritual side of life, the decision is ours whether the game truly falls short. Life has a funny way of complicating the minutes, hours and days. One minute we are in college, the next we are turning 40. Before we know it, retirement is no longer the state of life in which our grandparents live. We are setting the date, downsizing for the final phase and asking where the time went.

When we are celebrating retirement one day, will a peek back over our shoulders show a reflection of Jesus Christ? Or will we just see ourselves?

One step forward, two steps back

By Jennifer Davis Rash
Managing Editor, The Alabama Baptist

So this was the column in which I should be sharing all the great progress I’ve made on my new and improved balanced self. You know, the plan I announced got under way in January.

But you didn’t think I really meant I was starting in January, did you? I was merely thinking about it (wink, wink). Just teasing. I really did begin in January and in March and now again in July.

It seems the only thing I have done consistently is think about how to pull life together, achieve balance and maintain freshness every day. I’ve had moments of success in every area, and I’ve made progress in many ways, but actually attaining those goals hasn’t happened. Not yet anyway.

Still I press on, determined not to give up and to figure this out. Sure there are moments of discouragement when I think, “What’s the use? Why worry with it at all if it takes so much energy to achieve?”

But isn’t that so much of life? So many things don’t work out as we have planned or would like but we can’t give up. We, as believers, exist to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:9). We also have been commanded to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds and souls (Matt. 22:37); love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39); and share Him with all peoples (Matt. 28:19–20; Mark 16:15; 2 Cor. 5:20).

How can we do any of these things if we are overwhelmed and wrapped up in our own complicated lives? And how can we do these things if we are exhausted, light in the Word and undisciplined in life’s “als”?

The “als” — spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, relational — round out our overall existence. They need to be in balance for us to be at our best. But this is where it gets difficult.

While I wish I were the only one struggling, I don’t think I’m alone in this battle. Friends tell me they struggle on even the best days to stay consistent in these areas as much as I do. And then when a string of bad days comes, it gets even harder.
What I’m realizing is that we must figure this out during the good days, so when the bad days hit, we have a foundation on which to build.

Pulling from reserves

During the bad days, we may not get to follow our normal time spent in the Word or prayer but we can pull from what we received all the other days we did. During the bad days, we may not get to exercise and eat right but our strength and energy will hold up better if we are fit and healthy. During the bad days, we may have nothing to give our friends and family and need them to give all the energy but we can draw from the reserve of energy we invested earlier.

When the bad days aren’t as bad anymore, then we can start rebuilding the “als” again. The difference is a little rebuilding versus starting from scratch even farther back than before.

Getting ourselves balanced and in order also means that when one of our family members or friends lands in the “bad days” period (and they will), we will be able to help pull him or her through that time because we will be healthy, strong and available.

And so, I begin again. Seeking more thorough and consistent time with the Lord, finding the motivation to exercise and eat right, making more time for family and friends, expanding my knowledge base at work and in general and caring for myself emotionally.

It seems like one step forward and two steps back most days, but I’m staying focused on each step forward and working hard not to get discouraged when the steps go backward.