The Perfect Gift

From our friend Sandra Kelly, Director of Student Services for Belhaven’s LeFleur Campus

Like most people, Christmas is my favorite holiday. I love to decorate my home with lights, adorn my tree with ornaments and set up my animated nativity scene just above my fireplace. I enjoy driving around neighborhoods looking at lights and taking in all the beautiful Christmas decorations.  So, needless to say, I love everything about Christmas!

Now that Christmas Day has come and gone, I reflect on the past few weeks. The hustle and bustle, the parties and gifts, the songs and the greetings. And I examine myself: Did I really connect? Did I take a moment to ponder that Holy Night and that Special Gift? And will I truly try to carry the spirit of the season in my heart for the days, weeks, and months to come? Or do I set it aside along with the torn wrapping paper and empty boxes?

This time of year usually adds more tasks to my already full to-do list, and this year was no different. This month has been filled with loads of events to attend, a house to decorate, dishes to prepare for holiday parties, school Christmas programs to attend, church cantata rehearsals, and gifts to buy. With so much to do and so little time to do it, it is easy to miss the beauty of the season.

Each year, however, I refuse to allow stress to turn the Christmas season into a competition. To combat stress, one of the things I find joy in is listening to Christmas music. I know that there are numerous versions to some of the same classic songs. However, what I have learned to do is not solely focus on the tune, but rather listen to the words. When I do this, I find out that I just might hear the voice of God, and it may be the very therapy that I need in order to see Christmas as something more.

Let’s take a look at one of my favorite songs, “O Holy Night.” I love this song! Without a doubt, it is such a beautiful melody. Conversely, in verse one, hidden is one lyric that is a countenance of the Christmas spirit. “’Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth….”

A fulfilled promise lies true with the coming of Christ. Jesus’ birth is prophesied in the Old Testament, like Isaiah 7:14, which references Mary, the virgin’s birth. Miraculous is the birth as is the promise that presented humanity redemption. This was the first essential step towards Easter and the cross. So, when Christ was born, like this song says, as His children, we all revealed that we were worthy. Even in all of our mess (sin), God deemed us still important enough to keep His promise and come for our souls. I tell you what…..that is pure love!

So what does Christmas mean to me? It is all about God giving us His best, because He passionately loves us. Don’t believe me? Remember what John tells us in John 3:16: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son…” (NLT). Again, the Bible reassures His love in 1st John 4:9-10: “God showed how much He loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love” (NLT).

By now, you should be smiling! Does that not just warm your heart? As you go through the hectic holiday season where you are doing all that you can to keep up, you can be at peace, because you have already established worth and love in your Heavenly Father. Forgot to buy a gift? It’s fine! Messed up putting up the Christmas lights? That’s ok, too! Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth and the awareness that we are loved just the way we are.

I hope you enjoyed a Merry Christmas! And may the Joy of the season abide with you throughout the New Year!

Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree

You Go Daddy!

The Chattanooga campus of Belhaven University will hold its graduation ceremony next Thursday evening. Two Decembers ago, I wrote about a child who yelled “Yay Daddy” when his father walked across the stage to receive his associate degree. Although I’m sure that the child was simply caught up in the excitement of seeing his dad momentarily elevated above the crowd, it struck me that there may be something more to that temporary interlude in our ceremony than appears on the surface. Here’s what I wrote two years ago:
• The words “Yay Daddy” coming from an adult student’s child confirm that the hard work and sacrifice that goes into earning a college degree has been worth it. Someone who loves and looks up to the graduate has uttered the ultimate confirmation.

• The words “Yay Daddy” indicate that the child recognizes graduation as a major accomplishment in his parent’s life. He sees that his dad’s hard work is recognized and makes the connection between diligence, perseverance, and reward. These are vital connections for the child’s future success in school and in the workplace.

• Finally, the words “Yay Daddy” mean that the child, more than likely, will be a college graduate himself. Research indicates that children of college graduates are more likely to be college graduates themselves. Our kids are watching. They see Mom or Dad writing a paper, reading a book, or preparing a presentation. Children see the value in education only to the extent that their parents model its value.

What’s interesting this year is that our “daddy” is graduating again – this time for his bachelor degree. So, what does his latest accomplish teach us about this dad and what might his son learn from it? Here’s an additional thought:

• The words “Yay Daddy” now become “Go Daddy.” This little boy’s father doesn’t stop after completing one educational milestone. He keeps on going! It’s now evident that he sees the importance of life-long learning. In our current economy and certainly as we move into the future, we must keep on learning as our resources and vision allow. As important as it is for this child to learn (through the example of his father) the value of education, it is at least equally important for him to learn the value of persistence in education. It will take a life-long learner to succeed in his brave new world.

I’m not sure what words the children of our graduates will utter at graduation this coming Thursday evening. I’m sure they’ll be restless about ten minutes into the ceremony, and before long, it goes without saying that some cries and other sounds of discontent will begin to compete with the speakers and musicians. So, TJ, in case your little man is asleep or otherwise distracted when your name is called this year, from all of us at Belhaven University, You Go Daddy! Graduate classes begin in January.

Ed Pickel
Belhaven University

From our friend Pete Deegan, Director of Admission and Student Services for Belhaven Houston:

The story of David and Goliath comes to mind whenever I face a difficult obstacle. However, more often than not, I relate more to the frightened Israelites who looked up at Goliath with fear. The obstacles in front of me seem like an unbeatable opponent that I am a fool to challenge. In that moment there is a choice to let that fear overtake and cripple or to let God’s still small voice speak encouragement in that hopeless situation. And all that I have to do is uncover my ears to hear His words speak to me.

David & Goliath








He speaks in different ways. He speaks through scripture, songs, or the people in our lives. I hope that you take the encouragement that is offered today. When the obstacle seems insurmountable, He is there to help you on your way. Just listen to His voice. And don’t forget that you have friends in classes, and a staff who care about your success!

Go Further…Dream Bigger

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:13, NKJV

No matter what’s happening in your life today, remember, you are not limited by your resources, your family or your background. God has equipped us. He has given us creativity, ideas, skills and talents. So, don’t you dare settle for mediocrity. Today, call for the seeds of greatness that God has placed within you.

Today, declare that your best days are ahead.  Declare that you are going further than anyone in your family ever did, that you are going to dream bigger than you ever have.

Walk and live in that blessing by following God’s commands and stay fully committed to him in everything you do.

How are you doing this term?

How are you doing this term? Are you doing just fine, or are you feeling overloaded? Are you taking difficult courses right now and wonder how you will get through them? As adults, we all have so many things on our plates! There is so much to juggle: family, work, church, school, and more… you name it. We can all get overwhelmed at times.

Are you physically stressed? Mentally? Spiritually? When you experience any of these things, it is good to take a deep breath, slow down, and remember WHY you began this journey of continuing your education. Was it for your family, to make a better life for them or to serve as a role model for your children about the importance of education? Do you need the degree you’re working on to get promoted or to go into another field of work? Do you just want to finish what you once started, or is there something else that convicted you that you needed to return to school?

Whatever the reason was for you to come to Belhaven University as an adult student, you need to keep that reason always in your mind when you get weary or discouraged. You have set a good goal for yourself, but sometimes you may feel you are not able to reach that goal. Let me encourage you to ask God for the wisdom, strength, and perseverance you need as you continue on your journey!

 You are not alone, and He is able!

God is with youGod is able


Don’t be afraid to step up!

Have you ever felt like you were running from or avoiding something, but you weren’t sure why?  Ever been afraid of the “unknown”?  How often do we fear failure?   Life is so busy and filled with so many activities, sometimes it is difficult to slow down and listen to that “still small voice” or truly hear what the Lord may be trying to tell us.  Perhaps, maybe we just have selective hearing because we want to do what we think is best or what pleases us?

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

The Lord tells us in His word, that he has plans for every one of us…So many times, we are so busy making plans of our own we forget we are not the ones in control.  Being mindful of whose we are and what we are called to do is the first step… then we must listen to what God is calling us to do and step up!

The story of Jonah comes to mind, when thinking about stepping up to God’s commission… Jonah’s story depicts how God truly is in control and is in command of everything to carry out His plan.  If we acknowledge God as having full reign in our lives, He will use us in ways we cannot fathom.  There may be times when God is calling us to lead and we are fearful of failure…but with God’s direction and blessing, we cannot fail.  We can do all things through Christ … and to Him we can give all the Glory!

Jonah 17:9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good.  I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

God knows our talents and abilities better than we know them, ourselves… and He has the master plan.  Resting in Him and stepping out in faith in every aspect of our lives and seeking what it is He calls us to do, requires faithfulness and results in a peace He can only give us.  Our heavenly father knows what is best for His Children before we even figure it out…and being aware of God’s purpose in our lives by staying in consistent communion with Him, allows us the opportunity to truly discover our heart’s desire.

Through personal experience, I can tell you that God can change the desire of our hearts.  He has the ability to change our hearts and put a desire there when it’s necessary to carry out His plan. It is then, when we follow His will for our lives, and obey, that we will experience true peace and happiness and ultimately He will be able to use us to help change lives.

Psalm 37: 4 -5: Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. 5Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

So, if the Lord is calling us into leadership, we must have no fear!  We must listen and faithfully step up!

Defining Success

Defining Success

What does success really look like?

We are obsessed with the trappings of success: Fancy cars, large homes, expensive jewelry, fashionable clothes. We are drawn to the beautiful, the intelligent, the well put-together.

Adult learners often restart their college careers with a mental image of success that includes worldly possessions. After all, if one devotes so much time, energy, and money to pursuing a dream, shouldn’t one enjoy the trappings of success? Most of us would say “Yes!”

But a college education is, well, different. Unlike sports cars and designer clothing and an impressive body mass index, an education is simply something that automatically follows from a transactional investment. Anyone with the right amount of money can buy fancy things. Anyone with the right amount of time can exercise enough to have a healthy looking body. But academic success is not measured like that.

There are some adult learners who measure academic success by the number of “A’s” they see on a transcript. While such high marks are laudable, they do not necessarily guarantee that an education has been earned.

In my life, I have often learned the most from classes (and endeavors) that I messed up royally! While I usually made good grades in school, upon reflection I see that I learned the most in classes that I struggled with. You know, those classes that pushed every button, those classes that made me question my intelligence. Those classes in which I HATED the work, HATED the subject, and sometimes was tempted to blame the instructor for “not giving clear instructions.”

I didn’t always make A’s in those classes. But, boy, did I ever learn things!

I learned about myself. I learned about my work ethic. I learned about my lack of understanding about a lot of things. And I learned that less than an “A” is not the end of the world.

A college education should be measured by how much it transforms the individual, not just by GPA or a piece of parchment on the wall.

St. Paul, at the end of his worldly mission, declared “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” This was the man who, although he wrote much of the New Testament, had faced rejection, setback, ridicule. Churches he founded had rejected him. Friends he trusted betrayed him. But, at the end of his life and ministry, he could claim victory. Not because he made all “A’s” in the School of Life, but because he was faithful. He learned, he grew, he never quit.

Confession time: When I attend our graduations, I always weep. I see the success that so many have made happen. I see men and women who were often treated as failures, but now they can claim success. I see their families–their spouses, parents, children, and often their grandchildren, cheering as they cross the stage to receive their diplomas. To be part of such milestones never fails to humble me.

Because I know. I see the transcripts. Not everyone is “straight A’s.” Very few breeze through a real college, especially an established liberal arts school like Belhaven. These schools demand excellence in reading, writing, critical thinking, and the ability to iterate a Christian world view that goes far beyond “I believe in a Supreme Being.”

But this is what Success looks like! It is the battle-scarred veteran, the persecuted Apostle Paul, the weary but wise degree recipient.

Not many of our students drive away from graduation in European sports cars or carrying Gucci handbags.

But they walk away with an EDUCATION. They are wiser. They are stronger. They have been pushed to their limits and, even when they broke, they got back up and trudged on.

They fought their good fight. They finished their coursework. And, even when they wanted to give up, they kept the faith.

And THAT looks a whole lot like success.


Carol Dianne Danley, Bachelor of Arts-Social Services, Class of 2014  (Memphis Campus) pictured with Dr. Paul Criss


Be diligent!

Adult students often wonder: “When and how will I ever get this paper done, finish this course…and when will I ever graduate?” Completing a degree can feel like an eternity, especially when family, work, and other obligations leave one feeling like there’s no end in sight.

If this sounds like you, the Bible has a simple, encouraging word for you today: Be diligent.

Proverbs 10:5 tells us that “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”

Diligence isn’t about pulling an all-nighter, or working quickly to get a task done no matter the quality of the end product. Instead, diligence implies a steady chipping away at something, a routine and focused commitment.

Diligence works! (Pun intended.)

Here’s what diligence in action might look like for you:

Plan ahead. Map out your papers and projects way ahead of time and hold yourself accountable to your deadlines. This will take some planning, but it’s worth the investment.

Lift “heavy rocks” when you’re strongest. Certain types of work – like writing papers – require you to be at your freshest. Some are freshest in the early morning. Others get a second wind in the quiet of late nights. Know when you work best on lifting your “heavy rocks” and work accordingly.

Work every day if at all possible. An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion….you get the picture. Even working just a half-hour a day on something school-related can keep you in the game. Take a day each week to rest. The rest of the time be about your business.

So be encouraged in your academic pursuit. By God’s grace you can pull this off. Be diligent.


The Last Chapter

I have a terrible confession to make. When I read a mystery or suspense novel, I will read the first few chapters of the book, and then I read the last chapter to find out how the story ends. After that, I go back and read the rest of the book, comforted in knowing that even though the plot may take twists and turns, I know how it ends.

In a recent Bible study at our church, I taught from the book of Revelation, Chapter 4. In this chapter it describes the throne room of heaven. What a glorious hope we have for our future as Christians. We too know how the story ends by reading the book of Revelation. What a comfort that is as we travel the journey of life here on earth.

So, what does this have to do with completing an education at Belhaven? Our hope for every student is that one day we can congratulate you as you walk across the stage, having completed all requirements for your degree. You know how your educational journey is supposed to end, so as life takes many twists and turns, don’t lose sight of the last chapter…..graduation.

The Transformational Nature of Adult Higher Education

In his book Center Church, Tim Keller describes several models of cultural engagement or descriptions of the various ways that we Christians view culture and our role in it. Keller writes that the transformationalist model “engages culture largely through an emphasis on Christians pursuing their vocations from a Christian worldview and thereby changing culture.”
I believe that Christian adult higher education is transformational and, for those of us who work in this field, Keller’s words should be encouraging. As we teach Christian worldview in the classroom and, as staff, model it in our interactions with students, we are impacting people who will, in turn, impact their workplaces, homes, places of worship, and communities with a biblically-informed transformational perspective.
Jesus describes his followers as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. These are powerful metaphors that instruct believers to flavor, preserve, and give direction to the world that God loves and is in the process of redeeming. This is the encouraging work of Christian adult higher education – to be salt and light to our students and to provide an educational experience that prepares them for that role in their various spheres of influence. The encouragement for our students is that your diligent work in the classroom is preparing you to be a participant in God’s kingdom vision for the world…His people “pursuing their vocations from a Christian worldview and thereby changing culture.”