The Spark Plug

Back to School Time!

We hope you have enjoyed your summer, but as teachers and students go back to school over the next few weeks we wanted to give you a few things to think about while you prepare your family for the transition. 


Possibly the most pressing thing is the back to school shopping. Here in Tennessee, Tax-free weekend is upon us, so will be the first thing to cover. With so many items on the shopping list each year, it’s hard to know what is covered under the Tax-Free Holiday and what is not. For example, a computer purchase would be exempt but computer hardware is not unless it is sold with a new computer.  Also, belts are exempt, but belt buckles that are sold separately are not. Most retailers have their registers set up to automatically exempt tax on the proper items. It can get confusing but if you have questions, you can always refer to the Tennessee Tax Holiday website.


Always be sure to check ahead for sales, as many retailers do special back to school sales, even on top of the Tax Free Weekend. Some of these sales may only be available on certain days and times, so it may help to plan ahead. Keep in mind, some retailers will also have special business hours associated with these sales and the tax-free holiday. You can take advantage of these hours, and beat some of the long lines by getting an early start.


As your children go back to school, be sure to meet their teachers and administrators. By creating a good relationship with those instructing your children, you will create an open dialogue with other adults who are interested in helping your children succeed. This open dialogue will help both sides to share information including the excitement in successes, and concern about disappointments.


When you meet them, be sure to ask teachers what you can do to help your child learn and succeed in the subject they teach. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to particular subjects, but that doesn’t mean that you can only help your child’s progress in certain subjects. There are many ways that you can help your children learn concepts in subject, even if you may not be as skilled in it as you might be in another. If you let the teachers know you may feel weak in your ability to help your child in their subject, they will have some ideas of how you can still help.


We hope you have a great beginning to the school year! For some more tips you can also check a post from the US Department of Education’s blog from last year.

Also, If you are here in Williamson County, the WCS inFocus site has lots of information about the upcoming school year.

Posted by Durham, Steven -

Nashville Tech Breakfast July 17

Today, we get the opportunity to update you on a great event that we partner with the School of Computing & Informatics on. The Nashville Tech Breakfast takes place at Spark and is a great opportunity for members of the Tech community to come together. Finn Breland, Enrollment Management Specialist for the School of Computing & Informatics provides a recap of our last breakfast. If you want more information about the offerings of Lipscomb's School of Computing & Informatics, you can find his contact informaiton here. We hope you will join us for the next Nashville Tech Breakfast in October! Check back on our website for the most up to date information!

Steve Lambert and his team on IT globalization issues for Nissan North Americas.


On July 17th, a crowd of around 80 business and technology leaders gathered at Lipscomb’s Spark center for the quarterly Nashville Tech Breakfast.  It’s no surprise that many came to learn from Nissan’s Information Systems team regarding their foray into international markets, but some were surprised to learn how Steve Lambert, the keynote speaker, became a top tech executive at an international corporation.  Steve’s promotion to VP of Information Systems was not conventional by any means.  Rather than seeking someone with a technical background, Nissan North America chose Steve because of his expertise in the financial sector.  Nissan is just one of many companies that are seeing success with a closer marriage of the business and IT sectors.

As for their presentation at Spark, Steve and 4 members of his IS team took turns relating several valuable and humorous tales from the development of a new Brazilian manufacturing center.  Dealing with unreliable network access, shifting weather conditions, language differences, wayward cattle, and lowered construction and electricity standards, the Nissan team had to overcome significant culture shock when moving forward with the project.  Lambert cited Nissan’s insistence on diverse teams and flexible thinking as essentials to their ability to keep their production on schedule.  

Although most of the attendees did not represent multinational corporations, their presence spoke volumes regarding Nashville’s growing business-IT community.  Nashville’s willingness to gather and share experiences and strategies will continue to grow its brand as a technology leader. 

Posted by Durham, Steven -

MFT's Trip to Ghana

We always love to share about what is going on at Spark. This is a chance to do just the opposite. We get the chance to put a spotlight on what some of our students recently got to do in Ghana. Our guest Blogger today is Marriage & Family Therapy Professor & Program Coordinator Chris Gonzalez who led the trip to Ghana. You can learn more about the MFT program by contacting recruiter Kathi Johnson here.


Marriage and Family Therapy Students go to Ghana


In May I lead a team of 10 Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) masters students to Ghana in Western Africa. It was the first trip for the program’s new Mental Health Missions specialization. It was also the first international trip I had ever led. Many of the students who went on the trip are in the program’s first cohort. For many of the students, it was their first international trip. It was a trip of firsts.

Mental Health Missions is what happens at the intersection off mental health and relational work in an international or cross-cultural setting combined with a missional impulse. It is similar to medical missions, but with therapists and counselors working with psychological and relational trauma rather than physicians and nurses working with physical wounds and disease.


We planned this trip for months. We prepared, role played, read books, and got loads of vaccinations, but we had no idea how this Mental health Mission trip would impact us or the people with whom we would work.

When the time finally arrived to put all of our training and preparation into action, we hopped on a plane and headed east. Twenty-four hours later we landed in the capital city of Accra, Ghana. Akwaaba! We were welcomed. After a quick night sleep, we were off to Cape Coast for a sobering visit to the Elmina Castle  to get perspective on slavery of the past. Then we headed to the Touch A Life Care Facility to meet the children – children who had been forced to work. It felt like historical whiplash transitioning from historical transatlantic slavery to modern day forced labor.


We were to conduct assessments of their stories of trauma and their understanding of family. It felt like walking on holy ground getting to hear the stories of these children. We learned not only of terrible challenges and trauma they faced, but also of their resilience and hope.

Wow! What an amazing group of children! Their welcoming and smiling faces were evidence of what can happen when a child gets rescued from hazardous and exploitive conditions. With a safe place to live, healthy food, good education, positive relationships, and lots and lots of love, children who have been in the worst of conditions can smile, play, learn, joke, create beautiful art, and pour out more love than any one of us imagined. The image of God emerges from them.


We did not expect to leave Ghana after two weeks having received more than we gave, but that is exactly what happened. We are home now, but our hearts are stretched across the Atlantic Ocean. When can we go back?


Posted by Durham, Steven -

Summer Travel Tips

Now that schools are finally out of session for the summer, many families are preparing for vacations. I know in my family our normal day to day schedule is very full. Unfortunately this leaves us little time to pack and properly prepare for our trips. Because of this, there are things that I try to do each time we prepare for a trip to make things easier. I wanted to share some things I've learned and hopefully some of these things can help you prepare for your family’s upcoming trip!


  • Keep a universal packing list – I have realized over the years that many of the things that end up being forgotten when packing for a trip are often the seemingly obvious things we use everyday. I have created a digital list that has items that are used on many of our trips. This list includes phone chargers, extra shoes, hanging clothes, our camera & our pillows. Some items on your universal list may not be needed for every trip, but it’s best to keep them on the list. It may help you remember that item for the next trip.


  • Specific trip packing list – Because each trip is different, you need a specific list for each one. Best-case scenario, a few weeks before a trip takes place you should start making a list of trip specific items. Examples might be camping equipment, items for the beach, or things you need to take to a family member you are visiting. Be as detailed as possible because even though some of these items will seem obvious, as I said before, the obvious tends to get overlooked in packing.


Extra tip: Does your family take a reoccurring trip? Keep a permanent list for that trip and keep it up to date. If you learn that your trip would be easier with another item, add it to the list. Or if you find out that an item is unnecessary for future trips, remove it. This will keep you from taking the time to create a new list each time.


  • Packing for flying – There are plenty of restrictions when it comes to flying. To help you pack for your trip, keep up to date on the latest restrictions. The TSA ( has a great informational site and a brand new TSA Kids page that can help adults and children alike learn more about flying. Something important to note is that many airlines are now allowing portable electronic devices to be used gate to gate in airplane mode. This can be very helpful for anyone to pass the time.


  • Packing for car travel – One of the easiest ways to save some time and money is to pack a cooler for your trip. Instead of having to stop to pay for food and drinks along the way, you can pack them to allow more flexibility for your trip. Having electronic chargers for the car can help keep those electronics you have become accustomed to using running for your entire trip. Sometimes traveling at night is the best option, so having blankets & pillows available for passengers who may want to sleep is always a good idea.


  • Traveling with Kids – I feel like this topic could be an entire blog post in itself. As a relatively new parent, I have limited experience with this on the parent side. However, I remember some things about traveling as a kid that helped me pass the time, and I have read a few things that I look forward to try in the coming years. Having plenty of snacks and drinks is a good start. Also, packing activity books, favorite toys, movies or other electronic devices can be crucial to a happy trip. Keep in mind that children do not have the same patience level for traveling that many adults have learned to have. Even though it may make the total time of a trip longer, sometimes it’s best to stop to get children out of the car for a while. This could mean stopping at a park, a playground, or finding another point of interest on your travel route that might be fun, interesting, and allow everyone to move around.


  • Safety first – Just like airlines go through a safety check on each plane before every flight, always check your car to be sure that it is in top running condition before your trip. This includes checking fluid levels, tire pressures, battery charge and windshield wiper blades. If you are getting close to your next oil change and you normally take your vehicle somewhere to be serviced, it’s a good idea to do it early. Most places that do oil changes will also check all of these things while you are there for service. Always know your travel route ahead of time. Even though using a GPS is a great tool to help with driving, not knowing your route ahead of time can cause you to make quick and unexpected turns. It’s also handy to keep a map or atlas in the car as well. There are times that a detour may be necessary and while maps on a phone are great, there are times where cell service may be spotty.


  • Make reservations – It’s always good to have a plan, and by planning ahead you can usually save some money as well. Make your travel plans early in order to save the most money and ensure you get to do what you want. This includes hotels, airfare, rentals, tickets to shows or activities, or even some restaurants.


  • Think about your health – Always keep in mind that it is important to take care of yourself. Stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, use sunscreen, take medications and keep up with any healthy routines you keep at home.


  • Have fun and be flexible – Last but not least, make sure you make your trip what you want it to be. While it’s great to have a plan & schedule for your trip, be flexible. Plan some free time into your trip to give you options. You may reach your destination only to find something you want to include in your trip that you didn’t already know about. Since the weather doesn’t always cooperate with your plans, check it to help you plan your stay and if possible swap your plans to help maximize the good weather. However, keep in mind that in some cases a less than perfect weather day can make for a more enjoyable time since it will keep the crowds away.


I hope that you have seen something that can help you out this summer! Be sure to enjoy it!


Steve Durham

Posted by Durham, Steven -

Be Positive

Today's Devotional is from Lane Widick. Lane is the preaching minister at the Granny White Pike Church of Christ.  You can reach him at, or by visiting or


The One Where I Say "Be Positive"


Okay, I’ll admit it.  Sometimes, I can be a debbie downer.  I can’t help it.

Part of it is in my blood.  My grandma was a rather negative gal.  But let’s face it, she grew up in the depression era, so I think she had permission.

My family and I moved back home to Nashville almost 2 years ago.  I’ve made great strides in my negative attitude.  One of the greatest things that helped was ceasing to watch the news.  I used to be a FoxNews junkie, and then I would flip over to CNN to see what they were saying, followed by checking their websites.  

All they would do is yell and fight and bicker – and I have to tell you, it rubs off on you.  I’d watch it while I was getting ready, and then I’d listen to it on my XM radio in the car.  When I wasn’t listening to that on the radio, I’d listen to ESPN news or talk – and again, on my afternoon drive home, I’d catch the PTI (Pardon the Interruption) crew, and that show is all about yelling at each other.

Its so easy for this attitude to rub off on you, and sadly enter all aspects of your life.  We get short tempered with our spouses, our children, our friends, our church family, our neighbors, the people driving next to us on the road – and before long its out of control!

So for those of you who have been affected by my negative attitude that creeps out every once in a while, I’m sorry.  Being around negativity is like being around someone who smokes – you may not be smoking, but you smell like it later on.  You may not be negative at the time, but chances are it’ll put you in a sour mood.

There’s really no excuse for me ever being negative.  I have a 

1.  Wonderful wife who still puts up with me
2.  A beautiful little girl who still loves to cuddle with her daddy
3.  Super awesome parents, family, and friends who would do anything for me
4.  The absolute best church family any Christian or Minister could ever ask for
5.  A spectacular home that is more than we ever could have imagined
6.  2 paid off vehicles that are in top notch running condition
7.  Health – me and my family have no major problems 
8.  More than enough food to eat every single day

Well, you get my drift.  I’ve been blessed, and instead of letting things get me down, I’m going to focus on the blessings in Christ that I have.

Next time you put something on Facebook – ask yourself, “Is this building others up?”  Such as political statements, money statements, “i’m raising my family better than you” comments, and so on and so forth.

Next time you have a conversation with someone, be positive.  If the other people in your conversation bring up gossip, negativity, or comments about how they are not satisfied with something going on at work, home, or church – try to change the subject to something more positive, or if that doesn’t work, dismiss yourself from the conversation.

Negativity is a poison, one that we all partake of, but one we need to fight against.  May God bless us all with a positive spirit and attitude…INCLUDING ME!!

Posted by Durham, Steven -