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Hold On

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)

by Brenna Fields Taylor

As I write this blog, it is April of 2020, and the world is in the middle of a pandemic called COVID-19, a virus that is spreading rapidly throughout the world, taking the lives of countless people.  Because of the contagious nature of the disease, many communities are living in a complete shut-down (or at minimum, are sheltering in place, rarely venturing outside). As a result, the times in which we are living are unsettling, unusual and unprecedented.  History records that there have been many plagues of diseases that have impacted the entire world, including the flu pandemic of 1918 and a cholera pandemic that ran from 1852-1860.  While the experience of pandemics is new to us, it is not new to the world and certainly not new to God.

In the midst of these trying weeks, I have witnessed God’s healing power restores friends and loved ones, and at the same time I’ve seen when God has chosen to call others home to be with Him.  It has been an emotional rollercoaster!  What we are being told about this current pandemic seems to change almost daily, and a lot of times, we are unsure whose report to believe.  Churches don’t know whether they should meet in person or not, and sadly, there are debates among Christians on faith (or lack thereof), depending on churches’ decisions on this issue.  Vacations, conferences, class and family reunions, and weddings have been cancelled or postponed.  And since no one has any idea of how long this thing is going to last,  our lives seem to be on hold.

Even in the midst of all of this, I want to encourage you (and me) to hold on.  Isaiah 41:10 in the NLT says “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

This virus has many of us hesitant to leave our homes and to be in close proximity to other people, and rightfully so. But this particular passage says that we shouldn’t be afraid.  This virus may have some of us feeling discouraged because we see so much sickness and death around us. I will admit that, even as a minister, I have been overwhelmed by the many prayer requests for healing and comfort, even as my own family deals with the aftermath of death.

But in this passage, God tells us that we don’t have to be afraid and discouraged, because He is with us AND He is our God.  God has given us three promises in this one verse: He promises to strength us, to help us and to hold us up.  I encourage you to lean on and lean into God and these promises, that He will strengthen you, to help you and to hold you up.

What I find interesting about this passage is that it’s not just any old hand that is holding us up.  It is God’s “victorious right hand” that is holding us up.    The right hand of God symbolizes power and might.  It conveys authority and blessings.  Not only is the hand of God powerful, but it is also victorious.  So if God is holding me up with his victorious right hand, he is giving me power, strength, authority, blessings and victory, even in this precarious time.

I know we are overwhelmed, tired and unsure…but hold on.  God has promised to strengthen us, to help us, and to hold us up.  Let’s trust God together.

 

God is Speaking…Listen!

by Brenna Fields Taylor

I was in my devotional time today, and I began to pray for a friend of mine who is going through a situation similar to what I have just recently experienced. I called her name in prayer, asking God to give her bold faith to persevere through this trial. Since I am beginning to emerge from my own circumstance, I’ve come to recognize that my faith in God has increased!   What I’m currently facing seems to be challenging, but I am declaring by faith that God will handle it (I am not worried about the ‘how;’ I just know that He will). This is the prayer I prayed for my friend.

God is an amazing God! After I finished praying, I turned to the daily devotional I read, and this is what the scriptural reference was:

Isaiah 46:3-4 (NLT)

Listen to me, descendants of Jacob,
all you who remain in Israel.
I have cared for you since you were born.
Yes, I carried you before you were born.
 I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
I will carry you along and save you.

Talk about an on-time word! God spoke directly to my situation as well as to my friend’s, and I had literally just called her name in prayer minutes before! If you ask God to speak to you about a situation, trust that He will do it! And it will be unmistakable that it is HIS voice!

What God also said to me in this short amount of time is that when you are listening for His voice and walking in faith (bold faith, I might add), when the fiery darts of the enemy come your way (Ephesians 6), they affect you differently. Yes, the enemy may shoot them, but our faith doesn’t allow them to burn us! Our bold faith, based on the Word of God, is protecting us…we don’t have to worry about what the enemy throws our way. We are aware of the enemy’s tactics and schemes, but we keep moving forward in faith, knowing that God WILL care for us, carry us, and be with us!

Be encouraged, friends! We serve a God who speaks to us and to our specific situations. Ask Him to speak to you and then listen for His voice. And walk in faith!

A Good Work

by Brenna Fields Taylor

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:13 (ESV)

Now that we have entered into a new year (2020), many of us have started wondering about purpose. We’ve begun asking such questions as: “What am I supposed to accomplish this year? What would God have me focus on?” And if you’re like me and have reached a milestone age (and you recognize that there is probably more of life behind you than there is ahead of you), these questions take on even more significant meaning. We may wonder, “What should I be doing with the rest of my life? What kind of legacy will I leave behind?” I recently asked myself this question as I read an article about a sorority sister of mine who recently passed away due to cancer at the young age of 52. Although the end of her story is tragic, her legacy of encouragement, support and perseverance, even while she battled cancer, is one that will live well beyond her years. To read more about this awesome woman and her life, take a look at this article: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article239071853.html

Good Work

As we begin to set goals for the year and ask ourselves about purpose, there is one thing we can be assured of…as believers, God is working in us to fulfill purpose. The passages above were written by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian church. They were a group of Christians who were faithful to spreading the gospel and were very supportive of Paul and his ministry. He writes this letter to them to express his love for them, to pray for them, and to also encourage them.

The first passage says that God will finish the good work He’s already started. Sometimes, this good work in our lives is very evident to us, while at other times, it may not be so obvious. For example, you may unknowingly be an example for someone who’s experiencing a similar situation that you are (we have to remember that people are always watching us). You may never know how your life and actions can influence others. Or, you may be actively and openly pursuing your purpose. In either case, the first passage reminds us that whatever God has started, He will finish.

The second passage reminds us of who is working in us…it’s God! And He is working in us to fulfill His will and for His good pleasure. What does this mean for us as believers who are searching for purpose? God is the One who will reveal what our purpose in life should be, and He will also enable us to complete what He’s asked, all for His pleasure.

I highlight these two passages for a couple of reasons. First, as we set our goals for the year (and as we make goals, we should seek guidance from God), He may reveal something that seems to be outside of our reach. God may give us a desire for something that seems so massive, and we may wonder, “How in the world am I going to do THAT?” If God reveals it to us and we believe that is something we should strive for, we can be assured that God has ordained it and that He will give us the strength to complete it. Secondly, we can also be confident that the thing that God asks us to do is good. Since God is a good God, we know that everything that comes from Him is good (see James 1:17). So the goals that are ordained by God are good, the work we are to accomplish is good, and God’s will for our lives is good. Lastly, this good work that we are called to accomplish is a process and will take effort to complete (nowhere in either passage does it say that the work will be completed instantaneously). Commentator F.B. Meyer says this: “God, who began the work on the first day…is maintaining and building it up step by step.” As we advance through our purpose, God is maintaining and building it up (and us as well) step by step. While we fulfill our purpose, he is shaping us, molding us, and maturing us to become more like Him, even through the challenges we will face moving forward in our good work.

So, as we set our goals for the new year, let’s seek God for His wisdom and guidance. Let’s not be afraid of big goals! And when He reveals our purpose, let’s trust Him to complete this good work He’s given us to do.

What Time Is It?

by Brenna Fields Taylor

“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NLT)

I am writing this post on January 1, and a new year is just dawning. As with each new year, there is a focus on newness, change, life improvement, and resolutions. While I no longer make New Year’s resolutions, I do try to set goals for the year. Today’s post is not about goal setting or resolutions. It’s about time.

Hourglass

About 2 ½ years ago, my family experienced an extended season of loss. Between July of 2017 and the following June, we lost 5 family members, some to extended illness and some to sudden death (which was the case with my mother). On top of that, I lost 2 very good friends to sudden death (one less than a month after my mother’s passing). The year I lost my mother (2018) was the year I turned 50, and it was also the year I realized my marriage could not be saved.

What the last 2 ½ years have taught me is to redeem the time. Look at what Bible commentator Matthew Henry says about the scripture above from Ephesians: “Time is a talent given us by God, and it is misspent and lost when not employed according to his design.” If you are reading this, God has given you a measure of time. The question is: are you using it according to His design?  You may ask, “what does God want me to do with my time?” That is a question that God can answer for you, but you must seek Him out (Matthew 6:33). Yes, there may be things we want to accomplish, but what does GOD want us to accomplish? Ask Him!

Matthew Henry also says this about the Ephesians passage: “If we have lost our time heretofore, we must double our diligence for the future.” I don’t know about you, but as I reflect on my life and my 50+ years, I realize that I did not redeem the time as earnestly as I could or should have. While looking back affords me the opportunity to learn some lessons, the past is not where I plan to stay. I believe that, while I wasn’t perfect, I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. And now, time and experiences have taught me things that have changed me for the better. So, as Henry states, I am doubling my diligence for the future. I recognize that our times are in God’s hands, and He has not revealed the number of our days to us. And since I don’t know how long my life on this earth will be, I need to take advantage of EVERY day I’m blessed to see.

I am not advocating becoming a workaholic to try to cram it all in, but I am suggesting that we must intentionally use the time we have. Do I really have to watch that TV show now, or can I record it to watch later? Can I spend less time on social media and use that time in a more productive way? Can I get up a little earlier in the morning so I can get that 30-minute workout in? You’d be surprised the amount of time that becomes available when we make a few adjustments.

So, what time is it? It’s time to redeem the time! Seek God for what He would have you accomplish this year, set your goals and let’s go! Now is the time to redeem the time!

Be Courageous!

By Brenna Fields Taylor

During a recent difficult season, a friend of mine told me that I was courageous. She explained why she felt that way, but, in the middle of my drama, I certainly didn’t feel that way. In fact, the last thing I believe I was at that point was courageous. Frankly, in that moment, I felt weak and powerless.

Courage

I recently saw an adaptation of The Wiz, and if you’ve seen the movie or the Broadway production, you know about the Cowardly Lion. Although the lion is supposed to be the king of the jungle, this particular lion did not see himself as such, and he wanted The Wiz to give him courage. As the production progressed, although the characters had not yet made it to The Wiz, little by little the Lion began to do courageous things (and he didn’t realize it). As the play concludes, the Lion realized he possessed courage all along.

As I reflect on my life and the challenges I’ve faced (many of them in the last 2 years…most of them ongoing), I’ve started thinking about courage. What is it, really?

To me, courage means stepping into the unknown. Many times, we like life to be stable and predictable. Speaking for myself, I enjoy the regularity and routineness of life. It’s safe, it’s comfortable, it’s orderly. And yet, if you’ve lived for any length of time, you know that life can be far from stable and predictable. Times come when we are shaken out of our comfort and need to move into something different. Sometimes moving into something different is what we want, and other times it’s something we must do (we have no choice in the matter). In either case, when we are stepping into the unknown, the thing we’re facing is different than anything we’ve ever experienced. We don’t know what to expect, or even what the next step will be, but we step. We don’t know in which direction this step will take us, but we step. To me, that is courage.

I also believe that courage is facing a situation you may have avoided for a period of time. I know a person who knew something was going on in his physical body, but did not seek medical attention. He ignored the situation, hoping that it would somehow go away. If we’re dealing with financial challenges, they are not going to magically get better (no money will rain down from heaven). If you’re faced with health challenges, short of a miracle, they will not just go away. Again, if you’ve lived for any length of time, you know that issues don’t just disappear. They must be faced, confronted, dealt with. Courage is recognizing there is a problem, understanding that it is bigger than you can handle, and taking steps to move toward resolution.  Recognizing a problem is looking it square in the eye and acknowledging it exists.  The issue is there, and will not go away until we admit it’s there. Once we’ve honestly acknowledged its existence, we can do things to move toward resolution, such as prayer, wise counsel, research, etc. The issue may not (and probably will not) be resolved overnight, but exercising courage means we are addressing something we’ve avoided.

The last point I want to make about courage is this: being courageous means we are taking a risk. I have a tendency to be risk averse (as I said earlier, I like stability). But being courageous means getting a little uncomfortable and moving forward in the face of fear. Conditions will never be ideal for us to make a move forward, but if we want our situations to be different, we must make a change. The time will never be right to start that business, go back to school, start saving for that house, to rebuild your life. But if you don’t start, how will the thing ever get done?

What have you been procrastinating about? What’s that one thing you desire to do or need to face? Today is the day…be courageous and take one step. After you’ve taken the first step, take the second, then the third, then the fourth. As you do that, just like The Lion in The Wiz, you are exercising courage you didn’t realize you had. Be courageous!

Reflections on 2019

As one year comes to an end and another one approaches, many people tend to reflect on what happened over the last 12 months. We assess ourselves for the progress we’ve made toward the goals we set, and look to the future to set new ones.   I normally engage in this activity every year, but this time, things are a little different for me.

2019 was probably one of the most challenging years of my life (2018 is a close second).  I faced some situations that I did not at all expect (you could not have told me at the end of 2018 that 2019 would end the way it is). So this year, in addition to thinking about what will be most important to me in 2020 (a new decade), I am spending time reflecting on the lessons I learned in 2019.

First, I’ve been reminded that with God, I can face ANY challenge.   There were times this year when I didn’t know how I was going to come out, and there were some days when I was mentally and emotionally tapped out. And yet, God carried me through. The things that happened to me could have caused a mental breakdown (literally), but they did not. God kept me ‘closed in my right mind,’ as folks from the old church sometimes say.

Related to the first lesson is this one: Never take mental health for granted. I recognize that my situation could have gone another way. I’m grateful to God that I was able to continue functioning at work, with school, in ministry and with all the other things I do, and still be successful.   Regarding my mental health, I am now more intentional about self-care and recognizing when I need to rest.  I am also more aware of the foods I eat (while my diet is not perfect, I have incorporated more fresh vegetables and fruit and try to drink more water). Additionally, I am more intentional about getting physical exercise (even if I can only do 2-3 times a week of something). I believe that what we eat, how well we rest, and how much we exercise contributes to our mental and emotional health.

Next, I have learned on a deeper level the importance of having a positive and supportive tribe. A tribe doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) a large group of people, but they should be people in whom we can confide, those who will pray for us, and those who support us. Through this year’s challenges, my tribe was there for me in ways I could not even imagine. When I couldn’t share what was going on with me with most people, I could share with my tribe, without fear of judgment or ridicule. I know God placed them in my life for a reason, and for their love and support I am eternally grateful. I pray that one day, I can return the favor.

Lastly, this lesson is one that is in progress for me. I am learning that my goals will not achieve themselves, and that I must keep them top of mind at all times. There were some things that I wanted to accomplish in 2019 that just didn’t get done. While I’m not beating myself up about that, I am more aware of why that is…because I was distracted and spread too thin. I am now assessing what I do to determine those things that are critical to my goals and vision for my life, and those other things that are not essential. I believe this is something we should all do, if we want to fulfill the vision and calling that God has on our lives.

Yes, I will be setting some goals for 2020. But they will be set in light of what I’ve learned in 2019. I pray the lessons you’ve learned in 2019 are just as life changing as mine are. As we enter a new decade, let’s redeem the time and stay focused on what’s most important — God’s will for our lives.

I am a different person going into 2020…and I’m thankful for the lessons 2019 has provided.

Surviving the Holidays? How Did I Do?

Happy New Year! I’m grateful to be in the number of those who made it to 2019!

As I promised in my previous blog post entitled “Preparing to Survive the Holidays,” here is my follow-up on how things went.

daisy flower in the desert

I must admit that I am glad to be on the other side of the holidays (insert sigh of relief).  As I anticipated the first holiday season without my mother, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I wondered if I would be extremely sad, angry or what, as Christmas, New Years’ Eve, and New Years’ Day approached.  Shortly after New Years’ Day would also be the first anniversary of my mother’s passing (January 6).  So, all of those milestone dates were back to back on the calendar.

I think overall, I didn’t do too badly.  On Christmas Day, my daddy and I spent the afternoon and evening visiting friends. People were very gracious to us, and we had several invitations to Christmas dinner (too many to accept lol).  Overall, the day was filled with fun and laughter.

It was on New Years’ Eve 2017 when my mother went into cardiac arrest. My plan was to go to a church service this year, but the later in the evening it got, the more I knew I wouldn’t make it.  I ended up sleeping through midnight, and woke up in time to call my Daddy to wish him a Happy New Year in the Central Time Zone.  New Years’ Day was quiet…I made some of the traditional food for the holiday (collard greens, black eyed peas) and reflected on what I was doing a year ago….trying to get home to be by my mother’s bedside.   I was back to work the next day, and my busy schedule resumed.  It helped to be busy when the anniversary of her passing came.

What did I learn in this process of surviving the holidays?

Don’t be afraid to share with people what you are about to face during the holidays

I’m not saying share with everyone, but only with those who understand what you are going through and who will show you compassion. They may or may not remember that you are facing the holidays without a loved one (and that’s ok…we shouldn’t expect people to remember every significant moment of our lives).  Those who really care about you will check on you, invite you to dinner, or do something to help you get through this period.

Some people choose to share these milestones on social media.  I chose not to, because I didn’t think I would be up to responding to hundreds of responses about my loss.

Go with the flow

For Christmas, while my Daddy and I had made plans, we also let the day unfold as it would.  It was great spending time with loving friends, and we also knew when it was time to call it an evening (even though we didn’t make it to every house we thought we would).  We didn’t put pressure on ourselves to do it all…and it was ok.

Thank God for the grace He extends

Through the entire holiday period (from Thanksgiving to New Years’), God showed Himself gracious to me!  Yes, there were some sad moments.   Yes, I shed some tears.  Yes, I wished things could be different.  But God showed His love and concern by giving me the strength to face this season, knowing that He would never leave me nor forsake me.    I’m grateful to God for placing people in my life who would remember and acknowledge my loss…just the acknowledgement alone, and the fact that I was thought of, was a comfort.

 

Yes, I still grieve, but I am grateful.  And…I’m looking forward to a new year with new possibilities.