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Exercise Patience

by Brenna Fields Taylor

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-3, NKJV)

When we go to the doctor, he or she may tell us that we need to start exercising.  Exercising is not an easy thing, and we may not want to do it (because it takes effort, it takes work); but it is required so that we can maintain or improve our health.

During the season in which we’re finding ourselves, I believe God is calling us to exercise patience.  By now, many of us thought that the pandemic would be coming to an end and that we could start returning to our normal lives (and as of the time of this blog post, that is far from true).  And on top of the pandemic, the racial, economic, and political climate is one that we in this generation have never seen or experienced.  And yet, I believe God is calling us to be patient.

In the epistle of James, the author teaches us to consider it joy when we face difficulties. Why? Because it’s going to produce something good in us, and that is patience.  No one likes to wait, but as we exercise patience, we are growing, we are maturing, and our faith is increasing.  So James says that we are to allow patience to do a work in us.

When we engage in physical exercise, the more we do it, the better we become.  Our muscles grow stronger, we can walk or run faster, our bodies function better, we sleep better, and we reap all kinds of benefits from physical exercise.  When we exercise patience, we’re reaping spiritual benefits:  we are growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, our faith is increasing, and we have a deeper relationship with God (we pray more, we trust Him more, we have the peace that passes all understanding).

Look at your life before the pandemic and now: Are you praying more? Are you seeking God’s face more? If the answer is yes to those questions, that’s means we are exercising patience! We have no idea when the situations we face will come to an end.  Until they do, I encourage you to continue exercising patience.  And as we do, watch what God does in your own life as well as in the world and His kingdom.  We will reap the spiritual benefits if we continue to exercise patience.

Biblical Self-Care

By Brenna Fields Taylor

The term “self-care” has become a popular one as of late.  I recently ran across a quote about self-care on Facebook that says, “Self-care isn’t always chocolate cake and trips to the spa.  Sometimes, it’s meal planning, going to bed early or letting go of a bad friend.  It’s forgiving yourself for not meeting your own impossible standards, and understanding that you are worthy.  Always. Self-care isn’t just luxuries, but a means for survival.”

If we look at self-care as a means for survival, what does the Word of God tell us about how we can care for ourselves?  Let’s look at self-care from a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual standpoint.

Physical Self-Care

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul says this to the believers in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT): “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”  In context, Paul is addressing a particular situation about sexual sin; he’s reminding the church that even though they came from a culture when the practice of being promiscuous was commonplace, as believers, the Corinthians should keep their physical bodies pure and ready for service to God.  What does this have to do with us and self-care?  We too should keep our bodies pure so that we can be physically able to be used by God.  That means eating healthy foods, drinking lots of water (something I don’t do enough of) and exercise.  The other day, I had a particularly stressful day at work, and I knew that, at some point during that day, I would need to get some exercise to relieve the tension I was feeling.  Instead of working out at home like I normally do, I decided to take a walk.  I walked about 4 miles, and as I felt the sun and the breeze blowing on this nice and peaceful evening, it was exactly what I needed to center myself again and relieve the stress I was feeling.  So, what are you doing to take care of yourself physically? What are you going to do today?

Mental Self-Care

Look at what the passage from Romans 12:1-2 (NLT) says: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think (emphasis added). Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

What influences the way we think?  What we feed ourselves mentally, what we allow into our minds is what influences the way we think.  Have you ever considered thinking about what you think? In other words, have you ever considered paying attention to your thoughts?  One scientist notes that, “We are aware of a tiny fraction of the thinking that goes on in our minds…The vast majority of our thinking efforts goes on subconsciously.” This scientist also says that the way to control these subconscious thoughts that come to the surface is to focus on something specific.  For believers, what is that “something specific?” It’s the Word of God.  The thing we focus on the most become bigger; it becomes a greater part of us.  Paul says it in the verse from Romans 12:  we can be transformed if we renew our minds, so we focus on the Word of God to do that.  What are you doing to take care of yourself mentally? What are you going to do today?

Emotional Self-Care

When we think about our emotions, we think about our feelings. Have you ever heard the expression “being all in your feelings?” It means “overreacting, getting mad over something, or being distracted by one’s (usually morose) feelings.” Whether we realize or not, we can all get “in our feelings” at some point or another.  What can we do to pull ourselves out of a negative emotional state?  The scripture I want to highlight here is Hebrews 4:15-16 (KJV): “ For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” During His time here on earth, Jesus felt the same feelings and emotions that we do (He lived a fully human existence). He felt sadness, anger, frustration, impatience, grief, and disappointment. Because He felt the same emotions that we do, He can empathize with us, and can relate to what we are going through.  So, when we get all in our own feelings, we can go to the One who truly gets it…that’s Jesus Christ. Yes, we can choose to reach out to a friend or family member (nothing wrong with seeking wise counsel); but they may be only able to sympathize with us, and not empathize with us.  When someone can empathize with us, it’s more that just feeling sad for us, but it’s being able to really relate to another person’s experiences, because they have gone through it themselves.  Jesus Christ can be that Person for us because He shares the same feelings we do.  So, what are you doing to take care of yourself emotionally? What are you going to do today?

Spiritual Self-Care

Again, looking at the example of Jesus, Luke 5:16 (NLT) says that “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” The word “often” means that He did this on a regular basis.  He needed to seek God for direction and also for renewing and refreshing so He could continue in ministry. If we go back one chapter to Luke 4, we see that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted. He emerges from that experience ready to begin His ministry: preaching, teaching, healing, raising the dead. Yet, Jesus knew he had to take time to pray, to strengthen Himself spiritually. One commentator says this about this verse: “The Son of God had to hear the Father’s voice and determine where the Father was at work.”  God has given each of us an assignment, and as we work our assignment, we must continuously seek God to give us the strength and direction we need to complete it.  What are you doing to take of yourself spiritually? What are you going to do today?

I hope by now you can see that self-care is more than just a fad.  For believers, taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually should be a way of life.  My challenge to you is to look at your life:  Are you taking care of yourself in these areas? If not, what can you do to make some changes?  Because ultimately, this is not about us, but it’s about being the best instrument we can be to be used by God, so that He can get the glory for our lives and through our lives.

Photo credit: Madison Lavern

Maintaining Christian Fellowship When the Church Doors are Closed

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NLT)

By Brenna Fields Taylor

As I write this blog, we are about 2 months into the COVID-19 pandemic here in the United States.  Because of the way in which the virus spreads, churches have been forced to close their doors and discontinue meeting in person.  And church leadership has become quite creative in determining how to keep doing church when we can’t go to church. One must wonder…prior to now, have we put too much emphasis on the church building?  Have we assumed that a church edifice, and everything contained therein, would be what would draw people to Christ (that’s what Christians are supposed to be doing, correct)?  Well, I don’t want to digress…that’s another topic for another day!

Christians have begun to make (or were forced to make) the adjustment to worshipping remotely. Even my daddy, who said he would never join Facebook, is listening in to bible study and Sunday services online!  Whether it is Facebook, livestream, Zoom, conference call, or a recorded message, Christians seem to be doing the best they can to adjust to the times in which we live (even if some of us had to go kicking and screaming).  But while we’re getting our worship and study in, what about the fellowship?  Using my own church as an example, the people seem to be thirsty for the person to person fellowship.  When we join the weekly prayer meeting conference call, as people join the line and identify themselves, they are joyously greeting one another and are excited to hear each other’s voices. It sometimes is a challenge because everyone is talking while we’re trying to begin the prayer service.  If you ‘ve ever been to a family reunion, it’s somewhat like that. Many families reunite every 2 or 3 years, and the meet and greet part of the weekend is sometimes the most exciting time.  Everyone is greeting everyone and giving big hugs because we haven’t seen one another in a long time.

So, until we can get back to church (the physical building), what can we do to maintain fellowship?   Whatever it is we choose to do, we must be INTENTIONAL about maintaining this fellowship.  Maintaining fellowship was easy when we saw each other at least once a week.  But now, things are different. When was the last time we picked up the phone (not sent a text) to call someone we haven’t spoken to in a while?  When was the last time we wrote and mailed a quick note to someone? (yes, the United States Postal Service is still in operation). Have we thought about doing a “drive-by” and dropping off groceries and supplies to someone in need?  We may not be able to go inside the person’s home and fellowship, but we can wave from our cars!

It is easy to become comfortable inside of our homes (I know I definitely am).  And I say “we” in the above statements because I know I can do better about maintaining fellowship. Just as, little by little, we’ve gotten comfortable in our own little bubbles, little by little, we can come out of those bubbles and intentionally plan to cultivate Christian fellowship.

While cities are slowly beginning to ‘open up’ again, churches do not yet know when we will return to in-person worship experiences.  Until such time, believers will need to get creative, not only in how we worship, but also in how we fellowship.  As one of my elementary school teachers used to say, “put on your thinking caps!”  Get innovative in how we fellowship with one another. We don’t need a committee meeting and a church vote to do something…do something today!

The Best Version of Ourselves

by Brenna Fields Taylor

Earlier today, I was honored to participate in the virtual Celebration of Life for one of my high school classmates who recently passed away. Beautiful words of remembrance were spoken about him, and encouraging words were shared with the family and all in attendance who grieve his passing.  As the celebration ended, his oldest daughter spoke on behalf of the family to thank her father’s classmates for planning such a moving celebration.  She recalled that her father had instilled in his children to be the best versions of themselves, and as she ended, she encouraged everyone on the video conference to be the best version of themselves.  What a powerful word from this wise young woman!

The service ended and we all said our goodbyes.  As my day progressed, I continued doing the things that were on my agenda for this Saturday. And yet, the challenge that this young woman shared continued to resonate in my mind.  I began to ask myself, “Am I currently being the best version of myself?”  If I were to answer that honestly, I would have to reply, “yes in some area, but no in other areas.”  I could do better with using my time more wisely, I could do better in eating healthy foods (I knew I shouldn’t have bought those Chips Ahoy cookies from Publix…they were buy one, get one free!)  Honest reflection shows me that I have some work to do so that I can be the absolute best version of myself.

I believe that in order for us to be the best versions of ourselves, our focus needs to be on what God would have us to achieve.  God has spoken very clearly to me about some things, while for other things, I’m awaiting answers and confirmation.  Ephesians 2:10 (NLT) tells us that “we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” God has already ordained the good works that he wants us to accomplish.  Are we walking in them?  As Paul is writing to the Philippian church, he shares this with them: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6, NLT)  So, we do not need to fear as we step out in performing the good works that God has planned for us, because He will ensure that they are finished…they will be completed!

God may have already revealed what those works are for us, but the task seems insurmountable.  We can’t envision how God is going to do this through us, and some days we may even wonder if we heard God right when He gave us that vision (let me be transparent…I have sometimes wondered if I heard God right).  But scripture reminds us that He has given us these good works and that he will help us perform them.  Because of this, we can step out in faith into our callings and be the best versions of ourselves.

I encourage you to take some time TODAY (as soon as you’re done reading this post) and ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I walking in what God has called me to do?
  • Am I living the best version of myself?

If you answered “no,” it’s ok.  Today is the day (not tomorrow) and now is the time to begin changing the answers to those questions from “no” to “yes.”  Spend time with God seeking His will for your life, and when He speaks and tells you to act, don’t hesitate…just act!  Trust and believe by faith that He will help you perform the things He has placed inside of you to accomplish in the earth.  Someone needs what you have to offer…don’t deprive them of the gifts that God has placed in you for their edification and for His glory.

Tomorrow is not promised…NOW is the time to be the very best version of ourselves.

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.