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What really matters to you and your life?
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For most of you reading this column today, you are still in the Happy New Year stage of the year. Oh, I know that 2016 started early Friday morning. But for most of us we have not had time to break any resolutions we made or mess up the year too bad yet. So for the next 12 months what really matters to you and your life?

I challenge you to stop and reflect before you get caught back up in the routine of life. What would you like to see different at this time next year? Where do you want to see change and growth in your personal world?

A few months ago I had some surgery on my neck. It had a way of bringing my everyday world to a very different pace. Of course, I am slowly getting back to normal but at least for a few weeks I had time to be very reflective.

My friend, the Rev. Tom Johnson, a retired Methodist Minister from the South Georgia Conference who lives in Oxford, called to check on my several times as I was in the early stages of recovery. One day he shared with me a great story from the Rev. Dr. Charles Allen. Allen was a very noted Methodist Minister back in the mid part of the 20th century. He was a native of Newborn. Allen had to have back surgery and said he learned the power of the start of the second verse of Psalm 23, “He maketh me lie down…” He learned when you have to lay down, you have to look up.

For most of us the 23rd Psalm is one of our favorite scripture passages. It is so easy for the words to be so familiar that we don’t hear the power of the message that made it so popular. The Lord who is our Shephard wants us to stop beside still waters and green pastures. To gain the perspective we need we must lay down. We must not always be rushing but stopping for a moment. The images of still waters and green pastures means a new perspective and new strength.

The sort of “in between days” we are in is a great opportunity to ask what really matters to each of us. What would make 2016 a great year for each of us?

First, let’s take the time to see what we have that opens up the future to us. As you read this column be thankful that you are blessed to be among the literate. About 1/5 of the American population are functionally illiterate. Being able to read opens the world before us. We need to plant a love for reading in all of our children’s hearts. The economic future of our community is closely tied to us doing this.

Let us be thankful for those who teach in our schools and lead our education institutions. We celebrated in 2015 the good news that Newton County Schools had again improved their graduation rate this year. I salute our superintendent, Samantah Fuhrey and all her dedicated team that are leading us in this direction. Our goal is to take this trend into 2016.

Many may be entering this New Year in fear after the events in Paris and California. Terror is a reality in our world. The challenge is not to attune our hearts to those who want to build on this fear and inflame division among us. Let us use this time to follow Allen’s advice and look up.

Remember the message the Angels brought to the Shepherds in the field, “Fear Not.” Almost 80 times the message “fear not” or its equivalent is repeated in the Bible. Let us focus on the reason we can do that, but knowing that just as God was with us in 2015, God will be with in 2016.

As we “look up” we see how blessed we are with freedom, faith, family and friends. Let us take these days as an opportunity to thank God for how blessed we are. From seeing how God has been with us we move into the New Year not in fear but with hope and confidence.

There have been dark moments in our national history before. There was Valley Forge, the war that divided our nation and came to our own community, the Depression, Pearl Harbor, and of course Nine Eleven. We could list other times, but in all these times we followed our national motto of trusting in God. Let us not panic but trust in the New Year that God will be with us.

B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.