No Service: A Distraction-Free Zone

Cell PhoneNo service or the spinning wheel of death usually causes a groan because I can’t access Google, Facebook or text messages. It often happens at the worst time, such as when I need directions in some remote area of Amish country.  Or worse, when I’m standing in a line…bored and needing some electronic entertainment. It’s annoying to not have service on my cell phone.

Except that there is one place where I don’t receive cell service that it isn’t annoying. It’s the one place I’m grateful I don’t get service.

At my church.

I don’t get one single bar.  A continuous spinning wheel of death.  Repeated “Not Delivered” messages.  Not a tiny, itty, bitty inch of service.

And I’m glad for it.  Why?  Because it’s a total and complete break from social media and obligations through my electronic lease.

It’s a relief to have that chain broken so that I can 100% focus on God and the people within the walls of the church. I literally have no excuse to not get involved, to not engage in conversation, to not fully worship and pray.  I have no buzz in my pocket tugging me away from being present in the moment.  No service means no distractions while I’m in the walls of the church.

Have you found yourself distracted while in your church?  It may be your phone, your child, your worries from work or even your spouse. Those distractions tear your attention away from God.

*Focus During Worship

Have you struggled with focusing on God while the worship music is happening? Are you self-conscious about singing in tune?  Perhaps you are wondering where the singer got her adorable dress? Fretting over clapping verses raising your hands in praise?

All of those are distractions from the true intent of focusing on God during worship time.

You can sing like an angel or roar like a lion, but not say one thing to God. You can be tone deaf or not care for a particular song, but speak to the Father fully from your heart.  I would encourage you to examine yourself and figure out if your words of worship are simply lip-service or if you are truly offering a song to the Lord.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” ~Matthew 15:8-9 (NIV)

*Focus During Prayer

During times of prayer, does your mind wander? Are you making a grocery list? Thinking about your child’s homework? Wishing you could pray more eloquently?

All of those are distractions from the true intent of focusing on God during prayer time.

You can get loud and pray boldly, but your prayer still won’t touch Heaven. You can stumble and use verbal pauses…..ummmmmm….., but speak directly to the Father’s heart.  Examine yourself and figure out if you are just tossing words around or are you offering a sweet sound of praise and request to the Lord.

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer.” ~Psalm 18:14 (NIV)

*Focus During Service to Others

When you are serving others, are you considering other things you could be doing? Do you feel a sense of obligation rather than joy? Are you watching your watch, wishing the time away?

All of those are distractions from the true intent of focusing on God during times of serving others.

You can volunteer for dozens of organizations, but your service can be unpleasant to the Lord. You can serve one person in a seemingly mundane manner, but make the Father proud of you.  Examine yourself and figure out if you are serving others for yourself or are you offering the gift of your time as praise to the Lord.

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” ~Mark 9:35 (NIV)

These are just three examples of where we, as Christians, need to focus:                     During worship. During prayer. During service to others.

Through focusing on God, we need to mitigate distractions.

While my phone is an asset for staying connected in business and personal relationships, it can also become a distraction.   A distraction that has been eliminated based on the lack of a service area.

I am grateful for the elimination of that distraction.  It’s one step closer to staying focused on the Lord!

I pray that you have deliberately focused week that is free from the distractions of the season!

Merry Christmas!

~Emily

 

 

Hurricane Cleanup

Last week, I flew to Panama City, Florida to help my daughter, McKenna, clean up her house.  They’ve been out of their home and living in a hotel since October 8th and are finally in a spot to be able to start the cleanup and restoration that needs to happen to the house.

To describe what I saw as overwhelming is almost too light of a word.  I don’t know what I was expecting when we drove into the city.  I can tell you, however, I was NOT expecting to see it look as if the hurricane hit just a few days before.

Mounds of debris, twisted metal, broken drywall, torn shingles, and tree limbs were piled high in front of houses and businesses waiting for the debris haulers to drive by.  Dead wires from where they’d fixed the electrical lines laid in a heap at the bottom of the poles.  Street after street met us with open roofs, tents and campers parked in the front yard, broken windows and moldy furniture.  It’s as if it hasn’t been touched. And not for lack of trying.  The city workers are racing as fast as they can to get the debris picked up and hauled off.  They just don’t have enough people or trucks to get it done fast enough.  The awe-inspiring numbers of volunteers that many other storms have had in the past seem to have skipped out on the panhandle.

Often, in disasters like this, we feel sorry for the people affected and pray for them.  We pray for safety as the storm closes in or the fires get closer, and then we see what things we can donate or if they’ll be asking for volunteers for cleanup.  But then what?  If you’re like me, it’s always been ‘on to the next story.’  We go on with our lives until the next disaster strikes.

It isn’t this way this time for me.  My child was affected.  My grandchild and son-in-law were affected.  It wasn’t just a faceless person who had their home damaged and their city torn to shreds.  It was my family.  It became real in a way I’d never known before.

One of the things I learned from this experience is that prayer and hands-on help isn’t something that goes away after a week is up or until you’ve forgotten.  People need prayer continually.  And you don’t need to be a well-spoken prayer warrior to pray for them.  God knows your heart when you speak to Him…just pray.  People still need physical help.  Don’t wait until they ask.  Offer it!  I was talking to Emily about what volunteering might look like during this hurricane recovery.  You can go through a volunteer organization.  Or you can just go!  In the case of Hurricane Michael, there are still hundreds of yards that just need debris picked up and put at the edge of the road for pickup.

We, and I DEFINITELY include me in this, need to stop looking at the places and people we don’t know as strangers and look at them more as our family in the body of Christ.  We were all created by our magnificent Savior.  Pouring out Christ’s love to others can only magnify His glory.  Let’s be a ‘family’ to all!

~Erin

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McKenna’s house
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On the way into Panama City
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Buildings just one street behind McKenna
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Coming into Panama City
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The roof has caved in
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Debris
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Debris waiting to be picked up
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Just a street away from McKenna
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On the way to Panama City Beach

Nutcracker Savior

True confession time.  I don’t care for the Nutcracker ballet.  I never have liked it and I certainly don’t associate this ballet with Christmas.

That declaration seems pretty un-American.  Or un-Russian, at the very least.

Over this last weekend, my seven-year-old and I went to saw the Montgomery Ballet’s version of the Nutcracker.  Not because I like it or because it’s Christmas time. No, we went to see it primarily because we know one of the five-year-old dancing mice in this ballet company and because I’m a firm believer in introducing my son to many different cultural aspects of society.

As we were watching (insert the word ‘suffering,’ if applicable), my mind began to wander on how the parallels of the Nutcracker are seen in the life of Jesus Christ and His gift for us.

The main character is a girl, Clara, who represents all of humanity as she waits between now and the future.  She receives a nutcracker that comes to life to fight evil. The nutcracker eventually dies in the ballet while fighting evil, but is brought back to life by Clara’s godfather. Once the nutcracker comes back to life, he is a handsome prince who takes Clara to a beautiful kingdom and everyone in the kingdom is excited about the prince’s return.

Do you see a familiar pattern? Humans desperately need to be saved, which is highlighted by the little girl Clara. Like the Nutcracker, Jesus comes and saves humanity from sin and evil. The Nutcracker, in parallel with Jesus, saves Clara from the evil Mouse King (Satan) and God (the Godfather) raises the nutcracker from the dead and he is transformed into a beautiful prince.

The Nutcracker explores evil versus good, death and resurrection, anxiously waiting, the tension between the now and future, and the triumphal return of the Prince of Peace.

While I’m not making light of Jesus in comparison to a nutcracker gift, I am contending that He came in flesh on Christmas as a newborn babe…ready to fight evil…ready to die for us…ready to come back.

I am observing that even in the parts of the Christmas celebrations that we don’t enjoy, we can find the hope of Christ nestled into the messaging.  As we gear up for the next few hectic weeks before Christmas, I encourage you to pause and draw some parallels for yourself.

Merry Christmas!
~Emily

Nutcracker

Transitions: Change and Growth

I am overwhelmed by all the changes that happened in my life this last week.  I officially retired from the Air Force after 24 years, 10 months, and 26 days (would it just be easier to continue saying 25 years?!?!?!).  That means I was accepted into the “blue card club”; AKA I got my retired military ID card.

As a result of that transition, I was given 30 days to establish formal residency in the state of Alabama.  That means I gave up my Oregon driver’s license this week, which I might add had a 28-year-old-Emily photo and weight.  I traded that in for a Jabba-The-Hut photo with a 25-pound weight gain on a black and white temporary Alabama ID.

This week also brought a switch in health care insurance to retired status for my whole family, as well as registration for voting.  The next Alabama voting season will literally be the first time I have ever voted in an actual polling booth and not through an absentee ballot.

Overwhelming transitions that changed many of my self-identifiers.

*No longer active duty…now retired.

*No longer an Oregonian…now an Alabamian (is that the correct term??!?!?!).

*No longer insured for free…now paying lots for healthcare.

*No longer absentee voter…now a poll voter.

While I was feeling overwhelmed this week, our good-good God took time to remind me that we are all in transition.  Sometimes those transitions are overwhelming and sometimes they seem minor, but those transitions are always blessings from God. Those transitions grow us into stronger women…stronger wives & mommas…stronger friends…stronger Christians.

The book of Joshua is filled with amazing reminders that we are not the only ones who have faced transition.  I would argue that after forty years of wandering through the wilderness, God’s people were facing transition as they prepared to enter the promised land.  They faced transition when Moses died.  They faced a transition when Moses’ assistant, Joshua, was placed in charge.

Joshua faced a life-changing transition from the support team to a leader.

As always, God provided guidance.  He told Joshua, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:7-8 NIV).

God’s words of direction became a foundation of Joshua’s leadership.  Our Father went on to state, “Have I not commanded you Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV).

Joshua’s leadership status and mission were huge transitions in comparison with me getting a couple of new ID cards.  Yet, it illustrates that transitions happen to us all. Large and small transitions happen every day.

Your identity may change.  Your status may change. Your circumstance may change. But remember this; overwhelming or not, His hand is with us in every transition.

~Emily

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Why A Chin Whisker?!

Sweet God in heaven, why would You bless me with a whisker?  Every time I turn around, I have a random hair growing out of my chin.  Or how about the mustache!?  Do I look like, at age 40, I would enjoy having hairs ripped out above my lip???

This is the current state of affairs.  My hair, my weight, my skin, it’s all become the comedy show content for my life.  I was standing in a line one day a couple of months ago with Peyton when I leaned over to her and whispered to her that she had some stray brow hairs in the middle section that borderlined unibrow status.  She leaned over to me and said if I didn’t shut up, she’d talk about my mustache out loud.  Oh, sweet girl, have you not learned in your short, 14-year life span that comments like that are what I live for.  “WHAT DO YOU MEAN MY MUSTACHE?!  I THOUGHT YOU LIKED MY CHIN WHISKER!”  I’m pretty sure the people in the back of the store heard me!

Or how about my skin!  Melasma has become my best friend.  What is melasma, you ask?  Please, let me tell you!  It’s hyperpigmentation that appears as brownish patches in different sizes or shapes.  I get it because of my hypothyroidism.  But I’m just curious why I was blessed with two patches of it symmetrically above my upper lip.  Now I just look like I have a chocolate-milk-mustache-mustache!!

All joking aside, how many times do we pick ourselves apart in a day, in a week, in a lifetime?  We’re so critical of ourselves because society standards say our skin needs to be perfect, our weight needs to be trim, our clothes perfectly trendy, and our lives with as little mess as possible.  No one can see the real us because we’re too busy snapping 16 pictures of ourselves to get the perfect selfie.  I would know.  I’m guilty of it.

But I’m learning a lot as I get older.  My daughters are watching.  Even at age 20 and 14, they see and mimic how I talk about myself and my image.  People around me hear what I say.  Maybe they have the same issue and it doesn’t bother them, but they see me talking about it as if I’m leprous and it changes their outlook of themselves negatively.

Here’s what God taught me, though and what I need to keep saying to myself over and over….GOD MADE ME.  He made me with dark spots on my upper lip.  He created me with a girl mustache of baby hairs, and he grew that whisker in my chin that makes an annoying appearance every couple of weeks.  He knew exactly what He was doing, and He tells us that over and over in the bible.

Psalm 139:14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it well.

Genesis 1:31a And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

And if that weren’t awesome enough, He could care less if we’re short, tall, skinny, heavy, have a hairy mole, or just one lone tooth.  When the priest, Samuel, was looking to anoint the next king of Israel, he met with each of Jesse’s sons.  Samuel incorrectly thought when he saw Eliab that he would be the chosen one.  Listen to what the Lord said, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” (I Samuel 16:7).

Isn’t that wonderful news!?  He made us.  He sees us.  ALL the parts of us, not just what’s on the outside.

What does this mean for me?  I’ll still be pulling that chin whisker.  But I know I don’t need anyone’s approval of my outward appearance, and I need to learn to be happy with all the parts of me, not just the parts that I think others will think is beautiful.  Because I’m ALL beautiful.  God said so.

~Erin

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The Heirloom Quilt

The room is a chilly 65 degrees. It’s super dark. There are half a dozen heavy blankets on the bed.  This, my friends, is my classic formula for a wonderful night of sleep.

Recently, my husband was asking for Christmas present suggestions and I casually mentioned that I wanted to try the weighted blankets.  (Have you seen these blankets?!??!?! They are 20 or 40 pounds and lull you to sleep like you are an infant rocking in your momma’s arms!)

He looked at me, as though I’d threatened to cut off his pinky toe.  He responded, “You don’t need a weighted blanket. You have THE quilt.”

THE quilt is my favorite quilt.  THE quilt is large enough to cover a full bed, but just a tad too big for a twin bed.  THE quilt needs febreze frequently, as it’s way past the washing machine phase.  THE quilt probably weighs about 40 pounds. And yes, I have THE quilt.

The quilt was first sewn in the late 1800s by my great-great-grandmother in a small farming community of Wisconsin.  It was originally sewn from worn-out garments and was the definition of a “patchwork” quilt.

In 1920, my great grandmother sewed over that quilt with another layer of worn-out garments and scraps of fabric.  She tried her best to find feminine colors, as this quilt then became my grandmother’s quilt.  My grandmother recovered the quilt when she got married and again when she had my Aunt.

By 1950, the quilt was passed to my mom as her baby blanket with another layer added.  My mom added her own crazy quilt patchwork layer in the late 1960s, as she headed off to college.  She recovered it again in 1975 as my first blanket.  She taught me to sew and let me recover the quilt when I was 10 years old. After joining the military, I recovered the quilt again.

In 2013, I recovered the quilt one more time. But this time, I could not help but really concentrate on the love and history in this blanket.  The last four generations of my mom’s family have added to this blanket, simply by covering it up with another layer.  That concentration translated to an insatiable curiosity about what the layers-upon-layers looked like.  Could I touch fabric that my great-grandmother had sewn?

As I sewed the new covering, I thought about generational blessings.  I understand that the phrase “generational blessings” is not overtly found in scripture; however, there is evidence of how generations are blessed throughout the years.

Think about Matthew 1:1, where we see the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  This is a verse that presents evidence of Jesus being the seed of Abraham.  While it does not say, “you will be blessed through all the previous generations,” it does indicate that we are indeed blessed by generational lineage.  A lineage that created the provision of the perfect Son of God, who came solely to die for us.  That is a generational blessing, indeed.

With scriptures in mind, I paused to give thanks to the Lord for that blessing and for providing a way to heaven through His Son. I also gave praise to a family of women who were resourceful in getting supplies to sew a quilt over 100 years ago.

And then I carefully cut through a seam in the middle of the quilt covering from when I was 19 and 10 years old. I cut through the quilt seam of my early childhood to my mom’s college years.  I cut through another seam and another seam…all through the years until I came to the very first thin layer of well worn-garments that was first sewn in the late 1800s.

It was dingy grey and threadbare.  Paper thin to the point I thought it may fall apart in my hands.  The tiny hand sewn stitches still holding fast after a century. As I sat looking at the seamstress work of my great-grandmother, I cried tears of happiness to have seen the center of the quilt.

I put a few loose stitches into each layer of the quilt and finally slipped the newest cover onto the old, yet still new, quilt.  A quilt of generational blessings.  THE quilt.

What family heirlooms that make your heart cry and smile in the same breath? Come tell us at the porch…

~Emily

 “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” ~Psalm 100:5 (NIV)

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When Focus Falters

I stopped in the middle of the Walmart aisle and tried to keep my composure.  I was tearing up and at a loss for words, all the while struggling to tell Kelly on the other end of the phone that it was going to be ok.

Indy, my son-in-law, had just called his mom, Kelly, on Friday to let her know McKenna was in an ambulance with Andros.  After a day of meeting with contractors in Panama City, FL to discuss the rebuild of their hurricane-damaged house, they decided to stop for a quick bite for dinner at a restaurant.  While there, sweet baby Andros began to have a seizure and 911 had to be called.  After hours of tests, he was deemed healthy. My grandbaby was diagnosed with a febrile seizure due to an incredibly fast, oncoming fever combined with an ear infection.  The doctors assured the young mom and dad that this wasn’t uncommon, and Andros should make a full recovery.  What relief!

When McKenna was able to step back long enough to call, she gave me the details of what happened.  Indy had been feeding Andros some eggs, the left side of his body started to shake, and Indy gently grasped his head to stabilize him.  McKenna immediately recognized the signs, told Indy, and got 911 on the phone.  As they waited they spoke softly to him, telling him he would be ok.  Andros, unable to communicate, stared intently into Indy’s eyes showing that he heard his dad and trusted him even though he was undoubtedly afraid.

This is how I should be during times of fear and worry…laser focus on my Heavenly Father.  Often times, that focus falters.  When situations surrounding me cause chaos or apprehension, I start looking around at the circumstances, my mind reeling with 100 different ways I can fix it or 37 things I could’ve done to make it different.  I mistakenly look at SELF to make the fear disappear instead of putting my attention on the one Person that can take that fear and trembling from me and shoulder the burden in my place.

Our Father says in Isaiah 41:13, “For, I the LORD your God, hold your right hand, it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’”  When we let ourselves trust Him and believe that He is right there holding on to us with love and concern and understanding, we can feel the security that only He can give.

Andros is totally healthy today.  He’s toddling around their hotel room again without a care in the world, not knowing the valuable lesson he and his daddy taught me through this experience.  Fix my eyes on the Father; He will see me through.

~ErinIMG_2632