Put Down Your Phone!

We were seated at a small table in the corner.  The restaurant wasn’t very crowded as we waited for our family to be served.  As we were talking, I noticed my younger daughter staring into her lap.  Her father, right beside her, pulls his phone out of his pocket and scrolls emails.  My eyes wide, I exclaimed, “We’re having a conversation!  Could you put your phone away?!”  To which he did the obvious….he threw his daughter under the bus.  “She’s checking her phone, too!”

Anyone else have a meal like that?!  Really, it doesn’t even have to be a meal.  It happens all the time.  People check their phones as they walk down the street with their friends, chatting with the neighbor, or standing in line with their sibling while waiting for their coffee.  We pull out the phone to keep busy as we wait for Bible study to begin or church service to start.  It’s as if we can’t function without that little piece of hardware! 

I’m guilty of it, too!  There is absolutely no condemnation coming from this end of the keyboard.  I’d like to think I’m much better about it than I used to be, but I know that I’m sometimes not any better than anyone else in this department.

For whatever reason, though, this thought has continued to pop into my head for the last couple of months:  Put down your phone! That phrase has plagued me when I’ve pulled out my phone in the middle of a conversation.  It’s hit me when I tried to film some event and realized that I’d spent so much time trying to make sure I got the perfect angle with no noise or movement that I’d missed the real enjoyment.  And it’s even hit me when I’m in the middle of my Bible studies and I pick it up to check my newest Facebook notifications.  Is it really that important?

Table 8 (my California Bible study crew) is currently going through the book of Romans, and there is a verse in there that I’m leaning into now more than ever.  In a society that’s burdened with this feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out), I’m clinging to this.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor,” –Romans 12:10

I don’t feel I’m being honoring to my friends when my face is buried in the most recent Facebook post about my neighbor’s horse.  I’m not honoring time with my family when I’m checking the headlines on an app.  I’m not honoring the work that someone put into something when I’m more worried about the right lighting than what they’re saying or performing.

I think relationships would be enriched if we all devoted ourselves as the Bible encourages us to do.  Paul, here, was encouraging the Romans to walk with one another in love as they navigated a life in Christ.  He advised them to be humble and honor others over themselves.  What better way than to put down the distraction and really engage with each other?!

I’m laying down a challenge to all of us.  Let’s spend less time on our phones and more time in real fellowship!  Let’s get back to the days where we forged our friendships and family time in conversations and face-to-face interactions.  Let’s honor each other with true quality time.  Let’s put down our phones!

~Erin

The ‘No Amen’ Challenge

Years ago, when Skype became popular, I was living in Germany.  There were plenty of occasions that, with the time difference, I would fall asleep while Skyping someone in America.  I’d wake up and see my mom making dinner with Skype still going, or my friend also napping, or my brother reading.  

I love remembering that they didn’t disconnect the Skype call while I slept, but rather they went about their normal activities.  They didn’t say goodbye to me while I was sleeping, but waited until I woke up from my snooze.  

They left the video call open…

What would happen if we left our prayer life open?  

As we read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB), “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” consider what would occur if we actually didn’t cease incremental talking with God. 

I vowed to become more cognisant of my prayers ceasing, so I made up some rules to challenge myself.  Then I recruited others to try the challenge with me. 

Recently, I challenged the women of a Bible Study group that I facilitate to try my newly made up “No Amen Challenge.”  The premise is that you begin praying to God in the morning, but refrain from saying “amen.”  Instead, you start the norms of your day, and continuously talk to God throughout those tasks…again without ever ending these conversations with “amen” until you are ready to fall asleep.   

When I started deliberately leaving my prayer life “open” without the closing salutation, I found myself talking to God a lot more frequently throughout the day.  God wants us to have a more intimate relationship with Him through our prayer life.  It’s easy to bring concerns and requests to Him…it’s an entirely different thing to bring exhalations and thanksgiving.  It’s even more unique to chat about random thoughts, motivations, observations, or even things you find humours or concerning.  

In the moments of talking to God, as though He was a friend sitting next to me throughout the day, I found that I was much more aware of His continuous presence.  I was also much more aware of my own reactions to situations when I had an open line of communication going with God.  

For me, the “no amen challenge” became similar to the open Skype call that is on-going while one party is snoozing (**mark my words, I’m not saying that God snoozes on a Skype call while we wash the dishes).  Without the “amen,” I didn’t say “goodbye” nor did I hang up with God.  Instead, I knew He was still on the line as I started daily tasks.

How often are you praying without ceasing?  Do you want to talk more often with God?  Are you ready to try the “no amen challenge?”

Share your thoughts on praying without ceasing!

~Emily

The Food Program

I participated yesterday in my first summer food program through the Elmore County Child Nutrition Program.  In our county they are providing food for the summer for any child 18 and under.  It’s enough food to allow for 7 days of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.  It’s an amazing program they’ve been offering since Covid-19 hit, and it’s been a huge blessing to the residents with children here in our region.

As this is my first summer here, I had only heard stories of what it would be like.  I was shocked to see a well-oiled machine…three stations, each set up with their own volunteers, welcoming us as we pulled up, letting us know when they’d put their portion in and guiding us to the next station.  As we rolled up to each station, I couldn’t help but be shocked at what I saw them putting in my trunk. 

Fresh local produce, meat, cereal, milk, cheese, crackers, pasta—these were items with which you could build meals.  It seems as if it’s an opportunity to not only feed the children of Elmore County, but also bring families together during mealtimes.  This was an outpouring of love from a community onto its members.  Many communities are doing things like this, but just as many are not. 

The willingness and love given to these local families reminds me of a verse.  John 15:12 says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

This act of love helps those around us.  No, they’re not necessarily giving out of their own pockets.  However, they are giving so much time and energy and support into making sure that each child in this area has an opportunity to be fed and cared for through this outreach.  There are, I’m sure, countless hours being given to ensure a successful program. 

I encourage each of you to look around at what’s going on in your community.  If there’s a way to support the people around and show them some love, the way Jesus showed His love to us, get busy doing it!  Be a part of the programs in your community, as well!  The volunteers that dedicate their time love to see that people are taking part in the activities.  It shows just as much love to them as love to you!

Thank you, Elmore County Child Nutrition Program, for your dedication to our children.  It’s not unnoticed!  Does your community have something like this?  Share in the comments how your community is being loved on.

~Erin

Dear Army Dad,

Memorial Day, 2021

Dear Army Dad,

Last week I was driving behind you, when I saw your non-descript truck with the personalized license plates: ARMYDAD.  Initially I thought, “What a proud Father that must be to get a personalized plate.”  Then I felt an overwhelming urge to pray for you.

I know that may sound random, but I typically use my 30-40-minute morning commute to chat with God. It’s not that unusual for me to pray for strangers while driving.

The unusual part was that I started to cry.  While praying for you and a hypothetical Army Mom, I also started praying for your Soldier.  I prayed for tactics and knowledge in any situation. I prayed for health and well-being.  I prayed for safety. I prayed for peace and tranquility…for the Soldier and for the parents.  Because John 14:27 (NASB) say, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor fearful,” I know that your family is able to have that peace. 

I don’t know you, your family, or your Soldier, but I do know that I would never want a parent to face losing a child on a battlefield.  One who is proud enough to get a personalized plate, probably could handle a loss…but it’s not a loss I want you to have. 

2 Timothy 2:3 (NASB) reads, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him.”

On this Memorial Day, I know that there are parents, siblings, spouses, friends and countless others who are mourning the loss of their military members.  Take comfort in knowing you are not alone…I will stand with you and suffer the hardship in Christ while continuing to pray for you.

Army Dad, keep being proud, keep parenting, and keep praying.  I will too.

~Emily (USAF, Retired)

The Birthpain Trail

I made a mistake.  I told my best friend I wanted to go hiking with her.  It would’ve been fine if I had shut my mouth and pretended not to be covetous.  But noooooooo, I had to say how much I envied the fact that her and a friend went on these hikes and were getting some fun exercise in their lives.  And that is how I ended up on the trail that is straight from the pit of H-E-double hockey sticks. 

This “easy” trail consisted of a 4.7-mile winding path that took us up a 900-foot incline.  What I knew was that it had a beautiful creek running along the path and was wonderfully shaded for most of the hike.  What I didn’t know was what a 900-foot incline really meant, and that I was going to be walking uphill, both ways, barefoot in the snow.

I know that it appears I’m dramatic.  But when a person who has been on the trail says that it should be named “Birthpain Trail” because you forgot how hard the hike is from the previous time, you recognize that I’m not that far off the mark!  I thought I was going to die.  I asked Emily if I could change my mind about the hike and not be the friend that does the hike but instead the friend that has lunch ready for them at the end of the hike when they’re done.  She laughed at me.

I know I’ve had struggles that feel like that hike.  It feels like it’s an uphill battle.  You see there’s a little tough spot and you push through.  It appears there’s a reprieve, a beautiful trail along softly running water.  And then you realize that your trial has just begun and it’s about to get TOUGH.  Every step you take is pressure on your body.  You’re out of breath and tired from fighting to get ahead.  You’re weak and winded.  You feel like you’d rather quit and give up the fight.

I encourage you, friends.  Do. Not. Give. Up.  You need only cry out to God.  He says in Psalm 138:3, “On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.” 

He is fighting the fight with you and is walking with you.  When we call out to our Father, He hears our prayers and our desires.  He sees our fears and frustrations.  God desires us to lean into Him for our strength.  When we cry out to Him, we surrender the fight to HIM so that He can give us the strength to complete the journey.  When we call, He is glorified.

Let’s make sure we are calling to Him so that we may become bold with strength through Him!  Is anyone going through a struggle that we can pray for today?  Share with us in the comments, and we’d love to come along side you and pray.

~Erin

Floundering Without Ministry

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a project desperate to quit?  Or have you seen someone in the background that you believe to be more qualified to fulfill your commitment?  There are a ton of reasons why we step away from projects…there are even more emotions associated with those decisions. 

Almost 7 months ago, I resigned my membership at a church and concurrently gave up my position as the Director of Women’s Ministry.  It was an angst-filled decision that came with a small measure of relief.  

I truly love women’s ministry and all that comes with it.  However, I needed to step back from the ministry in order to focus more fully on what God had for me and my family. In listening to the Lord and resigning, I gave up serving in a capacity that I adore.

Since then, I’ve felt like I’m floundering without the ministry position.  Frankly, I’m a series of contradictions.  I’m sad to not be involved, but I’m ecstatic to hear news of how well the ladies are doing without me.  I’m unsettled without teaching, but content to wait on the next chapter.  I’ve struggled to define purpose, but recognize that there is purpose around the corner.  

I’m a happy, relieved, lonely mess that is floundering without a ministry.  

Psalm 46:10 (NIV), “Be still and know…” is a much-quoted verse for Christians who are focusing on being still and quiet. In the past, I’ve typically used this particular section of the verse to settle myself; essentially so that I stop trashing around making my own way.  

In the season of floundering without directly contributing to a ministry, this seems a like it would be a good section of scripture to focus on.  

Digging into the verse, I’ve realized that not only does God want us to be still (to be quiet, to rest, to sit still), but rather He continues with a very important portion of scripture that I’ve often glossed over.  “…and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Because the psalm was written during war, it is likely there is messaging to Israel concerning her enemies.  Knowing who God is requires acknowledging that He is in control of the outcome of all things.  Thus, there is no sense in worrying over the fighting as God will take care of it.  

In light of knowing God and what He is about, it’s much easier to understand being still & knowing as not just sitting still, but rather to stopping the fighting of circumstances…to stop doing things our own way and to know God will control all aspects of the fight.  

If I’m truly still,  

If I’m truly knowing God,

Then I truly stop trying to do it my way.

And that is comfort to my heart when I feel like I’m floundering without a ministry.

What areas of your life do you need to be still and know God in this week?

~Emily

“He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” ~Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

“God Knew” By Guest Bloggers: Jessie Lynn® and Kelsey Stahler

“God knew our mothers couldn’t handle us as sisters so he made us best friends instead…”

That’s Kelsey’s favorite quote to use when it comes to describing our friendship and how close we truly are! When I say close, I mean we are almost identical when it comes to beliefs, work ethic, goals, dreams, and visions for what we see in our future. We both carry the same love and passion for horses, barrel racing, rodeoing, traveling, and love a good productive day for either one of our businesses! Basically, we are sisters…not by blood but by choice!

Where did it all start? Originally the friendship started out as a coach-to-client relationship when Kelsey contacted me about barrel racing lessons and shared her dreams of making it to the NFR. At first, I was a little hesitant and explained to her that if we started lessons, especially with that type of goal, it was going to be for the long haul! Needless to say, that didn’t faze her. The most interesting thing about that moment in time is that we met at probably one of the most difficult times in both of our lives. God knew…

I often think back on that moment in time and how God most certainly knew that our paths had to cross in order for us to grow and challenge one another in a way that we both would appreciate and understand. Kelsey and I both agree that we challenge one another in the most positive and in some cases, most aggressive ways that pushes us past our comfort zones. Ironically, that’s what we both needed. It’s quite amazing to think that was only three short years ago…Kelsey and I have grown so much since then, not only in our friendship, but as individuals as well!

Kelsey is now the proud owner of a small western boutique in downtown Prattville, Alabama called “Wandering Coyote Company,” and has achieved great success on the road traveling to various equine and cattleman’s events across the Southeast. On occasion, we travel together when my singing career coincides with an event and we just decide to make a girl’s trip out of it! It’s work for sure, but we’re able to help one another and ensure that we each have what we need to be successful!

I happily spend majority of my time on the road touring with my country music career, but still find time to enjoy a barrel race or two on the weekends and an occasional vacation trip when Kelsey and I can find time! The best part about our friendship is that we don’t have to be together to be close and we both know we are just one phone call or text away if one of us needs something or just need a girl talk moment. Believe me, there are plenty of those!

Quite frankly, I believe if you had asked either one of us “did we expect this friendship to turn out the way it has,” I think we both would have said no. Funny thing is, when God is in control of the company you keep and the people you have to surround yourself with in order to make it, He sends the right person at the right time! There’re no questions, no doubts, and everything works out as it should!

Yes, we’ve only been best friends for three years now, but believe me when I say, it’s a friendship that has been built off of the Lord’s word, strength, direction, and most importantly His love for both of us! Kelsey and I often discuss our dreams and quite frequently reassess our goals and plans for the time at hand, and to see what the Lord has placed in both of us to help one another is indescribable! Both of us reach for the star that just so happens to be out of reach, but when one of us does, it encourages the other to boost them up and to keep working towards their goal and dream. To give you one word to describe it: Balance!

Kelsey and I hope that this story encourages you and your best friend to place the Lord first in all that you do and completely trust Him with every aspect of your life! You do that, and He will bless you richly for it! 

-Written by Jessie Lynn® with contributions by Kelsey Stahler

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Coming this Saturday to the Iron Porch: Guest Bloggers Jessie Lynn® and Kelsey Stahler

The purpose of the Iron Porch is to allow a space for women to come share with one another without the fear of reprisal and judgment. It’s a space that Erin and Emily felt God wanted to provide, so that women could encourage and comfort one another.  After prayerful consideration, we would like to encourage potential guest bloggers to submit a post for consideration.  These guest blogs will be posted under ‘fesharp’ rather than ‘Erin’ or ‘Emily.’

On Saturday, we will be posting a submission by two lovely, hard-working, best friends who have chosen to put the Lord at the center of their friendship.  The Iron Porch is pleased to introduce you to Jessie Lynn® and Kelsey Stahler.

Jessie Lynn®: Alabama’s Singing Cowgirl is a multiple award-winning independent country music singer/songwriter, Nashville recording artist and a proud CMA and Recording Academy member.   She has “Opened” and performed on sets with The Oak Ridge Boys, Ronnie McDowell, Montgomery Gentry, Jimmy Hall, Jessica Meuse, Shane Owens, Kirk Jay & Corey Smith.  Jessie Lynn received her Master’s degree in Agriscience Education from Auburn University in May of 2018.  She is a morning talk show host at Bluewater Broadcasting, LLC.   She is the 2021 Miss Limestone County Sherriff’s Rodeo Queen.   https://www.jessielynn.net

Kelsey: Growing up in a military family meant living in places like Los Angeles, Tampa, and even Europe. Most wouldn’t think these circumstances would create a cowgirl. However, add in Montana roots, a rodeo-loving uncle, and tractor-building relatives. Some might say it was inevitable. Kelsey comes from a family who has never been afraid of hard work and understands the importance of a God-driven life. There’s no doubt that her favorite verse is Proverbs 16:3. She has learned that life sure is a lot more peaceful when you hand it over to God. Mix all of these, and you get a girl chasing her dreams. Using her God-given talents and passions, she hopes to build a platform where she can use her testimony to share God’s love for every one of us.  She is the proud owner of “Wandering Coyote Company,” a Prattville, AL boutique. https://www.wanderingcoyotecompany.com

Please join us on the porch this Saturday to read “God Knew,” an inspirational chat about Godly friendships by Jessie Lynn® and Kelsey Stahler.

We look forward to “seeing” you on the Porch tomorrow!

~Emily & Erin

If My Life Was A Mess-Free Coloring Book…

We have the cutest coloring page on our refrigerator.  It’s one of those special pictures that only colors with the mess-free markers.  Those Crayola geniuses come up with some of the most amazing things!  It’s every parent’s dream invention that prevents those “innocent” little babies from markering up your entire dining room wall with Picasso scribbles only a toddler can make.

With Andros visiting, I wanted him to have something he could be creative with, and he just loves coloring the pictures and watching the ink appear on the page.  When he’s got the page on the table, I don’t have to worry about when he colors outside the lines or off the edge of the page.  It’s clean and neat!

Don’t we sometimes wish our lives were the same way?  If our life was the special paper and our choices and circumstances were the mess-free markers, would we stumble in what we do and how we act?  Would our reaction to trials be one of trusting God or trusting self? 

It would be great if everything stayed on the page.  When everything goes according to plan, exactly as it’s supposed to, we have no worries and no anxiety. It appears there’s no trouble.  But when our choices are not the mess-free choices that keep us within the bounds of our walk with God or hardships that we face are not within the lines of what we expect, it’s very easy to fall into despair.  How do we handle the trials that bleed off the edge of the page and throw us into frustration, fear, or confusion?    

God tells us in James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” 

How do we remain steadfast under trial? We do it by remaining steadfast in our Lord.  He is beside us all the time.  He has given us the Comforter to live inside of believers.  We trust that our Almighty God will do exactly as He promises in Scripture.  He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8).  He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).  He will strengthen us and will help us (Isaiah 41:10).

I challenge you, friends.  Trust that whatever life has thrown at you, you have a Father that will hold you through it.  It’s ok if the marker falls off the page.  We have a God who is right there with you when it does.

Do any of you have a verse that helps you remain strong in the Lord when you are going through trials?  Share in the comments!

~Erin

Artist: Andros Minjarez

Funeral for a Church

As a military member, leaving a church has been a small part of my reality of orders and transition to a new location.  I never had to make the decision to leave a church without the military being the reason for moving on.  When having to make that decision on my own, I’ll be the first to admit that it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make.  I prayed over the situation for nearly two years before I felt God releasing me to move to another location.

During that two years, I continued to serve and tithe.  I continued to join small groups and lead women’s ministry.  I also educated myself about differences in doctrine, about healthy churches, about how to leave in a graceful manner. I asked questions of my church leadership and I felt comfortable in presenting any of my concerns.  I created an excel spreadsheet phase of pros and cons of nearby churches.  Ultimately, I listened to the Lord…stayed when He told me to stay…moved on when He told me to move on.  

Emotionally, the decision felt like a horrible breakup; like a divorce of the worst kind. It felt like the death of a loved one; like I was planning a funeral.  

Let me be very clear–I’m not saying the church I left was bad.  It was very right for the people who remained.  What I am saying is this; God has released me from serving at that particular church.  My focus shifted to finding another church.  However, finding a new church home has been a challenge that I wasn’t anticipating during this stage of my life.  

There are many things to consider when looking at a church.  Is the leadership teaching from the Bible? Is there sound doctrine? What are the children and youth programs teaching?  What are the affiliations?  How is the leadership structure?  Are the finances available and transparent? 

Is it a healthy church?

According to Thom Rainer in “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” there are several ways to recognize if a church is not going to survive a season of illness and to recognize if they are unhealthy.  In other words, I’ve been able to use this as a gauge to check the health of churches that we’ve been visiting.  Usually it’s a slow erosion, which highlights that there is focus inwards on the church rather than the community, as well as a distinct focus on the past (and how the “good ole’ days” used to be).  When the church doesn’t have a clear purpose, becomes obsessed over the facility or individual preferences, or worse…when the budget moves away from ministry and is primarily focused on staff or facility, then there is a disconnect in what is occurring within the church walls.  As a new visitor, it’s nearly impossible to see if these things are occurring within a church without deliberately asking questions.

Rainer contends that only 10% of churches are truly healthy, while 40% are showing some symptoms of sickness, another 40% are very sick, and the last 10% are in the final process of dying.  I know that every church has some semblance of issues.  I recognize that churches are not perfect.  However, as a result of Rainer’s analysis, I’ve been praying for my family to find a church in the healthy 10%.  I’ve also been focusing on praying for the churches in the other 90% to have open eyes and ears to become the healthy 10%.  

Through the process of finding a new church, I realized that I’m not the first one to face the challenge of church transitions.  In the past, I searched for churches based on the style of praise music, the pastor’s speaking ability, or the programs available.  Those things were important to me at the time, but now I’ve got a different set of items I’m looking for.  Specifically, I am now analyzing churches for the breadth of teaching scripture, speech on Word and truth, the management of the budget, as well as the health of leadership of the church.  

Ephesians 4:11-16 has given me direction and hope that my family will find fellowship in a new healthy church!

Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

I acknowledge that leaving a church should be a hard decision. It truly was. In so many ways, this season of transition has allowed me to rely more fully on prayer and direction from God.  I know that the building up of the body of Christ will allow our family to grow roots in a new and healthy church.

~Emily

RAINER, T., 2017. AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH. [Place of publication not identified]: LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCE.