Tales from an Insomniac

It’s the middle of the night and every breathing creature is asleep in my house…except me.  I’m wide awake listening to the husband, son, and dog snore.  I drink some tea, read a chapter, count some sheep, take a warm shower, pop a melatonin, and continue to toss and turn.  A true insomnia moment.  

Rather than continue to fight sleep, I get up and start something productive. 

It’s the middle of the night and I’m doing dishes, laundry, or blog writing. On the nights I can’t sleep, I figure that I might as well cross items off my “to do list” rather than lay in bed getting mad I’m not sleeping. 

How often am I fighting God’s direction for my life, just like I tend to fight sleep?  

The truth is, that I likely fight Him more than I recognize. It’s so easy to question God…“Are you sure that’s what you need me to do?” or “What if I do xyz?” or “Why don’t we try blah-blah-blah?”  Always questioning and always fighting His direction.

What If I just got up and started being productive instead of lying there questioning and getting frustrated?!?!?!   

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV) states that we should, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  

If in a scenario where I can’t sleep, I’m willing to do all types of different tips to get to sleep, why would I also do things to draw closer to God? 

Instead of questioning His guidance in making my path straight, I could confer with God in prayer, read the Bible, meditate, journal, or sing worship music.  Any of those tips would be more productive than my natural tendency to question God in frustration.  I could just get up and become more productive. 

Regardless of sleeplessness or challenging the Lord, I know the most effective methods of not getting angry in the situation.  Now I just have to utilize them.

Happy sleeping this week!

~Emily

New Year: New Goals

I can’t remember any time that I’ve created a New Year’s Resolution.  I’ve never seen value in financial or weight loss promises on January 1st…I know myself well enough that a resolution would not work well for me.  However, I’ve always set new goals for the beginning of each year.  When I was child, the goals were more simplistic, such as not being mean to my brother or being more helpful to my parents.  Those weren’t tangible or measurable goals, so it would have been nearly impossible to determine if they were attained.  As I got older, making the soccer team or getting particular grades became more measurable goals.

In adulthood, my goals have been fanciful.  For instance, one year I made it a goal to say “bless you” to anyone who I heard sneeze…even if they weren’t close enough to hear me.  Another year I had the goal to buy myself fresh flowers weekly, while years before that I went on a “no spending full price on clothes” for a full year.  There was even one year that I made the goal to travel to a new location every month (that was a tad easier because I was already stationed in Europe). 

The secret to effective goal setting is to make mini-goals, also known as objectives.  It gives you milestones to check and re-evaluate how close you are to attaining the goals you have set.  

Scripture is clear that goal-setting is not only desirable, but that God encourages us to practice growing through goal setting.  Proverbs 21:5 (ESV) states, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”

Hence, a Biblical example of us needing to create plans to lead to better things.  It’s important to remember that we have to put in some hard work to attain these goals. God’s will allows us to attain or fail to attain goals, but nothing happens at all if we don’t strive towards the objective.  

It’s equally important to remember that our best planning is not a guarantee that we will achieve those goals.  In James 4:13-15, James reminds us that we do not know what tomorrow will bring and that we should continue to lean into the Lord’s will for our lives.  

We must set the goals.  We must work hard towards the goals.  We must recognize that God’s possible change of our plans are because His thoughts for our lives are so much bigger (and better) than our own…see Matthew 6:33-34.  

Ultimately, God’s purpose for each of us will prevail.  In Proverbs 19:21, we are reminded that “Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose of the Lord will stand.”  

So what the heck is the bottom line for our lives in 2022?  Set the goals, make them attainable and measurable, and then submit those goals to God for His blessing and intervention on the purpose He has for your life.  Be intentional, but also know you have to be flexible to the changes God has in store.

It’s a new year…time to set some new goals.  

~Emily

P.S. I have two goals for 2022: 

1. Read the entire Bible (I’m using a one-year reading plan that has me reading four chapters a day between the Old Testament and New Testament with a one day break each month).

2. Complete a 52-hike challenge throughout the year (the hikes can be back-to-back or once a week, at least two miles-but no upper limit to length, not on asphalt/gravel, can repeat trails, any friend/hiking partner/group can join me on any given trail, and the hikes can be anywhere in the world).  

The In-Between Time: The Days Between Christmas and New Years

The days between Christmas and New Years are so strange to me.  I find that there’s a relaxing element to the hustle of Christmas preparations being done, but there is also a time of being bummed that it’s over.   Then there’s the anxiety I feel in getting Christmas packed away and my son’s birthday prepped all before going back to work after the New Year.  

There are other times in our lives that we feel this roller coaster of emotions in the “in-between time.”  For instance, the days between finding out you’re pregnant to your tummy actually rounding; the days between a college application and an acceptance letter; the days between a job interview and a return phone call…even the days between Sunday to Sunday for church services.  Each of these examples is like the days after Christmas, which are all involving excitement, disappointment, relief, worry or anxiety, and hopefully the return of excitement. 

The Bible is filled with examples of people experiencing the “in-between days.”  Noah had days of waiting in between being told to build an Ark and the day the flood began.  Ruth had days of waiting between leaving with Naomi and being married to Boaz.  Saul had days of waiting between being blinded on the road to Damascus and being able to see again…and share the Gospel.  Even the disciples and the Mary’s experienced the in-between days emotions when Jesus was crucified and later raised from the grave.  

Whether we’re in our own examples of in-between days or reading of Biblical examples, we are able to determine that God is teaching us to wait on Him.  Here are several scriptures that show us there is guidance in the Bible about our waiting during the in-between times: 

The Lord is good to those who await Him, to the person who seeks Him. ~Lamentations 3:25 (NASB)

Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord. ~Psalm 27:14 (NASB)

Therefore, be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. ~James 5:7 (NASB)

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me.” ~Acts 1:4 (NASB)

There are countless examples of waiting in the Bible….and many teaching moments where the Lord wants us to know about waiting.   In the days immediately after Christmas and leading into New Years, I’m reminded that I’m not alone in the rollercoaster of emotions of the “in-between” time.  

I’m praying that we are all patient this week while we are in those “in-between days.”

~Emily

Giddy Over a Christmas Concert…And a Public Life Lived for Christ

Annually I try to get tickets for my family to attend some type of Christmas concert.  It’s a tradition that has developed gradually, but one that I really enjoy sharing with my husband and son.  In years past, we’ve gone to church sponsored “Singing Christmas Tree” concerts, local hospital sponsored Chris Tomlin concerts, and have even counted the Eclectic Christmas Ministry’s singing angels as our annual concert. 

This year’s concert occurred last night when the Shade and Petersen Clans carried ourselves to Opelika, Alabama.  It was one that I anticipated for weeks; simply because it was one of my all-time-favorite Contemporary Christian Musician: Matthew West.

Many of you recall that I have a fond spot in my heart for Matthew West because he prayed with Erin over my brother’s stage 4 lymphoma in 2013.  Yet, even before he was willing to stop a “meet & greet” to pray, he was one of my favorites.  You see, every single time I’ve seen him in concert, he’s prayed from the stage for his team and for everyone in the audience.  The first time I witnessed him do this was at an all-day Christian concert festival in Virginia…and on that day he was literally the only performer who prayed from the stage.  

I love his music.  But more than that, I admire his desire to point the focus to God’s Glory; not his own.  There’s a lesson here that I need to continuously remind myself of…Focus on God; not myself.

In Romans 1:17 (NASB), we see that we are to live by faith.  “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: But the righteous one will live by faith.” 

Walking by faith has to have a destination in mind, which is God.  We, in and of ourselves, are not going to be able to have unwavering faith…we have to trust that God is able to accomplish all things.  If we are focused on ourselves, our own talents, or our circumstances, then we aren’t truly walking that faith in Christ.  Thus, our own ability is not the true object of our focus when we walking in faith.  On this side of heaven, we will be repeatedly disappointed in our own ability…even if we are a famous musician.  

How do we focus that walk of our faith?  We lean into Jesus.  We acknowledge God’s hand in our lives, we trust His role, and we confess it with our mouths.  Publicly.  Possibly at church, or in a small group…or from a stage during a concert.  

Ephesians 2:8 reminds us that “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  

The gift of faith is one to be celebrated and one to constantly be grateful for.  One way we retain the spirit of being thankful is by keeping that focus on the giver of the gift.  God.  Not us. 

The Christmas concerts are a special annual tradition.  The example from Matthew West is a daily reminder to stay focused on our Heavenly Father.  

Merry Christmas!

~Emily

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth (…or two hearing aids)

Hearing aids are such curious items.  Think about how advanced the electronics are, how tiny they can be, and how they emit just the right frequencies to assist with specified hearing deficits.  

For the last two weeks my Father-in-Law had been visiting us from Pennsylvania.  He wears fancy hearing aids that have their own charging case and boast a clear wire that sticks up behind the ear.  In short, they resemble small bugs with an elongated neck…or a squirrely solo leg.  

Four days into his visit, our cats decided that they were small bugs to be played with.  They managed to get ahold of both of his hearing aids; one had teeth marks and a broken case, while the other had been placed poetically in the toilet.

My heart sunk. Because my early years in the Air Force were as an Ear, Nose, & Throat Technician, I know just how expensive hearing aids are.  To make this right, our family was going to have to come out of pocket quite a bit of money…at Christmas time with our son’s birthday days away.  And yet, this was a moment where our son was watching how we were going to react to our cats “eating” several thousand dollars in a game of high-stakes “cat & mouse.”

Galatians 6:9 (NASB) states, “Let us not become discouraged in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not become weary.” 

Doing the right thing, also known as integrity, is something we must make conscious decisions to pursue.  It becomes a constant process to continuously make good decisions, as well as behaving in a righteous way.  It’s a simplistic way that we get to imitate Christ’s behavior when He walked the earth as flesh and blood. The verse further encourages us that we can’t become weary while making these conscious decisions. Both parts are hard to do…the reacting appropriately and to do it with a joyful attitude is difficult. It takes practice.

In the nano-second that I heard our cats had destroyed an expensive set of hearing aids, I immediately said, “we’ll pay for the replacements…what do we have to do to make this right?”  It wasn’t until later that I started to panic about cost and the impact on Christmas or Birthday celebrations.  That didn’t change the ultimate thought…we still needed to make it right by paying for new aids.  The difference is the acknowledgment of the statement ‘what is right is right….no matter the impact.’ 

Pappy gets new hearing aids and his grandson has an example, albeit an expensive one, of how to treat people and how we should own our roles and responsibilities. Our son gets a Galatians 6:9 example in real life.  

Meanwhile, I’m humming “All I want for Christmas is…two new hearing aids!”

I’m praying for all the Iron Porch readers this week that we are encouraged rather than discouraged and that we continue to be joyful rather than weary!

~Emily

Disdain for Christmas Music

One of the women in the Bible Study I facilitate recently dropped a bomb on me.  With a slight shrug of one shoulder she said, “I hate Christmas music.” Then like a psycho, she just sat there waiting for me to respond.

I’d like to say I was kind and understanding with a grace-filled response.  Instead.  Instead, I’m sure I was slack-jawed and bug-eyed when I nearly screeched, “Are you kidding me right now?!?!?!”  I knew that there were non-Christmas-music-listening people; however, I did not know they existed within my circle of friends!  

Maybe I’m the psycho one, but I have no problem listening to Christmas music year-round. In fact, I have a “go-to” Christmas station pre-programed on Pandora. 

For me, there is something soul-stirring about Christmas music.  Not gimmicky-secular Christmas music (although there is a place for that on my play-list too).  I’m talking about the soul-stirring Christmas music that reminds of Christ’s birth, of angels singing, of wise men traveling, of God’s purpose in sending his Son, and of the ultimate gift we are given by our Heavenly Father.  Those types of Christmas songs truly speak to my heart. 

And I sing them anytime that the mood strikes me…even if it’s nowhere near December.  

In addition to studying the Word and having a healthy prayer life, I would contend that worship of God through music is one of the most effective means to build our personal relationships with Christ.  It’s an act of obedience and one that we will continue once we’re in heaven (for just one Biblical example, see Revelation Chapters 4 & 5 to see how we’ll be worshiping there).

In regards to Christmas music, it helps me remember who I am exalting and the reasons for wanting to participate in the act of worship.  For me, it’s especially impactful at Christmas so that I stay centered on my Christian walk, when society could easily distract me towards the non-essential trappings of the holiday season.  

That may not be true for everyone.  Maybe the Contemporary Christian Music does it, or Grandma’s favorite hymn, or maybe just reading Psalms with classical music in the background is what helps you focus.  

The amazing thing about soul-stirring music that exalts Jesus, is that it doesn’t have to be Christmas music.  Therefore, my sweet friend who despises Christmas music can worship just as effectively with other songs and hymns.  

We can both show excitement for singing at Christmas…without either of us being psycho! 

~Emily

“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving. Sing praises to our God on the lyre.” Psalm 147:7 (NASB)

Childlike Grief

Death’s impact on our lives is so weird.

It’s been nine months since my mother-in-law passed away.  Sometimes it feels like years ago and other days it feels like moments.  Most days we remember her in joy, but there have been a few ‘sneak attack’ tearful days too.

As we planned our trip for Thanksgiving, our son asked if he could visit Gramma’s grave while we were in Pennsylvania. Specifically, he wanted to put a Christmas ornament at her grave.   I was slightly surprised to hear the request, as he seemed to be handling the death and memories fairly well.  

If I’m completely honest, I’m also a little surprised that I was surprised.  

Seriously, why was I surprised?  It seems natural he’d want to go see the gravesite.  He was very close to her, as she helped raise him in the single-Dad-toddler years and they spoke on the phone almost every day since.  Normally, I’m the sensitive one of the family that would have made the offer to take him to the cemetery.  And yet, the 10-year-old beat me to the request.

More often than not, I think we are surprised by the depth of knowledge that our children have regarding the Savior.  They may not have the depth of knowledge with theology or specific scripture, but their little hearts are perfectly attuned to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There is something so sweet and endearing about a small child praying out loud.  I remember the little boy prayers for nerf guns to work, for kitties to be found, or for Gramma to be healed.  

There is something equally sweet about children sharing the Gospel.  When Erin’s daughter, Peyton, was 6 or 7 years old, I often watched her talk to strangers about Jesus.  

Corrections and convictions are also sweet and endearing when they come from children.  I’ve had my own son tell me I’ve hurt God’s heart when I said a swear word.  

Lesson here?  Kids are unabashed about their prayer lives.  They are confident and bold in sharing Jesus.  And they have no qualms about corrective behavior.  

The book of Matthew has so many nuggets regarding children and their place in the kingdom.  In Matthew 18:1-5 (NASB) we read, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him among them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So whoever will humble himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me.”

Jesus expressly told us that children would be great teachers.  There is something to learn from our kids. We can learn about prayer, evangelism, and correction.  And we can certainly learn lessons about dealing with grief.

~Emily

Holiday Poverty

As we gear up for the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, we will begin to see more and more solicitations for donations to families that are in need.  This is the time of year that thrives on canned food admissions to events, toy drives, and angel tree gifts.  Like a majority of the Iron Porch readers, I support these efforts to gather food, clothes, and items for children. 

Yet I’ve always wondered why we push so hard during the holidays for donations, but not the rest of the year.   As someone who grew up in a family that needed occasional assistance, I can attest to the fact that my parents needed food and clothing help throughout the year…not just at Christmas.  

The need for sustainable items is an example of poverty, but it’s not the one Jesus references when he speaks of the first beatitude being poor in spirit.  Initially, when we are poor in spirit we recognize that we are apart from God and that we crave the gift of salvation provided by Christ’s death on the cross as atonement for our sins.  The recognition of being separated from God, by sin, is a profound portion of being poor in the spirit.  

Being poor in the spirit doesn’t stop once we become a Christian.  Once we accept the Savior, we don’t necessarily lose the brokenness that we had when we first approached the cross.  In fact, that brokenness can drive our Christian path.  It’s fair to state that until we get to heaven, we will be in a constant state of spiritual poverty.  At this point Christians have two choices: 1. we continue to stay poor in the spirit, as we grow closer to Christ and develop ourselves as disciples or 2. we continue to stay poor in the spirit because we give into the brokenness and don’t develop as disciples.  

Personally, I’d rather identify as poor in the spirit while continuously growing.  

Except that I know it’s easy to slide into the “not developing” category.  Life takes over, we become lazy, other items take priority…but we stay in an “undeveloped” status.  Because it’s easy to slide, we can’t just push ourselves in spiritual poverty during one season, rather we need to continuously push ourselves spiritually year-round.  

As an unbeliever, we need Christ immediately, just as a family at the holidays may need immediate assistance from a canned food drive. 

Once a believer, we need to continue to develop that relationship with Christ, just as the needy family may need assistance throughout the year.  

I’m praying for those who are poor in the spirit this season (and yes, that means everyone—both believers and non-believers).  

~Emily

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ~Matthew 5:3

Pre-Holiday Breakdown

It’s mid-November.  A week before we travel to family in another state for Thanksgiving. Two weeks before my Father-in-law comes to stay with us for several weeks.  Three to four weeks before a middle school band concert, cookie exchange, Matthew West Christmas concert, mammogram, Christmas cards in the mail, packages wrapped…and the list goes on and on.

In an effort to get ahead of the holiday chaos and minimize my own stress, I wanted to get the Christmas decorations up this last weekend. See, I was thinking that I wouldn’t have to do that while we had company here and I could roll right into the festivities of December without a thought to decorating.  

Right after church, I started dragging tote after tote into the house to turn the casa into a winter wonderland.  I worked for hours while the boys washed the boat.  As the sun began to set, my attention had to turn to other chores…the chickens had to be put to bed, dinner had to be started, and clothes ironed for work on Monday.  I realized I wasn’t going to finish decorating in time.  

In a hurry I threw an empty bin into the garage, which bumped a fishing cart that promptly fell onto my foot.  I bent over in pain and screeched “poppycock!” (I’ve been making a concerted effort the last few weeks to use antiquated words—not sure I used it in the right context, but it was my 1940s word of the day).  

And then I started crying hysterically.  You know the cry.  The one where you can’t catch your breath, you turn red, your nose starts to run, and you sound like a skipping record when you try to talk.  That was me.  Hurt, but not “call 911” level hurt.  Seriously, no need for all the hysterics.  

My husband rushed over to check on me. He listened to me cry about my foot, about not finishing the decorations…and for good measure I threw in a bunch of other things like my Dad’s health, my Mom being overwhelmed, tasks to be done before we went on vacation…I even tossed in feeling sad about my pup going to the doggy day care for a week. 

He hugged me while I cried and then said, “You know, you don’t have to do the decorating or all the entertaining preparations.  You could wait.  Or not do it.  Or you could just be present with us.”

Did my husband just tell me that I’m acting like Martha, while I should be emulating Mary?!?!? 

In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we see Martha scrambling to make all the entertaining preparations, while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teachings.  Martha becomes increasingly frustrated with her sister’s lack of assistance and complains to Jesus that Mary isn’t helping enough.  

In response to Martha’s complaint, scripture records Jesus’ response in Luke 10:41 (NASB).  “But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  

If Jesus were right in front of me, where would my attention be?  On the decorations? On the meal preparations? On the cleaning?

Or would I be focused on Him? On His teachings? On His words?

I hope I would be focused on Him.  And through the gentle reminder from my husband and from the Gospel of Luke, I recognize I need to shift focus away from the pre-holiday meltdowns.  The preparations are nice and in some cases necessary…but they should not be overwhelming to the point of complaint or of shifted focus away from what is most important.  

As we all go into the next several weeks of preparing for the holidays, let us stay focused on what is important by remembering the examples of Martha and Mary.  It just might help us prevent a pre-holiday breakdown. 

~Emily

Playful Sightlessness

I was playing pretty rough with my lab, when he pushed back on his back legs with his front paws started coming forward right at my face.

I couldn’t move out of the way fast enough.  Instead, I felt an intense pain on my left eye and a burning down the side of my face.  I fully thought the dog had inadvertently blinded me.  

In that moment, I stood with tears flowing, tentatively opening my eyes with a tremendous fear that the blurriness in my left eye was indicative of my new life without sight in that eye.  

While blinking repeatedly and checking for blood, I wondered if this is how Saul felt in Acts 9 when God struck him blind prior to his conversion to Christianity.  It was in that moment, I had a glimpse into the pure panic that Saul must have felt. 

As my sight began to clear, my thoughts shifted to the parable in Luke chapter 6, when Jesus says that the blind wouldn’t be able to lead the blind.  

“He also told them this parable: ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?’” Luke 6:39 (NASB)

The implication is clear. No, the blind can’t lead the blind.  You can’t lead if you yourself don’t know about particular situations.  Perhaps it means that you can’t teach if you haven’t been the student.  Maybe it means, one leader isn’t effective unless they’ve been an effective follower.  

It’s a poetic way to showcase the expectation that a strong Christian who leads, disciples, and mentors others, are likely the ones who have studied the Word, spent time in prayer, and have been discipled themselves.  

What does that mean for women walking with Jesus? It means that we need to ensure we are constantly strengthening our relationship with God if we are in leadership positions. It also means that we have to assess those who are in leader positions around us and discern if we are being appropriately led.  

My moment of temporary blindness from playing with my dog, was actually one of conviction.  Conviction that I need to be deliberately growing to be a better leader, as well as assessing who is teaching me. 

It’s amazing how lessons come from our everyday life…conviction from canine playing.

~Emily