The Christmas Gift

We celebrated Christmas with my oldest daughter and her family this last weekend.  It’s exciting to go down and have a “second” Christmas with the grandbabies, watching their excitement as they see gifts they weren’t expecting as Christmas had long since been over.

I dutifully wrapped the gifts for each of them and handed them out, one by one.  Andros, that sweet little boy, opened his first gift.  He looked at me and said, “A shirt?  I have shirts!” Everyone started giggling, but the best part of the evening was when he went to open his second gift.  To an adult, the second gift was obviously too small to be an item of clothing.  As he slowly unwrapped it, he looked at me and said, “It’s not a shirt, right?!”

We got such a giggle out of that!  He’s only four, and while his momma is teaching him about being grateful and gracious about what’s given to him, sometimes he just doesn’t quite understand and acts like the little boy he is!

Do you ever think that we are like my grandson with God?  He provides for us.  In fact the Bible tells us in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

It doesn’t mean the needs that we’ve asked for.  It doesn’t even mean He meets the needs that we want!  God knows our needs and supplies them.  However, just like little Andros, we get something and we look at it and say, “Hmmmm…that’s not what I asked for!”   When He provides for us again, we pray and say, “It’s not that one thing is it, God?”

I don’t think we do this on purpose, either!  I think in sin, we assume that we know what’s best for us.  We know what will make us happy or content or pleased.  We think that this thing or that thing will be what we need to make everything better.  In reality, God already know our needs, and He will give them to us when it’s the right time.  Often times, even though it’s hard to admit, the things that He gives us we don’t even realize we need until we look back on that moment in our life and say, “Yes!  I see where you were, God, and how You provided for me!”

I encourage you, friends, let’s take the time to ask God to supply our needs, and then step back and take all that He gives us with open hearts and gracious spirits.  You never know if the one thing you don’t think you want is exactly the one thing you’ll need!

~Erin

P.S. His second gift was a book for us to read together!

My sweet grandson with his ever-present chocolate milk mustache!

Intention

I’m terrible at resolutions.  I can make one, but it won’t take more than 16 days before I’ve already messed something up and my resolution has gone out the window. 

Once upon a time, I did the obligatory “I’m joining a gym.  I’m going to lose weight.  I’m going to read my Bible every day.”  All those sentences have potential to have great impact on me throughout the year.  But the list of this and that for someone who writes and then rewrites lists (only to lose them the second go-around and write it the third time), does not produce anything very worthy of accomplishment.

Fast forward to this year.  Now it’s about “THE word.”  We all know what I’m talking about.  It’s been the rage these last 5-10 years or so of coming up with a word that you want to resonate with you for the year.  I’ve been doing it the last several years.  And while I loathe being a band-wagoner (is that even really a word?), I like this concept.  It allows me to choose a word that should focus my actions to that rather than feeling like a failed at a resolution.

This year, the word is “Intention.”  (Closely followed by the additional words, FOLLOW THROUGH.) 

For me, this year is about being intentional with what I do.  I would like to learn how to can; not just because I think it might be fun.  I’d really like to take my meal prep further than week to week.  I’d like to use my grocery budget wisely and not have so much waste.  God gave us the veggies…I shouldn’t be wasting them.  Canning can help with that.  Intention.

I want to spend more time as a family.  It doesn’t have to be this long and drawn-out day and I don’t want it to be obligatory.  I want to sit down as a family and play a game, maybe go bowling, sit on the back deck and chat.  I want to purposefully have conversations or laugh or be serious.  I want my time with my family to be God-centered and God-honoring.  Intention.

I want to build a garden.  I’ve joked on previous blogs about being a master gardener.  I just wrote about it in a Facebook post and Emily commented that I was not a master gardener but rather a fiction writer!  (I MAY have exaggerated my gardening skills.) But I don’t want to build just any garden (like I did last year and never ate anything that came from it).  I want to plant what I know we will eat.  I want to plant appropriately and at the right time.  I may have to succession plant.  But you know what that takes, friends?  Intention.  I must be intentional about what I’m doing.

I want to talk to God more.  I love being in the Word, but I don’t feel I’m in it enough.  I pray, but I don’t pray without ceasing.  I want to see what God is showing me in the Bible.  It’s going to take being intentional with my study time.

These are just a few examples of what I want to do throughout the year.  How am I going to put actions to that word you ask?  Not only do I remind myself daily, I very specifically ask God every morning to show me ways to be intentional…and to give me the fortitude to complete them.  And then I go for it! 

I’ll fail sometimes.  Other times, I’ll hit a home run.  That’s the beauty of having the word.  I recognize where my weaknesses are.  The word helps me stay more focused on how to do better and be better.  And none of it works if I’m not constantly seeking God to keep my actions on a path that ultimately honors and glorifies Him!

Friends, do you have a word or a goal or a resolution that you’d like to share?  Let us know what yours is in the comments!

Happy New Year!

~Erin

Puppies Are Work! Are We?

This house just seemed a little quieter and a little sadder with Maggie gone.  So I did what any sad mom would do.  I hopped on the interwebs and took a peek around to see if maybe I would ever like to have another dog.  Because the answer is no.  Unequivocally, absolutely, positively no more dogs.  Until I saw a puppy online on December 22, contacted the owner, and then drove three hours the next day to pick her up! 

She’s sweet and funny and has so much personality!  The best part of the entire process was surprising Peyton with her when she got home from work that night.  This little pup has stolen our hearts.  Ruger, our seven-year-old lab even likes her!

But let me tell you…having a puppy is work (which is why I didn’t want one in the first place).  The amount of energy, time and effort that goes into working with an animal is exhausting!  You think you make a bit of progress until, oops, here’s a puddle on the floor.  “No chewing” turns into new slippers being purchased because you left them in front of the couch.  Work, I tell you, work. 

I wouldn’t change anything!  We love her and we know she’s worth the energy and focus.  She’s part of the family, and we’ll do whatever is necessary to make sure she is loved and cared for.   No matter what she does, we’ll never turn her away because she belongs to us.

This reminds me, honestly, of how God loves us.  When we accept the Lord as our Savior, we are His.  He bought and paid for us with Jesus’ shed blood.   No matter how much we mess up, He doesn’t walk away.  He doesn’t get fed up with our antics and cast us aside.  He patiently and lovingly teaches us and trains us.  Even when we’re more spiritually mature or “grown”, when we make a mistake, He doesn’t assume we’ll never be any good to Him.  On the contrary, He gave us the Holy Spirit to admonish, direct and guide us back to what is good and pleasing to the Lord.

“For He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever abandon you,” –Hebrews 13:5b

And Romans 8:35, 38-39 clearly tells us that nothing will separate us from God.  This means no matter how much work is needed or how many dumb mistakes I make, as a child of God I will never be separated from Him.  He won’t give up on us!

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will tribulation, or trouble, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

PRAISE GOD!

Just like that puppy, even though we are work, there’s no chance God turns His back on us and says “nevermind.”

I pray that we are challenged this week to see where we are rough around the edges.  Let’s work on those commands and precepts that we read in the Bible given by God!  He will never give up on us.  Let’s put in the work!

~Erin

Meet Winchester (‘Winnie”)

What does Christmas Mean To You?

What does Christmas mean to you?  I’ve thought about this question often over the course of the last few weeks.  I think it’s important to reflect on the season and not just run through the month as if it barely exists!

There have been years where it’s meant presents and stockings.  That’s been usually as a small child.  There’s been periods of time in my life when the girls were celebrating holidays with others, and Christmas meant loneliness and sadness.  More recently, when I’ve thought about what Christmas meant to me, it was about family and time spent together.  And most often, I feel Christmas means the birth of Jesus.  It’s a beautiful time to remember the baby in a manger who came to save the world.

Sitting down this holiday season, I’ve found that my thoughts are different than the usual.  While I always remember the virgin birth, I heard something that resonated with me….the birth of Jesus, the Christmas story doesn’t end with our Savior’s birth.  It’s just the beginning of the beautiful Christmas story of Love come down to earth.

God allowed his beloved Son to become fully God, fully man.  He allowed a young girl, Mary, and a wonderful foster father, Joseph, raise Jesus.  Jesus grew up teaching people, showing love, foreshadowing what was to come and leading people into an understanding of what salvation by grace meant.  This man willingly took on our punishment, a debt we so easily deserve and yet so readily avoid.  They nailed Jesus to a cross to become the sacrificial Lamb only to see Him resurrected three days later!  Praise God that our Savior lives!

“For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” –Isaiah 9:6

That’s how I’d like Christmas to feel to me…as the start of a beautiful and redeeming story of God’s perfect love!

How about you, Iron Porch friends?  What does Christmas mean to you?  Share in the comments!

~Erin  

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I slowed to a stop and turned on my flashers about 50 yards ahead of the turn into one of the busiest gas stations on the highway.  Rylan was sitting there waiting for me.  He had been on his way to work when the alternator went out on his car, and he needed me to pick him up and help tow the car back to the house.

Let me say that there are several things wrong with this picture.  First, it was quitting time here in Alabama so all 8,000 cars in our area were in the same area at the same time.  Second, it’s a blind hill where he had stopped so I couldn’t quite see over the little hump to be able to know if I could turn around without enjoying a potential T-Bone dinner.  Third, I do not like to tow vehicles.  Oh, and fourth…I don’t really have a proper vehicle to tow.

HOWEVER, once I arrived, I sucked it up and we drove the long way back home.  If you were one of the several cars that got stuck behind us as we moseyed back at about 35 mph in the 55 mph zone, may I give a heartfelt apology!  While I may have been able to go a little faster, I was confident that slow and steady would win this race.

Paul talks about running the race in the bible.  He speaks at length to only looking what is before us and forgetting what lies behind.  He said “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of god in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 3:14.

He lovingly tells the Corinthians that he doesn’t just go crazy trying to get done.  Rather, he’s patient and steadfast.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” –I Corinthians 9:24-27

When we are studying scripture or when we are growing in the knowledge of the Lord, it’s not about how fast we can read or how quickly we can get through the bible.  It’s about learning at the pace that allows you to mature and grow deeper in your faith.  It’s one thing to know what a piece of scripture says or where a story is at.  It’s another to know what that scripture is about, what its context is, and how it can point us back to our Father!

While reading the bible through in a year is great, (and I really do believe it is), there is power in recognizing that you need to go back and read parts again.  And again….to sit in the scripture and ask God what’s He’s revealing about Himself in the passage.  It’s ok if the year-long bible plan takes you 1 ½ years.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending more than one week on a bible study lesson because you find it rich with information.  Remember, the goal is just to keep moving forward.  When we are learning and developing in those lessons, we are always moving in the right direction.  Like Paul, we don’t want to have the aimless task or the thoughtless race.  This marathon we are on in our relationship with Him should be one that is the most meaningful journeys of which we will ever partake!

I pray that we can be encouraged that slow and steady maturing will bring a beautiful and meaningful relationship with our Creator!  Happy studying!

~Erin

Jury Duty

I’ve always wanted jury duty.  Is that weird?  I’ve always felt like that particular civic duty was one that would be, I don’t know…exciting maybe? Of course, with that comes the responsibility of finding someone guilty or innocent.  You also never know what kind of case you’re going to get.  It’s not like you get to pick and choose the offense for which you are a juror.  I digress…

For the first time in my 43 years, I got called for jury duty!  I immediately went online to complete the information and let my boss know.  I waited in anticipation for the day to get here.  And this last Monday was that day.

I got up extra early and got myself together for an exhilarating day of justice-giving.  I quickly prayed with Peyton right before 6:30, told her not to forget her dentist appointment and took off in my car.  I had been driving about three minutes when I started to think I should probably call the school to remind them of Peyton’s appointment.

Only to realize I was an hour early.  I didn’t need to leave my house until 7:30.  I turned the car around and pulled into the drive.  Peyton looked at me like I’d lost my mind.  I told her I gotten ready an hour too early.  All she could do was laugh at me.  Apparently, I was TOO excited.

I want to be that same way about Jesus! 

I get to go to church!  Race out the door.  I got to pray with my friend!  High five.  I’m praising Jesus in music!  Singing at the top of my lungs in the car with the window rolled down.  I’m about to start my bible study.  Race to find my favorite highlighter, pen and notebook!  I just got to talk with a random stranger about God’s love!  God is so good!

Everything I do, I want it to be with an excitement that comes from knowing what I do brings glory to God.  The Father of all creation loves us so much that He gave His only Son so we can have the free gift of salvation and live with Him forever in heaven!  Everything we do here on earth should be pointing others to Him.  I want to be excited about what He’s provided for me and what He’s doing in my life.  And I want everyone to see!

I want to feel the joy down into my bones! Join me during this season in having a spirit of excitement with everything we do that shows people our Heavenly Father.  Let’s be the light here on earth that points people to the Light of this World!

~Erin

The Santa Push

Santa…I know.  I’m going there, but I promise I’m not going in the direction you think.  I don’t plan on shaming anyone for teaching their kids about Santa or NOT teaching their kids about Santa.  I think it’s a very personal family choice. 

My parents actually taught me that Santa Claus wasn’t real.  I didn’t go blabbing it to other kids and ruin it for them.  We were told that other kids believed and that it was ok, that we shouldn’t ruin that experience for them.  And I turned out relatively normal.  In turn, even though I didn’t want to teach my children about Santa Claus, I got outvoted and Santa became a thing.  (My family used to get a kick out of the cheapest thing being from Santa under the tree, because I wasn’t having a “fake fat guy in a suit taking credit for the cool stuff I bought!”)

I’ve seen parents go to great lengths to promote the Christmas tradition of both Santa Claus and Elf on a Shelf.  Letters written from them.  Footprints of powdered sugar or in the snow.  One parent threw Raisinettes on the ground to look like…you know what.  I’ve heard parents ‘scare’ their children into behavior with the Elf/Santa.  If I had a penny for every time I heard “Don’t make me tell Santa” in a store, I’d have my house and car paid off.

As I was thinking about this dilemma recently of do you or don’t you, I thought about how we teach our children about the Bible.  Here’s my question.  Are we that fervent about making sure our children are equally/more invested in the Truth?

We are to be raising up our children in the knowledge of the Lord.  They should know what the Bible says and what God asks of us in the Word.  And Jesus himself talked about having a child-like faith and didn’t want anyone hindering children from coming to Him.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. –Proverbs 22:6

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. –Deuteronomy 6:6-7

And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 18:2-4

Children are sponges.  They are alert and ready to learn from you!  I think we need to be just as involved and more in teaching our children about God and His creation as we are about touching the Elf on the Shelf and making his magic disappear. 

This month is a perfect opportunity to leave verses on cards with your Elf to discuss the impending birth of our Savior.  Maybe you read the book about Santa but make sure you’ve got another one that gears them up for the wisemen finding baby Jesus in the stable.  Use your Fisher Price farm set to show them the donkey and cow around the hay as they prepare the arrival of Mary and Joseph.  There are so many ways for a fun approach to learning about what this season truly is.  It doesn’t have to be heavy.  We just have to be doing it!

I pray that as we approach this Christmas, we find the right balance in training our children about who God is and what He has done for us with the sentimental Christmas traditions that bring joy and whimsy to this season!

~Erin

Expectation Vs Reality

We took a trip this last weekend to Mississippi for a concert.  Because it was over four hours away, we decided to get a hotel.  For road trips the task of choosing a hotel has always fallen to me.  Emily says it’s because I’m bougie.  I say it’s because it’s because I don’t want to find a cockroach sleeping next to me on my pillow when I wake up in the morning.  (It does not help that I used to be a travel agent and I also worked for a hotel, so I KNOW what hotels can be like!)

This time, I was looking at prices and trying to be a little practical and chose a hotel I wouldn’t normally choose.  Nothing is wrong with this particular chain, but if the name of the hotel doesn’t usually rhyme with Fyatt or Filton, it’s not on my radar.  Let’s just say that the pictures of this hotel and the reality of the hotel were, to quote scripture, as far as the east is from the west.  It was ok.  I didn’t die.  We got a good night’s sleep.  But my expectation versus reality was disappointing.

Aren’t we lucky that we have a Heavenly Father that is exactly as He says?! We don’t need to worry that He’s not the same as He’s portrayed in the Bible.  There were eyewitness accounts of who God and Jesus are!  Passages in the Bible show Jesus’s loving words and actions. 

We don’t have to worry about Him changing how He feels about us, because the Bible tells us that we are His children when we accept Him as our Savior.  He listens to our pleas, feels our pain, and knows our stories.  He doesn’t change His mind on a whim or lead us in a direction to say, “GOTCHA! I just wanted to mess with you!”  He’s constant, ever-present, all-powerful, and all-knowing.  He does not change!

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever. –Hebrews 13:8

I praise God that He is this way.  In a world where the ebbs and flows seem to be dramatic and wildly moveable, I give thanks that we have a God whom we can count on.  We know what He expects of us, and we know what to expect of Him.

Join with me this week in praising God for being an unmovable and unshakeable Creator.   Let’s find ways to praise God for being exactly who He says He is!

~Erin

Maggie…And Some Kind Words

It’s been a hard week…again.

While I wouldn’t trade this last year in Alabama for anything and we’ve had such a wonderful time in our new home, we’ve had a year specifically marked with sadness.  This last week our 14-year-old sweet pup, Maggie, passed away. 

We got her when she was just 10 months old, the one that got left behind because no one wanted a solid sandy-colored Shih-tzu.  We wanted her, though.  The kids fell in love with her.  Peyton was just barely three when we got her, and it was hysterical to watch this little puppy chase her and grab onto her undies and tug.  Peyton was the little Coppertone baby!

She became a therapy pet for Peyton when she was diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder; this dog was attached to her at the hip!  Peyton even tried smuggling Maggie in a bag once when she had to go to work with me. 

But it was time, and I’m thankful that Peyton and I got to be there.  As we walked out of the vet’s examination room, we were greeted by little puppies and kittens in the lobby.  Peyton and I were visibly upset, and the waiting patrons were so kind to us as we sat and waited for them to bring Maggie out in her little burial box.  “I’m so sorry” scattered across the room, and one mother and daughter even stood up and asked if they could give us a hug.  As we left, the mother called out, “We’re praying for you.”

I don’t know if they are Christians.  I don’t know if they know the Lord.  But that moment of kindness and words of prayers reminded me that the Bible tells us to treat others exactly that way.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, –Colossians 3:12

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. –1 Peter 4:9

And as you wish that others would to do you, do so to them. –Luke 6:31

We are meant to show compassion to those around us.  When we are as God asks us to be, it brings glory to Him!  When someone needs a hug or a kind word, when we are the hands and feet of the body of Christ, we show honor to the Father that created us.  You may not know the person you’re helping.  Maybe you don’t realize what a simple hug can do or how kind words can put salve on a wound.  But those moments where we obey God’s command to love, be kind, or treat others respectfully gives someone a moment where they see Jesus.

And I saw Jesus at work as those sweet women hugged Peyton tight and told her they were so sorry for her loss.

Dear friends, let find opportunities this week to do what God would have us do for each other…be kind, loving, tenderhearted, and compassionate!

~Erin

A Praise Report

One of the things we do every week at Table 8 Bible study is spend some time discussing prayer requests.  It’s wonderful to be able to share concerns with our sisters in Christ.  However, as we began a study on prayer, I realized we weren’t looking at the praises that we were blessed with! 

It’s easy to see the struggles in our lives and what we need to pray for.  We see our friends or family hurting, a neighbor that’s sick, a test that our children are about take, maybe someone we know isn’t saved.  We seek out prayer for those things.  And we’re not wrong to do that at all!

But there is also value in seeing the ways our Father blesses our lives. It’s encouraging to hear praise reports of that neighbor on the mend, that child who got a 92%, or the peace that the Holy Spirit gave you about a decision you needed to make.  The people that have been praying get an opportunity to see God at work.  And you get a moment to acknowledge the grace of God! 

We are encouraged many times in the Bible to give Him thanks for what He has done.  It should be part of our worship to Him.

Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; for You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness. –Isaiah 24:1 (NASB)

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. –Psalm 9:1 (ESV)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

Sometimes, it’s not so easy to recognize the praises in our lives.  Victories may seem small or insignificant.  Perhaps we even don’t think about how God answered a prayer or a need that we had in our life because we weren’t looking for it. 

I’ve made it a challenge to myself to really look for how God has answered prayer in my days and weeks.  Now, rather than starting off my prayer with a request to Him, I get excited to start by thanking Him for what He’s done and how He’s provided. 

This month, God answered a prayer that I’ve been praying about faithfully for 5 years!  I want to shout from the rooftops how amazing God is! 

How about you, dear friends!?  Share with your friends at the Iron Porch a praise report and let’s be encouraged at God’s faithfulness.

~Erin