AC-47 Testimonies

For those who don’t know, I work as a curator at a military museum.  While we have fantastic displays and precious artifacts on display, my favorite thing about working there is interacting with veterans and their families.  This last week we hosted a group of Vietnam Veterans who had each been involved with one particular aircraft; the AC-47, known as Spooky or Puff the Magic Dragon. 

During the ceremony, one of the pilots of this aircraft during the Vietnam conflict was the guest speaker.  His speech, titled “Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow” started with what it meant to be part of the “Spooky Brotherhood.”  

He discussed where they were yesterday and when each of their yesterday’s began.  

Then he recapped how they came to design monuments, selected where they were placed, and how they have reunions.  It was the today portion of his speech.

Finally, he spoke about their tomorrows.  At that pivotal point in his speech he told them he was concerned about their salvation and if he would see them as a brotherhood in their tomorrows.  He launched into sharing the Gospel and challenging them to get right with the Lord.  

I could not believe my ears!  You see, it’s rare at a military event for the Gospel to be presented in such an overt manner.  I was so proud of him for his boldness to speak truth in a military group.

He was truly living Romans 1:16 (NIV) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

While I’m not ashamed of the gospel, there are plenty of situations I find myself in where I lose the opportunity to share. Maybe it’s the timing, or maybe it’s my own fear of rejection, or maybe it’s the atmosphere.  Regardless of why I don’t share, it’s a lost chance to win souls for heaven. 

I love that this Vietnam Vet took the step to care for the eternal souls of those in the audience.  He was not ashamed…not at all.

~Emily

At Each Other’s Throats

There are days lately where my heart hurts to be on Facebook anymore.  So many people at each other’s throats about what they think or what they believe.  I see people on one side of the fence calling the other side ‘sheep’ who approve of socialism and government over-reach.  I see people on the other side saying if you don’t decide to vaccinate or wear a mask, you are a moron incapable of being able to do intelligent research.  I watch someone call the other a “stupid right-wing nut job” for thinking President Biden isn’t handling Afghanistan well.  The other side says you’re too blind to see that President Biden couldn’t handle tying his own shoes.  These are actual things I’ve seen on social media.

It’s enough to make me scream.  What happened to being loving and gracious?  When did we become a people that believe we are the only ones capable of rational thought?  When did we become a society that put politics over prayer?

As Christians, we have a responsibility to love one another whether we agree or don’t.  As people who were made in God’s image, we are called to honor what He commands us to do like praying for one another, being kind, and tender-hearted.  We’re not to prove who’s wrong or right.  We’re not meant to make sure people feel stupid for making a decision you would never make.  And loving them and praying for them doesn’t mean you approve of their decisions.  It means simply that…you’re loving them and praying for them. 

What I’m saying is that no matter what side of the vaccine, masks, or presidency we’re on, we should be coming together to love, to witness, and to pray.  Pray for our nation.  Pray for our leaders.  Pray for our friends and family.  Pray for other countries.  Pray for our neighbors.  Pray for the doctors, nurses and hospitals.  Pray for our enemies. 

Satan would love nothing more than to divide Christians and keep us from focusing solely on God.  He relishes the thought of people going after each other rather than coming together to pray to our Jehovah-Rapha, the God who Heals.

I implore you, dear friends.  Take the time to love and pray for each other, no matter what side of the fence you’re on.  At the end of the day, there’s only one side… God’s.

~Erin

My Friend, Jennifer

Last Tuesday, I lost a friend to Covid-19.  I know it can happen to anyone.  I just didn’t think it would hit me this close to home.  I met Jennifer more than 7 years ago.  One of my favorite memories with her is when her sweet oldest son took my daughter to a dance.  We got such a kick out of “grilling” Jakob on how he was going to treat McKenna that night.  He was a class act because he had a classy mom.

In the last week, there has been post after post on Facebook, people shocked at the fact she’s gone.  Story after story leaped off the page. 

“She listened to me.” 

“She gave me wise advice.” 

“She was funny.” 

“She loved Jesus.” 

“She brought me back to church.” 

“She was an amazing mom and wife.” 

“She was generous to everyone.”

Literally hundreds of people have written about how she touched their lives in some way or another.  And it got me to thinking, what impact will I leave when my time on earth is done?  You see, Jennifer was a Christian, and she lived that faith out every day of her life.  She honored her husband and you could see their love. Her children were her heritage from the Lord and she was so proud of them. She took seriously the commands to love one another, take care of the less fortunate, and spread the good news of Jesus.  She wasn’t ashamed of who she was and took pride in knowing she was a child of the King. 

Are we the same way?  There are so many verses in the bible that tell us how to live our life.

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” –Proverbs 19:17

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:16

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13

“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” –Mark 16:15

I want to have the kind of impact that Jennifer had on people.  She didn’t just give lip service.  She didn’t do ‘just enough’ to earn Jesus-brownie-points.  With her interactions among strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family, our Creator was the center of it all. She lived every day like she was in the presence of God because she knew she was.  She was filled with the Holy Spirit as a believer.

I pray that the light of Jesus can shine through me as much as it did in her.  My prayer for my life is that people see how God impacted me to impact them.

We’ll miss you, Jennifer.  We were blessed to know you.  You are assuredly a beautiful example of a Godly woman.

~Erin

Jennifer Levengood 1974-2021

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

“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

Mentored By Another Generation: The Titus 2 Woman

A few months ago, my sweet friend trusted me enough to introduce me to her Aunt Bonnie.  If I had to guess, Aunt Bonnie is probably in her 80s, but mentally in her 30s.  I was enamored with her from the moment I met her and to her extended family’s amusement, I was also calling her Aunt Bonnie immediately. 

She showed me her craft room, encouraged me in learning quilting, asked about my childhood, and invited me to come spend the summer with her in Texas so we could gab and craft together.  This woman was lovely and I so honored to have met her for a brief afternoon.

My friend trusted me with her family treasure.  You see, I could have been stand-offish, impatient, rude, or unengaged. When we introduce our friends to our family, we have a small idea of how they will interact, but there is no guarantee that they will hold the same esteem for our older family members that we may. 

In my case, I jumped at the chance to learn from this lovely gal who clearly was more well versed in quilting than I was.  Not only was it selfish on my part to learn from her, I would also consider it Biblical.  

Titus 2:3-5 (NASB) states, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, no malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” 

Our conversation was not about religion, as we chatted about quilting techniques.  But here was a more mature woman, mentoring a middle-aged woman…and in that wonderful conversation, I had an example from her about loving my husband and child, about being sensible and pure, about working at home and being kind.  She was the Titus 2 older woman to me.  

As Christian women, we need to either be seeking a more mature woman to sit under…or we need to be the more mature woman willing to allow others to sit with us. 

While the Titus 2 description is specifically geared towards life as a Christian woman, remember that these mentoring sessions could also be opportunities to share the Gospel.   In both directions!  Be open to being a mentor.  And be open to finding one for yourself too!

Come to the porch this week and tell us about your mentors!

~Emily 

Bystander to the Hurting

I recently read a devotion that began with the question, “Which is harder; going through a painful ordeal yourself or watching someone close to you face a trial?”

I can think of dozens of examples where I would gladly go through a trial in order to save someone else the pain.  But that wasn’t the actual question….is it harder to do it yourself or watch someone else?  For me, it’s much harder to watch someone else and to know how best to support that individual.  

In Acts 16:16-24, we see that the faithful Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy had gone to preach the Gospel in Philippi.  It was a time of turmoil with great danger to those proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.  “and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, ‘These men, Jews as they are, are causing our city trouble, and they are proclaiming customs that are not lawful for us to accept or to practice, since we are Romans.’” Acts 16:20-21 (NASB)

Only two of them were arrested and flogged; Paul and Silas.

Why only two and not four?  

During a crazy time in Philippi, as a Roman colony, there was great prejudice and anti-Semitism.  While Christianity was not completely understood, Luke and Timothy were likely seen as Gentile and subsequently not arrested.  Whereas Paul and Silas were of Jewish heritage and were arrested out of hatred for that Jewish background.  

It is not easy to have the role as bystander to the hurting.  I’m confident that Luke and Timothy struggled with watching their friends punished.  They probably had turmoil over the unfairness of the situation.  Likewise, I know that I struggle watching those that I care about struggle and I certainly have trouble understanding when things seem unfair.  

God understands that it’s hurtful to observe the hurting.  Often it seems unbearable to bear witness to someone else’s pain.  He understands it so well, in part because He watches us hurting.  If He didn’t understand, He wouldn’t have given us so many examples within scripture to learn from. 

It’s not easy to watch someone else’s hurt.  Luke and Timothy had to endure that pain, as have I.  I’m sure you have as well.

In the next week, I’m praying for those around the porch who are hurting. And I’m specifically praying for those of you who are watching someone else’s hurting.  Rest assured you aren’t alone and that God understands.

~Emily

Promotion Responsibilities & Expectations

Today, my sweet friend, Nancy will promote to Chief Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force. 

As many around the military know, this promotion is the highest grade an enlisted member can attain and only 1% of the military will make it to this particular rank.  With this promotion, comes much responsibility…and expectation.

There is an expectation that a Chief will be knowledgeable.  They will correct poor behavior and praise good.  They will advise, they will mentor, they will excel, they will speak well, they will encourage others, they will say the unpopular things…they will support other Chiefs.  These expectations, as well as countless others can be a burden to the one responsible for maintaining them.  

In Genesis 41:1-45, we see Joseph receiving a promotion from Pharaoh….and we know that he also had great responsibilities and expectations placed upon him.  

For instance, in Genesis 41:37-45, Pharaoh not only promotes Joseph to second-in-command of Egypt, he specifically tasks Joseph with preparing for the coming famine.  Based on previous verses, we know that Joseph is humble and repeatedly requests assistance from the Lord.  He confesses his sin and inability to meet challenges.  If we do that in our workplaces, we create an environment that attributes success to God, rather than ourselves.  

Joseph’s promotion brought overt signs of his new position of leadership.  He was offered fine clothes, official transportation, a signet ring, a new Egyptian name…and even an Egyptian spouse.  His response to these trapping could have been prideful.  However, Joseph exhibited great restraint from a worldly perspective and allowed God to receive the glory.  In short, Joseph gets a ton of stuff simply by being promoted.

In the modern military, this is true of the promotion to Chief Master Sergeant.  You’ve earned the most stripes…recognizable from a distance. You have an official parking spot at certain locations on base.  There is a reverence for the title.  You may get a bigger office or a government paid smart phone.  You even receive the new name of “Chief” and when the word Chief is mentioned, those who hold this title will respond.  This title and name “Chief” stays with you even into retirement. 

Handling promotions with all these types of extras is hard. Joseph remained humble by continuously falling back on the lessons he learned in childhood…but more than that, he also remembered where the true credit belonged: God, the Father Almighty.

When one makes Chief in the Air Force, they will often give credit to those before them who mentored them. They will acknowledge previous supervisors and mentors…they may even acknowledge those they’ve personally led.  They will thank family and friends.  And some will credit God for His hand in their promotion.  This is applicable to any job…not just the military.  

Regardless of the promotion, the expectations, or the trappings that mark the new position, leadership is difficult. It’s a challenge that stretches each person’s humbleness vs. pride.  Yet, if we look to the newly promoted leadership of Joseph, we can glean hope that it’s not an insurmountable challenge.  

While surrounded by other Chief Master Sergeants, today will mark the day that Nancy takes on the challenge.  Today marks the day she begins to comprehend a little of what Joseph faced under Pharaoh.  

I can’t wait to see how she excels as a leader and as a sister Chief!

~Emily

Breaking Bread: Recipes for a Happy Mouth

Food is such a valued part of the American experience.  If someone is celebrating a birthday, wedding, promotion, or new house, we use food to expand that celebration. If someone is mourning the death of family member, the loss of a job, the devastation of a natural disaster or the end of a relationship, we use food to comfort.  Want to catch up with a friend? Go to lunch.  Need to exchange a gift at Christmas? Give fruitcake.

Breaking bread with others is a very special occasion, regardless the reason for food exchange.  The early believers in the Bible understood this concept of expanding community through the breaking of bread.  They further understood that Christ did not intend for us to live in isolation, but rather to interact with others.  In our culture, that often requires the use of food for those interactions.  

Jesus modeled the behavior of interacting with others while breaking bread for us.  We see him feasting at Matthew’s house with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10).  We see him dining at Martha’s home.  We see His last and very impactful last “breaking of bread” while in the Upper Room prior to his trial and execution.

Jesus did not retreat from others while they were celebrating or in pain.  He used it as an opportunity to reach out and connect with others.  Like in the time Jesus was on Earth as a man, we are also surrounded by those who are longing for the invitation to break bread with us.    They want connection and inclusion.  

The American way is through food.  More importantly, it’s also the Jesus way.

As we move into the craziness of the Christmas season, think about inviting someone to share a meal with you this week…break bread with them.  If you’re feeling really ambitious, take them a baked good or casserole and encourage them to break bread with others.  

Break bread together…make happy mouths!

~Emily

During Thanksgiving through Christmas, my “go-to” breaking-bread-dessert is my Great-Grandmother’s Cranberry Pudding, which is a dense cranberry cake with a warm buttery sauce to pour over the top. The recipe is listed below:

Great-Grandma Johnson’s Cranberry Pudding

Cake Batter:

6 TBl Butter

2 cups white sugar

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 cups evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk!)

1 (12 oz) package of fresh (or frozen) cranberries

Hot Butter Sauce: (I double the sauce recipe because I LOVE extra on the cake slices)

1 cup butter

2 cups white sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan (or you can use a 8×8 pan). Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the 6 tablespoons butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the evaporated milk. Stir in the cranberries. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

To make the Hot Butter Sauce:

In a saucepan, combine 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, and cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Serve slices of cake generously covered with hot butter sauce. (Sauce can be re-heated for leftover cake)