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)

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

Don’t Hit the Deer!

Emily and I just got back from a trip where we drove cross-country.  Our relationship is one where I’m always the driver (insert my control factor here) and she’s the navigator (she really does a fantastic job).  I’ve always loved road trips and have never backed down from one.  I travelled all over Germany as a child, so it’s practically in my DNA to make a batch of lemon stickies, throw our pillows and blankets in the car with the suitcases and drive rather than fly anywhere.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I find I’ve begun to prefer less driving at night.  Five years ago, my girls and I would drive 15+ hours in the car on the first leg of the trip, driving late into the night so that we would have a short day the next day in the car.  It didn’t bother me in the least.  As I’ve aged, I’m actually now afraid that my eyes aren’t going to efficiently catch my surroundings.  Do you know what I’m afraid of?  I’m afraid of hitting a deer.  (Emily, we will NOT discuss the raccoon from a week ago until I’ve sufficiently recovered.)

They dart out in the darkness of night and think nothing of the people driving along the highway other than “your road is in my way.”  I’ve seen them multiple times just grazing right on the edge of the road, and I keep thinking to myself as I get closer Please stay there!  I have to be on my guard to make sure that I see what’s on either side and am prepared for what may bolt out into my path.

I should be just as aware when it comes to the wiles of the devil.  The Bible says in I Peter 5:8, “Be of sober spirt, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

The devil prowls around.  He’s lurking along the edges of our walk with God looking for ways to interfere.  It’s typically not blatant or obvious.  It’s subtle and crafty.  He’s standing just close enough to see when he might pounce.  He’s taking his time looking to see what’s available to mess with.  Then before we’ve realized it, he’s bounded into our path and worked overtime to hurt our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

We must be constantly vigilant about satan trying to wreak havoc.  Just like I have to be on guard for the deer jumping out in the road, we must make sure we are prepared for satan’s temptations.

How do we do that?  We start by having a relationship with Jesus and asking Him to be our Lord and Savior.  We have a faithful prayer life, bringing our petitions to God.  We pray that we will consistently put on the whole armor of God.  We read His Word.  The Bible is God-breathed.  We need only look on those pages to see what God would have us do and how to be ready for battle.  We commune with fellow believers!  Surrounding yourself with other Christ-followers allow us to join together as we battle the tempter.

Sweet friend, I challenge you to be aware of your surroundings.  Be prepared and vigilant for the fight against satan!  And remember, God always gets the victory!

~Erin

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