The Back & Forth Gifts

My Mom had her 70th birthday this last week and was once again the recipient of “The Card.”  It’s a tradition between my Mom and my Aunt that is decades old.  One sent the other a birthday card that had an implication that the card was recycled.  The other, thinking they were being coy about the recycling reference, saved the card until the next birthday. So on, and so on for decades.  The card started to fall apart, so they created a more permanent Linus cardholder, but continued writing birthday notes year after year.  The card got heavier and heavier to send so there are occasional gaps in the years where they agreed to stop sending the card in an effort to save on postage.  And when they were least expecting it…the card showed up again on a birthday.

Much like “The Card” between my mom and her sister, Iron Porch has a smacking doll that gets additions year after year.  The doll is sent between Erin and me when the other is least expecting it.  The additions are hysterical to us…and probably only us.  There’s a crazy-ill-fitting-camo dress, a little pink kitty cat, a yellow purse filled with memorabilia, a hard hat from when we went to Florida after Hurricane Michael, and recently added a COVID-19 mask of protection.

While I thought that my mom and I had this super-secret transfer between co-conspirators, I recently was told by a dear friend at church that she also had a back and forth gift.  One year at a white elephant event she battled another gal for a candy dish with cinnamon candies.  She lost.  But received it soon after from the winner as a gift.  They passed it back and forth as wedding gifts and other marked occasions multiple times. I didn’t ask her, but I assume they added new candy each time they passed the gift.

I present to you three examples of women passing a gift back and forth.  Occasion to occasion.  Year after year.  All in a means to acknowledge a special relationship and have detailed memories associated with a particular object (ie: card, doll, or candy dish).

Instead of the occasion by occasion sharing of a tangible item, we shared a piece of God each day? What if day by day, we shared a prayer with those closest to us? What if we shared a scripture with one another? What if it was simply a smile or a kind word?

What if we made each other a priority in an eternal way?

Scripture gives us a model of friendship, not between two women, but rather two men: Jonathan and David.  Jonathan was heir to the throne of Israel, as his father was King Saul.  In 1 Samuel 14: 6-15, we see that he is a man of action and ready to challenge the Philistines from a military perspective.  The Israelites, and specifically Saul, were terrified of the mounting Philistine army and the giant, Goliath, who was sent in to end the conflict.

And then a shepherd boy shows up and takes the challenge (hence the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17).  At that point, it’s easy for us to see how the friendship between David and Jonathan blossomed. They both acted and had courage despite the odds being against them.  They both had faith in God’s power and experienced deliverance in battle.  They were great leaders with integrity and loyalty.

In 1 Samuel 18:1-4 (NASB) it states, “Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved his as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the rode that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.”

You see, Jonathan loved David as himself.  They were dear friends.  Because of that friendship, Jonathan gave David his gifts.  More than just the tangible gifts of his robe and his armor.  Jonathan gave David the acknowledgment that this was the man God had chosen to be Israel’s king.  Jonathan loved David as we can only hope friends will love us.

True friendship with true giving and with an eternal impact.  Back and forth, year after year, occasion after occasion…or an acknowledgment of God’s work in their lives.

From the Iron Porch, I pray that you each have some type of “Back & Forth Gift” this week!

~Emily

The Back & Forth Gifts copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tripping Hazards

Have you ever tripped and fallen?  I’m not talking a little misstep.  I’m talking about the full-on-fall to the ground type of trip.  Have you ever experienced that?

This last Saturday morning, I got to experience that very thing.  As I was walking with a group of ladies in the streets of Birmingham to attend the Connecting Ministry Conference, I misstepped on a lower portion of asphalt and went crashing to the ground.  While flying through the air, time stalled. I literally thought “please don’t let my jeans rip, please don’t let my coffee splash on anyone else, please don’t let my purse get scratched.”spilled coffee

And down I went.  Smackdown on my bad knee.  I managed to bloody up both palms, twisted my ankle, and bruise my knee pretty good.

I also managed to startle my group.  Imagine this…I’m at the back of the group when I conducted my solo-ballet performance. However, a city worker saw my antics and came running towards our group (as though he was going to make it super-speed and catch me).  As I went down, Erin felt me brush across her hip and she immediately thought I was trying to move her out of harm’s way.

As I’m on the ground in the middle of the street in downtown Birmingham, the rest of the group turned and assumed their appropriate friendship roles.  They each assessed the scene for danger, but it was more than that….they each played a specific role.

Cheryl, the founder of the ministry hosting the conference event, immediately starts asking if I’m okay and what she can do to help.  Carrie, our prayer team leader, immediately cried out for some heavenly assistance.  Janice, the mama bear of the group, immediately tried to start helping me up.  Erin, the best friend, asked if I was okay, took my purse, and then started laughing at me.  (Okay, she didn’t really laugh right then…but she did later!)

Sometimes falling into sin looks similar to me tripping in the street.  We don’t see the danger of sin ahead of us and it “sneaks up” on us. It jumps up and grabs us when we are least expecting it.  It pulls us down…sometimes quickly…sometimes as though time stalls so we can really think through the impacts of the sinful behavior.

Each of us needs to surround ourselves with women who will assume specific roles when we trip into sinful behavior.  We need a friend who will ask if we’re okay and try to help. We need those who cry out to Heaven on our behalf.  We need the one helping us up. And we need the closest confidant, who will hold our purse and will later laugh with us when the situation is over.

That circle of ladies, who each assumes a role, are the ones that help us live a more Christ-like life.  They hold us accountable while praying with us and assisting us with recovery.

I love those ladies who each assumed their roles when I fell on my hands and knees in the streets of a big city.  I love them more, knowing that they would each assume similar roles if they saw me trip into sin.

~Emily

“…remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” ~James 5:20 (NIV)

 

 

 

 

Time of Their Lives

On the end of the fishing pier, there were about 20 adolescent boys fishing their hearts out.  There was no talk of school projects or grades.  No talk of girls.  No talk of parents or problems at home.  Just teenage boys razzing each other and slinging fishing rods over the Atlantic Ocean. Every day for the entire summer they were planning to meet at this pier at sunrise and wait for parents to pick them up at sunset.  They were having the time of their lives.

When was the last time you had the time of your life?  Hanging out with friends?  No cares in the world? When was the last time you had the time of your life in your Christian walk?

While in High School, I had the time of my life every summer for a week at church camp. Started the mornings with a nature walk chat with God and prayer time in small groups followed by group Bible Studies in between playing in the pool during the days, ending with worship songs and smores around a campfire in the evenings.  Learning the Word and praising God, while hanging out with my closest friends in the foothills of Mt. Hood, Oregon.

When we’re having the time of our lives, do we even recognize it? Do we know we’re in a moment that won’t ever be recreated? Do those boys know that they are living their best lives getting tan and fishing with one another every day of the summer? Did I know that I was having the time of my life at a summer church camp?

In the months leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, did the disciples know that they were in a space of time with Christ that could never be recreated? Did they recognize the miracles, the travel, the teachings, even the rebuking for what it was? It was the time of their lives.

They may have missed it.  Just like the boys on the fishing pier this summer.  Just like me at summer camp.

As summer becomes fuller with activities, I’m praying that you are taking a moment to recognize what is happening around you. Are you living in a moment where you are having the time of your life?

~Emily

Fishing

The Influencing Friends

Through the years, I’ve been blessed with friends from all over the world.   These friends have explored new cultures with me, traveled with me, drank with me, held me while I cried, celebrated life with me, and prayed with me. I truly have been blessed and touched by each of their roles in my life.

Three friends stand out as being the largest influences over my life.

The 1st is Lindy, who was my very first best friend.  We met at age three and lived two houses apart so we played together often. She had the most amazing collection of Barbie dolls, but my mom didn’t want me playing with her dolls because I had a horrible habit of biting the feet of barbies (yes, you read that correctly…I used to bite the barbie’s feet).   Lindy is the friend who taught me about sharing, about compromise, and about truthfulness.

The 2nd is Linina, who became my closest friend in the 7th grade.  We were inseparable for the next six years and I can’t imagine how I would have done High School without her.  We shared every teenage secret, church camp, wintergreen gum, and heartache over boys.  Linina is the friend who taught me about Christ’s unfailing love, about loyalty, about perseverance, and about loss.

The 3rd is Erin, who became my prayer partner mid-way through my military career.  While we lived in the same city for a short period of time, our daily phone calls for the last ten years have enhanced my life.  We stood by one another as relationships crumbled, as children grew, and our love for God became the center of our friendship.  Erin is the friend who taught me about strength, about growing, and about contentment.

As I look back on my life at these three stages of besties, I’m reminded that scripture tells us we will have similar stages of spiritual growth.

Infancy

As an infant/young child, we are just beginning our walk with the Lord.  1 Peter 2:2     relates that we are like newborn babies who desire the milk of the Word.  It’s essentially a developmental phase where we are learning about our new Christian walk.

In the flesh, a newborn is completely dependent on a caretaker.

In the spiritual, the newborn Christian must be taught how to study and read the Bible because there isn’t a developed ability to ‘feed themselves.’

I saw this phase distinctly with Lindy, as three-year old’s, embarking on our first friendships where we were being taught the principles and boundaries of friendship.

Adolescence

Maturing into adolescence, the Christian has a strong faith in God and has learned about prayer and fasting.  While spiritually strong, there is often a lack of maturity at this stage.  1 John 2:14 states, “I have written unto you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the wicked one.” This stage is about learning submission and patience, rather than knowledge.

In the flesh, a teenager is knowledgeable and able to care for themselves, but they can be prone to missteps in decision making based on their experience levels.

In the spiritual, the adolescent Christian must practice restraint and continue to seek guidance from authorities.

As teenagers, I saw this phase in my friendship with Linina, when we thought we knew it all but still need to submit to the authority of our parents.  It was a season of becoming stronger in friendship and holding one another accountable, while still relying on guidance from wiser Christians.

Adulthood

In our Christian walks, maturity brings the realization that heaven is not our goal, but rather it is our destiny.  Our goal is to live as close as possible to the example provided by Jesus.  This includes continued growth in our personal relationship with God, as well as loving our neighbors deeply.  Paul reiterated this when he wrote, “..for me to live is Christ…” (Philippians 1:21), which is indicating that from his own conversion until his martyrdom, everything he did was to advance the gospel and bring glory to Jesus.

In the flesh, an adult is comfortable with continued learning but is often the one sought for advice.

In the spiritual, the adult Christian strives to meet believers and non-believers, in order to enhance everyone’s knowledge of the Bible and the gift of salvation. During this stage, there is conscious effort to win souls for the Kingdom.

I have seen the adult phase develop over the last decade, as my friendship with Erin has grown. This has been a season of building relationships and Iron Porch, as a space to share the gospel.

I can clearly track my spiritual growth through these phases, as well as in my friendships. I’m still friends with all three of these lovely ladies; Lindy, Linina, and Erin (obviously, Erin).  These three ladies influenced my “being” more than any others.

One started me on learning what friendship meant, one taught me about Christ’s love, and one has studied with me on how to bring Christ to the center of a friendship.

Each of those friendships is a reflection of the women influencing “Emily” and a reflection of the stages of a Christian’s development.

Come to the porch and share who has been influencing your development…

~Emily

The Influencing Friends

 

 

When Liars Become A Distraction

The enemy engages with us when we are least expecting it.  Often the enemy uses those around us to “get into” our head.  Occasionally, the circumstances seem genuine. Sometimes red flags are raised.  That’s how spiritual warfare works…sometimes subtly and other times overtly.

A “friend,” who I hadn’t heard from in years, contacted me via social media. This is a woman who I have had a challenging past with.  It’s also someone who thinks she has a vested interest in knowing about my life. Furthermore, it’s a gal who is very much into pagan paths of spiritualism.

Despite that past and her religious thinking, I wanted to believe the best of her intentions.   I chatted via emails over the course of a couple days.  Then she wrote something about one of her recent accomplishments, but it just didn’t make any sense to me.  I asked several questions, to which she had some interesting answers that also didn’t sound right.

God bless my Spidey-senses. God bless the Google-machine.  God bless a best friend who listened to my thoughts, helped investigate, and agreed with my assessment.  I reached the conclusion that her story was false. It was a farce. An untruth.

This seems like a fairly small and possibly benign daily encounter.  Except it interrupted my day. It took up space in my mind.  It made me question her motives.  And it frankly took time away from my family and my own endeavors.

Satan wants our minds to be cluttered with nonsense so that we lose focus on what is most important to us. I could have been reading with my son, exercising, cooking, or studying.  Instead, I was surfing the internet to investigate this woman’s claims.

A subtle form of spiritual warfare.

Exodus 23:1 (NIV) states, “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.”

What can you do if there is a liar in your midst that is causing a distraction?

  1. Pray. There’s nothing better than prayer to calm a troubled heart or mind. Bring the situation to the Lord and allow Him to work on your behalf.  When we bring our angst to the Lord, He opens our eyes and our ears to truth.
  2. Create Distance. This may require a few days away from the individual. It may require a social media break. It may require a complete severing of the relationship. Distance allows us to evaluate a situation and it allows us time to spend with the Lord.
  3. Evaluate Yourself. Ensure that you reflect on your role in the situation or scenario. Have you encouraged or discouraged behavior?  Perhaps there is nothing you have done…perhaps there was.  God will help you with that self-reflection and the conclusions you come to.

I don’t need a false friend, nor do I want to condone untruths.  Yet, I didn’t want to assist the negativity by confronting her or escalating the situation.  I didn’t want to become a malicious witness.  I simply deleted the conversation.  I blocked the individual on social media.

This scenario is one small example of how we can discern if the interaction is glorifying to God.  Or if it’s one that the enemy is using to distract us.  I choose to be focused and undistracted.

I pray that God continues to allow the gift of discernment to work in my life. I pray it works in your life as well.

~Emily

Liars

 

 

Peezing

For over a year, I’ve been peeing a little every time I sneeze.  My husband and I have begun calling it “peezing” and he finds it quite hilarious when I run for the bathroom after a good sneeze.

My peezing is starting to creep into laughter now. During a boisterous card game with the girls after a women’s conference, I had to make a mad dash to the restroom due to the peezing-laughter. These girls, my closest friends, whooped it up when I can back into the room with new PJ bottoms on!

Boo-Hiss to the terrible 40s and my weakening bladder!!!

The reality is that peezing is annoying, but the connections I have with my circle of friends are anything but.  I’m content that I have close friends where I can be transparent about what’s going on in my life.  I can tell some of these ladies anything and they will drop everything to pray with me or support me.  They will call me out on my garbage and hold me accountable to the commitments I’ve made. They strengthen me. They uphold me. They walk with me, as I walk with Jesus.

The truth is that reliable friends are hard to find.  People often talk about how they could support you, but their actions do not always support their words.  Likewise, we may not always approve of the decisions or actions our friends are exhibiting, but we can always be an encourager in the ways of God. Reliability coupled with transparency makes a formula for a stronger friendship.

Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?~Proverbs 20:6 (NLT)

Many a person proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy person?~Proverbs 20:6 (CSB)

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?                ~Proverbs 20:6 (NIV)

Most men will proclaim everyone his own goodness, but a faithful man who can find?~Proverbs 20:6 (KJV)

Whether you are being transparent about serious situations and prayer requests or it’s a silly card game that leads to peezing-laughter…we need friendships to bolster us.

Who is your go-to friend for prayer?

Who is your go-to friend for accountability?

Who do you consider to be the most reliable?

Come to the porch and tell us who is walking with you and Jesus!

~Emily

The Hands and Feet: Isaiah 58 Ministries

In a small town of Alabama, an amazing group of ladies is acting as the hands and feet of Christ.  They are touching women’s hearts every single day. They are spreading the gospel through actions…through love.  They are making an impact for the Kingdom.

For the last five years, these ladies have met faithfully three times a week to pack suitcase for women who are leaving prison. You ask, “Packing suitcases?!?!?”

Yes, packing suitcases.  In fact, they pack 80-100 suitcases a month!!!

Isaiah 58 ministries collects gently used, as well as brand new clothes and toiletries to pack into suitcases for women who are gaining freedom from a prison or are facing a crisis, such as domestic violence or a house fire.  These women, many of whom have absolutely nothing to their name, are given several outfits to start their new life of freedom, as well as some basic hygiene products.  If the donations support, these newly released women are given non-essential items too, such as jewelry, perfume, or purses.  The suitcases also include a Bible and devotions or scriptures.

Obviously, Isaiah 58 ministries is providing tangible items to meet physical needs that each human possesses.  However, there is an intangible component to this ministry. The recently released inmates are able to have a moment, knowing God provided for them.  God is blessing this ministry to provide these items at a time when these women are scared to enter the “real world,” but also excited to be leaving prison behind.

Yet there is another very important component of this ministry.  The women of Isaiah 58 ministry are praying for every single one of these women in prison; for each one that is released and each one that isn’t released. They are praying for the ladies who are facing turmoil through crisis.  They pray for their salvation, as well as for the children and families of the incarcerated. They pray over the suitcases in hopes that this small act of kindness will bring someone closer to a relationship with God.

The blessings of this ministry don’t just extend to the women of prison system and their families. It extends to every single person who volunteers with them…every single person who donates to their cause…to their entire church congregation who supports the ministry by allowing a physical location for storage and processing.  It has become a “sweet sisterhood” of ladies working towards a common goal.

The women of Isaiah 58 ministries are a humble group of gals who will repeatedly tell you that this is all God.  God providing the donations…God providing the mechanism to assist other humans…God’s love being shown to women who may not otherwise know love.

Their words are correct in giving God the glory.

I would contend that their actions also give God the glory.

They have been obeying God’s command of “love one another.”  They are obeying God’s direction to take care of “orphans and widows…and prisoners.” They have literally become the hands and feet of Christ.

As a point to ponder this week, what are you doing in your own life to act as the hands and feet?

~Emily

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” ~Isaiah 58:11 (NIV)

If you have questions about Isaiah 58 Ministries or if you would like to support, please feel free to contact them at I58@santuckbaptist.org

I58 Photo