Financial Management Lessons

There’s an elderly couple who each have new vehicles plus new recreational vehicles.  Awesome for them.  I hope I’m financially savvy enough & hip-to-the-jive in my 70s or 80s to want a new car.  

The problem is that they are financing all of the items.  After monthly minimums are paid, they have very little left over and often can’t pay to heat or cool the house.  Sometimes is challenging to even purchase food to fill their bellies.   The local church and neighbors help extensively with small chores and tasks, as well as filling gas tanks and getting groceries.  

This is a beautiful example of generosity and of the kindness of others to care for this elderly couple.  It’s “do unto others…” and “love your neighbor…” in practice.  

There is also a reminder in this scenario about financial management. Jesus spoke frequently about how we should manage our money.  Who knew that the New Testament is filled with financial management lessons!?!?!?!?

1. Finances Are a Test of Our Trustworthiness

Most of us hate the idea that we’re being tested daily based on our thoughts, words, and actions.  But our finances can be boiled down to yet another test.  In Luke 16:11, we see that if we can’t be trusted with our worldly wealth, then it’s difficult to believe we can be trusted with Christ’s true riches.

So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? ~Luke 16:11 (NIV)

In visiting scripture concerning the Parable of the Talents, we are able to see the test of finances, as Jesus described them.  The parable tells of a supervisor who trusts finances with three different employees…essentially to see how they will react to the management of money.  Each employee was given a different amount of money: five talents, three talents, one talent.  The man with the most success ended up doubling his money, while the man with the least, buried his thinking saving was good enough.  The manager took the one talent back and gave it to the man who was able to make money with wise investments.  

The test was to see how they managed the money.  God will also test us in order to gauge what else we can be trusted with; perhaps once tested we’ll be trusted with ministry positions, adoptions, Gospel sharing or countless other things.

2. Financial Management Must Include Making a Budget

It may come a surprise that Jesus gave us instructions about creating a budget…and staying with it.  In Luke chapter 14, we see the example of budgeting with estimates of final costs when investing in a new building.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ ~Luke 14:28-30 (NIV).

God does not want his children to be in a scenario where we can’t finish what we’ve started due to poor planning.  We must be financially responsible to plan our purchases, our investments, and our long-term projects.  

You could argue that the design and execution of a budget is an extension of the test regarding our finances.  If we are able to budget, as well as manage money, we should be trustworthy enough to manage God’s true wealth.

You can purchase new vehicles, go on fabulous vacations, purchase wonderful gifts, and have nice items in your life.  However, those items need to be within your individual budget and managed appropriately.  

~Emily

11 Pills

There’s this moment where you feel as if you’re the only one that has ever gone through this.  And that moment lasts for days, weeks, maybe months.  No one ever talks about it.  Maybe because you feel it’s not your story to tell.  Maybe because you feel embarrassed.  Maybe because you’re afraid you’ll be judged. But those thoughts couldn’t be further from the truth.  So here I am, ready to break this stigma wide open, because it needs to be done.  Particularly in the Christian community.  And I share it with the full support of Peyton.

On March 6th of this year, my sweet Peyton tried to kill herself.  Even writing it now makes me cry.  I never thought I’d be the parent who wrote those words.  But my daughter was so overwhelmed that she felt like the best option was to go to sleep and never wake up.  So she filled her small hand with pills, downed them with a glass of water and laid down. 

She has absolutely zero recollection of waking up about an hour later.  She has no memory of trying to go to the bathroom and talking to us…or attempting to.  She doesn’t recall the next hour of her dad and I trying to talk to her, putting her in the shower to see if she would be coherent, and us searching her room for the alcohol or drugs we were sure we would find.  

We thought she was drunk or high.  She’d sleep it off.  While I was going through her phone to see how she’d gotten the stuff, I made the single biggest mistake I think I’ll ever make in my life.  I opened her phone’s internet browser and I saw her search history, “How much amitriptyline do I take to overdose.”  And I thought, “WHAT A RANDOM THING TO LOOK UP.  NOT MY KID.” If it had been a neon sign, it would’ve blinded me and I still don’t think I would’ve acknowledged it.  Instead, I just kept looking for where she got the alcohol or drugs.

She laid in the living room on the couch asleep while I laid down on the love seat beside her, checking her throughout the night.

When she woke up the next morning, she was completely disoriented and didn’t understand why she was in the living room.  I looked at her and asked if she felt ok.  She said yes and just sat there for a moment before she looked up at me with tears in her eyes.

“Can I tell you something without you getting mad?” 

I said, “Tell me.”

“I tried to kill myself last night.” And she started to cry.

What we had witnessed was my daughter’s body reacting to an overdose.  Miraculously, despite my willful ignorance to her Google search, she survived.

When you’re going through a tremendously painful time like an attempted suicide, you’re not really sure who to call or talk to.  Which one of your friends will understand?  Who is going to judge you or your kid?  Who’s going to pray, and not just pray in passing but pray the host of heaven down on your child to heal her physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?  Who’s going to treat your child differently?  Who’s going to treat YOU differently?

There’s such a stigma attached to mental health and it can feel embarrassing.  But as Chris and I walked through the next 6 days of a trip to the ER followed by some inpatient time for Peyton on an adolescent psychiatric unit, we found out we weren’t the only ones.  We knew a surprising number of people who did or were going through the exact thing we were. 

It’s been two months since her attempt, and it’s been a process to work through healing for her as well as for us.  We find that the more candid we are with Peyton about what happened and what her feelings are currently, the more she feels ok to open up when she struggles.  We can’t put her in a protective bubble (which, believe me, I’d love to do) but we can ensure that we’re walking WITH her during this.  She now knows that she’s not alone in this fight because her entire family is here to fight with her.  In turn, this has allowed her to be very open about her mental health and attempted suicide with others.  She wants to know that her miraculous gift of failure in that attempt will help someone reach out before their attempt is a permanent consequence.

My walk with God is even more important than just walking with Peyton.  As a Christian mother, I know that God is bigger than trauma, than hurts, than depression.  He is bigger than the lies the devil tells her. 

These two verses are ones that I’ve held strong to since March.

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you;

And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,

Nor will the flame burn you.” –Isaiah 43:2

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33

I know that God is with us.  He sees her and He loves her.  And though there is a fight going on in her head and in her heart, He has not left her to fight this alone.  In fact, He wishes to fight on her behalf.  He wants to fight on my behalf.  I praise God that even though the world is often too invested in ‘self,’ He is invested in US.

If you are struggling with this in your home, please, I beg you, know that you are not alone.  Not only do you have a Heavenly Father who is 100% for you, you have friends here at the Iron Porch who understand and have walked in this valley, as well.  There is no judgment here.  There is no stigma here.  There is the love of a Savior and friends who stand with you.

~Erin

**If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.** 

Sweet Home Alabama

Last week I spent several days with my Mom going through my Dad’s belongings after he died.  After a few days of sorting items and helping Mom with paperwork that follows a death, I realized I really wanted to go home.  I love my Mom and I love hanging out with her.  But I wanted to be home.  Home to my husband, my child, & my pup.  It’s taken seven years, but at some point over those years Alabama became home.

I’ve been thinking about home in relationship to our walk with God.  I’ve heard sermons that reference the statement “this is our earthly home, but heaven is our eternal home.” I’d venture to guess most of us think of heaven as our true home.  It got me thinking about if there are other aspects of being a Christian where we feel that we are at home.

There are times that I feel great peace with the Lord when I’m praying, singing worship music, or journaling.  Other times, I feel that connection to the Lord while admiring nature or fellowshipping with other believers.  I even feel the love of the Lord while I study His Word.  

In Hebrews 3:4 (NASB) we read, “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” 

God, the builder of all things, has made us a home.  In John 14, Jesus told us that he will go before us and prepare a room in the mansion of his Father’s house.  I can’t wait to see that mansion.  I can’t wait to see the room for me that was prepared by Jesus himself. I can’t wait to be home.  

Here’s the reality.  I can feel peace, connection, or love during aspects of my Christian walk but I’m not truly home until I reach heaven.  Heaven.  Our true home.  

Even if Sweet Home Alabama is the temporary one.

~Emily

Care for the Widows

Losing a parent is a roller coaster of emotions.  

My Dad died on Saturday morning and I felt like it was a chaotic series of ups and downs.  Joy that he was finally pain free.  Sadness for the loss.  Relief that my Mom doesn’t have to be the primary caretaker anymore.  Anxiety over all the paperwork.  Annoyance that the screen door was broken by the Funeral Home employees.  Amusement that the 1st visitor from my parents’ church brought lemon muffins and toilet paper.  

I’m not worried about my Dad. He’s home with Jesus. Not a darn thing for me to worry about there. 

But I am concerned about my Mom.  She’s got plans to create a craft room and start going to water aerobics.  She wants to shampoo the carpets and purchase a new couch.  From a grieving perspective, she’s got a healthy thought process about staying in the house for at least a year before she makes big life-changing plans.  She’s going to keep herself busy…and she’s going to get some rest.

I’m most concerned about when the sun sets.  When she has to go to bed alone after having slept in the same bed with her husband for 52 years.  I’m concerned about her finances as she waits for Social Security to transfer over.  I’m concerned about when she has to go to the funeral home alone to pick up paperwork.  I’m concerned about her safety, her sanity, her well-being.  

How can I be so assured about where my Dad is, but be so concerned about my Mom’s well-being?  It’s a sliding graph of hypocrisy to trust God with my Dad’s eternity, but question my Mom’s earthly care as a widow.  

Scripture has helped these last few days with answering those questions.  

“A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation.  God makes a home for the lonely…” ~Psalm 68:5-6

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress…” ~James 1:27 

“Learn to do good;  Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” ~Isaiah 1:17

When I turn to scripture, I’m comforted and know that God will take care of my Mom better than I ever could.  God has already put in place a plan for us, as believers, to care for the widows and the orphans.  From across the country, I will rest assured her church family will care for her when I geographically can’t.  

Losing a parent is such a hard rollercoaster, but so is caring for the parent left behind.  

I’m requesting prayers this week for all the widows of the world, but most especially for those who are newly titled “widow.”

~Emily

Puppy Dog Eyes

Our pup, Winnie, is a 5-month-old cutie pie!  She’s a little chocolate lab that’s so full of energy and mischief.  The one thing Chris doesn’t allow our older lab, Ruger, to do is get on the furniture.  But do you know how hard it is to keep a puppy off a couch?!

About 4 weeks ago, Winnie learned how to jump on the bed.  It’s a high jump, so we were really surprised!  Chris walked into the room, stopped in shock and told me to come take a look.  He sternly looked at her and said, “Winnie, you know you’re not allowed on the bed.  Get down!”

Do you know how hard it is to ignore a puppy gaze?!  That little dog looked up through her tiny eyelashes with the sweetest puppy-dog stare, and Chris completely caved.  That dog is sleeping on our bed now, and I have absolutely no room because Winnie doesn’t understand personal space!

I wonder how often we try to give God those same innocent puppy-dog eyes when we’re doing something that we know is a sin and/or out of the will of God.  We view it a “small” sin.  Perhaps we believe that as long as that thing we’re doing isn’t hurting anyone else, it isn’t a big deal.  Maybe we justify it because we know, at the end of the day, God is a loving God and “He understands.”

Is that really, though, what the Bible says? I don’t think so.

“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” –James 4:17

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” –Romans 3:23

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” –1 John 1:8

God does not fall for the puppy-dog eyes the way we do.  He isn’t happy when we give Him the little stare that says, “I’m know I’m wrong, but You love me anyway so I can get away with it, right?!”

The truth is, God DOES love us no matter what.  But He hates sin.  There is no middle ground when it comes to sin.  Disobedience is exactly that…disobedience.

Praise God that we have a forgiving God.  Rather than coming with the mentality of Him looking the other way or ignoring it, our posture should be one of repentance and prayer, asking for forgiveness.  This will keep that sin from festering and instead, make us whole again in our relationship with our Savior.

He promises us in 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

We thank you, Lord, for your unfailing love and grace.

~Erin

Peyton and Winnie

Get on the Train…or Get Out of the Way

Last week I had a dream where a lady from my previous church was with her husband at a table across from mine at a charity luncheon.  In front of several people she leaned over and told me that she was sick and tired of reading my blogs on Iron Porch and that I should figure out what to do with my life.  In the dream I was shocked, as I imagine I would be in real life. I calmly told her she could easily unfollow the blog.  In my dream, I then said, “or you could write a guest blog about why you are so tired of reading other people’s blogs.”

I gave her two choices: stop reading the blog or help contribute to it.  

This was a leadership lesson that I learned early in my military career.  Get on the train (and help) or get out of the way (and stop complaining). 

In the Bible we see countless examples of complaining and grumbling.  Martha complains to Jesus about Mary.  In the Old Testament there’s complaining to Moses and Aaron.  The Disciples complain about all the riff-raff waiting for a millisecond to chat with Jesus (that was a total “Emily” paraphrase!). Even the Psalmist in Psalm 55:17 (NASB) stated, “Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and moan, and He will hear my voice.” 

All these complainers need to consider getting out of the way of the train.

Instead, what would happen if they got on the train? If they helped those in need? If they started expressing gratitude for God’s blessings in their lives? If they started sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Think about the impact they could have on the kingdom!!!

We have guidance to help us pray for one another and become hospitable to each other, which is us choosing to “get on the train.” 

What if we followed Galatians 6:2 (NASB), “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”  And what if we were able to “contribute to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” as seen in Romans 12:13 (NASB).  Would we be better equipped to pray for others? Would we know their needs before they had to ask for help?

Perhaps if we choose to get on the train, we’d be able to live out 1 Peter 4:9…while choosing to not get out of the way with our complains.   “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” ~1 Peter 4:9 (NASB)

Each day we get these choices. You can “stop doing” or you can “help contribute.”   Regardless of the circumstances of your choices to “get on the train or get out of the way,” they are yours to make.  I’ll be praying this week that you have peace with your choice.

~Emily

The Wind That Blows

My office has a large window that looks out into the woods behind my house.  It’s windy today, and I’ve been watching the wind blow the trees back and forth as the weather gears up for what could be a big storm tonight.  The very tall and thin trees sway in the breeze, and it’s actually beautiful to watch…as long as you don’t think about the damage they could do if the wind caught it just right and knocked it over a little too close to my house!

God uses nature as lessons in the Bible a lot.  The wind is spoken of often, and since Table 8 (my Monday night Bible study) is studying James, chapter 1, verse 6 immediately came to mind; “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

The Bible speaks to our belief in our Creator.  We don’t want to be blown about as we seek God.  We want to be confident in who He is and what He does.  We should know that His promises to us are good and true and pure.  He has the best plan for us, the best future. 

The wind can cause great damage when we are not firmly rooted in the truth and knowledge that is God.  We should be sure of His character and not be tossed about by the winds of uncertainty and sin.  We need to firmly root ourselves in Him.  That involves a personal relationship with Him.  It involves reading God’s Word, ceaselessly praying, involving ourselves in a community of believers.  All of those actions allow us to plant deep.  When the wind comes and sways us back and forth, we can be confident that the roots are deep enough and our faith strong enough to withstand the potential storm.

I pray, Iron Porch, that we root ourselves deep in Jesus Christ so that the wind, though it staggers us back and forth, knows no power over our Heavenly Father.

~Erin

Bad Luck Bananas

During a recent fishing trip, my son and husband told me I brought bad luck to the boat because I had some Mike & Ikes in my bag that were banana flavored.  They said it could cause them to not catch any fish, for someone to fall overboard, or even for the motor to quit working.  I thought they were joking with me. 

No.  Apparently they were not joking around.  Apparently in the world of anglers, it’s bad luck to have a banana on board.  Being the social historian that I am, I dug in to research the origins of this fishing superstition.  

Some believe the superstition originated in the 1700s because bananas would float to the surface of a ship wreck. Others argue that bananas, which are quick to ripen, ferment, and rot, would cause fires in the boats of the 1700s and 1800s. Another thought is that bananas are a delicacy to both spiders and termites, which anglers would not want on their fishing vessels (especially in the early years of primarily wooden boats).  Some even believe it’s just because they become super smelly or the peels become a slipping hazard.

Regardless of how it came to be a superstition, it’s a real thing.  So much so that some boat owners won’t even allow Banana Boat sunscreen on their property…or even banana flavored chewy candies!!!

It made me start to think about how completely routine driven and superstitious fishermen are in 2022…and if they were that superstitions during the time Jesus walked the earth.  

Fishing during New Testament times was labor intensive and did not involve the rod, reel and lures we know today.  Rather, they would have cast nets from the boat or the shoreline (see Matthew 17:24-27). Cast, Cast, Cast, Repeatedly.  Until they caught enough fish.  By today’s CrossFit standards, that would be quite the shoulder workout!

Any given superstition is a belief that actions, which are not related to another task, could be altered by an action, belief, or object.  It’s thought to change our luck in some regard.  And in Biblical times, they would probably have had some superstitions.  They likely had a preferred day or method to mend the nets.  Maybe they had a favored side of the boat to throw the nets off or maybe they had thoughts on how many people could be on a boat on any given day. 

The Bible cautions us about superstitious behavior as a means of idolatry.  For instance, in 1 Kings 18:20-40, Elijah diligently explores the foolishness of superstitious beliefs.  Furthermore, he challenges the priests of Baal to articulate the realness of their god verses the One True God.  Paul also cautioned against superstitious behavior with “little g gods” lest the audience become confused about what our Lord was requiring of us in followership.  

Clearly these are two examples dealing with worship of idols and ultimately where one would spend eternity, which is much more serious than if a boat motor would quit or one wouldn’t catch fish for the day.  The superstitions are real…but one is very serious…and the other seems more jovial.  

I’d urge the readers on the Iron Porch to use discernment this week about superstitions.  Are they playing a serious role in your life?  A fun-loving jovial role in your life? Or no role at all?  

And for goodness sake…don’t plan on bringing banana bread on your next fishing expedition!

~Emily

Tribute to a Student

This past Tuesday, Peyton and I attended the funeral of a young 16-year-old boy she went to school with.  Gardner was actually one of the first few people she met when she started at the high school, and he stood out as a larger-than-life presence.  The town and surrounding area is reeling from the loss of such a vibrant young man.  So many knew and loved him.  And at 16, he had already begun to create a legacy.

Between a vigil that we attended last Thursday following his accident and his funeral this week, many people had a chance to stand and speak about him.  Do you know what the one thing that every single person who spoke, from the high school students to the adults, said about him?

He loved Jesus.  “Jesus was his best friend.”  “He wanted people to know about Jesus.”  “He lived like Jesus.” “He was feeling called to be in ministry.”  “There wasn’t anyone that Gardner didn’t make feel at home.”  “Everyone felt like they were his best friend.” “His joy was infectious.”  “He wanted everyone to know how they could know God.”

What was said over and over again spoke to the fact that Gardner lived his salvation and belief in the Lord out loud for all to see.  It made me wonder if my salvation and belief in the Lord is as obvious to everyone as Gardner’s was.

I don’t presume to try to make it a contest between believers about who best represents God.  We all know Jesus had a hard enough time with the disciples wanting to figure out who was the best.  But what a living example of the Bible we had right before our eyes in this young man!

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” –1 Timothy 4:12

Your light must shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” –Matthew 5:16

We are consistently reminded to be the salt and the light, that we are to take care of the least of these, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And often we got caught up in our own day to day lives, forgetting about the people around us that need to see what God’s love looks like. 

I’m praying that as I move about the days and the weeks to come, that I’m reminded of Gardner Cameron and the legacy he left behind.  I’m encouraging everyone that’s reading to reach out to people, smile and talk to them, share about Jesus with someone. 

And if someone reading this doesn’t know Jesus, we encourage you to reach out to Iron Porch or to a local pastor or friend that knows what it means to be saved. We would love for you to know what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  It would be the best decision of your life.

Thank you, Gardner, for the beautiful example you have left for us.  It’s a legacy we’ll never forget.

~Erin

Psalm 63

There are days when we can barely hang on.  Those are the days we have to lean on God the most.  Trust in God requires our whole heart.  Tonight, I’m leaning heavily on this chapter in the Bible.  I have no other words.  Just scripture that tells me to hold on to Jesus with every fiber of my being.  Perhaps one of you need this, as well, today.  I pray it comforts you and reminds you that God is our strength.

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory. 

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You. 

So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. 

My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. 

When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, for You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. 

My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. 

But those who seek my life to destroy it, will go into the depths of the earth. 

They will be delivered over to the power of the sword; They will be a prey for foxes. 

But the king will rejoice in God; everyone who swears by Him will glory, for the mouths of those who speak lies will be stopped. –Psalm 63

Remember, dear friends, even in the times of hurt and despair, we praise God for what will be a victory in the outcome.

~Erin