The Summer of Government Cheese

Have you ever been hungry with no means to get food?  

Have you ever been unable to purchase food for your kids?

I’d venture to guess it’s a hard place to be in, when you are concerned about how to feed yourself and your children.  It seems to me, that Luke 6:30 would be my favored verse if I were in such a situation.

“And He raised His eyes towards His disciples and began saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 (NASB)

Please know that this verse isn’t entirely focused on the status of being poor in the physical sense…it speaks partially to those who are poor are often richer in spiritual matters.  Regardless of the commentary about the verse, it does speak to my heart when I remember what it was like to be in the status of poor.  

There were times in my childhood when my parents needed government assistance to feed our family.  I distinctly remember the packet of tear-out papers, which were food stamps. I remember my mom getting our school lunches at a lower rate.  And one summer, I know that cheese and peanuts arrived at our house, which were stamped “Government Cheese” and “Government Peanuts.”  In all fairness, there could have been other “Government Food,” but I only remember the cheese and nuts.

Why do I remember the government cheese so clearly? Because it was a ginormous block of Velveeta type of cheese, which didn’t melt well, nor would it slice thinly for a sandwich.  It was just a gooey mess….one that gave us much needed calories (even if they were completely processed and fake).  

The peanuts, on the other hand, were as perfect as God intended them. They were blanched, but unsalted.  We ate them plain, in yogurt, mixed with popcorn, in salads, in pasta…we even tried our hand at making homemade peanut butter. That summer of the ‘government cheese,’ I became an expert on making peanut brittle.  I made so much peanut brittle, that I got to a point I didn’t even consult the recipe card. 

In the midst of being poor and my parents receiving assistance, my pre-teen self didn’t even realize we were in dire straits.  

Why?

Perhaps because my parents partially hid it from us.  

Perhaps because it was part of our lives and I didn’t question it.  

Mostly because we were blessed.  Luke 6:20 assures us of that blessing, even in the midst of being poor.  God protected us physically and spiritually.  Even if we hadn’t eaten, we still were assured of our place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

God is good.  All the time.  Even with the government cheese. 

~Emily

Speeding Tickets of Life

Over the weekend, a police officer handed me a ticket for doing 80-mph in a 70-mph zone.  As I pulled away, tears started dripping down my face.  My son, who had been fascinated by the flashing blue lights and had waved with a smile to the 2nd officer that was standing near the back-seat window, was now concerned about my water works.

“Are you sad you got a ticket mama?”

When I answered no to being sad, he continued trying to guess the cause of my tears.  

My tears were ones of frustration. I had a lot on my plate.  I was exhausted, having already driven 9 of the 14.5 hours in order to get home.  It was starting to snow, causing me another level of worry about driving. My husband was another week behind coming home.  Baseball tryouts were being re-scheduled for Monday evening and new cleats/bats/gloves hadn’t been purchased yet.  Laundry and bills to be paid were waiting my arrival home.  

Now, I also had a speeding ticket.  

As I started to search vigilantly for a hotel to stop at, I began reflecting on what that speeding ticket meant.  It became symbolic.  I speed a lot.  If I’m honest and fair, I likely speed every day.  It’s easy for me to nudge up to the speed limit, as well as go over…even if it’s only one or two mph over. 

The kicker is that I don’t get caught every day.  I don’t catch myself, nor does law enforcement. Yet, I know I speed. I know I should try harder to stop speeding. I acknowledge that I deserve the accountability and discipline of a ticket nearly daily.

Sin is like that.  

We often commit sin without even acknowledging that it’s sinful behavior.  Perhaps, we exhibit a particular sinful behavior so frequently that we begin to lose the knowledge that it’s sin. We can go days, months, and even years without being held accountable for those behaviors.  Romans 3:23 states, “…for all of sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”  The longer we go without being called out on it, the easier it is to continue doing the behavior.  

Like speeding. 

This was the 1st speeding ticket I had gotten in the US since 1996; although I did get enough speeding tickets while stationed in Germany, that I actually had my US-European drivers licenses suspended for 30 days (it’s even easier to go super-fast in Germany).   

But this weekend’s speeding ticket was a reprimand for errant behavior.  It was also representative of all the other times I had broken the law by speeding…and hadn’t gotten caught.  

I deserved the ticket.  The tears weren’t ones of sadness that I had gotten caught; rather they were ones of frustration at the situation.

Take a moment this week to ask the Lord to reveal where there is repeated sin in your life so that you can repent before you end up with one of the speeding tickets of life.

~Emily

An Ungraceful Fall

Kalan, my youngest grandson, and I were down on the ground playing in our living room.  I had his toys set up and was truly just enjoying a few moments when I needed to get up so I rolled over to get myself off the floor. 

As I was getting up, my foot stepped on Andros’ larger Power Ranger action figure and it hurt badly enough that my immediate reflex was to pull up.  However, I wasn’t in a fully upright position so what started out as me getting off the floor turned into me falling headfirst toward several metal chairs leaned up against the wall.  Followed by said chairs toppling on top of me.  It was a truly beautiful moment.  I was on the floor, laughing and crying at the same time.  My entire family was asking if I was ok, and I couldn’t even speak.  It wasn’t because I was hurt, but it was this weird combo of knowing how ridiculous I looked combined with the pain of falling into a wall that had me laughing until I couldn’t breathe.  With some effort, Chris finally got me off the floor.

Settled on the couch for a few minutes later, I looked over to Rylan, my son, and asked, “Did I at least look graceful as I fell?”  He immediately started laughing and replied, “Not even a little.”

Falling is never graceful.  I can remember many times where I’ve stumbled and fallen in my walk with God.  I’ve been disobedient to what He has told me and taken a tumble down a path I never should have gone down.  It’s a slippery slope and very easy to do.  I know I’d like to think it was a simple fall, not one that was noticeable, perhaps even a little graceful.

I know now that there isn’t a fall that involves moving away from God that even remotely looks graceful.  When we fall, it’s big.  It’s big because we’re not honoring our relationship with Him.  I’m thankful that He’s a God of many chances, and that despite those ungraceful falls, He still never leaves us.

He tells us in Psalm 37:24, “When he falls, he will not be hurled down, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.”

He doesn’t just let us fall and not get up.  He’s right beside us, holding our hand to lift us back up from the floor, dusting us off, and setting us back on the right path.  I’m thankful He’s willing to forgive me for those sins that have me falling so that I may get back up again.

How about you, dear friends?  Is anyone else grateful that we don’t have to fall down and stay down, no matter how ugly it looks?  Praise God He never leaves us and holds our hand.

~Erin

Confidence Shaken

It is no secret that I’m a bigger girl.  I love food far more than I should and exercise far less than I even care to admit.  The only time you’d ever catch me running is if a bear were chasing me, and if you want some real truth, I’d probably just turn around and accept my fate of being dinner.  It’s way too taxing to exert my energy into exercise.  (Please, to all health-conscious reading this, don’t come for me!)  While sometimes it’s a struggle to think about how heavy I’ve become, it is who I am, and I’m ok with it.  This weekend, however, my confidence was shaken. 

I was shopping for a dress in Birmingham with Emily and my youngest daughter, Peyton.  We went to the mall and hit the first store. I asked the associate if the location we were in had plus size dresses, to which she replied they had a “few” in another location. 

Now, I’m not looking for an entire store full of dresses, but I would’ve loved to have seen more than just six dresses for larger women, and it just didn’t happen.  In fact, every major department store we went to informed me that “IF” they had any, they’d be in whatever section to which they pointed.  Two stores said they had eliminated plus size dresses.  It was disheartening, but I was fine.  Until the last store.

The lady was kind.  And she was caring.  She did absolutely nothing wrong.  When I asked her about whether they carried plus-size dresses she replied, “I’m afraid we don’t.  We should, and I’m sorry about that.”  And it broke me!

I teared up for whatever reason.  She was so sweet, but when she said it, she might as well have said, “Hey fattie, I’m sorry we don’t carry anything big enough for you to fit in.”  The day had chipped away at my self-esteem and when the sales associate told me they “should carry them,” it just made me feel like a failure.

The bible teaches us just the opposite, however.  Powerful words in Psalm remind me that I’m not a failure and that God made me who I am.  Psalm 139:14 says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

God made me and I am beautiful to Him.  While my weight may fluctuate or my skin might wrinkle, what matters is that God formed me to be me, and those traits that society may base opinions on are not what God sees. 

My inner beauty that reflects God’s goodness makes my outer beauty radiant.  And I’d much rather shine from the love of Jesus.  It makes me beautiful!

The feelings I had about myself stung, because I am human.  But when we’re struggling with how society sees us, I encourage you, dear friends, to remember who made you.

You were made in His image, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made!

~Erin

P.S. I found a dress!

Embarrassing Corrections

If you have broccoli in your teeth, TP on your shoe, or a tag sticking up out of your shirt, I’m the kind of girl you want to have nearby. I will not only tell you, I’ll try to help you fix it too.  I would want someone to tell me if I had something going on, so as a young teen I vowed to always tell about something embarrassing that could be corrected. 

Those are easy scenarios for me to tell someone about.  What is hard for me to tell someone is when I think they’ve said or done something wrong.  Specifically, I struggle with telling people when there has been a perceived infraction with fellow Christians.

The Lord doesn’t want us pointing out everyone’s flaws; in fact Jude 1:16 condemns us finding fault with others deliberately.  Nor does scripture allow us to correct fellow Christians based upon second hand knowledge.  However, we are to gently and lovingly correct behavior when it is observed first hand and when the Lord prompts us too.  

Recently, I had to have a conversation with someone about her actions and conversations. I witnessed it first hand and it involved a women’s class that I was facilitating.  It was sooooooo hard for me! I prayed for several days about the situation before I did anything. I wanted to make sure that a) I had God’s authority to correct the behavior and b) I was doing it with the correct motives.  

I literally had to have a pep talk with myself before I called her.  Frankly, I would have rather done anything else than had that conversation.  And yet, the conversation went well and she stated that she didn’t intend harm. It was a productive chat.  

Once the conversation was over, I was relieved that I’d followed God’s lead.  I was glad that I had addressed the conversation privately, as is outlined in Matthew 18:15 (NASB) “Now if your brother sins, go and how him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

Fear of offending or losing a friend/acquaintance often leads us to negate the task of correcting others.  In Proverbs 18:19 (NASB) we see that scripture warns us of rebuking leading to loss, “A brother who is offended is harder to be won than a strong city, And quarrels are like the bars of a citadel.”

When we negate corrective behavior with other Christians, we could be found guilty of sin ourselves.  While some may argue that salvation questions are the only corrective conversation, I would argue that we also need to correct behavior that brings a dark light on God or other Christians.  

What was my deciding factor that lead to a corrective conversation with this gal?  Pray & God.  

After prayerful consideration, I knew it was my obligation as a fellow Christian and as a leader to address the situation, despite how uncomfortable it made me.  

It would have been so much easier for me if she had broccoli in her teeth or toliet paper on her shoe…

Come to the porch this week and tell us about any scenarios where you had to correct someone or you were corrected.

~Emily

The Tongue

I hate embarrassment.  But I hate embarrassment more for someone else than for myself.  I can handle something happening to me that makes me look or feel foolish.  But I can’t stand to see someone else’s awkwardness when they’re uncomfortable.

The comedian roasts they do “for fun?”  I can’t stand to see someone squirm, so those are a no-go on my tv list.  The idea that we can be sarcastic to someone in jest makes me worried that it’s being taken personally and then humiliation ensues.  Emily and I were talking about this today…how it’s funny that it doesn’t bother me to be embarrassed but it bothers me when someone else COULD be embarrassed!

This really made me think tonight about my sarcasm.  I’m sarcastic by nature.  My family loves to throw out one-liners.  My kids do it, too, thanks to me.  But how do words affect others when I speak them?  I know that I feel for others in third- party situations, but how about when I speak them.  We often see someone else’s hurts, but do we pay attention to how our own words can hurt others? 

We’re reminded in the book of James that our tongue, while a little part of the body, can produce great harm when it’s not tamed.  God also tells us many times in the bible that our speech should be glorifying to Him.  It’s meant to be seasoned with salt and full of grace (Colossians 4:6).  When my sarcasm becomes snotty and rude, it fails the test of glory to God, instead bringing to light my irritation with the question or comment being asked.

I’m going to be praying that I rely heavily on Christ to season my speech.  I don’t want to be the person that causes the embarrassment that I hate to see from someone else’s actions.

How about you?  Is this an area in which you struggle?  Let us know down in the comments how we can pray for you.

~Erin

Uncomfortable Moments

This last week, I’ve had a few uncomfortable moments.  There was the afternoon where I got insulation on my forearm, which became an itchy mess. Friday around midnight, I let the dog out and then had to stand outside in my PJs calling for him repeatedly when he wouldn’t come in.  And then today there was the sliding sock in my work boot while I turned the compost piles. 

Each scenario was an uncomfortable moment, that was annoying.

I also get uncomfortable teaching Sunday School.  I start to doubt my abilities to lead the class.  I wonder who will actually show up to class. I worry that someone else will know the lesson better than me. I occasionally feel like I’m not prepared enough. 

Every week, without fail, I have a slight uncomfortable moment as I walk into the Sunday School class.  And every week, without fail, I remind myself that God is in charge of the Sunday School class. It doesn’t matter with someone is in the class that is more knowledgeable than me. It doesn’t matter if one or twenty people come to the class.  It doesn’t matter if I’m prepared or if I have the ability to lead.  God will take care of it.  

There are numerous examples in the Bible of God providing in the aftermath of uncomfortable moments.  Imagine being Jonah in the belly of a whale.  That would have been uncomfortable, but God provided.  Imagine being Lot, realizing your wife just turned to a pillar of salt.  That would have been an uncomfortable moment, but God provided.  Imagine being Eve, having to admit to God what you have eaten.  That would have been an UBER uncomfortable moment, but God provided.  

Here’s the deal—God wants us to step out of our comfort zone and experience that uncomfortable moment.  Why? Because that’s when we are most able to see just HOW He is providing for us!  

Whether it’s itchy insulation, midnight runaway dogs, lazy socks, or teaching Sunday School, each of our uncomfortable moments are a reminder that God will provide.

I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone this week…watch how God provides!!!

~Emily

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” ~Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB)

The Scorpion Sting

Scorpions.  Who actually likes these horrifying creatures?  They are monstrous little pincher-bearing, tail –stinging beasts that make you want to burn your house down.  Never mind that the scorpions native to Alabama are generally about 1-2 inches long.  It’s 1-2 inches too long.

Enter my 16-year-old daughter, Peyton, into this discussion.  Today, as she sat completing school work in the safety and comfort of her bedroom, she noticed something fall from the ceiling to the floor, and for one brief second, she wondered what it could’ve been.  (She told me she actually thought it was a leaf in that brief second…..because we’re growing trees in our house???) 

Now, I wasn’t here to witness this event.  But as Peyton tells it, she leaned towards it.  And it started moving.  Recognizing it as a scorpion, she began screaming bloody murder, grabbed the closest tennis shoe and proceeded to beat it to death, yelling the words, “DIE! DIE, YOU STUPID SCORPION!”  Wouldn’t you know she actually left it for me to see as evidence rather than picking it up and disposing of it.  But whatever.

The sting of the scorpion could’ve produced much pain.  But she had the victory over it in standing firm against it and declaring it gone. 

Satan reminds me of that little scorpion.  He comes in, unseen, moving around without notice.  He drops in, unannounced, at the most random times and disguises himself as something that we might want to get a closer look at or notice.  And then, BAM.  He’s stung us, and we’re caught in some web of sin.  But thanks to God, we can have victory over that.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. –1 Corinthians 15:56-57

We can let go of the sin and temptation when we do it through Jesus Christ.  He stands against satan on our behalf when we give it Him and let the victory be THROUGH Him.  Forgive me for sounding irreverent, but He’s the giant tennis shoe that stomps out that nasty devil as he crawls towards us!  He is our Savior!

How about you, dear friends?  Has there been a time where you’ve seen victory through Jesus as he stomped out a sin or sinful desire that needed to be gone?  Share how you feel led on Iron Porch!

~Erin

Packing Up the Memories

We’re still reeling from the loss of Allen, my father-in-law.  As you read this we’re driving up to Fort Bragg, California to go through his things and start packing mementos away.  This is an especially hard time for both Chris and Rita, his son and daughter, as they’ll begin to go through the memories of their life without him at their side.

With an ache, we’ll go through his clothes, his watch collection, his knives, hunting gear, and photos and sift through things that the grandchildren might like to have as a tangible item of their Grandpa.

I’ve often thought over the last couple of weeks how I could help them work through this coming weekend as we do this.  A verse in Romans comes to mind.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” –Romans 12:15

What beautiful words.  We will mourn for the missing piece from our family here.  I’m going to hold their hands as they cry, and I’ll feel the sadness along with them as they grieve.  I’ll comfort them as they remember.

But we’re also going to rejoice for the happy times.  We’re going to remember his laugh, his return from his hunting trips, the outings he had with his family.  We’re going to remember him constantly reminding his grandchildren to call him “Uncle Allen” instead of “Grandpa Allen.”  We’re going to remember his vibrant personality and his heartfelt desire to give to those in need.  We’re going to remember him for the great spirit he had and the love that he gave.

Thank you, Jesus, for providing me just the right verse to help us as we walk through this weekend.

~Erin

Preview of Iron Porch Interview: Christian Women and Race Relations in America

The purpose of the Iron Porch is to allow a space for women to come to share with one another without the fear of reprisal and judgment. It’s a space that we felt God wanted to provide so that women could encourage and comfort one another.  In the past, we’ve encouraged guest bloggers to join us on the Iron Porch.

This week we have the honor of posting an interview on the porch concerning Christian Women and race relations in America.  The guest blogs and this interview are always posted under ‘fesharp’ rather than ‘Erin’ or ‘Emily.’

Please join us on the porch this Saturday to read the thoughts of Khandi Wagner, our 1st interview of 2020.

~Emily & Erin

Khandi Photo

Khandi Wagner and her husband.