The Master Gardener

We’re heading into planting season, and this will be my first year planting a full-fledged, on-the-ground garden in the state of Alabama!  I’m so excited to get started, and Chris graciously took up the previous owner’s garden bed and is reconfiguring it so that I can have a few beds rather than one big space.  I’ll be ready to go any day!

Now that you know how excited I am about this, let me acknowledge that I generally kill most plants.  For those who read my previous blog on gardening, I’ll remind you that I only tried gardening for the first time last year.  I kill most houseplants.  In fact, Emily doesn’t know it yet, but I’ve already killed one of the plants in the pot she gave me as a birthday gift in September by over watering it.  (Sorry, Emily!)  I want so badly to grow fresh veggies so that we can eat what I’ve grown myself, but I’m already in worry mode that I’m going to kill it all off; we’ll be destined to eat Piggly Wiggly lettuce and tomatoes for the rest of our lives!

Aren’t we blessed that our Heavenly Father is a Master Gardener!?  We are called to spread the good news to all people.  The good news is the gospel of Jesus Christ!  People all over the world need to know that Jesus came down to earth, died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave on the third day.  They need to accept the gift of salvation.

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

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of age. –Matthew 28:19-20

That can be nerve-wracking!  Reaching out to people and sharing God’s gift can cause anxiousness out of a fear of rejection.  It’s scary to feel as if we are responsible for leading people to the Lord and helping them grow in their relationship with God once they’ve accepted Christ as their personal Savior.  However, God tells us in the bible that we are to plant the seed, but that it’s God that causes it to grow!

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about this very thing.  He let them know that he planted the seed by preaching the good news and getting them established, Apollos had watered it by continued teaching and encouragement, but that God was what caused the growth.

So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. –I Corinthians 3:7

Isn’t that comforting!?  Our job is to tell everyone the joyous news of our God-plant the seed.  Once they accept the free gift of salvation, we can encourage them as they dig in to the Word-water the plant.  But God will grow them in the knowledge of the Truth.  He is the one who will deepen their relationship with Him. 

We don’t need to be afraid to plant the seed, sweet friends!  We can be delighted in the fact that we are doing what God has called us to do.  He will do the rest!

I encourage you to reach out to at least one person this week and share the gospel.  Plant the seed so that God may tend His garden.

~Erin

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

4th Grade Girlfriend Distractions

From the moment I fell in love with a top-heavy-head-two-year old, I knew that one day there would be a girl who would begin to consume his thoughts.  

I knew I wouldn’t be the main chick in his life forever.  

I watched in amusement how at age 3, he called both Erin and Peyton his girlfriend.

I acknowledged that he was growing up when he told our waitress she had pretty eyes when he was 6 years old.  

I even understood completely when he started giggling uncontrollably the first time he heard the word “boobs.”

But I was not expecting this “1000 shades of red” situation when you merely mention the name of a particular girl in his 4th grade class.   It seems too soon for him to be crushing so hard on this little girl, who gives him token gifts weekly, who he shares his bubble gum, who he emails in the evening, and who is forgiven when she kicks him in the shin.  

Who is this little girl who is stealing my son’s attention at age 10?!?!?!?!

I can’t even pretend to know how God feels about particular situations, but I would be willing to guess that God feels a similar questioning or exasperation when we start to pull away from Him…or when other things grab our attention more fully than our relationship with Him.   

Our work, worry about finances, our newest technology/gadgets, dating, planning parties, eating…the list goes on and on…all potential distractions from God. 

It’s dangerous to shift our focus from God to other things.  Not only do the distractions cause a separation between us and God, it also leads to more sinful behavior. For instance, the distraction of social media, could lead to unhealthy relationships that aren’t God honoring.  Likewise, removing focus from God can cause increased stress, fear, anger, and anxiety.  

Fear not, God gave us directions to avoid distractions!  In 1 Corinthians 7:25 (NASB), scripture says, “I say this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” 

Each morning while praying, I ask the Lord to deliver me from the distractions of the day.  It’s a conscious effort to focus on God, rather than the world.  It helps me set my sights on the Lord. But if I’m honest, that doesn’t “stick” most days. Despite a daily attempt, I often fall short and become distracted.  I know a God of grace and I just try again and again to be better.

It’s clear that the 4th grade crush is a distraction to my son, just as the clutter of the world can become a distraction to me concerning my relationship with God. 

Stay strong this week as you divert your attention away from the distractions of the world!

~Emily

Bruleed Grapefruit

Our girls shopping trip included breakfast at a well-reviewed Alabama restaurant, “Big Bad Breakfast.”  The order included a grapefruit that had been sprinkled with sugared and then torched…just like a crème brulee.  As a culinarian, the combo sounded intriguing but I wasn’t completely confident that I would like it.  The results were amazing! They were absolutely delicious and I wished that we had ordered multiple ones.    

I was surprised at how wonderfully sweet the fruit was and how amazing the crunch of melted sugar tasted on my tongue.  As I reflected on the taste, hours after leaving the restaurant, I realized that my reaction reminded me of Proverbs 27:7 “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” 

The supposedly tart-and possibly bitter- grapefruit was sweet like honey.

While the verse does not mean that bitter food will become sweet to us, it does have a deeper meaning about those who are hungry.  Within the Proverbs verse, the honey signifies your walk with God, your relationship with the Trinity, and possibly even the value you place on studying God’s Word.  

Specifically, the verse is also referencing those who are hungry to have a deeper relationship with the Lord.  If one feels as though they are “full” or perhaps they think there isn’t room to grow within their spiritual walk, they aren’t desperate to seek God.  The end result is that they begin to loathe the honey…essentially they pull away from God, from biblical teaching, and fellowship with other believers. 

The second half of the verse speaks to the believer who is desperate to know God more deeply.  They are hungry.  As a result of that hunger, they taste the sweetness of walking closer to God through study, prayer, and fellowship.  

What do you do about that hunger you may be feeling?

– Spend time with God in prayer: write down your prayer requests and answers to prayer

– Study the Bible…seriously study…not just read.

– Fellowship with other believers: at church, in a small group, one-on-one

Only when we initiate knowing God more fully, will we actually get to know God more fully.

Just like the bruleed grapefruit that appears to have a bitter taste but really is super sweet, our walk with the Lord should be filled with hunger to know Him on a more intimate level.  Only then can we taste the sweetness through any bitterness.

I praying for everyone on the Iron Porch to have a sweet week with God.

~Emily

Bruleed Grapefruit

2 red or pink grapefruits

2 Tbl Sugar (coarse, brown or raw)

*Optional ¾ tsp coarse sea salt, sprinkled nutmeg, sprinkled cinnamon)

  1. Halve each grapefruit crosswise, and cut a thin slice off the bottom of each half to stabilize the pieces. Remove all seeds from the grapefruit, and loosen the segments with a paring knife. Remove any excess liquid with a paper towel patted on the top of fruit.  
  2. Sprinkle each half evenly with the sugar (and optional items).  Using a torch, melt the sugar to form a golden brown and crispy surface.  You can use the broiler in your oven, but pay careful attention to not burn the sugar.  

Praising His Attributes

It seems like such an obvious “Christian” thing to see.  We read about them many times throughout the Bible.  It’s a concept we’ve been taught over and over.  But I’ve noticed it seems the easiest thing to overlook:  Praising God with His attributes.  Songs encourage us to praise Him in hard times and praise Him in good times.   They remind us to give glory to Him whenever we can.  But are we truly praising Him for who He is?

Table 8 (my amazing California Bible Study group) and I have been going through a Bible study that urges a deeper look into several Psalms and then allow us to write our own Psalms using a formula based on the particular Psalm we’re in that week.  One of the common denominators of the exercise is to praise God using His attributes in prayer and on paper.  It’s something I haven’t always thought about doing.

Do I think God is powerful?  Yes.  Do I believe He is the Healer?  Of Course.  Is He the Almighty Deliverer?  Yes!  An ever-present Help in my time of need?  Absolutely!  But do I praise Him out loud for that?  NO.  It’s like I just assume He knows.  (Let’s be real here for a minute…He knows.)  But the reason behind why we say these things out loud in prayer and writing them down in Psalms is not so HE can know.  It’s to remind US of His attributes!

When we pray His attributes out loud, it encourages us that He is strong, He is omniscient, and He is over all.  It prompts us to be joyful of His authority in the midst of a struggle.  It reminds us that there will be victory in God and that the battle is already won.  Ephesians 6:10 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” 

With that strength, it invigorates our faith and assures us of God’s power.

I’ve tried it first-hand.  For the last five weeks, I have been starting my prayers with speaking aloud God’s beautiful attributes before I begin any request I have.  It’s prepared my soul to know that as I bring my petitions to Him I can be confident in whatever His answer and deliverance will be.

I encourage you, dear friends, to try it!  Speak aloud the attributes of our Great God.  He is mighty!  He is powerful!  He has the victory!  Enjoy the confidence and joy you can have in the assurance of our Father’s goodness and grace!

~Erin

The First Outdoor Christmas Concert: Shepherds in a Field

Several years ago, I attended an outdoor concert with all my favorites.  It was held at Red Rocks in Colorado, which is my favorite outdoor amphitheater.  It was a concert by Casting Crowns, which is my favorite Christian musical group.  It was with Erin and her daughters, my favorite girls to hang out with.  

Can you imagine…the brisk coldness of a Colorado night?  The sweet harmony of your favorite group, while sitting under the twinkling stars with your favorite humans?  It is one of my favorite concert memories.  

Despite being my favorite concert memory, I also remember on that evening feeling unworthy of God’s love and of His benevolence.  I remember thinking I was unworthy of that moment of complete and total contentment.  

In Luke 2:8-14, scripture tells us of another outdoor concert for people who may have also felt that moment of unworthiness that I experienced.  

Verse 8 of this passage tells us that shepherds were watching their flocks.  Shepherds were not necessarily the most respectable people.  They were transient and had a reputation of taking items that they needed from those whose towns they were passing through (for the record, we could refer to this as “stealing”).  In the times of the New Testament, shepherds were not allowed to even give testimony in a court of law, as they were seen as unreliable.  

Suddenly, in verse 9, an angel of the Lord appears to these unruly and unreliable shepherds and they were scared.  I think this is one of the most understated things written in this passage.  “They were frightened”?!?!?!?  Seriously, if an angel of the Lord appeared right now, I would be scared too!!!

In verse 10-12, the shepherds are reassured by the angel and told of the newborn baby who was born as a Savior for them…for those shepherds who were considered so unreliable they couldn’t even testify in court.  

Next we get the privilege to read about the first outdoor concert, when a “multitude of heavenly army of angels” appear and praise God.  First of all, that’s a lot of angels.  Secondly, if they are speaking, or “singing” all at the same time, it had to have been such a sweet-sweet sound!

Take a moment and think about your attendance at an outdoor concert.  Perhaps it was a real event, or it could be one of your imagination.  Now ponder on how this experience would compare to that of the shepherds during that first outdoor concert in a field.

They were unworthy with a negative reputation.  That’s how I’ve felt before.  And yet, God chose them to make the first proclamation of the birth of Christ.  He chose them to hear that first outdoor concert. 

As we get closer to Christmas, the date we celebrate the birth of that Savior, know this…you are chosen too.  It doesn’t matter what your reputation is or how unworthy you may feel.  God has chosen you, just as He chose the shepherds.

Imagine an outdoor concert.  And know you are invited to hear the singing.

~Emily

 “In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock at night.And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And so the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army of angels praising God and saying,‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.’’ Luke 2:8-14 (NASB)

The Cranberry Jelly Can

My granny was a jellied-cranberry-sauce-out-of-the-can kind of lady.  Every Thanksgiving as we purchased our stock for the big dinner, she always reminded us to get her can.  She was the only one that ate it, and we always teased her for eating it.  It just seemed weird to me.  The jelly vacuum-packed into a can that took the shape of a can when it came out was just…weird!

In 2014, I forgot to pull out the beloved can of gelatinous goo for her!  I hadn’t forgotten to purchase it.  But I left it in the cupboard and we only remembered after we were done eating.  Granny teased me about forgetting her favorite dish.  Not to worry, I told her.  We’ll pull it out next Thanksgiving!  But it never happened.  That was the last Thanksgiving we spent with her before she went to heaven. 

The following November, we pulled out that can of cranberry jelly and it sat, unopened, on the table.  We laughed and shared memories of her.  It was beautiful.  And through two moves and five years later, I still can’t get rid of the can.  It’s been on our Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter tables every year.  Every time I think about throwing it out, the contents long since expired, I just can’t let myself put it in the trashcan.  It’s belongs to one of the fondest memories I have of her.

I was unpacking here in Eclectic in September when the can came out of the moving box.  I showed Emily, and she took the can from me.  I thought she was going to throw it out and I panicked.  She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.  “No!” she said.  “Something this special needs to be displayed, not hidden in the pantry.”  It now sits in my cupboard with glass doors, a prize to look at every time I wander into the kitchen.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that a simple, dented, and dirty can brings me such joy.  It reminds me of the strong Christian grandmother who helped raise me and the faithfulness to God she displayed.  She loved the Lord and gave thanks for the family that she adored. 

This Thanksgiving, I have no doubt that the feast at the table in heaven holds a shiny new can just for her.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with jubilation; Come before Him with rejoicing. Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courtyards with praise.  Give thanks to Him, bless His name.  For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting and His faithfulness is to all generations. –Psalm 100:1-5

~Erin

The Fallen Leaf

The Fallen Leaf: Your Purpose

In the past, I’ve been asked what my favorite season is and I’ve always struggled to answer.  I love different aspects of each season. I like the process of transition and I like the knowledge that it will soon change again.

When Autumn arrives, I cherish the changing colors of the trees and the crunch of fallen leaves under my feet as I walk through the woods.  Leaves fluttering through the air as they fall to the Earth is one of the most peaceful moments I can think of (next to watching snow fall slowly).

Does the leaf know its lifespan is over? Does it know it’s fulfilled its role for the tree? 

Or…

Is the leaf able to recognize that it’s about to create joyful play-space for small children and dogs as they jump into piles?  Is it able to recognize that it’s about to fertilize the ground beneath the tree, continuing to provide nutrients for the tree and the vegetation nearby?

In the same way that the leaf has continued purpose, even after it falls from the tree, we have purpose in transitions during our Christian walk.  

  • As you step down from a committee at church, you are steered towards a different ministry.
  • As you complete a Bible Study, you are given opportunity to share what you learned with others.
  • As you watch others leave your church, you are able to volunteer in new roles.
  • As you observe a seemingly fruitless prayer life, you become aware of the work God is doing in your life.

Most of us are familiar with Ecclesiastes 3:1, which states “For every season, there is an appointed time. And there is a time for every matter under heaven.”

We may even be familiar with how that passage gives us direct guidance on the timing of transitions in verses 2-8:

A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.

A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.


A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.


A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.

If we read further to Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NASB), we read, “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, without the possibility that mankind will find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.”

Each time we think we’re done, we must remember that God has purpose for our lives.  He has purpose for each of those endings…and each of the subsequent beginnings. 

Just as the fallen leaf continues to have purpose, keep in mind your Christian walk has purpose in all of your transitions.

~Emily

Despair in the Air

Pandemic/COVID 19. Loss of income.  Election results. Hurricane/earthquake/tornado.  Loss of a friendship or marriage.  Adultery.  Division of a Church.   Financial hardship.  Miscarriage.

I’ve really been thinking a lot about everything that seems to have gone wrong in 2020.  In particular, yesterday was a bad day.  A sad day.  A day where I actually cried at church…in despair.

Have you been thinking about it too? When have you experienced despair?  And have you ever felt repressed by despair?  

Was it this last week, when the election showcased how politically divided Americans are?  Did you feel it when you heard Sean Connery or Alex Trebek had died?  Do reports of another natural disaster overwhelm you? 

Maybe it was a time you had to decide about school or career paths.  Perhaps a relationship had you feeling despair.  Sometimes it could be a church related issue.  The weight of that feeling; the despair feels overwhelming.

Repressed means to put down or subdue by force. For instance, to repress a rebellion.  It can also mean to end, limit or restrain by intimidation or other action.  For instance, to repress a heresy or inflation.  Essentially, you begin to feel such despair over a situation that you are repressed.  You are “put down or subdued.”  

When we feel repressed, as a result of despair, we can be blinded to the goodness God has for us.  Throughout scripture, God reminds us that despair does not mean repressed.  

we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” ~2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NASB)

In this one verse, we have such rich promises from God:

We can be afflicted, but we can’t be crushed.

We can be perplexed, but not despair.

We can be persecuted, but not abandoned.

We can be struck down, but not destroyed.  

While I felt despair today, I know that there are promises from God that counter that.  And when I remind myself of those promises, I begin to see the greatness of 2020.  I can see the blessings of family time, of school work with my child, of the antics of a new puppy, of sunshine on my face, and greatness of neighbors who share so generously.  

My feeling of “despair in the air” is slowing becoming “stressing the blessings.”

I pray that the last two months of 2020 can show you the blessings…despite the despair.

~Emily

Danger in the Lion’s Den…I mean Driveway

It was still dark and gusty when I ventured out of our house to discover that Hurricane Zeta had caused two trees to fall across our driveway across the power lines that run from the street down the ¼ mile length of our drive.  

Lines were laying on the ground between my car and my husband’s truck, as well as looping over the brushes and trees.  The wisteria that normally looks elegant against barbed wire fencing, now appeared to be holding naked Christmas lights.  

With a massive amount of trepidation, I tiptoed around the truck, watching every single step I took.  I shone the spotlight down the driveway and saw a humongous tree draping it’s self dramatically across the power lines.  At that point, I couldn’t see the 2nd tree, but I knew we had a dangerous situation with wires on the super soaked ground and gusts of wind still shaking our tall trees.  

We have had power outages before, but they’ve never been a result of the direct lines coming into our home.  I have always heard to steer clear of downed lines, but never have seen them in real life!  I immediately called the power company and they told me to not touch the wires or anything near a broken line.

As I was standing in my driveway, wearing my PJs and a headlamp, I acknowledged this was dangerous.  I had a 9-year-old and a puppy to consider, as well as cars stuck on the “wrong” side of the downed wire.  Never mind the trees blocking the drive, a pretty small wire laying on the ground had me trapped.  

I prayed out loud in the aftermath of the storm that God would protect my family from being electrocuted.  As I prayed, I remembered that Daniel was saved from a dangerous situation too. In Daniel Chapter 6, the King has Daniel thrown into the pit where the lions were, which was essentially a death sentence.  Daniel prays to the Lord for deliverance and God sends an angel to protect him. The next morning, Daniel emerges unscathed.  

The lesson we learn from the Book of Daniel is that our God, who is capable of saving Daniel in the lions’ den, would also be capable of having saving Israel from captivity. 

In 2020, it also means that the same God who saved Daniel is able to save and protect us.  In the days after Hurricane Zeta, with our dangerous situation of downed power lines, our God is there.  He heard my prayer and is protecting my family, just as He protected Daniel.

I pray that you have a chance to see how God is protecting you too!

~Emily

“My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions.” ~Daniel 6: 22 (NIV)