Goodbye, California!

I was struck with the weirdest thought on Sunday.  I was putting my freshly laundered sheets onto my bed when I suddenly thought to myself, ‘This is the last time I’ll be washing my sheets here in California, and it made me a little sad!  This weekend, my belongings get packed up into a moving truck, and they’ll be bound for Alabama.  I bought a house directly across the street from my best friend, and I’m set to begin a new adventure.

It seemed like such an odd thought to have.  I have actually lived in California for four years.  I’ve said for the last four years that California wasn’t a place I really wanted to live and I couldn’t wait to move!  So to have a pang of sadness seemed like such an odd reaction.

The truth is, I AM a little sad.  While I’m so excited to be closer to Emily and positively thrilled over the fact that we can work on other Iron Porch projects, God brought me to California for a reason.  For almost a year, I couldn’t figure out why but the fact is that I’ve had tremendous growth in the Lord during this time.  I’ve had to rely on what God’s vision was for me instead of my own.  He allowed me to be a part of the most amazing community of women from different backgrounds that all came together to study and grow in God’s Word through Bible study.  He taught me how to truly lead a group of women.  He also gave me a valuable lesson in learning to not always lead them and to let them teach me.  He taught me that it’s never my time, but His.  God also taught me how to be courageous in my witness for Him.

I’ve prayed for four years that I would find a church that was strong in the Lord, fearless in their declaration of God’s glory, and bold in the Truth.  I found Doxa Church right before I’m leaving! It’s almost comical that by the time I was led there, it’s time to go.  But the eight short months I’ve been a part of that church, I’ve been fed the biggest, fattest spiritual steak you could ever imagine!  Pastor Scott has lived out Hebrews 5:12-14 and given me some serious spiritual food to gnaw on!  I now have an even bigger arsenal in my spiritual backpack with which to boldly proclaim the gospel.

While I’m sad to be leaving, I must lean into what the Word of God says in Isaiah 1:19.  The prophet proclaimed, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land;”  I am willing.  I strive to be obedient.  And because I do, the Lord will allow me to know what the good things of the land were in California and what the good things are in Alabama.

I’ll miss you, California!

~Erin

If you are good

First Day of School Jitters

As we walked out the door for my son’s first day of 4th grade, he begged me to let him stay and homeschool this year.  When I asked why he didn’t want to go to school, he started to tear up. He said, “What if kids are mean to me?  What if they call me fat?”

This was the first alarming statement from my 9-year-old that he was concerned about his weight. We agreed to discuss options that evening, to include school and how we could assist with his weight perspectives.  But before the morning drop-off line, we prayed together.  My son put these worries at the feet of Jesus and trusted that God would provide a path for nice children.

That evening he reported that it was the “best 1st day of school so far!”  Furthermore, he said no one was mean to him.  No one called him fat. He was worried for nothing.

Isn’t this a similar situation to how we converse with God?

“Please God, let me do x-y-z” which typically is a plea for something that I think will be better than a current situation.  Just like my son begging to homeschool.   I have concerns and worries.  Just like my son, thinking kids would be mean. I express myself to God but it’s as though He says, “let’s discuss it later tonight.”  Just like my son hearing we chat about options after school.

Our God is so good to each of us and He has our best interest at heart.  Countless times I’ve heard that He will provide above our wildest dreams…and He usually does. God creates space where we end up having the “best 1st day of school” despite our worrying and concerns.

When we ask for God’s provision, we see His work in our lives more clearly. In Luke 12:31 (NASB) it says, “But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

This verse offers guidance on seeking God and His Kingdom, so that blessings may be granted over your life.  When we pray to God in the midst of worry, “these things will be added to you.”

Kambell prayed for nice kids and a great school day.  He received the best 1st day of school.  His first day of school jitters turned into a praise report.

This week, I pray that those on the Iron Porch can turn their concerns into praise reports!  Let us know how we can help pray for you!

~Emily

1st day

Mindfulness Exercises

In the last two months, I’ve started incorporating mindfulness exercises into my daily life in an effort to battle anxiety and depression.  Mindfulness exercises are 3-5 blips where you deliberately concentrate on an activity through assessing your senses, emotions, or memories.

For instance, you could do a “mindful listening” exercise where you put on classical music and then concentrate on only listening for the violin.  One that I really liked was the “mindful eating” challenge, where you take your favorite flavored skittle and really concentrate on eating that one skittle for the 3-5 minutes.  For me, it was the purple skittle, which was a walk down memory lane of my childhood with grape Hubba-Bubba gum.

This last Saturday I tried the “mindful walking” exercise while hiking with the 3-month-old puppy.  The task during the walk is to concentrate on the aspects of the walk for 3-5 minutes.  The crunch of dried sticks and leaves under my hiking boots.  The shimmer of sunbeams coming through the trees.  The tug on my wrist from the puppy’s leash.  The rustle of leaves in the wind. The coolness of the creek as it splashes on my shins as I cross a stone bridge.  The smell of water-moss-mud on the creek beds. The tension in my quads from climbing inclines.

For the first time, I also incorporated scripture in the mindful walking because scripture actually tells us to be mindful and meditate on what God has provided for us (including the nature found during a hike).

It seemed appropriate to start with Psalm 145:5 (NET) which states “I will focus on your honor and majestic splendor, and your amazing deeds.” In the NKJV of the same verse, it states, “I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works.”

Keeping in mind the scriptural guidance of focusing on the splendor of God and meditating on His wondrous works, brought a whole new level to the mindful walking exercise!

The tug of the puppy’s leash doesn’t just become a sensation of my arm, it becomes gratitude that God created this puppy and that the puppy is part of our family.  The rustling of the wind in the treetops doesn’t just become a wonderous noise in the background, it becomes a reminder of God’s faithfulness to give me shade from those treetops and a cool breeze on my sweaty brow.

I wasn’t just centering myself in an exercise to control my anxiety…I was actually acknowledging God’s abundant gifts that are literally all around us!  I was following the direction in Psalm 96:12 (NET) “Let the fields and everything in them celebrate.  Then let the trees of the forest shout with joy.”

A mindful exercise that is full of celebration and joy!  I hope this next week is mindful for you too!

~Emily

Mindful Walking Hike copy

The Wisteria Vine

One of the things that I love about our house is wisteria vines that line the barbed wire fence in the front yard.  It’s clear that the property was well-loved based on the dozens of bulbs and trees that were planted years ago. This wisteria plant is no different.  The roots are deep, the trunk is thick, and the vines have trellised for yards and yards.

While this wisteria vine is beautiful with its lush leaves and gorgeous purple flowers, there’s one small wisteria wisp that is even more precious to me.  It’s small. It’s tender leaves and vines are barely two feet tall.  To my knowledge, it’s never bloomed purple blossoms.

Why is this little wisp so perfect for me? It’s from Erin’s oldest daughter, McKenna’s Florida house.  This perfect little wisp was dug up by the roots, carefully wrapped in wet paper towels, and transported to Alabama in a bucket during the aftermath of Hurricane Michael’s wrath on McKenna and Indy’s house in the panhandle.

This perfect little vine that I’ve been carefully nurturing for a year and a half is standing tall this spring.  Yesterday, I had to provide ties to give it support on a decorative light pole.  As I worked to train this little vine, I was able to think about how these two examples of wisteria vines are so much like my knowledge of the Bible.

There are times that I’m strong in the knowledge of some verses or stories.  That knowledge has been nurtured for years and is like a thick wisteria trunk supporting vines running for yards and producing fruit.

There are other times that I’m small and tender in knowledge (if I’m honest, this is waaaaaaay more frequent than me being strong in knowledge).  That little vine represents new knowledge that is being tended to by a loving Father in the hopes that through the years it will grow stronger and stronger…. eventually producing flowers.

One day, my little “McKenna” wisteria vine will grow into a big flower producing machine.  Each year it will be a reminder of my extended family and how we support one another.  More than that, it will also remind me to stay focused on the continuous learning of God’s Word.  Each day I know I need to keep watering it, tending to it, strengthening it with support, and loving on it.  I can’t wait to see the McKenna flowers!

~Emily

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5 (NIV)

The Wisteria Vine

COVID-19 Puppy

For months we’ve been preparing to add a puppy to our family.  I thought that we may be getting the puppy by May or June.  When we went into “social distancing” in March (which included me teleworking and our son’s school being canceled), I made the comment that it would be amazing if we could get the puppy while we were all home.

My amazing husband delivered the puppy to our house the 1st week of our quasi self-quarantine and it’s been a wonderful time to bond with our new family member.  There’s been lots of laughs, lots of potty training, and lots of scratches and nip-bites.  Assuming the adults of this house were working 40 hours a week out of the house and the child was still going to public school, this puppy would have been alone much of the day in a crate. Instead, he’s able to play, run, nap, and train with us throughout the day.

This pandemic is causing chaos in our lives on every level.  It’s forcing us into roles we didn’t prepare for and perhaps, never wanted.  Stay-at-home parent.  Teacher. Homemaker. Chef. Teleworker.

Yet, for our family, it’s bringing a small period of “pause” to focus on puppy training.

We need this pause, just like the puppy needs to pause and nap.  Jesus knows that each one of us needs a pause too.  We can get just as crazy, cranky, and barking-rebellious without proper rest in our lives.  All of God’s children need quiet time.

It’s challenging to develop a strong relationship with God if we are constantly on the run.  A pandemic, with all of its horror, is a vehicle for pausing to develop a stronger relationship with God. Like having a new puppy, it’s time to bond with God. It’s time to spend time in His Word. It’s time to find the praise in the storm.

I’d like to encourage you this week, as I have to encourage myself.

– Be a regular worshiper.  According to Scripture, it was the habit of Jesus to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  If your church doors are closed during the pandemic, find an online option. Put worship on your calendar, so that you don’t forget what day of the week it is in the midst of crazy schedules. Sing, read, or praise in any way that you can during the day.

– Remember you are a daughter of the one true King.  When feeling overwhelmed with new titles, know that ‘Child of God’ is the only one you absolutely should embrace.  Focus on this throughout your day.

– Build quiet time into your life.  If you hadn’t had a strong prayer life prior to the pandemic, now is a perfect time to create space for prayer. Make time to reflect and converse with the Lord. Pray, journal, or reflect in any way that you can throughout the day.

My question is this…what do you want to do with your “pause” time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

~Emily

Covid-19 Puppy Dog copy

Dear Diary

Day 4:  This could be interesting!  It’s an opportunity to really bond with my child and spend that time under one roof.  I’ll learn so much about her.

Day 20:  This is interesting.  It takes 12 steps to walk from my couch to the refrigerator and it’s the exact same amount of steps from my office to the refrigerator.

Day 32:  Interesting.  My daughter can say “yes, mother” in a way that evokes slight fear that I should sleep with one eye open.

Day 48:  I wonder what would happen if I took a four-hour shower.  Do you think they’d leave me alone?

Day 127:  Can I social distance from myself?

And so goes the days of shelter-in-place orders here in California.  I’ve officially been sheltered in place for four weeks….28 days of little interaction with the “outside.”  And, like Emily wrote last week, this is really starting to suck.

All of these great intentions that I’ve had for all this extra time have flown out the window, and I’d give anything to order at an actual restaurant and sit in an actual booth and hold an actual menu and laugh with an actual server.  But that’s just not how it is anymore.  And the reality is that it’s not going to be that way for a while.  And some days, it’s a little harder to deal with than others.

I find myself going from high to low to high again depending on how “claustrophobic” I feel in the house.  I wonder if that’s what David felt when he battled his own feelings of depression and despair.  One moment, he’s favored and then next, he’s despised.  While my circumstances might not be the same, my feelings of despair and loneliness mimic his own.

As I wade through what feels like Day 164, I hold to Psalm 18:19.

He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.

A broad place…Matthew Henry’s Commentary read like this, “He brought me forth also out of my straits into a large place, where I had room, not only to turn, but to thrive in.”  I don’t have to feel that claustrophobia that depression brings during a season like this.  He’s given me room to breathe and trust Him.  Thank you, God, for a broad place that gives you ample room to help me with my struggles.

~Erin

The options are endless.

Wedding Anniversaries

Last week my parents celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary.  I joke a lot about if they have been married 50 years yet, to which my mom always responds “you’re lucky we got married at all.”  To most, that would sound like a more modern establishment of co-habituating rather than committing to marriage.  In reality, my parents are a product of the 60s and were more likely to reject the entire institution of marriage.

In Genesis 2:22-24, we see that God created woman from man and intended them to be united together forever once committed to marriage.  There was a specific intent from God about how our marital relationship should be constructed.   In today’s society, it more difficult to find God’s intent on display in American marriages.

I believe that we need guidance strictly from the Word of God on how marriage should be.  However, I also believe Godly counsel from others is often needed.  In relation to marriage, it’s helpful to find Christians who have long-standing marriages in order to see and hear what has worked for them. It’s helpful to be reassured in good times and assisted in turmoil.  Those Christian examples, with a healthy prayer life and studying God’s word, help us figure out how God wants us to behave within our own marriages.

I’m a lucky girl that I was able to see that modeled behavior first hand in my parent’s marriage.  They were kind to one another.  They always supported each other’s endeavors.  They dreamed together.  They stood united against any force. When things were bad, they worked through it together.  When things were good, they rejoiced together.

Despite them having been a part of the hippie generation that typically rejected the institution of marriage, they are still so in love.  So much so, that they have a tree in their backyard that has their initials carved inside a heart.

~Emily

And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman and brought her unto the man.  And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.  Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.      ~Genesis 2: 22-24

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The Crooked Path: A Redemption Story

Until recently, I thought a childhood that included an introduction to Jesus seemed normal in America.  More often than not, individuals stray from a childhood relationship with Christ.  Perhaps we stray in High School or College with poor decisions.  Sometimes that straying is a conscious decision to pull away from God as a result of a life event.  In nearly every case, it’s a result of the enemy meddling in our thoughts and with our hearts.

It becomes a crooked path from Christ, away from Christ, and hopefully back to Christ.

In the book “Saving Me From Myself” by Brian “Head” Welch, the reader is taken through a biographical example of how a child accepts the gift of salvation and then crumples under the snare of Satan.  The story of Brian, as the former lead guitarist for the metal band Korn, is fascinating from several levels.  It shows the long-term impact of evangelism.  It illustrates the persistence of the enemy. It demonstrates how far we can veer from a righteous path. It shows the absolute beauty of grace and redemption.

I read this book, cover-to-cover, in one night.  It was a story that kept me turning pages into the wee hours of the night…long after my typical bedtime.  My fascination with Brian’s story was driven by his return to Christ.  Our God loves us through thick and thin.  He loves us when we are disobedient.  He loves us when we make horrible decisions.  He loves us most when we return.

Each of us has a story of the enemy trying to impact our lives.  Each of us has an even better story of that grace and redemption. Brian chose to share his story very publicly through total lifestyle changes, through quitting the band, and by publishing multiple books.

What is your story?  How has the enemy meddled in your life?  How have you persevered in your walk with Christ?  Who are you telling as an example of God working in your life?

~Emily

“In Him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” ~Ephesians 1:7

“In Him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” ~Ephesians 1_7 copy

The Blessing Jars

Table 8 met for our last meeting of 2019 just this last Monday, and I wanted to give something to the ladies that I had seen Emily do and had done myself a few years ago.  It wasn’t a big or expensive gift.  It was a gift that would allow them to see the blessings of their daily life.  It was a blessing jar.

For those who don’t know what this looks like or what it is, a blessing/thankful jar is a container that you can use to hold your good and fun memories for the year.  I kept mine on an end table with scraps of paper beside it.  If something exciting happened like a promotion or a visit from a friend from out of town, I’d jot down what happened along with the day’s date.  When I had mother/daughter dates, I would keep the receipt for where we went or the ticket stub from the movie to throw in the jar.  At the end of the year, my girls and I had so much fun going back through the papers that I had saved!  It reminded us of the countless good times and memories we had.

I haven’t had my jar out in several years.  But I realized this year, that it felt as if stress levels for people in general have been at an all-time high.  I decided that it was time to counteract the stress of everyday life with the blessing reminders of what God provides for us.

Rather than have one big jar for each my friends, I made smaller jars.  I explained that the smaller jars work almost identically to the large jars.  Rather than look at them at the end of the year, however, I encouraged them to do their blessings by the month!

“At the end of every month,” I explained, “pull out what you’ve put in your jar to remind yourselves of the blessings you’ve been graced with.  Save the papers in a baggie with the month marked.  At the end of the year look over all of the blessings from the last 12 months and be thankful for what God has done!”

It truly makes a difference in our attitudes when we can be reminded of the good things God allows in our lives.  I encourage you today that if you don’t have one, start one!  And if you’ve put yours away like I did, join me in bringing it back out and being encouraged by the blessings that come your way.   It’s a great way to be thankful!

~Erin

Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; –Ephesians 5:20

Waiting for Something: The Case for a Puppy

My 8-year-old recently asked, “Why don’t we have a dog yet?”

Our family has been talking about getting a puppy for a couple years, but we’ve always had parameters associated with it.

As soon as we buy a house, we’ll get a dog.

As soon as I retire from the military, we’ll get a dog.

As soon as this or that is done, we’ll get a dog.

My son has had enough of the waiting and now just flat out asks why we are still stalling.

I tried to think of a way to explain to an 8-year-old using a Bible story.  Sarah waiting on a baby, offering her maid to her husband? Nope, not a good 3rd grader type of story.  Lazarus raised from the dead? Pretty complicated for the 3rd grader. Woman healed with the blood issue? Not sure I know enough about it to explain it….

It’s so hard to be patient waiting for something we desire! Often it’s difficult to be patient with God too.  What does it mean to “wait on the Lord”?

There are a couple of key components to waiting on God. The first is a complete dependence on God and the second is a willingness to allow Him to dictate the timeline.  Both sound easy. Neither are.

I find myself praying, “Lord, give me patience…like, now.  Yep, now is when I need the patience.”

Practicing patience with God often involves waiting. When we wait on the Lord, we are developing strengthened character in our Christian walk.  That patience showcases our ability to trust the Lord. It strengthens our prayer life. In some instances, it may strengthen our desire to be into the Word more frequently.

The timing of the Lord is always perfect.  We just have to wait patiently.

The timing of the Shade puppy will also be perfect. My son just has to wait patiently.

~Emily

The case for a puppy