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

What Do Our Works Say?

A few weeks ago, my girls and I decided to get tattoos.  It wasn’t really spur of the moment in the true sense of the phrase.  Peyton has been wanting mother/daughter tattoos for a while and since the three of us were together, we just went for it!

We each have a different dinosaur on our wrist. The theme is the same, but they don’t match.  We were wanting something that identified us as a unit.

This got me to thinking about how I’m identified as a Christian.  When people see me or talk to me, do they know I’m a believer?  Do they recognize I put my trust in Him? Do my actions scream ‘I love Jesus!’? 

In James 2:17-18 it says, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.  But someone may say, “you have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith BY (emphasis mine) my works.”

I LOVE that!  This doesn’t mean that works saves you.  What the scripture is telling us is that if you have faith (you are a believer), it compels us to do good work for the cause of Christ.  When we walk in Christ, we produce faith-filled works that represent who God is and what He commands us to do.  In Bible study, we say those actions are faith-based works and not a works-based faith!

The works we produce as believers bring about things like love, joy, peace, faithfulness, self-control….you might recognize these as some of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  I love looking at these two passages of scripture together! 

When we see ourselves with a steadfast faith, we WANT to do things that show God in His glory.  When we do those things, the people around us see who our Creator is.  They see the power of an awesome Father who cares for His children.  People see something ‘different’ in the Christian who is doing works because they love God and want to honor Him as opposed to the person who is doing works for the rewards or accolades.

I pray that this year we see mighty works completed and that our faith-based works bring glory to the one true God!

~Erin

Bookworm Beliefs

True confession: I’m a self-proclaimed-avid-borderline-obsessed reader….a bookwork, if you will.  

What does this bookworm believe?

1. there are always more books to read

2. you can never have too many books waiting to be read

3. all children should be granted access to books

4. reading is my 1st choice for learning & recreation

I probably have more books in my house waiting to be read, than dollars in the bank account (now, that may be a tad bit of an exaggeration).   I always have a book in close proximity to me.  I have to check the copyright date of books prior to reading them.  I keep lists of books I have read, want to read, and want to read again.  I follow authors rather than celebrities on social media.  

My obsession with books is 2nd only to my obsession to Chapstick.  

One of my 2022 goals was to read the entire Bible.  So, when the Pastor of my church recently challenged the entire congregation to read the entire Bible together in 2022, it aligned perfectly with my own goal and with my fixation on reading.

During that challenge the Pastor also mentioned that our personal choices of how we spend our time often trumps our choices of how we spend time with the Lord.  He gave the example of how we may say we don’t have enough time to pray or read our Bible during our busy week, but we manage to make time to watch several football games.  The point?  What is more important…the football game or your relationship with God? 

That has marinated with me for several weeks.  Every single time I’ve picked up a book to read for recreation, I’ve questioned if I had finished my Bible reading plan for the day.  More often than I would have predicted, I had neglected the Bible for another book.  With some reflection of that revelation, I realized that the Holy Spirit was nudging me closer and closer towards focusing on Biblical reading before pleasure reading.  

In John 16:5 and in verse 16, Jesus repeatedly told the disciples that he was leaving them.  He was preparing them for a time that they would not be able to physically see Him anymore.  However, in between those two verses is an interesting statement about the work of the Holy Spirit.

But I tell you the truth; It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. ~John 16:7 (NIV)

It’s easy as a Christian to think that being with Jesus forever would be the best thing for us.  Yet, in John 16:7, we hear Jesus tell us that it’s better for us to not be with him and that if he didn’t leave, the Holy Spirit couldn’t come. Essentially Jesus was saying that it’s better for us to have the Holy Spirit. With that assertion, comes the knowledge that having the Holy Spirit in our lives means that we will be open to feeling convictions about our behaviors.   

We’re a mere three weeks into the New Year and already I’m finding myself convicted by the Holy Spirit regarding my reading behavior and my goal to read through the Bible this year. 

It’s time for this bookworm to adjust my beliefs…I need to focus on my Bible goals. 

Are you open to those nudges from the Holy Spirit?  

~Emily

The Christmas Gift

We celebrated Christmas with my oldest daughter and her family this last weekend.  It’s exciting to go down and have a “second” Christmas with the grandbabies, watching their excitement as they see gifts they weren’t expecting as Christmas had long since been over.

I dutifully wrapped the gifts for each of them and handed them out, one by one.  Andros, that sweet little boy, opened his first gift.  He looked at me and said, “A shirt?  I have shirts!” Everyone started giggling, but the best part of the evening was when he went to open his second gift.  To an adult, the second gift was obviously too small to be an item of clothing.  As he slowly unwrapped it, he looked at me and said, “It’s not a shirt, right?!”

We got such a giggle out of that!  He’s only four, and while his momma is teaching him about being grateful and gracious about what’s given to him, sometimes he just doesn’t quite understand and acts like the little boy he is!

Do you ever think that we are like my grandson with God?  He provides for us.  In fact the Bible tells us in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

It doesn’t mean the needs that we’ve asked for.  It doesn’t even mean He meets the needs that we want!  God knows our needs and supplies them.  However, just like little Andros, we get something and we look at it and say, “Hmmmm…that’s not what I asked for!”   When He provides for us again, we pray and say, “It’s not that one thing is it, God?”

I don’t think we do this on purpose, either!  I think in sin, we assume that we know what’s best for us.  We know what will make us happy or content or pleased.  We think that this thing or that thing will be what we need to make everything better.  In reality, God already know our needs, and He will give them to us when it’s the right time.  Often times, even though it’s hard to admit, the things that He gives us we don’t even realize we need until we look back on that moment in our life and say, “Yes!  I see where you were, God, and how You provided for me!”

I encourage you, friends, let’s take the time to ask God to supply our needs, and then step back and take all that He gives us with open hearts and gracious spirits.  You never know if the one thing you don’t think you want is exactly the one thing you’ll need!

~Erin

P.S. His second gift was a book for us to read together!

My sweet grandson with his ever-present chocolate milk mustache!

Intention

I’m terrible at resolutions.  I can make one, but it won’t take more than 16 days before I’ve already messed something up and my resolution has gone out the window. 

Once upon a time, I did the obligatory “I’m joining a gym.  I’m going to lose weight.  I’m going to read my Bible every day.”  All those sentences have potential to have great impact on me throughout the year.  But the list of this and that for someone who writes and then rewrites lists (only to lose them the second go-around and write it the third time), does not produce anything very worthy of accomplishment.

Fast forward to this year.  Now it’s about “THE word.”  We all know what I’m talking about.  It’s been the rage these last 5-10 years or so of coming up with a word that you want to resonate with you for the year.  I’ve been doing it the last several years.  And while I loathe being a band-wagoner (is that even really a word?), I like this concept.  It allows me to choose a word that should focus my actions to that rather than feeling like a failed at a resolution.

This year, the word is “Intention.”  (Closely followed by the additional words, FOLLOW THROUGH.) 

For me, this year is about being intentional with what I do.  I would like to learn how to can; not just because I think it might be fun.  I’d really like to take my meal prep further than week to week.  I’d like to use my grocery budget wisely and not have so much waste.  God gave us the veggies…I shouldn’t be wasting them.  Canning can help with that.  Intention.

I want to spend more time as a family.  It doesn’t have to be this long and drawn-out day and I don’t want it to be obligatory.  I want to sit down as a family and play a game, maybe go bowling, sit on the back deck and chat.  I want to purposefully have conversations or laugh or be serious.  I want my time with my family to be God-centered and God-honoring.  Intention.

I want to build a garden.  I’ve joked on previous blogs about being a master gardener.  I just wrote about it in a Facebook post and Emily commented that I was not a master gardener but rather a fiction writer!  (I MAY have exaggerated my gardening skills.) But I don’t want to build just any garden (like I did last year and never ate anything that came from it).  I want to plant what I know we will eat.  I want to plant appropriately and at the right time.  I may have to succession plant.  But you know what that takes, friends?  Intention.  I must be intentional about what I’m doing.

I want to talk to God more.  I love being in the Word, but I don’t feel I’m in it enough.  I pray, but I don’t pray without ceasing.  I want to see what God is showing me in the Bible.  It’s going to take being intentional with my study time.

These are just a few examples of what I want to do throughout the year.  How am I going to put actions to that word you ask?  Not only do I remind myself daily, I very specifically ask God every morning to show me ways to be intentional…and to give me the fortitude to complete them.  And then I go for it! 

I’ll fail sometimes.  Other times, I’ll hit a home run.  That’s the beauty of having the word.  I recognize where my weaknesses are.  The word helps me stay more focused on how to do better and be better.  And none of it works if I’m not constantly seeking God to keep my actions on a path that ultimately honors and glorifies Him!

Friends, do you have a word or a goal or a resolution that you’d like to share?  Let us know what yours is in the comments!

Happy New Year!

~Erin

Puppies Are Work! Are We?

This house just seemed a little quieter and a little sadder with Maggie gone.  So I did what any sad mom would do.  I hopped on the interwebs and took a peek around to see if maybe I would ever like to have another dog.  Because the answer is no.  Unequivocally, absolutely, positively no more dogs.  Until I saw a puppy online on December 22, contacted the owner, and then drove three hours the next day to pick her up! 

She’s sweet and funny and has so much personality!  The best part of the entire process was surprising Peyton with her when she got home from work that night.  This little pup has stolen our hearts.  Ruger, our seven-year-old lab even likes her!

But let me tell you…having a puppy is work (which is why I didn’t want one in the first place).  The amount of energy, time and effort that goes into working with an animal is exhausting!  You think you make a bit of progress until, oops, here’s a puddle on the floor.  “No chewing” turns into new slippers being purchased because you left them in front of the couch.  Work, I tell you, work. 

I wouldn’t change anything!  We love her and we know she’s worth the energy and focus.  She’s part of the family, and we’ll do whatever is necessary to make sure she is loved and cared for.   No matter what she does, we’ll never turn her away because she belongs to us.

This reminds me, honestly, of how God loves us.  When we accept the Lord as our Savior, we are His.  He bought and paid for us with Jesus’ shed blood.   No matter how much we mess up, He doesn’t walk away.  He doesn’t get fed up with our antics and cast us aside.  He patiently and lovingly teaches us and trains us.  Even when we’re more spiritually mature or “grown”, when we make a mistake, He doesn’t assume we’ll never be any good to Him.  On the contrary, He gave us the Holy Spirit to admonish, direct and guide us back to what is good and pleasing to the Lord.

“For He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever abandon you,” –Hebrews 13:5b

And Romans 8:35, 38-39 clearly tells us that nothing will separate us from God.  This means no matter how much work is needed or how many dumb mistakes I make, as a child of God I will never be separated from Him.  He won’t give up on us!

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will tribulation, or trouble, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

PRAISE GOD!

Just like that puppy, even though we are work, there’s no chance God turns His back on us and says “nevermind.”

I pray that we are challenged this week to see where we are rough around the edges.  Let’s work on those commands and precepts that we read in the Bible given by God!  He will never give up on us.  Let’s put in the work!

~Erin

Meet Winchester (‘Winnie”)

The In-Between Time: The Days Between Christmas and New Years

The days between Christmas and New Years are so strange to me.  I find that there’s a relaxing element to the hustle of Christmas preparations being done, but there is also a time of being bummed that it’s over.   Then there’s the anxiety I feel in getting Christmas packed away and my son’s birthday prepped all before going back to work after the New Year.  

There are other times in our lives that we feel this roller coaster of emotions in the “in-between time.”  For instance, the days between finding out you’re pregnant to your tummy actually rounding; the days between a college application and an acceptance letter; the days between a job interview and a return phone call…even the days between Sunday to Sunday for church services.  Each of these examples is like the days after Christmas, which are all involving excitement, disappointment, relief, worry or anxiety, and hopefully the return of excitement. 

The Bible is filled with examples of people experiencing the “in-between days.”  Noah had days of waiting in between being told to build an Ark and the day the flood began.  Ruth had days of waiting between leaving with Naomi and being married to Boaz.  Saul had days of waiting between being blinded on the road to Damascus and being able to see again…and share the Gospel.  Even the disciples and the Mary’s experienced the in-between days emotions when Jesus was crucified and later raised from the grave.  

Whether we’re in our own examples of in-between days or reading of Biblical examples, we are able to determine that God is teaching us to wait on Him.  Here are several scriptures that show us there is guidance in the Bible about our waiting during the in-between times: 

The Lord is good to those who await Him, to the person who seeks Him. ~Lamentations 3:25 (NASB)

Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord. ~Psalm 27:14 (NASB)

Therefore, be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. ~James 5:7 (NASB)

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me.” ~Acts 1:4 (NASB)

There are countless examples of waiting in the Bible….and many teaching moments where the Lord wants us to know about waiting.   In the days immediately after Christmas and leading into New Years, I’m reminded that I’m not alone in the rollercoaster of emotions of the “in-between” time.  

I’m praying that we are all patient this week while we are in those “in-between days.”

~Emily

What does Christmas Mean To You?

What does Christmas mean to you?  I’ve thought about this question often over the course of the last few weeks.  I think it’s important to reflect on the season and not just run through the month as if it barely exists!

There have been years where it’s meant presents and stockings.  That’s been usually as a small child.  There’s been periods of time in my life when the girls were celebrating holidays with others, and Christmas meant loneliness and sadness.  More recently, when I’ve thought about what Christmas meant to me, it was about family and time spent together.  And most often, I feel Christmas means the birth of Jesus.  It’s a beautiful time to remember the baby in a manger who came to save the world.

Sitting down this holiday season, I’ve found that my thoughts are different than the usual.  While I always remember the virgin birth, I heard something that resonated with me….the birth of Jesus, the Christmas story doesn’t end with our Savior’s birth.  It’s just the beginning of the beautiful Christmas story of Love come down to earth.

God allowed his beloved Son to become fully God, fully man.  He allowed a young girl, Mary, and a wonderful foster father, Joseph, raise Jesus.  Jesus grew up teaching people, showing love, foreshadowing what was to come and leading people into an understanding of what salvation by grace meant.  This man willingly took on our punishment, a debt we so easily deserve and yet so readily avoid.  They nailed Jesus to a cross to become the sacrificial Lamb only to see Him resurrected three days later!  Praise God that our Savior lives!

“For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” –Isaiah 9:6

That’s how I’d like Christmas to feel to me…as the start of a beautiful and redeeming story of God’s perfect love!

How about you, Iron Porch friends?  What does Christmas mean to you?  Share in the comments!

~Erin  

Giddy Over a Christmas Concert…And a Public Life Lived for Christ

Annually I try to get tickets for my family to attend some type of Christmas concert.  It’s a tradition that has developed gradually, but one that I really enjoy sharing with my husband and son.  In years past, we’ve gone to church sponsored “Singing Christmas Tree” concerts, local hospital sponsored Chris Tomlin concerts, and have even counted the Eclectic Christmas Ministry’s singing angels as our annual concert. 

This year’s concert occurred last night when the Shade and Petersen Clans carried ourselves to Opelika, Alabama.  It was one that I anticipated for weeks; simply because it was one of my all-time-favorite Contemporary Christian Musician: Matthew West.

Many of you recall that I have a fond spot in my heart for Matthew West because he prayed with Erin over my brother’s stage 4 lymphoma in 2013.  Yet, even before he was willing to stop a “meet & greet” to pray, he was one of my favorites.  You see, every single time I’ve seen him in concert, he’s prayed from the stage for his team and for everyone in the audience.  The first time I witnessed him do this was at an all-day Christian concert festival in Virginia…and on that day he was literally the only performer who prayed from the stage.  

I love his music.  But more than that, I admire his desire to point the focus to God’s Glory; not his own.  There’s a lesson here that I need to continuously remind myself of…Focus on God; not myself.

In Romans 1:17 (NASB), we see that we are to live by faith.  “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: But the righteous one will live by faith.” 

Walking by faith has to have a destination in mind, which is God.  We, in and of ourselves, are not going to be able to have unwavering faith…we have to trust that God is able to accomplish all things.  If we are focused on ourselves, our own talents, or our circumstances, then we aren’t truly walking that faith in Christ.  Thus, our own ability is not the true object of our focus when we walking in faith.  On this side of heaven, we will be repeatedly disappointed in our own ability…even if we are a famous musician.  

How do we focus that walk of our faith?  We lean into Jesus.  We acknowledge God’s hand in our lives, we trust His role, and we confess it with our mouths.  Publicly.  Possibly at church, or in a small group…or from a stage during a concert.  

Ephesians 2:8 reminds us that “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  

The gift of faith is one to be celebrated and one to constantly be grateful for.  One way we retain the spirit of being thankful is by keeping that focus on the giver of the gift.  God.  Not us. 

The Christmas concerts are a special annual tradition.  The example from Matthew West is a daily reminder to stay focused on our Heavenly Father.  

Merry Christmas!

~Emily

Jury Duty

I’ve always wanted jury duty.  Is that weird?  I’ve always felt like that particular civic duty was one that would be, I don’t know…exciting maybe? Of course, with that comes the responsibility of finding someone guilty or innocent.  You also never know what kind of case you’re going to get.  It’s not like you get to pick and choose the offense for which you are a juror.  I digress…

For the first time in my 43 years, I got called for jury duty!  I immediately went online to complete the information and let my boss know.  I waited in anticipation for the day to get here.  And this last Monday was that day.

I got up extra early and got myself together for an exhilarating day of justice-giving.  I quickly prayed with Peyton right before 6:30, told her not to forget her dentist appointment and took off in my car.  I had been driving about three minutes when I started to think I should probably call the school to remind them of Peyton’s appointment.

Only to realize I was an hour early.  I didn’t need to leave my house until 7:30.  I turned the car around and pulled into the drive.  Peyton looked at me like I’d lost my mind.  I told her I gotten ready an hour too early.  All she could do was laugh at me.  Apparently, I was TOO excited.

I want to be that same way about Jesus! 

I get to go to church!  Race out the door.  I got to pray with my friend!  High five.  I’m praising Jesus in music!  Singing at the top of my lungs in the car with the window rolled down.  I’m about to start my bible study.  Race to find my favorite highlighter, pen and notebook!  I just got to talk with a random stranger about God’s love!  God is so good!

Everything I do, I want it to be with an excitement that comes from knowing what I do brings glory to God.  The Father of all creation loves us so much that He gave His only Son so we can have the free gift of salvation and live with Him forever in heaven!  Everything we do here on earth should be pointing others to Him.  I want to be excited about what He’s provided for me and what He’s doing in my life.  And I want everyone to see!

I want to feel the joy down into my bones! Join me during this season in having a spirit of excitement with everything we do that shows people our Heavenly Father.  Let’s be the light here on earth that points people to the Light of this World!

~Erin