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

New Year: New Goals

I can’t remember any time that I’ve created a New Year’s Resolution.  I’ve never seen value in financial or weight loss promises on January 1st…I know myself well enough that a resolution would not work well for me.  However, I’ve always set new goals for the beginning of each year.  When I was child, the goals were more simplistic, such as not being mean to my brother or being more helpful to my parents.  Those weren’t tangible or measurable goals, so it would have been nearly impossible to determine if they were attained.  As I got older, making the soccer team or getting particular grades became more measurable goals.

In adulthood, my goals have been fanciful.  For instance, one year I made it a goal to say “bless you” to anyone who I heard sneeze…even if they weren’t close enough to hear me.  Another year I had the goal to buy myself fresh flowers weekly, while years before that I went on a “no spending full price on clothes” for a full year.  There was even one year that I made the goal to travel to a new location every month (that was a tad easier because I was already stationed in Europe). 

The secret to effective goal setting is to make mini-goals, also known as objectives.  It gives you milestones to check and re-evaluate how close you are to attaining the goals you have set.  

Scripture is clear that goal-setting is not only desirable, but that God encourages us to practice growing through goal setting.  Proverbs 21:5 (ESV) states, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”

Hence, a Biblical example of us needing to create plans to lead to better things.  It’s important to remember that we have to put in some hard work to attain these goals. God’s will allows us to attain or fail to attain goals, but nothing happens at all if we don’t strive towards the objective.  

It’s equally important to remember that our best planning is not a guarantee that we will achieve those goals.  In James 4:13-15, James reminds us that we do not know what tomorrow will bring and that we should continue to lean into the Lord’s will for our lives.  

We must set the goals.  We must work hard towards the goals.  We must recognize that God’s possible change of our plans are because His thoughts for our lives are so much bigger (and better) than our own…see Matthew 6:33-34.  

Ultimately, God’s purpose for each of us will prevail.  In Proverbs 19:21, we are reminded that “Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose of the Lord will stand.”  

So what the heck is the bottom line for our lives in 2022?  Set the goals, make them attainable and measurable, and then submit those goals to God for His blessing and intervention on the purpose He has for your life.  Be intentional, but also know you have to be flexible to the changes God has in store.

It’s a new year…time to set some new goals.  

~Emily

P.S. I have two goals for 2022: 

1. Read the entire Bible (I’m using a one-year reading plan that has me reading four chapters a day between the Old Testament and New Testament with a one day break each month).

2. Complete a 52-hike challenge throughout the year (the hikes can be back-to-back or once a week, at least two miles-but no upper limit to length, not on asphalt/gravel, can repeat trails, any friend/hiking partner/group can join me on any given trail, and the hikes can be anywhere in the world).  

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  

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I slowed to a stop and turned on my flashers about 50 yards ahead of the turn into one of the busiest gas stations on the highway.  Rylan was sitting there waiting for me.  He had been on his way to work when the alternator went out on his car, and he needed me to pick him up and help tow the car back to the house.

Let me say that there are several things wrong with this picture.  First, it was quitting time here in Alabama so all 8,000 cars in our area were in the same area at the same time.  Second, it’s a blind hill where he had stopped so I couldn’t quite see over the little hump to be able to know if I could turn around without enjoying a potential T-Bone dinner.  Third, I do not like to tow vehicles.  Oh, and fourth…I don’t really have a proper vehicle to tow.

HOWEVER, once I arrived, I sucked it up and we drove the long way back home.  If you were one of the several cars that got stuck behind us as we moseyed back at about 35 mph in the 55 mph zone, may I give a heartfelt apology!  While I may have been able to go a little faster, I was confident that slow and steady would win this race.

Paul talks about running the race in the bible.  He speaks at length to only looking what is before us and forgetting what lies behind.  He said “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of god in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 3:14.

He lovingly tells the Corinthians that he doesn’t just go crazy trying to get done.  Rather, he’s patient and steadfast.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” –I Corinthians 9:24-27

When we are studying scripture or when we are growing in the knowledge of the Lord, it’s not about how fast we can read or how quickly we can get through the bible.  It’s about learning at the pace that allows you to mature and grow deeper in your faith.  It’s one thing to know what a piece of scripture says or where a story is at.  It’s another to know what that scripture is about, what its context is, and how it can point us back to our Father!

While reading the bible through in a year is great, (and I really do believe it is), there is power in recognizing that you need to go back and read parts again.  And again….to sit in the scripture and ask God what’s He’s revealing about Himself in the passage.  It’s ok if the year-long bible plan takes you 1 ½ years.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending more than one week on a bible study lesson because you find it rich with information.  Remember, the goal is just to keep moving forward.  When we are learning and developing in those lessons, we are always moving in the right direction.  Like Paul, we don’t want to have the aimless task or the thoughtless race.  This marathon we are on in our relationship with Him should be one that is the most meaningful journeys of which we will ever partake!

I pray that we can be encouraged that slow and steady maturing will bring a beautiful and meaningful relationship with our Creator!  Happy studying!

~Erin

The Santa Push

Santa…I know.  I’m going there, but I promise I’m not going in the direction you think.  I don’t plan on shaming anyone for teaching their kids about Santa or NOT teaching their kids about Santa.  I think it’s a very personal family choice. 

My parents actually taught me that Santa Claus wasn’t real.  I didn’t go blabbing it to other kids and ruin it for them.  We were told that other kids believed and that it was ok, that we shouldn’t ruin that experience for them.  And I turned out relatively normal.  In turn, even though I didn’t want to teach my children about Santa Claus, I got outvoted and Santa became a thing.  (My family used to get a kick out of the cheapest thing being from Santa under the tree, because I wasn’t having a “fake fat guy in a suit taking credit for the cool stuff I bought!”)

I’ve seen parents go to great lengths to promote the Christmas tradition of both Santa Claus and Elf on a Shelf.  Letters written from them.  Footprints of powdered sugar or in the snow.  One parent threw Raisinettes on the ground to look like…you know what.  I’ve heard parents ‘scare’ their children into behavior with the Elf/Santa.  If I had a penny for every time I heard “Don’t make me tell Santa” in a store, I’d have my house and car paid off.

As I was thinking about this dilemma recently of do you or don’t you, I thought about how we teach our children about the Bible.  Here’s my question.  Are we that fervent about making sure our children are equally/more invested in the Truth?

We are to be raising up our children in the knowledge of the Lord.  They should know what the Bible says and what God asks of us in the Word.  And Jesus himself talked about having a child-like faith and didn’t want anyone hindering children from coming to Him.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. –Proverbs 22:6

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. –Deuteronomy 6:6-7

And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 18:2-4

Children are sponges.  They are alert and ready to learn from you!  I think we need to be just as involved and more in teaching our children about God and His creation as we are about touching the Elf on the Shelf and making his magic disappear. 

This month is a perfect opportunity to leave verses on cards with your Elf to discuss the impending birth of our Savior.  Maybe you read the book about Santa but make sure you’ve got another one that gears them up for the wisemen finding baby Jesus in the stable.  Use your Fisher Price farm set to show them the donkey and cow around the hay as they prepare the arrival of Mary and Joseph.  There are so many ways for a fun approach to learning about what this season truly is.  It doesn’t have to be heavy.  We just have to be doing it!

I pray that as we approach this Christmas, we find the right balance in training our children about who God is and what He has done for us with the sentimental Christmas traditions that bring joy and whimsy to this season!

~Erin

Holiday Poverty

As we gear up for the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, we will begin to see more and more solicitations for donations to families that are in need.  This is the time of year that thrives on canned food admissions to events, toy drives, and angel tree gifts.  Like a majority of the Iron Porch readers, I support these efforts to gather food, clothes, and items for children. 

Yet I’ve always wondered why we push so hard during the holidays for donations, but not the rest of the year.   As someone who grew up in a family that needed occasional assistance, I can attest to the fact that my parents needed food and clothing help throughout the year…not just at Christmas.  

The need for sustainable items is an example of poverty, but it’s not the one Jesus references when he speaks of the first beatitude being poor in spirit.  Initially, when we are poor in spirit we recognize that we are apart from God and that we crave the gift of salvation provided by Christ’s death on the cross as atonement for our sins.  The recognition of being separated from God, by sin, is a profound portion of being poor in the spirit.  

Being poor in the spirit doesn’t stop once we become a Christian.  Once we accept the Savior, we don’t necessarily lose the brokenness that we had when we first approached the cross.  In fact, that brokenness can drive our Christian path.  It’s fair to state that until we get to heaven, we will be in a constant state of spiritual poverty.  At this point Christians have two choices: 1. we continue to stay poor in the spirit, as we grow closer to Christ and develop ourselves as disciples or 2. we continue to stay poor in the spirit because we give into the brokenness and don’t develop as disciples.  

Personally, I’d rather identify as poor in the spirit while continuously growing.  

Except that I know it’s easy to slide into the “not developing” category.  Life takes over, we become lazy, other items take priority…but we stay in an “undeveloped” status.  Because it’s easy to slide, we can’t just push ourselves in spiritual poverty during one season, rather we need to continuously push ourselves spiritually year-round.  

As an unbeliever, we need Christ immediately, just as a family at the holidays may need immediate assistance from a canned food drive. 

Once a believer, we need to continue to develop that relationship with Christ, just as the needy family may need assistance throughout the year.  

I’m praying for those who are poor in the spirit this season (and yes, that means everyone—both believers and non-believers).  

~Emily

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ~Matthew 5:3

Pre-Holiday Breakdown

It’s mid-November.  A week before we travel to family in another state for Thanksgiving. Two weeks before my Father-in-law comes to stay with us for several weeks.  Three to four weeks before a middle school band concert, cookie exchange, Matthew West Christmas concert, mammogram, Christmas cards in the mail, packages wrapped…and the list goes on and on.

In an effort to get ahead of the holiday chaos and minimize my own stress, I wanted to get the Christmas decorations up this last weekend. See, I was thinking that I wouldn’t have to do that while we had company here and I could roll right into the festivities of December without a thought to decorating.  

Right after church, I started dragging tote after tote into the house to turn the casa into a winter wonderland.  I worked for hours while the boys washed the boat.  As the sun began to set, my attention had to turn to other chores…the chickens had to be put to bed, dinner had to be started, and clothes ironed for work on Monday.  I realized I wasn’t going to finish decorating in time.  

In a hurry I threw an empty bin into the garage, which bumped a fishing cart that promptly fell onto my foot.  I bent over in pain and screeched “poppycock!” (I’ve been making a concerted effort the last few weeks to use antiquated words—not sure I used it in the right context, but it was my 1940s word of the day).  

And then I started crying hysterically.  You know the cry.  The one where you can’t catch your breath, you turn red, your nose starts to run, and you sound like a skipping record when you try to talk.  That was me.  Hurt, but not “call 911” level hurt.  Seriously, no need for all the hysterics.  

My husband rushed over to check on me. He listened to me cry about my foot, about not finishing the decorations…and for good measure I threw in a bunch of other things like my Dad’s health, my Mom being overwhelmed, tasks to be done before we went on vacation…I even tossed in feeling sad about my pup going to the doggy day care for a week. 

He hugged me while I cried and then said, “You know, you don’t have to do the decorating or all the entertaining preparations.  You could wait.  Or not do it.  Or you could just be present with us.”

Did my husband just tell me that I’m acting like Martha, while I should be emulating Mary?!?!? 

In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we see Martha scrambling to make all the entertaining preparations, while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teachings.  Martha becomes increasingly frustrated with her sister’s lack of assistance and complains to Jesus that Mary isn’t helping enough.  

In response to Martha’s complaint, scripture records Jesus’ response in Luke 10:41 (NASB).  “But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  

If Jesus were right in front of me, where would my attention be?  On the decorations? On the meal preparations? On the cleaning?

Or would I be focused on Him? On His teachings? On His words?

I hope I would be focused on Him.  And through the gentle reminder from my husband and from the Gospel of Luke, I recognize I need to shift focus away from the pre-holiday meltdowns.  The preparations are nice and in some cases necessary…but they should not be overwhelming to the point of complaint or of shifted focus away from what is most important.  

As we all go into the next several weeks of preparing for the holidays, let us stay focused on what is important by remembering the examples of Martha and Mary.  It just might help us prevent a pre-holiday breakdown. 

~Emily

Maggie…And Some Kind Words

It’s been a hard week…again.

While I wouldn’t trade this last year in Alabama for anything and we’ve had such a wonderful time in our new home, we’ve had a year specifically marked with sadness.  This last week our 14-year-old sweet pup, Maggie, passed away. 

We got her when she was just 10 months old, the one that got left behind because no one wanted a solid sandy-colored Shih-tzu.  We wanted her, though.  The kids fell in love with her.  Peyton was just barely three when we got her, and it was hysterical to watch this little puppy chase her and grab onto her undies and tug.  Peyton was the little Coppertone baby!

She became a therapy pet for Peyton when she was diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder; this dog was attached to her at the hip!  Peyton even tried smuggling Maggie in a bag once when she had to go to work with me. 

But it was time, and I’m thankful that Peyton and I got to be there.  As we walked out of the vet’s examination room, we were greeted by little puppies and kittens in the lobby.  Peyton and I were visibly upset, and the waiting patrons were so kind to us as we sat and waited for them to bring Maggie out in her little burial box.  “I’m so sorry” scattered across the room, and one mother and daughter even stood up and asked if they could give us a hug.  As we left, the mother called out, “We’re praying for you.”

I don’t know if they are Christians.  I don’t know if they know the Lord.  But that moment of kindness and words of prayers reminded me that the Bible tells us to treat others exactly that way.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, –Colossians 3:12

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. –1 Peter 4:9

And as you wish that others would to do you, do so to them. –Luke 6:31

We are meant to show compassion to those around us.  When we are as God asks us to be, it brings glory to Him!  When someone needs a hug or a kind word, when we are the hands and feet of the body of Christ, we show honor to the Father that created us.  You may not know the person you’re helping.  Maybe you don’t realize what a simple hug can do or how kind words can put salve on a wound.  But those moments where we obey God’s command to love, be kind, or treat others respectfully gives someone a moment where they see Jesus.

And I saw Jesus at work as those sweet women hugged Peyton tight and told her they were so sorry for her loss.

Dear friends, let find opportunities this week to do what God would have us do for each other…be kind, loving, tenderhearted, and compassionate!

~Erin