Don’t Hit the Deer!

Emily and I just got back from a trip where we drove cross-country.  Our relationship is one where I’m always the driver (insert my control factor here) and she’s the navigator (she really does a fantastic job).  I’ve always loved road trips and have never backed down from one.  I travelled all over Germany as a child, so it’s practically in my DNA to make a batch of lemon stickies, throw our pillows and blankets in the car with the suitcases and drive rather than fly anywhere.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I find I’ve begun to prefer less driving at night.  Five years ago, my girls and I would drive 15+ hours in the car on the first leg of the trip, driving late into the night so that we would have a short day the next day in the car.  It didn’t bother me in the least.  As I’ve aged, I’m actually now afraid that my eyes aren’t going to efficiently catch my surroundings.  Do you know what I’m afraid of?  I’m afraid of hitting a deer.  (Emily, we will NOT discuss the raccoon from a week ago until I’ve sufficiently recovered.)

They dart out in the darkness of night and think nothing of the people driving along the highway other than “your road is in my way.”  I’ve seen them multiple times just grazing right on the edge of the road, and I keep thinking to myself as I get closer Please stay there!  I have to be on my guard to make sure that I see what’s on either side and am prepared for what may bolt out into my path.

I should be just as aware when it comes to the wiles of the devil.  The Bible says in I Peter 5:8, “Be of sober spirt, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

The devil prowls around.  He’s lurking along the edges of our walk with God looking for ways to interfere.  It’s typically not blatant or obvious.  It’s subtle and crafty.  He’s standing just close enough to see when he might pounce.  He’s taking his time looking to see what’s available to mess with.  Then before we’ve realized it, he’s bounded into our path and worked overtime to hurt our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

We must be constantly vigilant about satan trying to wreak havoc.  Just like I have to be on guard for the deer jumping out in the road, we must make sure we are prepared for satan’s temptations.

How do we do that?  We start by having a relationship with Jesus and asking Him to be our Lord and Savior.  We have a faithful prayer life, bringing our petitions to God.  We pray that we will consistently put on the whole armor of God.  We read His Word.  The Bible is God-breathed.  We need only look on those pages to see what God would have us do and how to be ready for battle.  We commune with fellow believers!  Surrounding yourself with other Christ-followers allow us to join together as we battle the tempter.

Sweet friend, I challenge you to be aware of your surroundings.  Be prepared and vigilant for the fight against satan!  And remember, God always gets the victory!

~Erin

What is the One Thing You Would Change?

During a visit with my dear friend Amber, she asked me a thought-provoking question.  

It’s one that I’ve thought about frequently for 2 years. 

If there was one thing in my life I could change, what would it be?

Does that mean right now?  As in, I want a different car? A different career? A different shirt?

Or does that mean something significant that would have changed the course of my life or my impact on others? 

Would it be accepting the assignment to England earlier in my Air Force career?

Getting baptized earlier? Starting a ministry in the midst of doubt?

Would it be starting my Doctorate immediately after my Masters or wait?

Adoption sooner?  More kiddos in my house?

A different retirement location?  

One thing I know without a shadow of a doubt that I would change is from the night of my Senior prom.  You see, my mom had to work that night and I’d told her that my date and I would swing by her workplace so she could see us all dressed up.  But we were running behind…and rather than be late to dinner, we skipped going by to see my mom.  I distinctly remember her face the next day saying that she was sad that she didn’t get to see me.  


I can only imagine her anticipation at work slowing turning into the realization that I wasn’t coming.  To this day, I regret disappointing my mom so completely.  

Other than disappointing my mom on prom night, my answer is pretty simple…I don’t know that there is much I would change.  Even the awful decisions and consequences of my life had purpose.  I would not be who I am today without many of these “learning opportunities.”  

I wonder if Paul (formerly Saul) would change anything from his life.  At the time of his conversion to Christianity, he was a well-known, educated Jew, who actively participated in the persecution of Christ-followers.  He was aggressive in finding Christians.  He was meticulous in punishing them. He wanted to eradicate Christians.  And he was mean in that desire.

An example of his actions is seen in Acts Chapter 7 when he gladly holds the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen, the 1stmartyr for Christianity.  In Acts 8:1 (CSB) it states, “Saul agreed with putting him to death.”  Other versions state that Saul was “delighted” by Stephen’s death.  

Delighted?   

To me, that screams of maliciousness.  It seems extremely mean-spirited.  

Yet just a one chapter later, we find ourselves reading about Saul on the road to Damascus, where he encounters the voice of Jesus and is struck blind.  Talk about the Lord getting his attention in a major way!!! The good news is that at that point Saul believes in Christ and the conversion through salvation.  He is forgiven of his sins, his sight is restored, he is renamed Paul, and he becomes a staunch supporter of the Gospel.  The epitome of forgiveness, grace and salvation.  

I imagine there was then moments of great doubt, remorse, and regret about the life he had previously led.  Hypothetically if I were Paul, I would have a few things that I’d like to change about my past.  In 1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV) we see that Paul said, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”

Paul believed he was the Chief Sinner.  The worst of the worst.  

While we understand that God doesn’t rack-and-stack sinful behavior, counting one more egregious than another, what we do see from 1 Timothy is that Paul did have remorse and acknowledgment of his awful behavior in the past.  

Would he have wanted to change the past?  Probably, yes.  But I would argue that it was his aggressive persecution of Christians in his past that made him so much more relatable and a solid witness for Christ later in life.  Perhaps in the midst of regretting the past, Paul was wise enough to know that his past, while terrible, would serve a future purpose.  

You see, every bad decision and tragic event of our past makes us who we are today.  And God will use every experience in our past for His glory now.  

There’s not much in my life that I would change. Every single decision and event has shaped me into the person that I am today. 

Is there something you would change in your life? Come to the porch and share your thoughts. 

~Emily

This Past Year

I’m a few days away from being 43.  That just sounds old.  I mean, I know it’s not.  But if I think back a looooong time ago to the sweet age of 10, I thought 43 was practically retirement-village,-using-a-walker,-putting-away-my-dentures-every-night-old. 

As I do every year, I like to think back over the previous 365 days and reflect on it.  What did I do that was exciting?  What is something I wish I had done?  Did I waste time on ‘stuff’?  Am I happy with the actions I took?  A lot of people might do this at the end of the year.  I find I love to do it at my birthday, because it makes me feel like I’m not trying to do some cheesy resolution and instead really contemplating what I’ve done.

This year, I feel like I spent much more time truly meditating on God’s Word.  I was thoughtful in my Bible reading, not just looking for verses that applied to me.  Rather, I was looking meaningfully at the passages for the context, how it applied, and where I saw God in each verse.  The more I dug in, the more I found my own ‘self’ was changing!  I realized that the things that never bothered me before are now striking a chord with me, and not one that plays a sweet note. 

TV and movies don’t have the same appeal when I see the worldly actions and images across the screen.  Secular (and even some contemporary Christian) music doesn’t ring true lately when it promotes unhealthy and inappropriate relationships or a diluted message of who God is and what He does.  Foul language is becoming more and more difficult to tolerate.

To the average person, they might see this as a legalistic point of view, these things that I’ve discovered about myself from this past year.  However, I believe that it’s less about being legalistic and more about recognizing that I want my relationship with God to be pure and untainted from the ways of the world.  I don’t want my walk to be conforming but rather transformative.  I want to be different because our Father commands us to be different and not of this world.

Here are just a few verses I’ve leaned on this year without even realizing that I was doing it!

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things. –Philippians 4:8

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. –Romans 12:2

Beloved, I urge you as foreigners and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. –1 Peter 2:11

As I look back I realize that, while there may be things I wish I had done, I love that I have recognized the Holy Spirit prodding me to a life that’s more pleasing to God.  I’m not perfect at it.  I never will be.  But any small thing that pushes me to a closer relationship to my Heavenly Father, is a small thing I’ll do as often as I can!

Dear friends, join me in meditating on those verses this week.  Think about ways we can think on things that are honorable, true and right and remind ourselves that, as Christians, we are only visitors on this earth for a short time compared to eternity with Him!

~Erin

A Good Book

As a reader, I love a good book.  There’s something about diving into a story and recreating the scene in your head.  You can imagine yourself right there in the middle of it all, helping the main character figure out what to do.  While I don’t have to have a happy ending for the books I read, I do love for it to be finished, if you know what I mean.  I like to see development of a person-who they are, what they look like, the emotions they may be feeling.  I like to see the plot, no matter if it’s happy or sad.  It’s frustrating when I start reading a book and can’t really “get into it” the way I’d like.

Because of this habit, I’ve found that I’ve more than once been irritated with not knowing more about some of the people in the Bible.  What did Rahab look like?  What happened to her after the Israelites took down Jericho?  What happened to the widow and her son who fed Elijah?  Did they have an abundance of food afterward?  How about Cornelius in Acts 10?  He had a vision and was told to send men to Joppa to fetch Peter.  Were those men guards from his regimen?  Did they think he was off his rocker?  What was their conversation like on the way to Joppa?

I’d rather have the complete story.  But here’s what I’ve learned….

It’s not the point of the story.  Do we really need to know what Rahab looked like or if she took up new residence in a nearby town or went with the Israelites?  Is it necessary for us to know what the guards going to retrieve Peter were saying to each other about Cornelius’s vision?

In today’s society, we want the grand story, beginning to end, wrapped up as a complete package.  No stone left unturned.  If we don’t have the who, what, when, where, why, how, and how much, we decide it’s incomplete.  But the reality is that we are seeing exactly what God needs us to see.

In each and every one of the people I wrote about above, you know what they all had in common?  Immediate obedience.  They followed what they were told as directed by God and they were blessed because of it.  Rahab’s family was spared destruction.  The widow didn’t starve and her son was raised from the dead by Elijah.  Cornelius and his family made Jesus their Lord and Savior and are spending an eternity in heaven. 

Why?  Because they obeyed.  As we go through this week, listen and hear God’s direction in your life.  When He tells you to do something, I challenge you to obey immediately!  Don’t wait.  Follow what He says!  What a blessing it is to obey our Heavenly Father and trust what He says is good.

“But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” –Luke 11:28

~Erin

Do We Really Think We Can Hide?

Many years ago when McKenna was 14, she called me to ask if she could go do something with a friend.  As I was going through the list of common parenting questions and rules, I stopped and said, “Don’t you roll your eyes at me, McKenna,” to which she instantly replied, “HOW DID YOU KNOW?!”  She quickly told her friend what I had said.  We got such a kick out of it, and I used that moment to remind her that parents know everything—there was nothing she could do that was wrong and get away with it!  We still laugh about it to this day.

I thought about that story when I was reading my Bible this morning.  I’m working through the book of Joshua with Table 8 (my California Bible study group).  In chapter 7 we see that Achan has taken spoils of the battle in Jericho and has hidden them in his tent from Joshua, the other Israelites, and God.  As a result, the initial advancement into the next city of Ai results in the defeat of the Israelites.

Joshua falls to his knees and asks God why He turned His back on his people and let them be defeated.  God reveals that Israel sinned against Him by taking spoils of war when He explicitly told them to take nothing.  He led Joshua through the process of determining who it was that sinned.   Joshua 7:21 shows us that Achan admitted that he had coveted, taken, and concealed some things from the city.

The rest of the story is rich with great material to study, but let’s pause right there.  The spoils of war were taken at the battle of Jericho, and Achan decided he could hide them.  From God.  I’m guessing his coveting of the objects was so great, that he forgot that God, the Creator of the world, knows everything.  There isn’t anything that’s hidden from Him.

At first I thought, What a bonehead!  But of course, conviction set in because you know who else does that?  I do!  There are areas in my life where I covet the things around me, where my speech isn’t seasoned with love and grace, or where my thoughts are not kind and generous.  I blow those sins off as minor or simply try to forget them because “I’m human.  Mistakes happen.”  I might as well be trying to hide those sins from God.

But there are consequences for our sin.  When we try to hide our sin, it creates a wedge between us and God.  His heart is hurt for the disobedience of His child.   It can start a slippery slope of leading us further from God and the path He has called us to.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” –1 John 1:9

We are called to repent of those sins so that He may forgive us and cleanse us.

Dear friends, I urge you to stop trying to hide your sins from God.  I’m taking this week to really reflect on areas where I have tried to hide sin as Achan did and then repent of it to our Heavenly Father.  He is eager to forgive.  Will you join me?

~Erin

At Each Other’s Throats

There are days lately where my heart hurts to be on Facebook anymore.  So many people at each other’s throats about what they think or what they believe.  I see people on one side of the fence calling the other side ‘sheep’ who approve of socialism and government over-reach.  I see people on the other side saying if you don’t decide to vaccinate or wear a mask, you are a moron incapable of being able to do intelligent research.  I watch someone call the other a “stupid right-wing nut job” for thinking President Biden isn’t handling Afghanistan well.  The other side says you’re too blind to see that President Biden couldn’t handle tying his own shoes.  These are actual things I’ve seen on social media.

It’s enough to make me scream.  What happened to being loving and gracious?  When did we become a people that believe we are the only ones capable of rational thought?  When did we become a society that put politics over prayer?

As Christians, we have a responsibility to love one another whether we agree or don’t.  As people who were made in God’s image, we are called to honor what He commands us to do like praying for one another, being kind, and tender-hearted.  We’re not to prove who’s wrong or right.  We’re not meant to make sure people feel stupid for making a decision you would never make.  And loving them and praying for them doesn’t mean you approve of their decisions.  It means simply that…you’re loving them and praying for them. 

What I’m saying is that no matter what side of the vaccine, masks, or presidency we’re on, we should be coming together to love, to witness, and to pray.  Pray for our nation.  Pray for our leaders.  Pray for our friends and family.  Pray for other countries.  Pray for our neighbors.  Pray for the doctors, nurses and hospitals.  Pray for our enemies. 

Satan would love nothing more than to divide Christians and keep us from focusing solely on God.  He relishes the thought of people going after each other rather than coming together to pray to our Jehovah-Rapha, the God who Heals.

I implore you, dear friends.  Take the time to love and pray for each other, no matter what side of the fence you’re on.  At the end of the day, there’s only one side… God’s.

~Erin

My Friend, Jennifer

Last Tuesday, I lost a friend to Covid-19.  I know it can happen to anyone.  I just didn’t think it would hit me this close to home.  I met Jennifer more than 7 years ago.  One of my favorite memories with her is when her sweet oldest son took my daughter to a dance.  We got such a kick out of “grilling” Jakob on how he was going to treat McKenna that night.  He was a class act because he had a classy mom.

In the last week, there has been post after post on Facebook, people shocked at the fact she’s gone.  Story after story leaped off the page. 

“She listened to me.” 

“She gave me wise advice.” 

“She was funny.” 

“She loved Jesus.” 

“She brought me back to church.” 

“She was an amazing mom and wife.” 

“She was generous to everyone.”

Literally hundreds of people have written about how she touched their lives in some way or another.  And it got me to thinking, what impact will I leave when my time on earth is done?  You see, Jennifer was a Christian, and she lived that faith out every day of her life.  She honored her husband and you could see their love. Her children were her heritage from the Lord and she was so proud of them. She took seriously the commands to love one another, take care of the less fortunate, and spread the good news of Jesus.  She wasn’t ashamed of who she was and took pride in knowing she was a child of the King. 

Are we the same way?  There are so many verses in the bible that tell us how to live our life.

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” –Proverbs 19:17

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:16

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13

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

I want to have the kind of impact that Jennifer had on people.  She didn’t just give lip service.  She didn’t do ‘just enough’ to earn Jesus-brownie-points.  With her interactions among strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family, our Creator was the center of it all. She lived every day like she was in the presence of God because she knew she was.  She was filled with the Holy Spirit as a believer.

I pray that the light of Jesus can shine through me as much as it did in her.  My prayer for my life is that people see how God impacted me to impact them.

We’ll miss you, Jennifer.  We were blessed to know you.  You are assuredly a beautiful example of a Godly woman.

~Erin

Jennifer Levengood 1974-2021

Back-to-School & Temple Taxation

Every year on the 1st day of school, we take a photo of my son in a shirt that says “Class of 2029.”  Starting in kindergarten, it was clearly waaaaay too big.  While it’s still large this year, I realize it will start to fit better in the next couple years.  For us, it’s an annual tradition marking the 1st day of school.

In the Bible we know that there were several annual traditions, but one that strikes me most is the collecting of yearly taxes.  Jewish males, over 20 years of age, from across the lands would pilgrimage to Jerusalem to pay their temple taxes.  

While it was an important annual event to pay for the temple upkeep, I imagine it was also a great time of fellowship too. The women, if traveling with their men, likely looked forward to the trip so that they could converse with others, as well as trade goods.  The men would likely have looked forward to catching up on news from around the region.  

The Bible gives us clear examples of how this annual responsibility was utilized for many different reasons.  In Exodus 30, we see the example of God telling Moses it was time to collect the taxes at the time of the census.  In this example, we see a clear message of Moses following God’s directions.  

In Matthew 17:24-27, we read of Peter being confronted by the religious leaders about if Jesus was going to pay the taxes.  Jesus claimed that they were exempt, but that they would pay the tax in order to not offend the Jewish religious leaders.   This shows us a lesson in humility and following the laws of man, as long as they don’t violate God’s law.  

When we think of our own annual traditions, whether they are related to birthdays, evening meals, Christmas, or back-to-school, we should recognize the uniqueness of each of those traditions.  Furthermore, we should pause to reflect about what lessons can be gleaned from those annual traditions.

While the annual 1st day of school photo may not be steeped in following God’s voice, humility or following man’s laws, it does allow this Mama a moment each year to see just how much her little guy is growing up.

~Emily

Put Down Your Phone!

We were seated at a small table in the corner.  The restaurant wasn’t very crowded as we waited for our family to be served.  As we were talking, I noticed my younger daughter staring into her lap.  Her father, right beside her, pulls his phone out of his pocket and scrolls emails.  My eyes wide, I exclaimed, “We’re having a conversation!  Could you put your phone away?!”  To which he did the obvious….he threw his daughter under the bus.  “She’s checking her phone, too!”

Anyone else have a meal like that?!  Really, it doesn’t even have to be a meal.  It happens all the time.  People check their phones as they walk down the street with their friends, chatting with the neighbor, or standing in line with their sibling while waiting for their coffee.  We pull out the phone to keep busy as we wait for Bible study to begin or church service to start.  It’s as if we can’t function without that little piece of hardware! 

I’m guilty of it, too!  There is absolutely no condemnation coming from this end of the keyboard.  I’d like to think I’m much better about it than I used to be, but I know that I’m sometimes not any better than anyone else in this department.

For whatever reason, though, this thought has continued to pop into my head for the last couple of months:  Put down your phone! That phrase has plagued me when I’ve pulled out my phone in the middle of a conversation.  It’s hit me when I tried to film some event and realized that I’d spent so much time trying to make sure I got the perfect angle with no noise or movement that I’d missed the real enjoyment.  And it’s even hit me when I’m in the middle of my Bible studies and I pick it up to check my newest Facebook notifications.  Is it really that important?

Table 8 (my California Bible study crew) is currently going through the book of Romans, and there is a verse in there that I’m leaning into now more than ever.  In a society that’s burdened with this feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out), I’m clinging to this.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor,” –Romans 12:10

I don’t feel I’m being honoring to my friends when my face is buried in the most recent Facebook post about my neighbor’s horse.  I’m not honoring time with my family when I’m checking the headlines on an app.  I’m not honoring the work that someone put into something when I’m more worried about the right lighting than what they’re saying or performing.

I think relationships would be enriched if we all devoted ourselves as the Bible encourages us to do.  Paul, here, was encouraging the Romans to walk with one another in love as they navigated a life in Christ.  He advised them to be humble and honor others over themselves.  What better way than to put down the distraction and really engage with each other?!

I’m laying down a challenge to all of us.  Let’s spend less time on our phones and more time in real fellowship!  Let’s get back to the days where we forged our friendships and family time in conversations and face-to-face interactions.  Let’s honor each other with true quality time.  Let’s put down our phones!

~Erin

The ‘No Amen’ Challenge

Years ago, when Skype became popular, I was living in Germany.  There were plenty of occasions that, with the time difference, I would fall asleep while Skyping someone in America.  I’d wake up and see my mom making dinner with Skype still going, or my friend also napping, or my brother reading.  

I love remembering that they didn’t disconnect the Skype call while I slept, but rather they went about their normal activities.  They didn’t say goodbye to me while I was sleeping, but waited until I woke up from my snooze.  

They left the video call open…

What would happen if we left our prayer life open?  

As we read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB), “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” consider what would occur if we actually didn’t cease incremental talking with God. 

I vowed to become more cognisant of my prayers ceasing, so I made up some rules to challenge myself.  Then I recruited others to try the challenge with me. 

Recently, I challenged the women of a Bible Study group that I facilitate to try my newly made up “No Amen Challenge.”  The premise is that you begin praying to God in the morning, but refrain from saying “amen.”  Instead, you start the norms of your day, and continuously talk to God throughout those tasks…again without ever ending these conversations with “amen” until you are ready to fall asleep.   

When I started deliberately leaving my prayer life “open” without the closing salutation, I found myself talking to God a lot more frequently throughout the day.  God wants us to have a more intimate relationship with Him through our prayer life.  It’s easy to bring concerns and requests to Him…it’s an entirely different thing to bring exhalations and thanksgiving.  It’s even more unique to chat about random thoughts, motivations, observations, or even things you find humours or concerning.  

In the moments of talking to God, as though He was a friend sitting next to me throughout the day, I found that I was much more aware of His continuous presence.  I was also much more aware of my own reactions to situations when I had an open line of communication going with God.  

For me, the “no amen challenge” became similar to the open Skype call that is on-going while one party is snoozing (**mark my words, I’m not saying that God snoozes on a Skype call while we wash the dishes).  Without the “amen,” I didn’t say “goodbye” nor did I hang up with God.  Instead, I knew He was still on the line as I started daily tasks.

How often are you praying without ceasing?  Do you want to talk more often with God?  Are you ready to try the “no amen challenge?”

Share your thoughts on praying without ceasing!

~Emily