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

“God Knew” By Guest Bloggers: Jessie Lynn® and Kelsey Stahler

“God knew our mothers couldn’t handle us as sisters so he made us best friends instead…”

That’s Kelsey’s favorite quote to use when it comes to describing our friendship and how close we truly are! When I say close, I mean we are almost identical when it comes to beliefs, work ethic, goals, dreams, and visions for what we see in our future. We both carry the same love and passion for horses, barrel racing, rodeoing, traveling, and love a good productive day for either one of our businesses! Basically, we are sisters…not by blood but by choice!

Where did it all start? Originally the friendship started out as a coach-to-client relationship when Kelsey contacted me about barrel racing lessons and shared her dreams of making it to the NFR. At first, I was a little hesitant and explained to her that if we started lessons, especially with that type of goal, it was going to be for the long haul! Needless to say, that didn’t faze her. The most interesting thing about that moment in time is that we met at probably one of the most difficult times in both of our lives. God knew…

I often think back on that moment in time and how God most certainly knew that our paths had to cross in order for us to grow and challenge one another in a way that we both would appreciate and understand. Kelsey and I both agree that we challenge one another in the most positive and in some cases, most aggressive ways that pushes us past our comfort zones. Ironically, that’s what we both needed. It’s quite amazing to think that was only three short years ago…Kelsey and I have grown so much since then, not only in our friendship, but as individuals as well!

Kelsey is now the proud owner of a small western boutique in downtown Prattville, Alabama called “Wandering Coyote Company,” and has achieved great success on the road traveling to various equine and cattleman’s events across the Southeast. On occasion, we travel together when my singing career coincides with an event and we just decide to make a girl’s trip out of it! It’s work for sure, but we’re able to help one another and ensure that we each have what we need to be successful!

I happily spend majority of my time on the road touring with my country music career, but still find time to enjoy a barrel race or two on the weekends and an occasional vacation trip when Kelsey and I can find time! The best part about our friendship is that we don’t have to be together to be close and we both know we are just one phone call or text away if one of us needs something or just need a girl talk moment. Believe me, there are plenty of those!

Quite frankly, I believe if you had asked either one of us “did we expect this friendship to turn out the way it has,” I think we both would have said no. Funny thing is, when God is in control of the company you keep and the people you have to surround yourself with in order to make it, He sends the right person at the right time! There’re no questions, no doubts, and everything works out as it should!

Yes, we’ve only been best friends for three years now, but believe me when I say, it’s a friendship that has been built off of the Lord’s word, strength, direction, and most importantly His love for both of us! Kelsey and I often discuss our dreams and quite frequently reassess our goals and plans for the time at hand, and to see what the Lord has placed in both of us to help one another is indescribable! Both of us reach for the star that just so happens to be out of reach, but when one of us does, it encourages the other to boost them up and to keep working towards their goal and dream. To give you one word to describe it: Balance!

Kelsey and I hope that this story encourages you and your best friend to place the Lord first in all that you do and completely trust Him with every aspect of your life! You do that, and He will bless you richly for it! 

-Written by Jessie Lynn® with contributions by Kelsey Stahler

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Mentored By Another Generation: The Titus 2 Woman

A few months ago, my sweet friend trusted me enough to introduce me to her Aunt Bonnie.  If I had to guess, Aunt Bonnie is probably in her 80s, but mentally in her 30s.  I was enamored with her from the moment I met her and to her extended family’s amusement, I was also calling her Aunt Bonnie immediately. 

She showed me her craft room, encouraged me in learning quilting, asked about my childhood, and invited me to come spend the summer with her in Texas so we could gab and craft together.  This woman was lovely and I so honored to have met her for a brief afternoon.

My friend trusted me with her family treasure.  You see, I could have been stand-offish, impatient, rude, or unengaged. When we introduce our friends to our family, we have a small idea of how they will interact, but there is no guarantee that they will hold the same esteem for our older family members that we may. 

In my case, I jumped at the chance to learn from this lovely gal who clearly was more well versed in quilting than I was.  Not only was it selfish on my part to learn from her, I would also consider it Biblical.  

Titus 2:3-5 (NASB) states, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, no malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” 

Our conversation was not about religion, as we chatted about quilting techniques.  But here was a more mature woman, mentoring a middle-aged woman…and in that wonderful conversation, I had an example from her about loving my husband and child, about being sensible and pure, about working at home and being kind.  She was the Titus 2 older woman to me.  

As Christian women, we need to either be seeking a more mature woman to sit under…or we need to be the more mature woman willing to allow others to sit with us. 

While the Titus 2 description is specifically geared towards life as a Christian woman, remember that these mentoring sessions could also be opportunities to share the Gospel.   In both directions!  Be open to being a mentor.  And be open to finding one for yourself too!

Come to the porch this week and tell us about your mentors!

~Emily 

Jack Daniels “Medicine”

Through the years I noticed that Renee, my mother-in-law, would occasionally take a small nip of Jack Daniels.  She called it her medicine and would do it so infrequently that you wouldn’t even be able to call it a habit.  In 2017, she came to visit us in Alabama from Pennsylvania for Christmas and “Santa” gave her a couple small bottle samplers of Jack Daniels in her stocking.

However, there weren’t any shot glasses in the house for her to have her sip.  I teased her that she could just take her “medicine” with a tablespoon, since that’s about all she would drink.  I also told her that someday, I was going to write a blog about her nipping Jack.  She giggled and told me to write the blog…she went on to say, “if Iron Porch is for women to know other Christian women are real, then we should know about our favorite little nips & sips.”  

At that point we had a lengthy discussion about Christian women and drinking.  I had been “called out” by a church member for posting a photo of my wine glass on social media, so I was a tad gun-shy about allowing others to see the social-drinking side of my life.  

She reminded me that of all masks women wear, there isn’t a single one that hides us from Christ.

Jesus literally knows everything about us…our thoughts…our fears…our dreams…our disappointments…our excitement.  And He even knows when we want to have a little nip of Jack Daniels.  

I admired that she was comfortable with others knowing that she enjoyed a small sip every once in a while.  Her example and gentle reminder allowed me to assess the portions of my life that may be inadvertently or consciously hidden from others.  She told me to take the masks off. 

On a whim this last weekend, I opened a tiny-useless drawer to the left of my stovetop, which has never been used.  Inside, I found a wrapped-up package of “shot glasses” with a post-it note on top.  It was a message from my mother-in-law from Christmas 2017, about her next trip to Alabama.  

Just a few months after she wrote that note, she was diagnosed with cancer.  And just a couple weeks ago, we laid her to rest knowing that she was in heaven singing to Jesus.  She never made it back to Alabama for another visit to use her nipping glasses. 

While she no longer needs her Jack Daniels “medicine” or the Alabama shot glasses, she left me with a reminder to be true to myself…and not wear the masks for others.

~Emily

4th Grade Girlfriend Distractions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Emily

Embarrassing Corrections

If you have broccoli in your teeth, TP on your shoe, or a tag sticking up out of your shirt, I’m the kind of girl you want to have nearby. I will not only tell you, I’ll try to help you fix it too.  I would want someone to tell me if I had something going on, so as a young teen I vowed to always tell about something embarrassing that could be corrected. 

Those are easy scenarios for me to tell someone about.  What is hard for me to tell someone is when I think they’ve said or done something wrong.  Specifically, I struggle with telling people when there has been a perceived infraction with fellow Christians.

The Lord doesn’t want us pointing out everyone’s flaws; in fact Jude 1:16 condemns us finding fault with others deliberately.  Nor does scripture allow us to correct fellow Christians based upon second hand knowledge.  However, we are to gently and lovingly correct behavior when it is observed first hand and when the Lord prompts us too.  

Recently, I had to have a conversation with someone about her actions and conversations. I witnessed it first hand and it involved a women’s class that I was facilitating.  It was sooooooo hard for me! I prayed for several days about the situation before I did anything. I wanted to make sure that a) I had God’s authority to correct the behavior and b) I was doing it with the correct motives.  

I literally had to have a pep talk with myself before I called her.  Frankly, I would have rather done anything else than had that conversation.  And yet, the conversation went well and she stated that she didn’t intend harm. It was a productive chat.  

Once the conversation was over, I was relieved that I’d followed God’s lead.  I was glad that I had addressed the conversation privately, as is outlined in Matthew 18:15 (NASB) “Now if your brother sins, go and how him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

Fear of offending or losing a friend/acquaintance often leads us to negate the task of correcting others.  In Proverbs 18:19 (NASB) we see that scripture warns us of rebuking leading to loss, “A brother who is offended is harder to be won than a strong city, And quarrels are like the bars of a citadel.”

When we negate corrective behavior with other Christians, we could be found guilty of sin ourselves.  While some may argue that salvation questions are the only corrective conversation, I would argue that we also need to correct behavior that brings a dark light on God or other Christians.  

What was my deciding factor that lead to a corrective conversation with this gal?  Pray & God.  

After prayerful consideration, I knew it was my obligation as a fellow Christian and as a leader to address the situation, despite how uncomfortable it made me.  

It would have been so much easier for me if she had broccoli in her teeth or toliet paper on her shoe…

Come to the porch this week and tell us about any scenarios where you had to correct someone or you were corrected.

~Emily

New Year’s Priorities with “Reasonable” Expectations

I love to scrapbook, but I feel like I can’t get caught up on decades worth of photos that are well organized in folders.  Each of these folders is waiting to be creatively placed with stickers on the pages of my books.  I have an entire basket of photos from the two years I was stationed in Europe…in 2010-2012!!!  What fun it would be to sit down and reminisce all the places I traveled, all the people I met, and all the food that I ate!   

While I want to eliminate the backlog of photos, I do not prioritize this as something that must be done.  Clearly other things have captured my attention over the years that have taken precedence over scrapbooking.   Things like getting married, finishing a degree, raising a child, or retiring from the military.  Other things were a greater priority to me than scrapbooking.  

If I were to set a goal to scrapbook the decades of photos that are waiting page placement, I would likely fail to meet the goal based upon it not being a priority to me. 

In fact, when I set goals in relationship to New Years, I tend to fail. I set unreasonable expectations.  And then I fail.  Finances, weigh-loss, relationship mending, Bible Studies, gardening…doesn’t matter what the topic, there seems to be a failure involved.  

As I assess the craziness of 2020 and what might come in 2021, I decided that I won’t make resolutions.  No resolutions this year. Instead, I’m setting priorities with reasonable expectations. 

And I’m only setting one.  

I’m making God a priority in 2021.  I want to make time each day to spend in the Word.  I recognize that some days may be an hour, while others might be 15 minutes.  The reasonable part of this priority is this: I’m going to spend time with my Bible each day and I am not setting a specific timeframe for how long it will be each day.  

I recently acquired a yearlong Billy Graham devotional, as well as a 90 day walk with Paul by Beth Moore.  Both of these resources have me excited to start.  However, I need to be clear about my priority of spending time with God in 2021…I’m committing to spending time studying the Bible each day…in addition to any other study or devotion that I might also be doing.  

In James 4:8 (NASB), we are instructed to spend time with God and we are told what happens when we do.   “Come close to God and He will come close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

Come close to God and He will come close to you.

That is my priority for 2021.  I’m setting a reasonable expectation that I will do it every day without a time constraint. 

Come to the porch and share your priorities and expectations for 2021.  

~Emily

P.S.  I hope I get a little scrapbooking time too!!

Breaking Bread: Recipes for a Happy Mouth

Food is such a valued part of the American experience.  If someone is celebrating a birthday, wedding, promotion, or new house, we use food to expand that celebration. If someone is mourning the death of family member, the loss of a job, the devastation of a natural disaster or the end of a relationship, we use food to comfort.  Want to catch up with a friend? Go to lunch.  Need to exchange a gift at Christmas? Give fruitcake.

Breaking bread with others is a very special occasion, regardless the reason for food exchange.  The early believers in the Bible understood this concept of expanding community through the breaking of bread.  They further understood that Christ did not intend for us to live in isolation, but rather to interact with others.  In our culture, that often requires the use of food for those interactions.  

Jesus modeled the behavior of interacting with others while breaking bread for us.  We see him feasting at Matthew’s house with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10).  We see him dining at Martha’s home.  We see His last and very impactful last “breaking of bread” while in the Upper Room prior to his trial and execution.

Jesus did not retreat from others while they were celebrating or in pain.  He used it as an opportunity to reach out and connect with others.  Like in the time Jesus was on Earth as a man, we are also surrounded by those who are longing for the invitation to break bread with us.    They want connection and inclusion.  

The American way is through food.  More importantly, it’s also the Jesus way.

As we move into the craziness of the Christmas season, think about inviting someone to share a meal with you this week…break bread with them.  If you’re feeling really ambitious, take them a baked good or casserole and encourage them to break bread with others.  

Break bread together…make happy mouths!

~Emily

During Thanksgiving through Christmas, my “go-to” breaking-bread-dessert is my Great-Grandmother’s Cranberry Pudding, which is a dense cranberry cake with a warm buttery sauce to pour over the top. The recipe is listed below:

Great-Grandma Johnson’s Cranberry Pudding

Cake Batter:

6 TBl Butter

2 cups white sugar

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 cups evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk!)

1 (12 oz) package of fresh (or frozen) cranberries

Hot Butter Sauce: (I double the sauce recipe because I LOVE extra on the cake slices)

1 cup butter

2 cups white sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan (or you can use a 8×8 pan). Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the 6 tablespoons butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the evaporated milk. Stir in the cranberries. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

To make the Hot Butter Sauce:

In a saucepan, combine 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, and cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Serve slices of cake generously covered with hot butter sauce. (Sauce can be re-heated for leftover cake)

Guests At The Table

When reflecting on my brother-in-law’s wedding to my sister-in-law, I remembered when I was seated in the second row with the groom’s family.  I turned around and saw my husband’s Uncle and Aunt seated several rows behind me.  I waved them forward to come sit by me since they were also part of the groom’s family. They moved forward.  

When I asked why they sat far back they responded, “Always sit towards the back and wait until you are invited to a more reverent position.”  

That sentiment has stuck with me for the last 2 years.

It also reminded me of when I was a Junior in High School and our Youth Group leader set up a dinner event for us at the church.  We could sit wherever we wanted at the table.  But it ended up being a lesson in choosing to sit at the head table verse sitting in “lesser” position.  Those of us that had sat at the head table were then asked to become the servers at the dinner party.

Both examples are reminiscent of the “Parable of the Great Banquet” or “Parable of Guests” from Luke 14:7-10.  

“And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place.But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.”

Luke 14:7-10 (NASB)

Pride dictates to us that we are worthy of sitting at the front table.  It’s pride that allows us to think we should sit in a place of honor.  

But it’s someone else’s authority that allows us to stay there. 

At a wedding, it’s the protocol of Emily Post.  At a dinner party, it’s the host or hostess’ decision.  

As a Christian, Jesus outlines that we are to wait until we are invited to move to that position of honor.   Jesus didn’t tell us this as a mean way of “keeping us in check.” Rather, He was teaching us how we can learn to control pride…before it controls us.  He was teaching us how to be humble…so that we can be an example to others.  

Through a deliberate lesson geared towards teenagers, my youth group leaders taught me the lesson early.  Years later, by demonstrating this behavior, my husband’s Aunt and Uncle illustrated a real-life lesson in that humility.  

This week, I pray that we are each humble in our decisions about where we choose to sit at the table.

~Emily