All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth (…or two hearing aids)

Hearing aids are such curious items.  Think about how advanced the electronics are, how tiny they can be, and how they emit just the right frequencies to assist with specified hearing deficits.  

For the last two weeks my Father-in-Law had been visiting us from Pennsylvania.  He wears fancy hearing aids that have their own charging case and boast a clear wire that sticks up behind the ear.  In short, they resemble small bugs with an elongated neck…or a squirrely solo leg.  

Four days into his visit, our cats decided that they were small bugs to be played with.  They managed to get ahold of both of his hearing aids; one had teeth marks and a broken case, while the other had been placed poetically in the toilet.

My heart sunk. Because my early years in the Air Force were as an Ear, Nose, & Throat Technician, I know just how expensive hearing aids are.  To make this right, our family was going to have to come out of pocket quite a bit of money…at Christmas time with our son’s birthday days away.  And yet, this was a moment where our son was watching how we were going to react to our cats “eating” several thousand dollars in a game of high-stakes “cat & mouse.”

Galatians 6:9 (NASB) states, “Let us not become discouraged in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not become weary.” 

Doing the right thing, also known as integrity, is something we must make conscious decisions to pursue.  It becomes a constant process to continuously make good decisions, as well as behaving in a righteous way.  It’s a simplistic way that we get to imitate Christ’s behavior when He walked the earth as flesh and blood. The verse further encourages us that we can’t become weary while making these conscious decisions. Both parts are hard to do…the reacting appropriately and to do it with a joyful attitude is difficult. It takes practice.

In the nano-second that I heard our cats had destroyed an expensive set of hearing aids, I immediately said, “we’ll pay for the replacements…what do we have to do to make this right?”  It wasn’t until later that I started to panic about cost and the impact on Christmas or Birthday celebrations.  That didn’t change the ultimate thought…we still needed to make it right by paying for new aids.  The difference is the acknowledgment of the statement ‘what is right is right….no matter the impact.’ 

Pappy gets new hearing aids and his grandson has an example, albeit an expensive one, of how to treat people and how we should own our roles and responsibilities. Our son gets a Galatians 6:9 example in real life.  

Meanwhile, I’m humming “All I want for Christmas is…two new hearing aids!”

I’m praying for all the Iron Porch readers this week that we are encouraged rather than discouraged and that we continue to be joyful rather than weary!

~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

Disdain for Christmas Music

One of the women in the Bible Study I facilitate recently dropped a bomb on me.  With a slight shrug of one shoulder she said, “I hate Christmas music.” Then like a psycho, she just sat there waiting for me to respond.

I’d like to say I was kind and understanding with a grace-filled response.  Instead.  Instead, I’m sure I was slack-jawed and bug-eyed when I nearly screeched, “Are you kidding me right now?!?!?!”  I knew that there were non-Christmas-music-listening people; however, I did not know they existed within my circle of friends!  

Maybe I’m the psycho one, but I have no problem listening to Christmas music year-round. In fact, I have a “go-to” Christmas station pre-programed on Pandora. 

For me, there is something soul-stirring about Christmas music.  Not gimmicky-secular Christmas music (although there is a place for that on my play-list too).  I’m talking about the soul-stirring Christmas music that reminds of Christ’s birth, of angels singing, of wise men traveling, of God’s purpose in sending his Son, and of the ultimate gift we are given by our Heavenly Father.  Those types of Christmas songs truly speak to my heart. 

And I sing them anytime that the mood strikes me…even if it’s nowhere near December.  

In addition to studying the Word and having a healthy prayer life, I would contend that worship of God through music is one of the most effective means to build our personal relationships with Christ.  It’s an act of obedience and one that we will continue once we’re in heaven (for just one Biblical example, see Revelation Chapters 4 & 5 to see how we’ll be worshiping there).

In regards to Christmas music, it helps me remember who I am exalting and the reasons for wanting to participate in the act of worship.  For me, it’s especially impactful at Christmas so that I stay centered on my Christian walk, when society could easily distract me towards the non-essential trappings of the holiday season.  

That may not be true for everyone.  Maybe the Contemporary Christian Music does it, or Grandma’s favorite hymn, or maybe just reading Psalms with classical music in the background is what helps you focus.  

The amazing thing about soul-stirring music that exalts Jesus, is that it doesn’t have to be Christmas music.  Therefore, my sweet friend who despises Christmas music can worship just as effectively with other songs and hymns.  

We can both show excitement for singing at Christmas…without either of us being psycho! 

~Emily

“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving. Sing praises to our God on the lyre.” Psalm 147:7 (NASB)

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

Childlike Grief

Death’s impact on our lives is so weird.

It’s been nine months since my mother-in-law passed away.  Sometimes it feels like years ago and other days it feels like moments.  Most days we remember her in joy, but there have been a few ‘sneak attack’ tearful days too.

As we planned our trip for Thanksgiving, our son asked if he could visit Gramma’s grave while we were in Pennsylvania. Specifically, he wanted to put a Christmas ornament at her grave.   I was slightly surprised to hear the request, as he seemed to be handling the death and memories fairly well.  

If I’m completely honest, I’m also a little surprised that I was surprised.  

Seriously, why was I surprised?  It seems natural he’d want to go see the gravesite.  He was very close to her, as she helped raise him in the single-Dad-toddler years and they spoke on the phone almost every day since.  Normally, I’m the sensitive one of the family that would have made the offer to take him to the cemetery.  And yet, the 10-year-old beat me to the request.

More often than not, I think we are surprised by the depth of knowledge that our children have regarding the Savior.  They may not have the depth of knowledge with theology or specific scripture, but their little hearts are perfectly attuned to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There is something so sweet and endearing about a small child praying out loud.  I remember the little boy prayers for nerf guns to work, for kitties to be found, or for Gramma to be healed.  

There is something equally sweet about children sharing the Gospel.  When Erin’s daughter, Peyton, was 6 or 7 years old, I often watched her talk to strangers about Jesus.  

Corrections and convictions are also sweet and endearing when they come from children.  I’ve had my own son tell me I’ve hurt God’s heart when I said a swear word.  

Lesson here?  Kids are unabashed about their prayer lives.  They are confident and bold in sharing Jesus.  And they have no qualms about corrective behavior.  

The book of Matthew has so many nuggets regarding children and their place in the kingdom.  In Matthew 18:1-5 (NASB) we read, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him among them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So whoever will humble himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me.”

Jesus expressly told us that children would be great teachers.  There is something to learn from our kids. We can learn about prayer, evangelism, and correction.  And we can certainly learn lessons about dealing with grief.

~Emily

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

Expectation Vs Reality

We took a trip this last weekend to Mississippi for a concert.  Because it was over four hours away, we decided to get a hotel.  For road trips the task of choosing a hotel has always fallen to me.  Emily says it’s because I’m bougie.  I say it’s because it’s because I don’t want to find a cockroach sleeping next to me on my pillow when I wake up in the morning.  (It does not help that I used to be a travel agent and I also worked for a hotel, so I KNOW what hotels can be like!)

This time, I was looking at prices and trying to be a little practical and chose a hotel I wouldn’t normally choose.  Nothing is wrong with this particular chain, but if the name of the hotel doesn’t usually rhyme with Fyatt or Filton, it’s not on my radar.  Let’s just say that the pictures of this hotel and the reality of the hotel were, to quote scripture, as far as the east is from the west.  It was ok.  I didn’t die.  We got a good night’s sleep.  But my expectation versus reality was disappointing.

Aren’t we lucky that we have a Heavenly Father that is exactly as He says?! We don’t need to worry that He’s not the same as He’s portrayed in the Bible.  There were eyewitness accounts of who God and Jesus are!  Passages in the Bible show Jesus’s loving words and actions. 

We don’t have to worry about Him changing how He feels about us, because the Bible tells us that we are His children when we accept Him as our Savior.  He listens to our pleas, feels our pain, and knows our stories.  He doesn’t change His mind on a whim or lead us in a direction to say, “GOTCHA! I just wanted to mess with you!”  He’s constant, ever-present, all-powerful, and all-knowing.  He does not change!

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever. –Hebrews 13:8

I praise God that He is this way.  In a world where the ebbs and flows seem to be dramatic and wildly moveable, I give thanks that we have a God whom we can count on.  We know what He expects of us, and we know what to expect of Him.

Join with me this week in praising God for being an unmovable and unshakeable Creator.   Let’s find ways to praise God for being exactly who He says He is!

~Erin

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

Playful Sightlessness

I was playing pretty rough with my lab, when he pushed back on his back legs with his front paws started coming forward right at my face.

I couldn’t move out of the way fast enough.  Instead, I felt an intense pain on my left eye and a burning down the side of my face.  I fully thought the dog had inadvertently blinded me.  

In that moment, I stood with tears flowing, tentatively opening my eyes with a tremendous fear that the blurriness in my left eye was indicative of my new life without sight in that eye.  

While blinking repeatedly and checking for blood, I wondered if this is how Saul felt in Acts 9 when God struck him blind prior to his conversion to Christianity.  It was in that moment, I had a glimpse into the pure panic that Saul must have felt. 

As my sight began to clear, my thoughts shifted to the parable in Luke chapter 6, when Jesus says that the blind wouldn’t be able to lead the blind.  

“He also told them this parable: ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?’” Luke 6:39 (NASB)

The implication is clear. No, the blind can’t lead the blind.  You can’t lead if you yourself don’t know about particular situations.  Perhaps it means that you can’t teach if you haven’t been the student.  Maybe it means, one leader isn’t effective unless they’ve been an effective follower.  

It’s a poetic way to showcase the expectation that a strong Christian who leads, disciples, and mentors others, are likely the ones who have studied the Word, spent time in prayer, and have been discipled themselves.  

What does that mean for women walking with Jesus? It means that we need to ensure we are constantly strengthening our relationship with God if we are in leadership positions. It also means that we have to assess those who are in leader positions around us and discern if we are being appropriately led.  

My moment of temporary blindness from playing with my dog, was actually one of conviction.  Conviction that I need to be deliberately growing to be a better leader, as well as assessing who is teaching me. 

It’s amazing how lessons come from our everyday life…conviction from canine playing.

~Emily