Sweet Home Alabama

Last week I spent several days with my Mom going through my Dad’s belongings after he died.  After a few days of sorting items and helping Mom with paperwork that follows a death, I realized I really wanted to go home.  I love my Mom and I love hanging out with her.  But I wanted to be home.  Home to my husband, my child, & my pup.  It’s taken seven years, but at some point over those years Alabama became home.

I’ve been thinking about home in relationship to our walk with God.  I’ve heard sermons that reference the statement “this is our earthly home, but heaven is our eternal home.” I’d venture to guess most of us think of heaven as our true home.  It got me thinking about if there are other aspects of being a Christian where we feel that we are at home.

There are times that I feel great peace with the Lord when I’m praying, singing worship music, or journaling.  Other times, I feel that connection to the Lord while admiring nature or fellowshipping with other believers.  I even feel the love of the Lord while I study His Word.  

In Hebrews 3:4 (NASB) we read, “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” 

God, the builder of all things, has made us a home.  In John 14, Jesus told us that he will go before us and prepare a room in the mansion of his Father’s house.  I can’t wait to see that mansion.  I can’t wait to see the room for me that was prepared by Jesus himself. I can’t wait to be home.  

Here’s the reality.  I can feel peace, connection, or love during aspects of my Christian walk but I’m not truly home until I reach heaven.  Heaven.  Our true home.  

Even if Sweet Home Alabama is the temporary one.

~Emily

Care for the Widows

Losing a parent is a roller coaster of emotions.  

My Dad died on Saturday morning and I felt like it was a chaotic series of ups and downs.  Joy that he was finally pain free.  Sadness for the loss.  Relief that my Mom doesn’t have to be the primary caretaker anymore.  Anxiety over all the paperwork.  Annoyance that the screen door was broken by the Funeral Home employees.  Amusement that the 1st visitor from my parents’ church brought lemon muffins and toilet paper.  

I’m not worried about my Dad. He’s home with Jesus. Not a darn thing for me to worry about there. 

But I am concerned about my Mom.  She’s got plans to create a craft room and start going to water aerobics.  She wants to shampoo the carpets and purchase a new couch.  From a grieving perspective, she’s got a healthy thought process about staying in the house for at least a year before she makes big life-changing plans.  She’s going to keep herself busy…and she’s going to get some rest.

I’m most concerned about when the sun sets.  When she has to go to bed alone after having slept in the same bed with her husband for 52 years.  I’m concerned about her finances as she waits for Social Security to transfer over.  I’m concerned about when she has to go to the funeral home alone to pick up paperwork.  I’m concerned about her safety, her sanity, her well-being.  

How can I be so assured about where my Dad is, but be so concerned about my Mom’s well-being?  It’s a sliding graph of hypocrisy to trust God with my Dad’s eternity, but question my Mom’s earthly care as a widow.  

Scripture has helped these last few days with answering those questions.  

“A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation.  God makes a home for the lonely…” ~Psalm 68:5-6

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress…” ~James 1:27 

“Learn to do good;  Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” ~Isaiah 1:17

When I turn to scripture, I’m comforted and know that God will take care of my Mom better than I ever could.  God has already put in place a plan for us, as believers, to care for the widows and the orphans.  From across the country, I will rest assured her church family will care for her when I geographically can’t.  

Losing a parent is such a hard rollercoaster, but so is caring for the parent left behind.  

I’m requesting prayers this week for all the widows of the world, but most especially for those who are newly titled “widow.”

~Emily

The Business of Dying is Hard Work

Last month my mom said, “This business of dying is harder work than being born.”

She’s right.  It’s hard work for the one who is dying, but it’s especially hard work for the friends and family left after the death.  

In the last year, I’ve had friends mourn family members who died from COVID.  I’ve watched my Mom make the hard decisions about hospice for my Dad, just months after he was diagnosed with cancer.  I’ve watched my husband’s family mourn the death of their matriarch, Deea.  I’ve had High School classmates die from suicide and cancer.  

The business of dying is hard work.

So is the business of living.

In each scenario where someone has died, there are families and friends doing the hard work of continuing to live…paying bills, going to school or work, loving children, putting on a smile…all while grappling with the very real stages of grieving.  In the scenario where a spouse becomes a caretaker, it’s hard work to keep living…to juggle the knowledge that you aren’t a medically trained professional, but you are expected to advocate for your loved one.   In the instances where we just want to give up, it’s hard work to keep trucking along…to keep putting one foot in front of the other while wanting to scream profanities into your pillow.   

In John 10:10 (NASB) scripture tells us “The thief comes only to steal, and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  

In this verse, Jesus promises that He’s come so that we’ll have life to the fullest.  We’re warned against an enemy whose primary mission is to steal our joy and taint our memories through destruction.  How can we have that promise of a full life?  

When we choose to intentionally make God the foundation of our lives, we receive clarity about the hard work of living.  As we walk through creating focus on Jesus, we are able to see ourselves making it through the “narrow gate” that is discussed in Matthew 7.  Through that scripture we are able to see a few foundational principles.  1. The rightful place of God is on the throne of our lives. 2. Jesus Christ and our faith in Him is the requirement for entry into heaven.  3. As Lord of our lives, Jesus allows us to focus on Him, which then allows all other priorities to become easier to walk through.  

This doesn’t mean we won’t have strife and trials.  It does not mean that we won’t grieve the deaths of those around us.  It certainly doesn’t mean that we won’t be anguished and full of questions when struggling with all the issues around dying.  

It does mean that we can have comfort, peace, love, and even joy in the midst of those horrible moments…if only we allow Jesus to help us with these difficulties.  


You see, both dying and living are hard work.  

But both can be made slightly easier with our reliance on Christ. 

I’m praying this week for each of us who are facing or have faced death recently.  Specifically, I’m praying that we each find comfort in knowing God is walking right beside us in these trials. 

~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  

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

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

Funeral for a Church

As a military member, leaving a church has been a small part of my reality of orders and transition to a new location.  I never had to make the decision to leave a church without the military being the reason for moving on.  When having to make that decision on my own, I’ll be the first to admit that it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make.  I prayed over the situation for nearly two years before I felt God releasing me to move to another location.

During that two years, I continued to serve and tithe.  I continued to join small groups and lead women’s ministry.  I also educated myself about differences in doctrine, about healthy churches, about how to leave in a graceful manner. I asked questions of my church leadership and I felt comfortable in presenting any of my concerns.  I created an excel spreadsheet phase of pros and cons of nearby churches.  Ultimately, I listened to the Lord…stayed when He told me to stay…moved on when He told me to move on.  

Emotionally, the decision felt like a horrible breakup; like a divorce of the worst kind. It felt like the death of a loved one; like I was planning a funeral.  

Let me be very clear–I’m not saying the church I left was bad.  It was very right for the people who remained.  What I am saying is this; God has released me from serving at that particular church.  My focus shifted to finding another church.  However, finding a new church home has been a challenge that I wasn’t anticipating during this stage of my life.  

There are many things to consider when looking at a church.  Is the leadership teaching from the Bible? Is there sound doctrine? What are the children and youth programs teaching?  What are the affiliations?  How is the leadership structure?  Are the finances available and transparent? 

Is it a healthy church?

According to Thom Rainer in “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” there are several ways to recognize if a church is not going to survive a season of illness and to recognize if they are unhealthy.  In other words, I’ve been able to use this as a gauge to check the health of churches that we’ve been visiting.  Usually it’s a slow erosion, which highlights that there is focus inwards on the church rather than the community, as well as a distinct focus on the past (and how the “good ole’ days” used to be).  When the church doesn’t have a clear purpose, becomes obsessed over the facility or individual preferences, or worse…when the budget moves away from ministry and is primarily focused on staff or facility, then there is a disconnect in what is occurring within the church walls.  As a new visitor, it’s nearly impossible to see if these things are occurring within a church without deliberately asking questions.

Rainer contends that only 10% of churches are truly healthy, while 40% are showing some symptoms of sickness, another 40% are very sick, and the last 10% are in the final process of dying.  I know that every church has some semblance of issues.  I recognize that churches are not perfect.  However, as a result of Rainer’s analysis, I’ve been praying for my family to find a church in the healthy 10%.  I’ve also been focusing on praying for the churches in the other 90% to have open eyes and ears to become the healthy 10%.  

Through the process of finding a new church, I realized that I’m not the first one to face the challenge of church transitions.  In the past, I searched for churches based on the style of praise music, the pastor’s speaking ability, or the programs available.  Those things were important to me at the time, but now I’ve got a different set of items I’m looking for.  Specifically, I am now analyzing churches for the breadth of teaching scripture, speech on Word and truth, the management of the budget, as well as the health of leadership of the church.  

Ephesians 4:11-16 has given me direction and hope that my family will find fellowship in a new healthy church!

Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

I acknowledge that leaving a church should be a hard decision. It truly was. In so many ways, this season of transition has allowed me to rely more fully on prayer and direction from God.  I know that the building up of the body of Christ will allow our family to grow roots in a new and healthy church.

~Emily

RAINER, T., 2017. AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH. [Place of publication not identified]: LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCE.