Answered and Exceeded
For the last year, we have been working towards our dream of writing in order to impact women’s lives. That dream birthed the Iron Porch. But it also birthed the start of independent stories that each us began pursuing.
Last week we started a road trip that took us up and down the east coast. It also took us up and down a rollercoaster of emotions. You see, the dream brought us to the She Speaks Conference, sponsored by Proverbs 31 Ministries. If you are unfamiliar with She Speaks, the premise is a location for nearly 800 women to follow the calling on their lives to speak, write, and lead for the Lord.
The dream brought us in front of real life publishers. Let’s all take a moment to soak that in…real life…publishers!! Like for real, real life publishers!!!
While a publisher appointment is a scary thing to contemplate, there is beauty in knowing when it is God ordained.
Before the registration opened, one of us was FREAKING out that we would miss the actual registration date and miss out on the opportunity to attend. Yet, we both received the email with plenty of time to consult before committing to workshops. We were afforded the opportunity to choose five publishers out of a list of dozens in the hopes of receiving one appointment. We prayed that we each would get one.
Weeks later, we both got the email revealing that we had each been scheduled for three appointments! Prayers answered and exceeded!
Not only had we each received three, we got the exact same three publishers. Prayers answered and exceeded!
And if God wasn’t already amazing in these gifts, two of the three publisher appointments were back-to-back appointments…Emily at 11:45 and Erin at 12:00. Essentially, Iron Porch had two publishers listening to our hearts for 30 minutes total! Unrequested prayer answered…and exceeded!!
God wasn’t done answering unrequested prayers. He allowed us an amazing amount of time with dozens of women in prayer, in fellowship, and in community. In preparation for the conference, we prayed for our friendship. We prayed for the Iron Porch. We prayed for our books. We prayed for good feedback from the publishers. We dared to pray for “yes” from the publishers. We prayed for our assigned prayer partners…strangers we met via email weeks before the conference. And we prayed for the staff and faculty of P31.
But we hadn’t prayed for the sense of belonging with other women called to this path. We hadn’t prayed to gain new friendships. We hadn’t prayed to be moved to tears and laughter with strangers who had touched our hearts.
God answered the prayers that we didn’t even realize were on our hearts.
God answered the asked and unasked.
The Bible teaches us about exceeded expectations in 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV) “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
This is a lesson that we both have taken away this week. It’s okay to ask God for what you want. It’s okay to ask in detail. It’s also okay to forget to ask for things.
You know why?
Because God is going to answer your heart. He’ll answer the asked and unasked.
~Emily and Erin
Find Your Community
Last night, our weekly women’s Bible study group met for week two of our newest venture. You often hear me refer to them as Table 8. When I met most of these women a little over a year ago, I was a table leader at our church’s women’s Bible study. The names of the participants were prayed over and given seat assignments. While I’ve led Bible studies before, this was my first time leading a table at my new church in California, and I had no idea who or what to expect! We’ve since changed table numbers, grafted new women into our group, and even started meeting outside of church to go through different Bible studies together. But we’ve always been “Table 8.”
Table 8 has talked at length about being surrounded by a community of like-minded women to share life together. Sometimes they’re referred to as life groups. Others call them communities. Often, women struggle with finding women they can fellowship with in this way. We fear what the other people will think about our life and choices. We wonder if they’ll judge us for our past, look down on us for how our children behave, or shy away for the depression we’re currently sitting in.
I did this for a long time. I would get into a group only to find myself holding back. While my life is an open book which I believe God has called me to share with others, I could sense that I was keeping pieces of myself separate from the group for fear of judgment. Many times, those pieces were exactly what I needed to share to garner advice on the situation from others, to help me heal, and to help me grow closer to my Creator.
God encourages us to have the kinds of friends that we can find in these life groups. These groups can help hold us accountable to studying and learning God’s Word. They can lift us up in prayer, comfort us when we’re hurting, and celebrate with us in victories.
Oil and perfume make the heart glad, So a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.—Proverbs 27:9
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you’re doing.—1 Thessalonians 5:11
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. –Proverbs 27:17
In the case of Table 8, each woman brings something different and unique to the table. We’re all at different points in our lives, yet we all lift each other up exactly where we are. With fresh perspective and God’s presence in our community, there isn’t anything we can’t handle!
My encouragement to you today is to find your community. Even if it’s scary, pray about it and then gather a group of women together to grow in Jesus together. Pick a Bible study that you can do. Grab some snacks and spend some time dissecting a passage of scripture together. Choose an evening to get together for a Prayer ‘N Praise hour, praying for intercession and praising for answered prayers.
Don’t be afraid. You don’t have to have grown up in church or know the Bible inside and out to get a group together. You simply need a desire to know Jesus and what He wants for us. He’ll take care of the rest for you.
God desires you to have your own Table 8. He knit our group together. He’ll do the same for you.
I want to do what you do, so what advice do you have for me?
Recently, I witnessed a younger Airman asking a retired Chief Master Sergeant about how to become a Special Operations Airmen within the Air Force. For those unfamiliar with the special operations community, it’s not easy. Nor should it be. These Airmen are the elite of the Air Force and as a result, they are very selective on candidates.
The Chief said, “Train hard. Be physically, mentally, and spiritually ready. Love what you do right now.”
The Airmen responded, “Well, I currently work on computers, so I’m behind a desk all day. I hate it. I want to be doing something I’m passionate about.”
The Chief asked, “Are you good at computers?”
“I’m alright; I just want to be in a job that I’m passionate about,” said the Airman.
The Chief then responded with a mic drop, “If you are only an ‘alright’ computer guy, you’ll just be an ‘alright’ special operations guy…and we need excellence; not just alright.”
Whoa. Dreams dashed. Balloons popped. Hopes crushed. And yet, I was incredibly proud of the honesty this Chief provided this Airman. Truth talk sometimes is brutal. In my experience, truth talk is lacking in most people’s life.
As followers of Christ, we are not called to mediocrity. Rather, we are called to greatness. God does not expect us to be an expert in every aspect of our lives. However, He expects we will work diligently to be the best we can be.
“Whatever you do, do your works heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…” ~Colossians 3:23
While you aren’t expected to be an expert in a particular field, you should be your best to bring glory to God. If you are attempting to be your best, you will be one of the best. Even if you aren’t the best amongst your peers, you will then be your best for your God. It does not glorify God when we settle for less than our best.
Let’s look at why mediocrity dishonors God, rather than glorying Him. As followers of Christ, everything we do reflects upon who our God is. We are the ambassadors for the Kingdom. Thus mediocrity does not encourage non-believers to know Christ.
We may not like our job. We may actually hate our jobs. It might be a career or it might be an entry-level job. Either way, dislike of the job is unacceptable when you consider that the associated emotions reflect mediocrity.
First, let’s offer gratitude to God for having a job. There are plenty of Americans struggling to get or retain a job. If we settle for mediocre work and continuously complain about our job, we are not glorifying God. We are insulting Him. And we are insulting those who would gladly take any job.
Second, consider giving God the glory of the job outcome, rather than focusing on the dislike of the job taskers. You may not feel like it’s a glorifying job, but it’s truly not about you. It is about Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:16 states “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.”
The bottom line is this…it doesn’t matter if you are or you want to be a special operations Airmen, a computer specialist, a writer, a stay at home mom, an event planner, or a cashier…if you are attempting to be your best, then you will be your best.
And as your best, you bring glory to God.
The Empty Seat
If your child didn’t get off the bus, would you worry where they were? If you went to the hospital to visit your loved one and they weren’t in their assigned room, would you worry where they were? If you had a business presentation and your partner was running late, would you worry where they were?
Of course you would! The woman inside of each of us would worry about where those individuals were and why they weren’t where we were expecting them to be.
Let me ask you a harder question. Do you worry about the empty seat next to you at church?
I’m not asking about the seat that is empty due to sickness, injury, or planned vacation. I’m asking about the seat that is empty due to spiritual sickness, lukewarm responses to the Gospel, or flat out thinking there’s something more important to do than sit in the House of the Lord. We are not speaking of the empty seat due to plans that backfired…we are talking about the empty seat due to someone not even planning to sit there in the first place!
This empty seat is unable to sing glory to God. The empty seat is unable to testify to answered prayers. The empty seat is unable to witness to the newcomer. The empty seat is unable to serve. The empty seat is unable to teach.
But the empty seat is not silent. No. It’s not silent. It tells a story of apathy. It tells a story of an Easter-Christmas Christian. It tells a story of lukewarm faith. This is a tragedy for the walk of the lukewarm Christian’s life.
Understand this…God does not want a lukewarm reception, nor does he want a lukewarm follower.
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” ~Revelation 3: 15-16 (ESV)
Both Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18 & 24 state that the church is the body of Christ, over which Jesus is the head. If you are a follower of Christ, then you know you should be attending church. This is where you connect with God, where you worship God, where you focus your prayers, and where you fellowship with other Christians. In short, it’s where you are an active part of the body.
As I write this, I want to be clear that I acknowledge that I am often the empty seat. It’s all too easy to sleep in on the only day of the week that is alarm clock free. It’s easy to let errands and chores take precedent. It’s easy to make excuses that I don’t want to sit by myself when my husband is out of town or working. It becomes a slippery slope of not going. One Sunday becomes two; two becomes three; three becomes a full month, and so on. Suddenly, it’s been months or years that the seat has been empty.
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” ~Hebrews 2:1
I know I should be in church. I know that the Bible states church must be a priority in my scheduling. To not go is tragedy. It’s a tragedy that causes our Lord sorrow.
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” ~James 4:17
The empty seat represents a lack of spiritual preparedness. It represents a willingness to allow the world to be more important that the Lord.
If women worry about an empty seat on a school bus, in a hospital room, or the boardroom, then we should certainly be concerned with the empty seat in church!
Ladies, this is our chance to exalt the Lord, to learn, to encourage one another…and frankly, these are the front row seats to Heaven that we are discussing! We are talking about seats for our children, our neighbors, our friends, our families…and we are absolutely failing them if we are not filling the seats of our churches!
Let’s start with assessing ourselves to ensure we aren’t the empty seat. Then let’s start to look at the empty seats around us to see if there are members we should encourage to come back to church so they can fill their seat. Finally, we need to seek the unbelievers, so that they can fill empty seats reserved for them.
Churches should be busting at the seams. There should be a distinct need for additional service times. It should be standing room only. There shouldn’t be even one empty seat…
Are you there?
When my husband travels, my 7 year old often crawls into bed with me in the middle of the night. I almost always hear him open the door as he shuffles to my side of the bed. 90% of the times his sweet voice says, “Mama, can I snuggle with you?” I always lift the covers and let him settle in next to me. I love that he still holds my hand as he falls back to sleep. I love listening to his breathing even out. I love his little tufts of hair tickling my face. I love each of these things because I know that it could end at any minute. At any minute he could grow up—just enough—to not need his Mom in the middle of the night.
While Jeromy was on a fly fishing trip recently, Kambell opened the door and crawled into bed on Daddy’s side of the bed. I was silent, listening to him settle into the blankets. He whispered, “Mama?” I answered, “Humm?” And he simply said, “I just wanted to make sure you were there” and then he fell asleep.
I lay there thinking about how innocently he asked if I was there. And how quickly he was reassured. I thought about another innocent question, which requires reassurance. “Abba, are you there?”
How often do we question if our Heavenly Father is there? It’s a simple question requesting reassurance that He’s by our side. I can think of dozens of times in my life, mostly in times of turmoil, where I doubted if God was there. Have you done the same? Is it easier to figure out your own solution because it appears God isn’t answering a prayer?
For years, my prayer was to become pregnant. After dozens of failed attempts at In Vetro (that was super affordable on a young Airman’s salary), miscarriages, and monthly tears, I gave up on having a biological child. Multiple military moves negated my eligibility to become an adoptive parent…even in a high-risk adoption scenario. When the toll of all that medical intervention created a scenario where a hysterectomy was necessary, I was devastated. I questioned if God had heard my prayers. Did He really hold each one of my tears in His hand? Did He know that my heart was breaking every single month? That it broke at every single baby shower I attended? That simple television commercial featuring cooing babies would send me from the room in tears?
In Genesis 16:2, we see a story of similar heartache, in regards to babies and God’s presence. God had promised Abraham that he would have many descendants. Ten years after the promise, Sarah had yet to bare a child. As was the custom of the day, Sarah chose to send her servant, Hagar to her husband. When Hagar became pregnant, Abraham’s fertility heartache was over. But Sarah’s became compounded when daily she observed a child that was not of her womb.
While I don’t understanding sending another woman to my husband’s bed, I do understand the heartache of infertility that Sarah faced. I understand the desperation that led her to decide God wasn’t with her….that His promise was taking too long.
And yet, God is with us. Always. He’s there to reassure us. He’s there with His promises. He provides His Son Jesus as a way to ensure we each have a way to Him. Matthew 1:23 (NIV) says, “Behold, the Virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.” Immanuel translates to “God with us.”
Amazing, Abba. Providing a promise through his child, Immanuel. Always with us. As I lay in the bed, listening to the slumbered breath of my child, I was reassured. My God made me a mother when I least expected it.
God is with us. He hears those prayers. He makes a way…even when it seems there is no way possible. Ladies—be assured with your innocent questions and know that God is there.
This was not supposed to be my life…
I walked into the living room and stopped dead in my tracks. Apparently my husband and my father-in-law had been busy trying their “Chip and Joanna” decorating skills in my living room while I had been at work. As my husband came around the corner, he paused–looking at me and innocently asked, “What do you think?” As I stood there with my hands on my hips, mouth hanging wide open, remembering how to breathe, I tried desperately to come up with any appropriate response. All that came out of my mouth was “this wasn’t supposed to be my life.”
There was a bear mounted on my wall. A BEAR. Yes, yes, yes–you read that correctly. A bear. Is. Mounted. On. My. Living room. Wall. When I called Erin to tell her, she was imagining a bear skin mounted to the wall. No, no, Erin. This is a fully stuffed, hanging on a tree limb, black bear. Did I mention this is in the living room?!??! Seriously, what had I possibly done to give him ANY indication that this would be an “Emily approved” action? Never, ever, ever did I imagine I would be the woman who has dead animals mounted in her living room. Never.
This was not supposed to be my life.
I wonder if this is how Esther felt about being a Jewish woman taken as a concubine to the King. The Bible tells of a woman who played a dangerous game between a powerful King and her mentor, Mordecai. I bet she was thinking, “This was not supposed to be my life.”
When Saul was removed from a life of taxes and dishonesty…when he was given a new name and occupation, did he think, “This was not supposed to be my life.”?
I wonder if Mary felt complete dismay at being chosen to birth the Savior of the world. Did another Mary feel unworthy of forgiveness after years of prostitution? Did either of them think, “This was not supposed to be my life.”?
When a barren Sarah, brought Hagar to her husband so that they may have offspring, did she look at a child that was not hers and think, “This was not supposed to be my life.”?
One could argue that Jesus was the only human who has ever walked the Earth and was able to say, “This was supposed to be my life.” He was the only one who had ideas, hopes, and dreams that were not altered in any capacity. He had a destiny and He fulfilled each part of it with grace.
Whether living a life that was or was not supposed to be, each of us are living the path God has planned for us. Jesus lived the life God intended and He knew it. The rest of us…well, we are also living the life God intended. We just don’t always know it. Which is why we question and make statements like “this was not supposed to be my life.”
Looking at the bear on my living room wall, I still think about how this was not supposed to be my life. I’m in good company with others who lived a life they didn’t think was supposed to be theirs. Honestly, I’m quiet content with the life I have been given. I’m not fond of the bear on my wall, but it’s part of the life God wants me to live.
“And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.”~2 Peter 1:4 (NIV)
Sprinkle When You Tinkle
I just wiped a grown woman’s urine off of a public toilet seat. Literally. I took wipes out of my purse (I’m a mom, of course I have wipes in my purse) and I literally wiped down a toilet seat. In a public restroom.
I get that there is a ‘school of thought’ that you get heebie-jeebies from toilet seats so you don’t want to sit down. I admire the strength of your thighs to hold you in the “hover position.” But if you don’t want to sit on germs, what on God’s green Earth, makes you think I want to sit in your PEE?!?!?!?!
I don’t even want to clean the toilets that I own. I certainly don’t want to clean a public toilet. However, I don’t want to sit in someone else’s urine even more!
It makes me question the woman who was in here before me. Why did she do that? Why did she squat, pee, flush, see pee on seat, leave pee on seat, and walk out…presumably to wash her hands? I can’t wrap my mind around the ‘why’ of this scenario. I want to face-palm my forehead while asking “why?!?!”
While a little “sprinkle when you tinkle” is trivial to some, it may be truly detrimental and disgusting to others.
The same is true with sin. Sins can be perceived as trivial to some while devastating and reproachable to others.
God sees all of the sin. Is one trivial and another grandiose? Do you think that one sin is greater than another in the eyes of the Lord? Do you ever stop to think that maybe…just maybe…God wants to face-palm His forehead screaming “why?!?!?” when we act sinfully?
Isaiah 1:1-8 talks about how God sees the persistence of sinful people rebelling against Him. Furthermore, the Bible discusses how God acknowledges that we are a broken people who may be generally good at heart, but must be rejected because of our sinful nature. Flip several chapters to the right and find that the New Testament offers us salvation through Christ on the cross. Our sinful nature should get us immediately rejected. Instead it is forgiven when we accept Jesus as our Savior.
Sin is sin to our Father. But sin is forgiven by the act of Christ’s crucifixion and our acceptance of that gift.
He might be face-palming some of our decisions, but He has also provided the wipes to clean up the mess.
“I’m moving to California if you won’t play with me!” When Peyton was 7 years old, she decided that she was no longer going to live in Wyoming with me because McKenna, her sister, wouldn’t play with her. I tried to explain to her to no avail that sometimes big sisters who are 6 years older don’t always like to play the same things that little sisters like to play. That went over like a lead balloon. Peyton was determined to pack her belongings and move to California to live with her dad. After trying to reason with her, she asked me to leave her room so that she could pack. In response, I did what any loving mother would do…I asked her if she could at least pick up her room before she left so that I didn’t have to do it, and then I shut the door behind me.
Fifteen minutes later, she emerged from her room rolling a suitcase behind her. I asked her if she wanted me to take it downstairs for her. Of course, my independent girl said no. After lugging that thing down 14 steps, she turned around to McKenna and said, “If you want to say goodbye to me, here’s your chance. I won’t be coming back for a while. And you’ll wish you’d played with me, McKenna.” She offered me a hug and an ‘I love you’ and walked out the front door.
Now, I’m not the kind of mother that panics. I never have been. When she walked out the door, instead of running after her, I just told her it was a long walk to California. And then I raced up the stairs to watch her from my bedroom window. She walked about 15 feet, stopped, and looked back towards the house, searching for signs of someone running out of the door, asking her to come back. She then went forward another 30 feet or so and turned around again. This went on for a few minutes before she finally turned back towards home and walked back in the door. “I’ve decided I will give this family one more chance. I’m staying.” I smiled at her, gave her a big hug and told her I was happy to hear it. Then, I unzipped the suitcase to see what she’d actually packed. I had to laugh—books, stuffed animals, some clothing, and her ‘Say Your Prayers’ sign that was hanging on the wall. Not bad for a little girl!
What hits my heart today, years later, is that I’m just like that little girl who walks out of the house and keeps turning around to see if anyone is watching. I do it to Jesus all the time. I’ve made a lot of impulsive and rash decisions in my life that caused hasty reactions that almost never included Jesus in the mix. Every time I made one of those decisions that ultimately ended in mistake and heartache, I would get angry and say “That’s it, God!” and turn my back on Him to run away. I thought by running away I could fix myself and make it better. I thought that no one could help me get through my tough times better than me. Why would God want me sticking around anyway when I just made a fool of myself, yet again? When I ran, however, I would always look back over my shoulder, checking to see if God still cared. Was He still listening to me? Did He still love me? And each time, He wasn’t hiding at the window, watching to see if I’d turn around. He was standing at the door, watching me walk away but holding His outstretched arms towards me. He was always waiting for me to turn back to Him to seek repentance and refuge.
“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4 (NIV).
I’ve made a commitment to never run away from Him again. I don’t need to look back and try to catch His eye to see if He’s still there for me. He says He’ll never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). He’ll be that refuge that I desperately need daily. It’s a beautiful promise He’s given to believers, and it’s something I never want to forget.
Two Random Strangers
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a relaxing yoga retreat as part of girl’s weekend. There were five of us in our party, and while I hadn’t met all of them before, we were all connected through various friendships, and I quickly felt like I’d known these other women for years!
As we were a larger group, we were promised the small guesthouse which housed six—a more intimate refuge that would allow for a little extra privacy. Imagine our surprise when, upon our arrival, we were told we would instead be staying in the larger guesthouse that would have several more bedrooms for other attending guests. Well alright then…slight disappointment, but we’ll deal. After all, we’re grown women; we can handle anything!
Three members of our group were assigned to the downstairs bedroom, and Emily and I were given the upstairs bedroom. Okie dokie. We were led up the beautiful steps, through the small loft, and stepped into our bedroom….to find two EXTRA beds with random suitcases lying on top. Ummmm, what in the name of holy downward dog is this?! We each only need one bed! You didn’t have to get us suitcases full of clothes as a gift! Wait….you mean there are other actual people in this room?? We’re sharing a room with two complete STRANGERS?! How are we supposed to stay up late talking about life? What if I snore when I’m sleeping? What if I toot? Wait…what if THEY toot?!
Ultimately, after a minor internal meltdown and ensuing self-pep talk, we made the best of it! It turned out, our roommates, Jennifer and Annie, were wonderful! We had some great conversation, and thoroughly enjoyed our time! (And Jennifer let me and Emily know that we were masters at being able to whisper quietly enough that she never even heard us when she was falling asleep!)
What does this have to do with anything, you ask? I believe we are allowed or given circumstances in our lives that periodically put us out of our comfort zone. Maybe it’s unnerving to meet new people. Maybe your palms are sweaty because you’ve gone out on a limb and are about to present a major idea in front of your colleagues. Or maybe your heart is racing because you’re getting ready to walk into a new church with your children, and dreading the “Are you married?” question after your recent divorce.
Often times, we try to steer clear of those obstacles so that the discomfort or pain can be avoided. But I believe God has allowed those opportunities so that we might lean into Him. If I haven’t heard His still-small Voice, I typically pray for Him to please shout it loud and clear so that there’s no mistaking the direction I’m to take. But there’s also something beautiful in the picture of His voice, calm and gentle, telling me what to do, as I’m leaning in to hear Him, closer and closer so as not to miss a single breath.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (KJV) Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not into thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.
I want to encourage you to lean into Him when you’re given obstacles that are uncomfortable. Ask Him what you’re supposed to do with the situation. Don’t shy away from the awkward moments. It could just be that God is giving you an opportunity for some growth and courage. Even if it’s by sharing a bedroom with two random strangers.
What about you? Have you had a time where circumstances were in your way that allowed some growth and reflection? Tell us about it in the comments below!