The Influencing Friends

Through the years, I’ve been blessed with friends from all over the world.   These friends have explored new cultures with me, traveled with me, drank with me, held me while I cried, celebrated life with me, and prayed with me. I truly have been blessed and touched by each of their roles in my life.

Three friends stand out as being the largest influences over my life.

The 1st is Lindy, who was my very first best friend.  We met at age three and lived two houses apart so we played together often. She had the most amazing collection of Barbie dolls, but my mom didn’t want me playing with her dolls because I had a horrible habit of biting the feet of barbies (yes, you read that correctly…I used to bite the barbie’s feet).   Lindy is the friend who taught me about sharing, about compromise, and about truthfulness.

The 2nd is Linina, who became my closest friend in the 7th grade.  We were inseparable for the next six years and I can’t imagine how I would have done High School without her.  We shared every teenage secret, church camp, wintergreen gum, and heartache over boys.  Linina is the friend who taught me about Christ’s unfailing love, about loyalty, about perseverance, and about loss.

The 3rd is Erin, who became my prayer partner mid-way through my military career.  While we lived in the same city for a short period of time, our daily phone calls for the last ten years have enhanced my life.  We stood by one another as relationships crumbled, as children grew, and our love for God became the center of our friendship.  Erin is the friend who taught me about strength, about growing, and about contentment.

As I look back on my life at these three stages of besties, I’m reminded that scripture tells us we will have similar stages of spiritual growth.

Infancy

As an infant/young child, we are just beginning our walk with the Lord.  1 Peter 2:2     relates that we are like newborn babies who desire the milk of the Word.  It’s essentially a developmental phase where we are learning about our new Christian walk.

In the flesh, a newborn is completely dependent on a caretaker.

In the spiritual, the newborn Christian must be taught how to study and read the Bible because there isn’t a developed ability to ‘feed themselves.’

I saw this phase distinctly with Lindy, as three-year old’s, embarking on our first friendships where we were being taught the principles and boundaries of friendship.

Adolescence

Maturing into adolescence, the Christian has a strong faith in God and has learned about prayer and fasting.  While spiritually strong, there is often a lack of maturity at this stage.  1 John 2:14 states, “I have written unto you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the wicked one.” This stage is about learning submission and patience, rather than knowledge.

In the flesh, a teenager is knowledgeable and able to care for themselves, but they can be prone to missteps in decision making based on their experience levels.

In the spiritual, the adolescent Christian must practice restraint and continue to seek guidance from authorities.

As teenagers, I saw this phase in my friendship with Linina, when we thought we knew it all but still need to submit to the authority of our parents.  It was a season of becoming stronger in friendship and holding one another accountable, while still relying on guidance from wiser Christians.

Adulthood

In our Christian walks, maturity brings the realization that heaven is not our goal, but rather it is our destiny.  Our goal is to live as close as possible to the example provided by Jesus.  This includes continued growth in our personal relationship with God, as well as loving our neighbors deeply.  Paul reiterated this when he wrote, “..for me to live is Christ…” (Philippians 1:21), which is indicating that from his own conversion until his martyrdom, everything he did was to advance the gospel and bring glory to Jesus.

In the flesh, an adult is comfortable with continued learning but is often the one sought for advice.

In the spiritual, the adult Christian strives to meet believers and non-believers, in order to enhance everyone’s knowledge of the Bible and the gift of salvation. During this stage, there is conscious effort to win souls for the Kingdom.

I have seen the adult phase develop over the last decade, as my friendship with Erin has grown. This has been a season of building relationships and Iron Porch, as a space to share the gospel.

I can clearly track my spiritual growth through these phases, as well as in my friendships. I’m still friends with all three of these lovely ladies; Lindy, Linina, and Erin (obviously, Erin).  These three ladies influenced my “being” more than any others.

One started me on learning what friendship meant, one taught me about Christ’s love, and one has studied with me on how to bring Christ to the center of a friendship.

Each of those friendships is a reflection of the women influencing “Emily” and a reflection of the stages of a Christian’s development.

Come to the porch and share who has been influencing your development…

~Emily

The Influencing Friends

 

 

God Always Provides

God always provides.  I tell this to my Bible study ladies every single week. Sometimes, it’s hard to see.  Often we ask, “God I could really use (fill in the blank). Could you open a way to allow me to have/do that?”  When the response feels like, “You’re getting a double helping of NOT (fill in the blank),” it can be a tough reality to live.  But even as a seasoned Christian, I’m still amazed at how He provides, even the seemingly small things.

For those who know me personally, you know I’m writing a book.  To this girl who loves English and writing, who loves to teach and has to a lot to say, it’s a dream come true to finally follow my calling.

However, because of my writing style, I tend to edit as I go.  This is a nightmare. Attempting to complete a full paragraph much less an entire chapter is a giant migraine because I get so focused on crafting that perfect sentence the first time around instead of letting the editing process take place down the line.  Yes, I lean towards perfectionism.

On the other hand, give me a group of people to talk to, and I’ll talk your ear off, unedited.  I love to share my story, and I tend to get so animated and excited that it just rolls off the tongue.

The topic of this painful process came up last Monday when I was speaking to a couple of my girlfriends at Bible study and again on Tuesday when I was on the phone with Emily.  The advice given to me was simple: You need a dictation program!

Easy enough….except that dictation programs cost money, and this girl is headed to the “She Speaks” conference in just two weeks!  So while I politely accepted their advice, and thought about what brilliant advice it was, I tucked it into the one-day-my-dream-will-come-true file.

NOW, here is where I get so excited because this dilemma gave me the opportunity to see my current Bible study in action.  We’re doing a study on the names of Jesus by Kay Arthur, and God became Jehovah-jireh to me (The God Who Will Provide).

On Saturday, I popped onto my Facebook and posted about me attempting to write a chapter.  A friend from high school who I haven’t seen or talked to in years, messaged me and asked me if I was using a dictation program or a Mac.  (I have neither.)  I told him I didn’t but that I was interested in knowing about dictation programs.  He then offered to set me up with his software so that it would be easier for me to write! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!

Listen…he had no idea about the conversation.  None.  When I got the message, all I could do was praise Jesus that He provides and provides as He sees the need.  Could I write a book without dictation?  Yes.  Would it be much easier for this talker to do that with dictation software?  Uhhh….YES!

Our God is ready to provide for you!  All you need to do is ask.  As He provides, praise Him for the answered prayer, whether it was the provision you desired or the provision He felt you needed.

How about it, community?  Tell the people sitting on the Iron Porch today what you’re asking God to provide and how we can pray for you!

~Erin

Be Bold

I’m sitting here and staring at a blank screen.  This happens a lot.  I sit down to write only to be stumped with what God is telling me to write.  I think a topic is a good idea.  Then I wonder what the topic will bring to the table in my writing.  I pause, and then I erase.  A new idea enters my head.  Yet again, I think about where I want it to go, and then I erase.  It’s a vicious cycle I have in my head.

And now, I have this crazy thought…how often do we start to tell people about us and about our testimony when we stop ourselves, erase the potential conversation and start talking about something completely different because we’re afraid of what people will think or say?  I know I’m sometimes guilty of it.

I want to start off on the right foot with people.  I don’t want them thinking I’m some crazy Jesus Freak who is unable to relate to them because I do things “God’s way”.  I gauge the temperature of the conversation before I jump in with my story or what the platform is of my ministry.

But really, what’s so wrong with being a Jesus Freak?!  I love Jesus.  My life is about serving and glorifying Him.  It doesn’t mean I’m not fun.  It definitely doesn’t mean I’m boring. I’m not going to judge someone for their sin or how they live their life…I’ve got my own sin to worry about.  So why should I be ashamed to talk about what I live for or what my calling is when they ask me about myself?!

Being a Christian is what defines me.  While being a mom and a grandma is about the best thing I could ever ask for, my life would not, could not be what it is without Jesus Christ and what He did for me.  I should not nor do I need to be ashamed or hesitant to share my love for Jesus.

I know this may not have been what you stopped by the Iron Porch to hear today, but I feel like someone, even if it’s only me, needs to hear that you don’t need to be afraid of who you are in Jesus.  It’s ok to have your life in Him and to be bold about it.  Don’t fear sharing with others what He’s done for you or how He’s changing you.  He loves you, and that just may be what someone else needs to hear.

~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.

~Erin

Dirty Dishes

The topic of Iron Porch and what my ministry means to me came up today.  The conversation was raised from a question regarding the topic of my relationships while I was talking to two newer friends of mine who weren’t familiar with my story.  One of those dear friends said to me, “Well, now that I know you have a ministry and believe what you believe, then I know you really must not like me.” What a crushing statement against the soul of a lover of Jesus.  And I don’t even blame her for thinking that.

I know all too well what it feels like to be judged by my fellow Christians.  People have stopped talking to me because I was divorced.  I lost dinner and coffee invitations.  I’ve received looks of disapproval for being pregnant.  Shaking of heads when they saw me with a glass of wine.  Loss of mentoring and leadership roles due to “perceptions.”  I could go on for days.  These are just some of the things I’ve experienced in the last two decades, and some as recent as a year ago.  And I’m a Christian!  Can you imagine what it’s like for people who are struggling to believe in any God, much less our gracious God who freely gave His only Son for us??

The scribes and Pharisees in biblical times made a mockery of a true Christ-following lifestyle.  They noticed habits and mistakes of the people in the cities, and kept track of who wasn’t as “holy” as they were.  Do you know what Jesus said to them?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”  Matthew 23:25-26 (NASB).

THANK YOU, JESUS!

I can just see Him now, looking at these men who were acting like fools.  He said to those pretenders, “You make it seem to the people around you that you’re perfect, nice and shiny in My eyes, and then you judge others for their actions.  But, it’s for show!  How about you clean up the inside of yourself with My kindness, love, and grace?!  Because all you’re doing right now is drinking and eating out of dirty dishes!”

Our service and honor to Him demands that His love shines through us to others, DESPITE who they are or what they’ve done.  We are to love our neighbor, love our enemies, and be kind.  The love of the Almighty should be so bright within you that people ask what the special something is that you have that makes them feel welcome and happy, as if they’re home.

I looked at that friend and I told her to NEVER think that I think negatively about her – that I loved her sassy spirit exactly where she was in her life, and that nothing would change that.  I also told her to never believe that I would ever look down on her for anything she’s done or does because I’ve got my own sinning to worry about! The acceptance of my answer in her eyes confirmed that Jesus was present in that space, and I’m grateful He was.

Reach out, everyone!  There are people who are afraid to get close for fear that we may judge who they are.  If Jesus can look past our stupidity and thoughtless sin and see the beauty that He’s created in us, we can do it, too.

~Erin

A Bad Day

Ever have one of those days where nothing seems to go right?  You know the kind of day I’m talking about…you wake up, feeling great as you prepare for the day.  You’re officially off and running, and BAM!  First hit throws you for a loop.  WHACK!  Hits two and three knock you back.  And before you can recoup, THUMP!  I can’t be the only one.

Monday was a real struggle for me to believe that I could fix the day as it progressed from fabulous to just plain terrible back to at least somewhat mediocre before it was my bedtime.  Everything I did to try to get it back on track wasn’t working.  My mood was souring by the minute, and nothing I was doing was helping.

Often, when these kinds of days happen to us, we try to “fix it” by managing things ourselves.  Our instinct of self-preservation kicks in, and we attempt to think of ways to repair the situation.  In our eyes, the bad day or problem can seem like a trivial item to lay at the feet of Jesus.  Or maybe we’re so annoyed that we just plain forget to even think about giving it to Him.  We spend hours trying to rebuild the rubble of the day—alone and with no help.

But we don’t have to be alone in our crummy days.  We can give it to Jesus, and He can fix it.  Understand and know that after you’ve handed it over to Him, it still may not look any better than it did an hour ago.  You know what will look different, though?  Your outlook.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Psalms 46:1

Jesus wants to be the refuge for us in the storms of everyday life.  The relationship He longs to have with us isn’t narrowed down to seasons of pure desperation, hurt, and torment.  He asks to be our shelter in good, bad, and even mediocre situations. He’s waiting for you to simply call out.

I’d like to say I did just that on Monday, but I didn’t.  I tried to be the hero of my own day.  And I was not successful!  It wasn’t until the very end of my day, as I was recapping the day’s events to God while lying in bed that the verse in Psalms hit me.  I looked it up on my Bible app to read the whole message.  For a brief moment, I beat myself up over how silly I’d been to try and do it all myself.  Then I remembered the mercy of Jesus and the refuge He is, and I asked Him to help me do it better the next time.  Next time, I’ll just rest in Him.

~Erin

The Lemon Tree

I’m obsessed with lemons. The taste, the smell, and the look are all so inviting to me. There’s rarely a marinade I use that doesn’t involve freshly squeezed lemon juice. Lemon dessert? Sign me up. In my water? Yes, please. Oh, an essential oil that makes your whole room smell fresh and vibrant? Give me half the bottle, straight into the diffuser! There’s something about that delicious fruit that I find irresistible. So much so that last year, I asked Chris if we could get a lemon tree. Just down the street, orange trees surrounded my neighbors’ yards, so growing citrus fruit was definitely going to work in my little front yard.

I should remember when I ask these things of Chris – that we rent, not own, our home. So that kind man did the next best thing. He bought me a dwarf lemon tree and potted it on our front porch!

As I watched over it (obsessively) for the next month or so, I would check its leaves over to see if it was actually doing anything. Can I have lemons please, Tree? How about a flower, Tree? Can you show me, Tree, that you at least know I’m here and kill a leaf?! Anything, Tree…do something! Finally, one beautifully crisp morning, I walked out to find some buds. Success!

Over the next couple of weeks, those buds turned into flowers and odd shaped pod looking things that we assumed were the start of our lemons. Lemon cheesecake, here we come! But we also noticed these pods were green, not yellow – and they stayed green for a LONG time as they grew into small bulbs of citrus gloriousness. We were convinced that they had labeled the tree wrong, and Chris had purchased a lime tree.

After months (and I do mean months!) of waiting, the tart little pieces of fruit eventually turned yellow. I finally had some lemons to use for my cooking. Except that it only gave us something like four, in total. And they were the size of key limes. But. I. Had. Lemons!

Being known as a Bible study leader, I’m frequently asked questions or given scenarios by friends and/or co-workers for which they want to know what God says about that circumstance. And often times, when I get those questions, I feel like that darn lemon tree.

I’m planted in Jesus Christ. I’m watering myself every day with the knowledge of the Bible. I’m being pruned when I’m working on whatever current Bible study we’re doing. Yet sometimes, frustration blocks my vision as feelings of inadequacy fall over me that I’m not growing fast enough. Maybe a scripture doesn’t come to mind, so I have to look it up. Or, I can’t remember some amazing story from His Word that helps someone in that time of turmoil or uncertainty. Maturity in my walk with our Creator isn’t coming as quickly as I would like.

It’s in those moments of self-doubt that I have to remind myself that we’re not meant to run this race at break-neck speed, hurtling past every scripture and story to get to the end just to have all the answers. Our job is to walk with Him daily. As we nurture a beautiful relationship between Father and child, we expand our knowledge little by little, deepening our understanding of the Bible. His truth, His stories, His love, it all becomes woven into the tapestry of our Christian lives.

Every question with an unknown answer is a chance to grow stronger in your faith journey. Every time your concordance is used is an opportunity to learn and absorb something new. You don’t need to have all the answers all the time. You need a pliable heart, willing to soak up the wisdom of God.

Just like that lemon tree, as we grow, buds of truth spring forth, flowers of knowledge blossom, and the fruit of the Spirit flourish! The grace of Jesus Christ waters us every day and encourages us to develop a deeper understanding of Him. Don’t be afraid of not having the answer. Use it as a chance to bloom!

What about you? What do you do or say to remind yourself that it’s okay if you don’t have the answer right away? Answer in the comments below!

~Erin