Shadows & The Light

With my heart pounding out of my chest, I jumped backward, fists up, and screamed bloody murder…something incoherent with a few swear words.

Can you picture my kung-fu fighting stance? What would cause such a commotion in my life?

As I was closing the bedroom door, a shadow passed along the hallway, which scared me into the defensive position.  The shadow?  My husband coming down the hall with a fresh cup of coffee for me. A sweet gesture that was met with much aggression, simply because I got frightened.

Shadows seem scary and often they indicate a scenario where we should be on defense.

Shadow in the woods = lions and tigers and bears.

Shadow behind my car = zombie about to get me.

Shadow over my head = bird about to poop on me.

Shadow in the hallway = bad guy in the house.

The shadow mentioned in Psalm 23:4, the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” has always frightened me.  Mostly because it sounds so ominous.  The passage that seems to be most popular for funerals makes me conjure up a picture in my mind that is scary.

But more often than not, the shadow isn’t what is truly scary. Most of the time, it’s my imagination that makes the shadow scarier than it deserves to be. Shadows appear frightening, but they can’t hurt us.

Consider this:  the presence of a shadow is also an indicator of light.  When we are frightened by an object casting a shadow, we should look for the light behind the shadow.

Take the same scary scenarios above…

Shadow in the woods = sunset behind a redwood tree.

Shadow behind my car = puppy running to greet me.

Shadow over my head = cloud providing shade relief from an Alabama blazing hot sun.

Shadow in the hallway = husband bringing wife hot coffee.

There is one more super amazing light behind darkness.  Jesus.

Jesus is that light (John 8:12).  He can provide the glimmer of reassurance when we have a momentary fright.  When the shadows are imaginary, He is the light. When the shadows are overwhelming, He is light.  He the shadows indicate true danger, He is the light.

Always.  Jesus is our light in the midst of the shadows.

With that in mind, Psalm 23:4 becomes a whole lot more comforting than the imaginary picture I have previously had in my mind.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” ~Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

I’m praying that each of you have a week where the shadows are a reminder that there is always light present.

~Emily

The Walmart Meltdown

I don’t often break down.  I definitely don’t break down in front of people.  I’m the kind of woman that needs to feel like she’s got her emotions in check.  I encourage women to let go and be ok with not having it all together.  But me….I don’t always take my advice.

Let’s take the Walmart incident Emily wrote about two weeks ago.  When she wrote that I had a meltdown, she wasn’t exaggerating!  I took a left at the end of McKenna’s road to head to Walmart and somewhere in that 4 minute drive, as she encouraged me to tell her what was going on in my head, I start blubbering and crying.  And she was there to help me get myself back together.  Here’s what she didn’t tell you because she felt it was my story to write.

I was afraid of judgment.  Here we were, visiting my beautiful oldest daughter and her husband, Indy, along with my sweet little grandbaby, Andros, and I was worried that I would be judged on how well McKenna was doing!  By my best friend!  How silly does that sound!?

But it wasn’t silly to me in that moment.  Would Emily see something that would reflect poor parenting?  Were McKenna and Indy thriving?  Was Andros doing well? Did McKenna love her job?  Was the house clean enough?  Were they eating healthy?
These are all things moms worry about for their grown children, but somehow in that moment, Satan had woven anxiety around me to make me feel as if I needed to question my worthiness as a parent, as a grandparent, and as a friend.

It was overwhelming to say the least.  In that 4 minute drive, I was afraid to tell Emily that I was terrified of being judged by her.  Yet, when I shared my heart, she lovingly told me that there was NOTHING that would ever make her feel as if I wasn’t a good parent, a good person, a good friend.  She reminded me that I was overwhelmed with everything going on with the trip, and that there were great things in store from God.  And that I needed to stop freaking out!

And just like that, it was over.  It was as if God had placed this blanket of protection over me through my best friend’s kind yet realistic words.  Satan’s rhetoric was banished from that car, and grace filled the air.

How many times do we do that to ourselves, ladies?  We question our value and our worth through someone else’s eyes.  We want to feel accepted and worthy of a friendship or a job.  We long to feel good enough to teach a class or learn a new skill. Yet, we forget that God sees us as worthy already.  We are good enough.  Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV) says, “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

He knew who we were before we were born, and He created us in His image.  We. Are. Worthy.  Because we are His.

~Erin

Gossip or Guidance?

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29

When I was a young Airman, I had a supervisor tell me that I was the type of person who thrived on chaos and created drama.  That statement hurt me to my core and allowed me to have some self-reflection time about the type of woman I wanted to be known as.  And guess what? I decided I didn’t want to be known as someone who was involved with chaos, drama, turmoil…and gossip.

Gossip is such an uncomfortable topic.  It’s uncomfortable because so many of us fall into the gossip trap at some point in our lives.  There are varying levels of gossip…the seemingly innocent gossip…the outrageous made-up gossip…and even the justifiable gossip cloaked in truth. There are different players in the game of gossip.  There is the initiator, the contributor, the facilitator, and even the victim.  I know that I have been involved in each of the roles and if I’m honest, in each of the levels of gossip too.

Erin and I were recently talking about the fabric of our friendship and how we’ve never had a fight.  We’ve never gossiped about each other.  We hold each other accountable.  We disagree with one another. Heck we have even disliked decisions that the other made, but we have never fought. Why? I believe there are several reasons.  Our friendship is built on trust. It’s built on respect. It’s built on love. And it’s a friendship that is built on Christ.

What would happen to us, as Christian women, if all our relationships were built on trust, respect, love and Christ?  What if we treated all of our relationships as ones without chaos, without drama, without gossip?

Would we be happier people? Would we accomplish more? Would we reflect Christ’s love for all of His people?

Obviously, you can’t know if all your relationships are built on mutual trust, mutual respect, mutual love, or mutual relationship with God.  But you can know if you will exhibit these traits.

Let’s go back to gossip.  Women typically love to talk. And we love to talk about each other.  We are a catty group of humans.  It does not matter what label you put on yourself, women are at fault for talking about each other.  Christian women too.  Ours however, may be more dangerous gossip than that of the non-believer.  Why?  Well, we mask our gossip as “venting” or worse as “seeking council” from other Christian women.

Please know this, I believe we need to seek wise council.  Occasionally, we need to vent.  If we keep our thoughts, dreams, and prayers to ourselves then we are unable to be held accountable by other Christians.  The distinction between wise council seeking and gossip is when you make the decision about whether or not the conversation will make its way back to the subject.

Let’s imagine you take a topic to someone you trust and respect…simply to vent or to get guidance.

If you talk about someone and never intend to bring it to him or her, then it could be gossip.

If you talk about someone and intend to bring it to him or her after seeking council, then it may not be gossip…it may truly be seeking guidance.

“Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.” – Psalm 101:5

Let’s flip the script now.  Let’s imagine that someone is coming to you for a venting session or because they are seeking your guidance.

If you aren’t sending them to speak with the individual to resolve the situation, then your guidance is not holy…it is likely part of the gossip.

If you join in the venting session because you’ve been hurt by the individual, then you are contributing to the gossip.

If you ask them what their role is in the scenario, or if you ask them what they intend to say to the individual, or if you encourage them to speak to the person…then you are stopping the gossip. You are providing guidance.

“He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.” – Proverbs 11:13

There’s a fine line between gossip and guidance.  It’s a hard line to see, but it’s an easy one to cross.  Our flesh wants the confirmation that we have been wronged. We crave the vindication that we are right and that we are justified in the gossiping.  As humans, we desire someone else to come beside us and share our outrage at injustices…perceived or real.

But what would happen if we stopped the gossip?

What would happen if we started building our relationships on trust, respect, love and Christ?

If we stopped gossiping and replaced that with truth talk directly to the people involved, wouldn’t we start building trust, respect, love…and show how Christ would have functioned?

There are relationships that are toxic. Ones that eventually need to be severed. But for the average relationship, trust and respect are started with honesty.  Honesty can be sometimes harsh or sometimes softer, but should never be expressed in a deliberately hurtful manner.  Honest talk builds healthy relationships.

“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” – Proverbs 20:19

 Let’s band together as Christian women to refine one another. Together we can start to stop the gossip within our homes, our churches, and our workplaces. Let’s identify the flaws and press into the Lord with our desire to do better.

~Emily

“Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”               – Psalm 141:3

 

 

 

 

@#!*% Swear Words

I use swear words while driving.

It feels slightly cathartic writing that…like it’s a true confession.

I actually use swear words more than just while I’m driving.  My parents had a philosophy that words were just words…you just needed to know when it was socially acceptable to use particular words.  They taught my brother and I to expand our vocabulary and to become selective in which words we chose to use.  Words matter.  And the meaning behind each word matters.  It’s not enough to say “kind” when you really mean “considerate” or “gracious.”  My parents taught me that the meaning behind each word is important and that the use of a particular word should be deliberate.  They taught us that there was a need for cuss words, but that we should be selective when we used them.  It’s a thought that I’ve carried my whole life.

And until this last week, I didn’t think much of it.  You see, this last week my 7 year old gave me a vocabulary lesson.

I was driving and he was in the back seat. For whatever reason, I chose to use a particular word…and it’s one I chose specifically for it’s meaning.  My son said, “Mama, you shouldn’t use that word…it’s a bad word.”

So I seized the opportunity. I thought to myself, “I have this wonderful teaching moment…I have a chance to be as amazing as my own parents!”

I replied to my son, “Buddy, there aren’t any bad words…there are just words that we associate with having bad meanings.  When I use that word, does it hurt you?”

Very cautiously, very slowly, very guardedly, my little guy replied, “No….but I’m pretty sure it hurts God.”

Gut Punch to the Mama. Seriously, kid?!?!?!  I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.  What in the Sam-Hill am I supposed to say to that?!?!?! (See, I’m still struggling with swear word replacements!).

“You know what Buddy, you’re right.  That probably does hurt God.  I’ll do my best to stop saying those words.”

I have never subscribed to the thought that the Bible specifically bans the use of curse words. However, there are plenty of scriptures that discourage the use of profanity.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” ~Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

 “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.” ~2 Timothy 2:16 (NIV)

 What I have always subscribed to is the thought that our mouths either build up or tear down. This is true for the Christian and for the non-Christian.  Essentially, the words we choose can help or harm others.

This makes perfect sense when you consider how words impact your own day.  As an example, imagine yourself stopping before work to get a coffee. Someone in line tells you that they love your hair.  For nearly everyone, a compliment like that would automatically make you smile.  It lifts you up.  Yet if someone in the same line says something snarky or tells you to watch where you are going, you are automatically put on the defensive. You may react negatively or you may internalize the words. Either way, you aren’t smiling. You aren’t lifted up.

When considering building or tearing, I want to be a Godly woman who builds others up.  Even in a moment of frustration, my use of curse words does not build anyone up.  In fact, it caused my child to pause enough that he felt compelled to correct my behavior.

While I don’t believe that using profanity is the worst thing a human can do, I can agree that it is not glorifying to God.  As a result of my parents encouraging an ever-growing vocabulary, I have a stockpile of other words I could choose to use when frustrated or angry.   In order to become a “builder” of others, I want to glorify God with my word choices.

Like I told my little guy, I’m going to do my best to stop choosing those words.

~Emily

 “My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long.”  ~Psalm 35:28 (NIV)

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

A Sinner’s Heart

I was pregnant with my second child when I was removed from the nursery schedule at the church I attended.  At approximately four months along, my belly was growing at a far faster rate than my first pregnancy.  Though I wasn’t tiring out easily, the nursery director wanted to ease any discomfort I might encounter while taking care of babies and toddlers as their parents were listening to the preaching down the hall.  While I felt a twinge of guilt at the extra duty the volunteers would inevitably encounter in an underserved area, it was a welcome reprieve from the Sunday morning routine.

Four weeks into my mini nursery-vacation, however, I was splashed with an ice-cold bucket of judgment that left me wondering if I would ever be worthy of my Jesus.  A friend confided that the respite I had been given was less about discomfort for me and more about the discomfort of our small church.  “How on earth would it look to have an unwed pregnant woman taking care of the babies in our nursery?” was the true reason I was asked to step aside in the role of nursery volunteer.

Yes…I was pregnant.  And unmarried.  I began having a relationship with the man who would eventually become my husband, and due to sinful nature, I became pregnant prior to any kind of wedding day.  And just like that, the feeling of being worthless and unusable for God’s glory came rushing into my life.  “What kind of example could I be for women now?” I thought.  I was no longer able to fulfill God’s calling in my life to minister to women.  I had ruined my ability to do so.

I cried for months over the torturous shame I felt.  I begged God to forgive me over and over again.  I mourned for the loss of my servant ability in the church, and I felt so far from Him.  Yet little by little, I was finally able to drown out the lies of the devil long enough to hear these two verses my Savior was whispering to me.

He shall again have compassion on us; He will subdue and tread underfoot our wickedness [destroying sin’s power]. Yes, You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:19 (AMP)

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; Acts 3:19 (NASB)

Those verses are beautiful, aren’t they?  I had forgotten that when true repentance happens, my sins are as far as the east is to the west (Ps. 103:12).  They are thrown into the depths of the sea, having been given whole restoration in Jesus Christ.

That sin is not one of my finer moments in life, and I fully recognize that what I did was willful disobedience.  But just as God commanded us to do, I repented and asked for His forgiveness.  He granted me the grace I so desperately desired.  There was no need to continue to live in the guilt and shame anymore.  God could (and WOULD) still use me for His honor and glory.

Iron Porch is proof of this.  God took this broken mess of a woman, full of mistakes and sinful nature, and molded her into a willing vessel for Jesus.  His grace and love is just that sufficient.  Any day that I doubt my calling, Jesus reminds me that the kind of example I’m supposed to be is the kind that shows our God is bigger than any sin or mistake I’ve ever made.  And I’ll take that calling any day of the week.

~Erin

The Runaway

 

“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.

~Erin