Monday, December 28, 2009

Stop, Drop and Roll! (How to Deal with a Conflict!)

Dear friends,

I'm about to start teaching the Young Peacemaker curriculum in my home school co-op English class.   Meanwhile, here is something I came up with several years ago to teach my own kids.  It's just as good for moms! (This is an excerpt from my book The Real Life Home School Mom, which is available for free download in the sidebar of my main blog, http://www.virginiaknowles.blogspot.com/.)



~*~*~

Here is another idea for moms who are trying to be peacemakers: Stop, Drop and Roll. Given the sheer size of my family, there is a high probability that someone will be involved in an unpleasant confrontational conversation (argument) in a given day. A mom needs a way to deal with all this and not get overloaded. Here's a quick explanation of something that helps me keep my sanity when conflicts arise. I developed this concept from the standard "what to do when you clothes catch on fire" Stop-Drop-and-Roll instructions. Think of a conflict as a fire that is about to burn you up. If you thrash around wildly or run away, the oxygen is going to feed the flames. You've got to stop, drop and roll.





STOP: When you find your temper flaring, your jaw clenched, your muscles tense, STOP! Don't yell, nag, threaten, accuse, slam doors or otherwise lose it. You've seen the red warning flag, so STOP! "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." (James 1:19, NIV)


DROP: You've got resentment, bitterness, frustration roiling around inside. It's a burden, and a heavy one at that. You're going to have to lay it down eventually -- why not RIGHT NOW? Drop your burden at the feet of Jesus. "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7, NIV) You don't have to carry it one minute longer. Forgive!


ROLL: Get on with it. If there is a solution to your conflict, work it out calmly, paying special attention to preventing a recurrence of the same problem in the future. After that, go about your business and don't let the whole thing stop you in your tracks or cause you to stew. You've got a life to live! "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV)


When I remember to Stop, Drop and Roll, it helps me solve problems much more effectively and efficiently. I also don't carry around frustration quite as long, which makes me more productive the rest of the day.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Grace Will Lead Me Home (Advent Poem 2009)

"Grace Will Lead Me Home"

by Virginia Knowles
Advent 2009


Grace will lead me home
Like a pillar of fire for a pilgrim in the wilderness
Like a shimmering star hovering over new Glory and Peace on earth
That wise ones still seek and follow.

Grace leads me home
When the way is dark and wayward voices call
I listen for the Shepherd's steady voice
When my soul cries for thirst
He leads me to the oasis
To the crystal fountain whence the healing stream flows

Grace leads me home
Because God is with me:
Jesus full of grace and truth
Grace upon grace dwelling in the tabernacle of my heart
My Messiah abides in me and I in him, my hope of glory


Grace leads me home
Because the Holy Spirit is my Comforter,
My Counselor to guide me in truth
Because I cry "Abba, Father! I am your child!"
I am more than a conqueror
Nothing can separate me from your love
And You will lead me home.

~*~*~*~
 
Each year I write an Advent poem.  Each year I wait for just the right inspiration.  Until it comes, there is no sense in even picking up my pen.  In recent months, God's grace has come to me in fresh ways as I am learned to live from a sense of who I am in Christ and to to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit rather than my own efforts.  I knew my poem this year would reflect his work in my heart.
 
On Sunday, Mike Nash preached on the wonder of God's grace.   Toward the end of his sermon, he mentioned John Newton's classic hymn "Amazing Grace".   (Another story here: The Amazingly Graced Life of John Newton: His was a tale of two lives, with God at the pivot point.)  Newton had owned a slave ship in the late 1700's before God reached down and plucked him out of darkness into the kingdom of light.  As we sang his hymn moments later, the line "and grace will lead me home" leapt out of the third verse.  I knew that was the start of my poem.  The other 18th century hymn that found its way into my own verses (pillar of fire, pilgrim, crystal fountain, healing stream) is "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" which I sometimes sing with my children.   You can listen to it in the original Welsh with the video below.



The poem is also inspired by John 15:1-8 and Romans 8.

I pray that "Grace Will Lead Me Home" it will bring hope to your heart this Christmas season.  I encourage you to think of people you know who might need fresh faith in the middle of trying times.  So many are hurting and lonely, which is extra hard when the pressure is on to be merry and jolly for the holidays.   Let's take the time to notice, to listen, and to serve.

As I walked with my friend Tonya this morning, we were talking about how sometimes what our own children need most is time to talk and just be with us.  So many unpleasant discipline situations could be avoided if we learned to communicate in a wholesome, affectionate and interested way.  We need to be proactive in training them in the good life rather than just waiting until they mess up and then taking even longer to correct them for poor choices.  A warm and nurturing relationship is the best way to raise children.   It takes time!  Likewise, I am seeing that God wants time with me, too.  He is Abba.  That means Daddy!  He is never too busy for me!   As I listen to him, he lovingly leads me on a positive path.   The stronger and closer my relationship with God is, and the more I am walking in grace, the less he needs to correct me.  I will want to please him with my whole heart, not grieve him!   And as my children see my intimacy with God and a growing desire to live for him and in him, this will help their hearts to turn in the same direction.   Love, joy, and peace are powerful magnets!  And grace will lead us home!

~*~*~


We're done with our Providence home school co-op classes for the semester. On Monday afternoon, we put on a Christmas program with each class singing one or two carols for the rest of us. The 5th-6th graders got brave and did theres in Spanish and sign language. My middle school English class sang the first known Christmas carol, "Of the Father's Love Begotten", which was written in Latin by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius in the 4th century and translated into English by John Mason Neale in the 1800's. The week before our performance, my students worked on memorizing it, learning about the meaning of the words, reading related Scriptures, and studying the Nicene Creed, which was written in the same time period. Their next assignment, to be completed before classes start again in January, is to read Luke 1 and 2, answer some questions, watch parts of Handel's Messiah, and then write either a short Christmas memories story, a Christmas poem, or a description of their favorite Christmas story or carol. I have posted the Handel's Messiah video clips on-line, along with some nativity-themed fine art from the National Gallery, here: Handel's Messiah & National Gallery of Art.


Since we only have a week's worth of Providence assignments this month, sometimes it's a bit of an extra challenge keeping the kids doing happy things and not aggravating each other. The five younger kids and I try to start each day with singing Christmas carols, reading a little few verses from Luke 2, and then enjoying one of our favorite Christmas books. I also want to read them some poetry, such as "A Christmas Carol" by Josiah Gilbert Holland. "O Little Town of Bethlehem", one of the carols we have been singing in the mornings, is such a familiar one to most of you, but I recently discovered a delightful little verse I had never seen:

Where children pure and happy pray to the bless├Ęd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
My prayer for the Christmas break is that in our family, charity will stand watching so that faith can open wide the door when we see a need or an opportunity to bless someone. We had a day earlier this week where it seemed we were all irritable with one another, just wandering aimlessly and selfishly. "Misery cries out to Thee" describes my plea to God about this. I didn't want to continue with that pattern all month. I'd much rather have "pure and happy" children. That's when I got serious about starting the morning with singing and decided to print out a dozen carols for our song notebooks. The next morning, after singing our carols, we talked about how we are celebrating Jesus' birthday this month and that we can give him a special present of worshiping him in faith, and then loving one another in response to that. (Naomi reminded me that JOY is thinking of Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself after that.) I really want to break the bickering habit and replace it with sweet speech. I asked the kids to make a special effort to stop calling names, mimicking, or telling each other to shut up. And if they offend or hurt someone, they need to apologize, even if it was an accident. But that's not enough! We need to replace the negatives with something positive. I suggested that each day, each of us will look for a small opportunity to bless each of the others. This could be reading a story to four year old Melody, offering someone a mug of hot chocolate, cleaning up a pile of construction paper scraps after craft time, running to bring someone a roll of toilet paper when it's out, or letting someone else go first on the computer. Honestly, it hasn't been perfect since then, but there has been a huge improvement and they seem to be responding to the gentle reminders to be pleasant and do the right thing. The dark night wakes, the glory breaks... We can do this after all, with God's help.


If you or someone you know are struggling through this Christmas season, whether from busyness, weariness, or life crises, please check out these articles that I wrote in years past: A Simplified Christmas and A Bittersweet Advent.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Help for Hurting Marriages

Dear friends,

I wrote this a few weeks ago and sent it to some friends, but thought I would post it here on the blog for you, too.

~~

I couldn't sleep this morning, so I decided to get up and write for a little while since there is something that's been on my heart to share. I know that a lot of you are struggling in your marriages right now, and I feel for you. I wanted to give you the title of a book that might be a tremendous help, Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands by Gary Thomas. I first read it a couple of years ago when he sent me a review copy. Then I lent it to a friend last year, and she recently returned it, so I've been flipping through it again. At the same time I've been hearing from a lot of wives who are struggling in their marriages and wondering what to do. There are various opinions floating around about this, and I will share some of my own thoughts a little further down in this blog post, but I think Gary has covered the topic so well that I want to draw your attention to his book first. I've recommended it to many friends, and so many of them have told me what a vital help it has been to them. He starts by encouraging wives to be strong in their own spiritual lives (for their own sakes and to equip them for helping their husbands) rather than giving way to fear or intimidation. He helps them to understand the mind of a man (we are SO different!) and to create a climate for change. In the last section of the book, he presents real life case studies of couples who have faced issues such as anger, marital unfaithfulness, lack of involvement with home & children, etc. He writes:



"If you always play it safe in your marriage, you’re going to end up in some ruts. What I believe will give you the most boldness and courage to address issues that need to change is, first, understanding who you are in Christ, and second, letting God, not your marital status, define your life. Armed with that acceptance, security, and empowerment, you become a mighty force for good. You can then claim the power of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 31:8: “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”


Fear and discouragement create stagnancy and persistent disappointment in marriage. If you’ve had your fill of those, why not try God’s path of faith and boldness?


One of the things I’ve been trying to do in these opening pages is to awaken in you a capability not often expressed to Christian women. Our culture in general – even Christian culture – is on a long slide toward passivity that completely goes against who God made us to be.


Let me be blunt: hope is not a strategy. Merely “wishing” that your husband would change, merely “wanting” your marriage to be different, won’t do anything. The problem is that some Christians spiritualize “wishing – we call it “praying.” Please understand, I’m not knocking prayer; I’m challenging a misconception about prayer, namely, that we can merely voice our displeasure and expect our world and our relationships to be transformed. True Biblical prayer is about much, much more than that. It involves receiving our marching orders and then acting on them.


A good marriage doesn’t happen by accident, and a good marriage isn’t maintained by accident. I’ve never written a book by accident, and you can’t build a business by accident. These endeavors require deliberate choices and much perseverance. When you start acting instead of merely wishing, when you begin taking initiative instead of simply feeling sorry for yourself, you become an active woman, and active women mirror the active God who made them." (from pages 34-35 of Sacred Influence)


That's just a tiny sample of this wealth of wisdom for wives, and from just one of his many books. I've lost count of the times I've told you all how much his other books have meant to me over the past few years. They have really pulled me through some rough patches in my faith. You can download free sample chapters and study questions for most of Gary's books, such as Sacred Marriage, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, Holy Available, Authentic Faith, etc.  Just go to http://www.garythomas.com/.

Oh, I can't resist giving you a paragraph from his earlier book, Sacred Marriage, too:


“The key to the discipline of fellowship is understanding this fundamental reality: All of us face struggles, and each one of us is currently facing a struggle that we’re having less than one hundred percent success overcoming. If we’re married, the fact is we’re also married to someone who is failing in some way. We can respond to this “bitter juice” by becoming bitter people, or we can use it as a spiritual discipline and transform its exercise into the honey of a holy life. In this fallen world, struggles, sin, and unfaithfulness are a given. The only question is whether our response to these struggles, sin, and unfaithfulness will draw us closer to God – or whether it will estrange us from ourselves, our Creator, and each other. Will we fall forward, or will we fall away?”


Now, a few thoughts of my own on what to do about a troubled marriage, with the disclaimer that this is my personal perspective after reading, listening, and asking a lot of questions.


On the one hand, I don't think it particularly helpful for husbands or wives to be overly focused on what is wrong with their marriages. I would say it isn't healthy to expect to fix every little irritating thing. And though we should be willing to honestly confess our own sins and to be prudently aware of the struggles our husbands face, there should also always be a delicate balance between transparency and reserve, even in an intimate marriage. It is not necessarily edifying to know about every little thought that goes through each other's hearts and minds. Some issues, at least initially, might best be handled with the help of a wise and trusted friend or pastor. I also think that gratitude and affirmation for each other's positive qualities can really sweet things up. There are so many petty things that can be overlooked and tolerated with the acknowledgement that we aren't perfect either. A culture of constant confrontation (whining, nitpicking, harsh criticism, accusation, suspicion, assumption, etc.) needs to give way to a culture of grace, patience, and forgiveness.

That said, I totally agree with Gary that a wife should not be a doormat when her husband is doing or saying things that are truly damaging the marriage or negatively affecting their children. A lot of Christian wives buy into the misconception that in order to be submissive (as the Bible encourages) that they need to suffer in silence and just passively go along with whatever happens. (Remember Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5?) I've actually heard some people say, "If you bring it up once, that's an appeal. If you bring it up again, that's nagging." Personally, I think that's bosh. That would mean that a husband could just conveniently ignore a glaring problem, figuring that his wife has to shut up if he chooses not to listen right away. A wife has the sacred responsibility of addressing these important issues with feminine strength, prayerfully and firmly persisting, while entrusting the results to God. That doesn't mean her husband will change. She is not responsible for that. But she is responsible to keep speaking the truth in love, as creatively and persuasively and sweetly as she can, until he "gets it." No matter what happens, she at least has the dignity of knowing that she is "beloved in Christ" and precious in the sight of God, whether her husband realizes it or not.


~*~*~


May God of hope restore to each of us this vision of the glory of marriage.

I would be glad to hear your thoughts on these things!


Grace and peace,
Virginia

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Appreciating the Pastors of Metro Life Church

Dear friends,


Since October was Pastors Appreciation Month, I would like this opportunity to share what I most appreciate about our pastors and about the church in general.

I appreciate our senior pastor, Danny Jones, for encouraging my daughter Julia to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as she was making decisions about her trip to Bolivia earlier this year. His affection for our church is evident and genuine, and he always has a smile and a warm greeting.

I am thankful for Benny Phillips, not only for making such an impact on me as a teenager in Virginia in 1979-1980, but for being such a wonderful influence on me as an adult and for continuing the legacy with my teenagers. He really gets it and he really cares. 

I am grateful to Mike Nash for his compassionate realism, his humor, and his encouragement to make the best of what we've got. He listens well, and gives advice from the Word and from his heart.  

I love the passion for worship, prayer, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Todd Twining exudes. I'm also excited about the Worship & Arts Academy that he is developing for us and for the community.

I am thankful for how much Chip Chew does to keep everything running so smoothly behind the scenes. He may not be up there preaching, but his administrative work is vital for the ministry of the church. 

Then there is Jesse Phillips who, though he is young enough to be my son, amazes me regularly with his insight and his enthusiasm for pointing the youth of the church towards a strong and vibrant faith. He's also doing a fantastic job keeping folks involved in political issues.

Aaron Law, our newest intern, displays a humble wisdom. His preaching is thorough and well-studied, yet very warm. I've known Aaron for almost 10 years, and I respect him highly.

I am thankful to all of the folks at Metro Life for keeping it real and for loving each other well with such a diversity of gifts.



Blessings,
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Motherhood by Jeanne Merrihew Lofgren

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Motherhood”
by Jeanne Merrihew Lofgren
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My aunt sent this newspaper clipping to me several years ago, and it has always been a humorous encouragement. I presume that it was written in the 1950s, and I sure would love to meet the lady who wrote it!

MOTHERHOOD, by Jeanne Merrihew Lofgren

“A Mother is a maker, a mender, a moderator, and a teacher.

She makes boxer pants and chocolate pudding, law and sometimes order, castles, threats, promises and rabbit suits. She makes horses’ heads from paper bags, little suits from big ones, new dresses from old ones, sunsuits from kitchen curtains, small balloons from popped ones, stew from nothing whatever. She makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and peace when possible.

A Mother is a maker and a mender.

A Mother mends broken dishes and broken hearts, trouser knees, hurt noses and hurt feelings, trouser knees, torn jackets and torn fingers, and trouser knees. She mends old sheets, old rosebushes, old baby dolls and brand new trouser knees.

A Mother is a maker, a mender and a moderator.

She is a moderator in times of war --- civil war, verbal war, insurrection, minor skirmishes, attacks from the enemy; in times of strife, in times of injustice, in times of temper, in times of hairpulling.

A Mother is a maker, a mender, a moderator and teacher.

She teaches how to button buttons and how to say a prayer. She teaches how to hold a knife and fork, how to hang up clothes so they sometimes stay hung, how to sit still in church. She can teach a love of books and of music --- she can even turn child hearts to God. But almost never can she teach how to close a door without a bang or how to come in without bringing in mud.

A Mother can count. She counts calories and blessings, pennies and children’s heads in the car. But she never counts sheep!

A Mother is immune to surprise --- whether it is a glass of water in her desk drawer, a cat sleeping on fresh sheets in the linen cupboard, worms in trouser pockets, good report cards, bad report cards, split foreheads, split infinitives. Nothing ever really surprises her.

But sometimes a Mother reaches despair. The dryer won’t dry when all the clothes are washed and wet. The baby bites the cat’s tail and is scratched for it. Three-year-old dumps the tinker toys by the front door when you expect the minister to call. The baby screams for attention - soothing medications must be halted while Mother sprints to a relentless doorbell. There stand two neighborhood children to report, “Your baby is crying.” Six-year-old after forty-five minutes cannot spell “what”.

Eight-year-old dashes in to say he forgot, but it is his turn to take cookies to his meeting today. Fingerprints all over the house loom
suddenly vivid. The ragged edge of the rug seems suddenly dreadful. Three-year-old won’t go outside. The cat won’t come in. The gelatin won’t jell. The sun won’t shine. The stew sticks and the pudding boils over while the phone rings on and on and on. And with it and above it and through it all comes, “Mommy, come and see --- Mommy, come and see”, incessently, monotonously, unendingly from three-year-old.

Mother leans chin on broomhandle and mutters, “Next time I’ll raise chickens, Lord. Children are just too much.”

Then ten-year-old crashes in --- rough and ready, all boy --- to confide, “Mommy, at Cub Scout meeting we had to list the five things most precious to us, and I did: One, God; two, love; three, America; four, babies; and five, sunsets.”

Suddenly the baby’s eyes seem very blue, six-year-old recites from memory the entire 23rd Psalm, which is better than spelling “what”, fingerprints retreat again. Daddy walks in. Really life could not be richer. It is a glory never to be bartered.

Dear Lord, keep the chickens. I’ll carry on for now. And thank you --- from the bottom of my heart.”