Monday, December 29, 2014

Love Light

Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
when I get home.

St. Francis of Assisi

I took all of the sky pictures you see here. I can't resist sunrise, sunset, clouds, tree silhouettes. It restores my soul when I am weary and doubting.

Such myriad ways he pours down his lavish love from on high.

As we start the new year, every once in a while, gaze at the sky and receive beauty.

Grace and peace,

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Bad Boy and the Angel

While decorating for Christmas last week, I left this angel on the table. The next morning, I found her standing with my daughter's Ken doll. Apparently she was planning for them to get married as soon as she could find someone to officiate the wedding.

Something about the angel caught my eye. She was looking down, probably because she is supposed to be a tree topper smiling benevolently at the children below. However, standing right next to Ken, she seemed like she was sad and feeling shamed, like he was mad at her and she couldn't bear to look him in the eye.

In light of the series I have been writing on domestic violence, this image made me think of the dynamic between a Bad Boy and an Angel in a marriage. (By the way, for the purpose of this article, I'm the one who posed Ken with his hand up about ready to hit her.) I'm not talking about Bad Boy in the sense of an outward persona, like a guy with tats all over him. I've met plenty of nice guys with tats. In this post, I'm specifically talking about a man who abuses his wife and/or his children through manipulation, harassment, intimidation, and/or physical violence.

Here's a problem: If she is from a religious background that teaches strict gender roles, it is highly likely that she's been taught to put up with it.

She's the good girl, the Angel.

She is supposed to sweetly submit to whatever he dishes out.

If he is rough and brusque and forceful, he's just being manly.

If she protests, even tactfully, she's being rebellious.

You just need to submit! The Bible says women should submit!” he demands. “Why are you so contentious, woman!”

You just think you are so perfect and holy!” he accuses. “You think you're such an angel but you have as many problems as I do!”

Oh, you just want to be a LIB-ERRR-AAAATED WOOOOMAN! It's all about WOOMMMANN power!” he yells.

Ahem. What's the alternative? Slavery? What man in his right mind wants a woman to be in any kind of bondage or subjugation? A man who loves his wife does all he can to make sure she is liberated and empowered.

If Angel goes to her church for help, she might be told to try harder, be sweeter, submit to everything with a smile. She must not argue with Bad Boy. She must not separate from him. Or if she does separate, she must agree to work toward reconciliation. It's up to her to make this work. She's the good Christian girl. The Angel. Her family is counting on her. She's in this for life, right?

Let's snap back to reality, OK?

I'm all for intact families. I'm all for being patient and encouraging people to change.

But abuse is wrong.

If the marriage has moved from “difficult” to “dangerous” then a separation – even a permanent one - is absolutely justified.  Safety and sanity are the priority.

What then?

If Bad Boy is truly repentant and serious about change, fine. Let him prove it over a long period of time with no manipulation or pressure for reconciliation.

If Bad Boy continues with his behavior, or even if he plays nice when it suits him but keeps the same abusive attitude underneath, reconciliation will be a farce. How do you know that attitude is still there? Is he blame shifting? Is he describing you with words like disobedient, unsubmissive, or negligent? Is he trashing you in front of the kids? Is he trying to make you feel guilty for setting boundaries? Is he accusing you of being “holier than thou”? Is he interrogating you about things that are none of his business? Is he trying to keep you off balance emotionally? Is he insisting that if you really cared about God you would reconcile with him? Is he trying to control you, and criticizing you if you don't do things the way he wants? Does it seem like when he does something nice that he is trying to obligate you to do something for him? If things are not going his way, does he sulk, pout, or yell? Do you feel like you are still walking on eggshells around him?

My friend, if you are in an abusive marriage and you have been taught that you need to respect him anyway, consider this. A woman may think she is respecting her husband if she gives in to whatever he demands. But that is not respect at all. Instead, she is coddling him like a toddler who is having a tantrum. Respect is treating him like a full grown man who can take responsibility for his own actions and attitudes. If you respect him, you will expect him to man up. Bad Boy needs to get a grip and be a Big Boy for once. If not, he will have to face his consequences. You in turn will have to be strong enough to set your boundaries and stick by them. If that requires a separation or even a divorce, that's on him, not on you. If you have children, they are counting on you to protect them, not only from being abused themselves, but from even witnessing violence and intimidation.

What can "outsiders" do to either prevent abuse or intervene?

Parents: Raise your boys to be strong and gentle. Raise your girls to be strong and gentle. Teach integrity, responsibility, mutual respect, and compassion above everything else.

Pastors and counselors: Rethink your teaching on gender. Be sure you are not enabling abuse. If a woman comes to you for help, make sure she is safe in every way. Do not tell her to submit to abuse. Do not demand that she save her marriage at all costs. Do not tell her husband that she is the one who is out of line if she doesn't. Be like Jesus and do what is right.

Friends and relatives: If you see it happening or even suspect that it is, think hard about what you can do to intervene without causing more risk of harm. First, go to the woman with compassion and ask what you can do. Be supportive. Be discrete. Be love.

Everyone: Please read...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

For To Us a Child is Born, The Prince of Peace (Strength in Hymn)

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living
in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government
will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of
his government and peace
there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. 

Isaiah 9:2, 6

Enjoy these renditions
from Handel's Messiah,
foretelling the birth of Jesus.

Advent grace and peace
to you and to all the world,

Virginia Knowles

(P.S. Art pieces by Jim Shore.)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee (Strength in Hymn: Advent)

"Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee"
by Henry Van Dyke

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee,
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
Center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living,
Ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,
All who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us,
Brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward
In the triumph song of life.

It's the first Sunday of Advent,
time to sing carols in church,
time to light the first candle of five.

This morning we sang
"Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee."
I love the lyrics,
which aren't just for Christmastime.

Read them again.
These aren't sappy holiday sentiments.
This is the real stuff of life for every day.
Love. Sadness. Forgiveness.
Doubt. Praise. Strife.
Triumph. Darkness.  Light.


I was thinking today,
even before I sang this carol,
that I need to "march onward" and
 move forward in 2015.
I need "big picture" progress 
in several areas of life.

Before January comes, though,
getting ready for Christmas
in a busy, busy household
 will keep me quite occupied.

I only wish I could say that
doubt, darkness, sadness and strife
never visited our home
at Christmastime or any time.
Like many other families,
sometimes the holidays are hardest.
We're expected to be jolly.
We don't always feel like it.

All the more reason
to lay it all aside for a while,
to drink deeply of joy,
to fill my soul with fresh courage.
All the more reason to pause
and adore, praise, worship, and love
the one who made me, redeemed me,
and still comforts and guides me Sunward.

Here is a prayer for the start of Advent,
for when joy and faith don't come easily.

"Merciful God, always with us:
We confess that we do not know how 
to prepare for your Advent.
We have forgotten how to hope in miracles;
we have ignored the promise of your kingdom;
we get distracted by all the busyness of the season.
Forgive us, God.

Grant us the simple wonder of the shepherds,
the intelligent courage of the Magi,
and the patient faith of Mary and Joseph,
that we may journey with them to Bethlehem
and find the good news of a child born for us.
Now, in the quiet of our hearts,
we ask You to make us ready for His coming.

More posts for Advent in real life:

More hymns for the season
from last year's Advent series:

A Few of My Advent Poems:

God bless you!
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Love Looks Like: Reaching Out to the Homeless

This is what love looks like:

Every month, a team of volunteers 
from Local Impact (a ministry of Metro Life)
sets up tables in the parking lot of a local motel
where many homeless people live.
Folks who live in the nearby woods also come.

Dinner. Clothes. Toiletries.
Blankets. Laundry detergent.
All free.

Allison and Greg sing,
"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!"

Heather gives her testimony
of when she was a homeless single mom,
and how Jesus rescued her
from her addictions.

Daniel shares the gospel with passion.

Guests and volunteers line up for dinner.

Two happy young volunteers serving food
- that's my littlest daughter on the left.

Tables beautifully decorated
- even the napkins are adorned for Thanksgiving

Guests and volunteers enjoy the meal together
at picnic tables set up right in the parking lot.

They were giving away Bibles this month,
and I know one of the women who received one
was so excited that she started reading it right away.
One of my friends suggested
that she start in the Gospel of John.
I totally agree.
It's all about Jesus and his love.
This meal is all about Jesus and his love.
Also on this table?
Lists of local resources for
housing, food, job assistance,
health care, and more.

My daughter Julia organizes this monthly event
with our friend Allura.
I can't even begin to tell you
how much this blesses her Mama's heart.
I am so grateful.
I love to follow her example.

I'm so glad to be a part of this.
Can you tell from the smile on my face?
I mingle among the guests, seeing what they need.

It's sprinkling by the end,
but at least the rain held off until after dinner.

There is more to it than just serving the meal.

So much work goes on ahead of time and afterwards: praying, planning, publicizing, sorting clothes, assembling toiletry bags, buying and cooking the food, setting up tables and sound equipment, decorating, cleaning up, tearing down, loading up, more praying. We all work together.

And then there are the in-between times, because they are homeless every day, not just once a month. At least once a week or so, I try to stop by the area where many of them hang out during the day. It's less than a mile from my house. This time of year, to keep them warm and dry at night, fuzzy blankets and plastic tarps are in high demand. Fortunately, the Deals store nearby sells them inexpensively. Sneakers and socks are a good pick because theirs wear out fast with so much walking around. Water bottles and juice boxes are always appreciated. Bus fare cards help them get from one place to another so they can look for jobs and get to places like the Christian Sharing Center for assistance like job searches, food, housing aid, health clinic, clothes, laundry, and showers. 

It's time to watch and listen. What do they need? One of the ladies lugged around her heavy belongings in a big black plastic garbage bag. I could see she needed a rolling suitcase, and I had an extra at home. She also said she had been interviewing for jobs without success, and it was apparent that she lacked decent clothes for that. Time for me to share, even if it meant raiding our closets and driving around to the thrift stores the next day. I also got black dress pants for one of the men who was starting a new job, and another pair for one of the others. 

You see, it's not all about handouts, but a hand up, too. Let's them back on their feet so they can support themselves and get off the streets. But let's also remember that they are people, not projects.

You know what else our friends like? Hugs or handshakes. Smiles. Looking them straight in the eye. Remembering their names. Warm words that can be trusted. (They've been betrayed way too many times.) One of the newer ladies told me, "I have a really hard time trusting people, but when I saw how well you treated the ones that have been here awhile, I thought maybe you would be kind to me, too." That's why she came to the dinner.

What do they really want?
What do we really need to give?
They ask, "Why do you do this for us?"

The answer to all three questionsLove.

More of my posts on homelessness:

Grace and peace,

(P.S. Some of the photos in this post were taken by Amber Carroll. I took the rest.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Oh Scatter Seeds of Loving Deeds (Strength in Hymn)

"Oh Scatter Seeds of Loving Deeds"
Jessie H. Brown

Oh, scatter seeds of loving deeds
Along the fertile fields;
For grain will grow 
from what you sow,
And fruitful harvest yield.

Then day by day,
along your way,
The seeds of promise cast,
That ripened grain
from hill and plain
Be gathered home
at last.

Though sown in tears through 
weary years,
The seed will surely live;
Though great the cost,
it is not lost,
For God will fruitage give.

Then day by day,
along your way,
The seeds of promise cast,
That ripened grain
from hill and plain
Be gathered home
at last.

The harvest home of God will come;
And after toil and care,
With joy untold
your sheaves of gold
Will all be garnered there. 

Then day by day,
along your way,
The seeds of promise cast,
That ripened grain
from hill and plain
Be gathered home
at last.

Thanksgiving is next week, and we traditionally think of gratitude for the harvest. In England, they celebrate a holiday called "Harvest Home" in the autumn. 

This hymn reminds us that we are all sowing seeds -- and that ours should be those of loving deeds. In God's economy, when we invest in those who cannot repay us on earth, we receive an even richer reward in heaven. Truth be told, I'd even be quite satisfied with just seeing a harvest in the lives of those I serve. That is enough. I want to make an impact.

As we approach this holiday season, let's remember kindness, especially for those who are enduring difficult times. Look out for the lonely, the sick, the homeless, the hurting, the vulnerable.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9

"Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness." James 3:18

"I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together." John 4:35-36

Thanksgiving hymns from last year, with an emphasis on kindness toward others:

Other posts on practical kindness during the holidays and winter: 

And one more on sowing seeds:

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Friday, October 31, 2014

Let's End Domestic Violence - Not Just the Awareness Month

Dear friends,

It's October 31, and this month has been Domestic Violence Awareness month. The month might be ending, but unfortunately domestic violence has not. One quick look at the news will show you that.

I'm not just thinking about physical violence between intimate partners, but also emotional abuse, and abuse of other members of the family (such as children and the elderly. Let's not forget human trafficking victims either.

You can do your part. Educate yourself and others. Take a stand. Intervene in an abusive situation if needed. And by all means, get to safety if you or your children are in danger.

I have included a whole bunch of images in this post that you can download to your computer and then upload again to post on Facebook, your blog, or other social media. And please share this post on Facebook or your blog, too!

My domestic violence resource page has a bunch of links, including my own articles, but here are some links that aren't on there yet. I encourage you to read them carefully.

Here are the links:

As a reminder, here are the links to my own DV articles:

Domestic Violence Interviews 

Domestic Violence Dynamics and Responses