Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wonderful Words of Life (Strength in Hymn)

"Wonderful Words of Life"
Philip Bliss, 1838-1876

Sing them over again to me, 
wonderful words of life; 
let me more of their beauty see, 
wonderful words of life; 
words of life and beauty 
teach me faith and duty. 

Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 
Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 

Christ, the blessed one, gives to all 
wonderful words of life; 
sinner, list to the loving call, 
wonderful words of life; 
all so freely given, 
wooing us to heaven. 

Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 
Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 

Sweetly echo the gospel call, 
wonderful words of life; 
offer pardon and peace to all, 
wonderful words of life; 
Jesus, only Savior, 
sanctify forever. 

Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 
Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 


It's been such long time since I've posted here, and even longer since I featured my Strength in Hymn series. But I'm back with this sweet, grace-filled one from Hymns of Praise. I discovered this vintage volume in my late mother's basement, and brought it home to a place of honor on my hymnal shelf. It once belonged to her grandmother, Olive Ransom. The wonderful words endure through all generations.

Leafing through the pages, I chose this hymn because it speaks life to my soul. I love beauty, as you can see by the nature photos I took with my daughter today at Mead Botanical Garden in Orlando. The beauty of God's creation is life-enriching, and even more, the beauty of his sacrifice is life-redeeming. Words that praise him and tell the gospel story are stunning because they reflect that beauty.

It is God's good news which takes a stained, scarred, statue of a woman as his own, then by grace, liberates, heals her, and brings her fully alive.

In a world all too often captured with ugliness, let us all share the wonderful words of life with one another. Words of hope. Words of beauty. Words of peace. Words of grace. Words of love. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Puritans, The Quakers, and Little Old Me (Reflections on A Measure of Light)

A couple of weeks ago, a new novel mentioned on Facebook piqued my interest. I ordered it almost immediately. A Measure of Light, by bestselling Canadian author Beth Powning, retells the story of Mary Dyer, an English woman who came to Massachusetts as a persecuted Puritan, yet later became one of the earliest American Quakers. 

My mind always seeks connections between what I read and my own life and family, and this was an immediate grab for me. One of my ancestors, Margaret Stevenson Scott, was the last and oldest person hanged by the Puritans in the Salem witch trials. And I also knew that some of my other ancestors were New England Quakers in the 1600 and 1700's. This is not just a historical and genealogical interest for me, either. There is so much in my own life story which resonates with the contrast of Puritans and Quakers.

I'm not sure I was prepared for how this book affected me. And I certainly wasn't prepared for what I found out just after I read it; I was shocked to my core. I'll save that juicy part of the story for the end of this post. (No fair peeking!)

I already knew of the tragic conflicts between Puritans and Quakers from teaching American history to my own children and my home school co-op students for many years. In particular, I love the novel The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. Yet that was a book for children. An adult level novel like A Measure of Light can fully explore more complexities and nuances, as well as more mature subject matter. Clue: this is not a romance novel.

As the story opens, Mary and her husband William are gravely concerned about the cruel way that the Church of England was treating Puritans. Encouraged by their friend Anne Hutchinson and her husband Will, they decide to flee to America for safety and freedom of worship. On arriving, though, Mary realizes that the Puritans are just as harsh in their punishments against those who dissent from what they believe is the true faith. A culture of strict legalism, fear of divine retribution, demonization of others outside the community (especially native Americans), and tight religious/political control rules the colony. There is little sense of God's loving grace and gospel liberty. Anne helps Mary navigate through the difficulties of adjusting to the community and to motherhood. As a loyal disciple of the Reverend John Cotton, Anne has been entrusted with elucidating his sermons in her home meetings to make the theological meanings clear to the other women. As time passes, Anne puts more emphasis on grace and liberty in her lectures, and men begin attending. All of this ultimately brings her into sharp opposition with Cotton and the other Puritan leaders. She is banished from the colony, and her followers, including the Dyers, move south to Rhode Island. Later, Mary Dyer returns to England for several years and becomes a devout Quaker, passionate about sharing the measure of light she has received with other seeking souls. She is also determined to take a stand for religious liberty for the Quakers in America, and repeatedly risks her own life to plead the cause of those who have been imprisoned and sentenced to death. 

I thought long about her conversion. It is true that the Quakers were not the most orthodox in their theology, particularly in the area of salvation and atonement. However, there is so much to admire. They believe in equality and mutual respect between men and women, between races and nationalities, and between varying socio-economic levels. They believe in peace and simplicity and quietness and supportive communities. They believe in social justice and were key figures in the Underground Railroad. They seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and an authentic relationship with God. 

I look at the Puritans, who perhaps technically had a more "correct" theological underpinning, but whose application was at times so appalling and soul-shriveling that it negated any benefit. History does not usually look kindly upon them, except for the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. Then I look at the Quakers, who were a bit loose in their doctrine, but whose application of their FAITH brought life and health and joy to them, as well as empowerment and justice to others.

This is a clear contrast in the book. We cannot know everything of Mary Dyer's true history, but the novel imagines her depression and anxiety, her disconnection from the God she once knew, the difficulties faced in bonding with her children when she has been warned of undue attachments, and her devastation at giving birth to a deformed stillborn baby and then hearing her religious leaders claim this was God's wrath against her. As a Quaker, she is still a very complex woman with deep wounds and a dysfunctional family, at least in the novel version. This is not a happy ever after tale. She has suffered so much spiritually and emotionally, and that leaves a deep imprint on the soul. Yet I rejoiced when she found her "measure of light" and regained a well-seasoned faith, hope, joy, and peace in the midst of the unrelenting challenges she faced. Mary Dyer was hanged in June 1660 after courageously returning to Boston (from which she had been banished) to demand a change to the bloody laws against Quakers. However, as news of this and other executions traveled throughout the colonies and to England, the Puritan leaders were ultimately forced to stop persecuting the Quakers. Unfortunately, that still didn't prevent the Salem Witch Trials. My ancestor, poor old Margaret Scott, an impoverished cranky widow falsely accused of witchcraft, was hanged in September 1692.

But jumping back to my own book reading experience... I started weeping fairly early on, even in the initial descriptions of the colony. This hit way too close to home for me. For many years, we were members of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a church movement heavily influenced by neo-Puritan thought. At the start, I was quite enthusiastic about this. We were the spiritual elite. We could handle the rigorous theology and the expectations for our lifestyle. It was a small price to pay for being so right, eh? Over time, though, my spirit withered under the culture of legalism, control, fear, and a strong emphasis on purging sin from our souls under the watchful guidance of our leaders, whom we were admonished to obey. They also expressed a strong disdain for professional counseling. I held it together the best I could, but I felt like I was under scrutiny. I could never be good enough. I am more of a free spirit, a fluid poet soul. And as a woman, I had little voice, at least when it came to anything of importance outside of my domestic sphere of home schooling and homemaking. We were to live in quietness and deference to men. 

In 2008, I stumbled on two SGM protest blogs, and my tidy yet tenuous little church life really started to unravel. I learned about the devastating effect that the heavy theology and abuse of pastoral and family authority had on members, especially the women and youth. Depression. Anxiety. Morbid introspection. Teen rebellion. Substance abuse. Suicide. Child abuse. Domestic violence. Yikes. That wasn't all. SGM has been embroiled in child molestation scandals for decades, unbeknownst to most members until the accumulated Internet reports hit like a bomb. Families were ordered to not report these crimes to the police; they were to be handled in the church and hushed up. I was disgusted. 

Here is just one example of my experience there toward the end: When I tried to speak up for living by grace in a Bible study meeting, I was openly shamed and ridiculed by a fellow member and nobody would come to my defense. He said he was going to park his (metaphorical) bus over my ideas and back up three times. Grace is for weak little pansies. He insisted that the Christian life is all about violently mortifying our sin. I was then castigated by someone else for daring to correct this man privately for his unacceptable behavior. Because I was a woman, I was supposed to suck it up in silence and accept his superior wisdom. (Here's the irony: This man is different now. He listened and he apologized. Seriously.) I can think of several other times I was chided or silenced in that church for encouraging others to live in authentic grace or for speaking up about abuse of authority. 

By 2010, I'd had enough. My eyes were opened to the deep damage done to my own family, especially my children. It is still hard to shake the sobering knowledge that I allowed this, and that it still profoundly affects them. I found a good grace-filled Christian therapist who patiently walked me through the issues. We left the church that July, along with hundreds of other members of our congregation. I wrote this poem as we were leaving: It Became to Me a Dark Thing. The church eventually parted company with SGM, as did dozens of others. SGM hasn't improved any, and they've come under scathing public criticism, protests at the 2016 T4G conference, and lawsuits. Despite all of this, I do have countless happy memories from this church, too, and many beloved friends there. So many kind and generous and creative people. We've all learned so much. I've had great conversations with the pastors since we left, and I appreciate their sensitivity to my concerns. So there's that. 

I am now a member of a small Presbyterian (PCA) congregation that doesn't get hyped about neo-Calvinism, thank you Jesus. I am still recovering, but at least I found a safe place to land and heal. I am also still seeing a professional therapist.

Like Mary Dyer, in this long process of waking up and moving on, I finally lost my fear and found my true voice. I am a woman, and I am empowered to speak the truth in love. I am a woman, and I can live by the power of the Holy Spirit. I am a woman, and I can be an advocate for the vulnerable among us. I am a woman and a Mama Bear. I wrote so many blog posts on abuse of authority in churches, families, and the home school movement that I eventually started this Watch the Shepherd niche blog for them. It now has 160 posts with over 160,000 page views. 

Yet, like Mary Dyer, I too have suffered much in my soul. I can write around the tattered edges of my own story, but the darker parts are etched deep within my consciousness. While healing comes as a measure of light year by year, the scars cannot be fully undone this side of eternity. I weep as I write.

And I am shaking again as I write this last part, the part about what I learned after I set down the book. I thought of my second cousin Ellen, and briefly posted on her Facebook wall that I thought she'd like the book. Based on what she posts, she has a Quakerish soul, I think. Then as an afterthought, I told her that we have common Quaker heritage and sent her a link to a blog post (The Quakers Up My Family Tree) that I wrote two years ago. Thinking of that old post made me curious, wondering if there were any connections between Mary Dyer and my Quaker ancestors. I read the list of names and saw the English immigrant Noel Mew and his daughter Mary. (Side note: The name Mary was handed down this family line every two or three generations from Mary Mew in the 1600's until my own daughter Mary.) Anyway, I Googled "Mary Dyer" and "Noel Mew" together and came up with a genealogy post for the descendents of a man named Edward Wanton. I was fascinated to find that he was an officer stationed at the base of the gallows where Mary Dyer was hanged. Edward Wanton was so struck and convicted by Mary's faith and courage and by the cruelty of the Puritans -- that he became a Quaker himself. Wow. That is powerful. 

Edward Wanton

But that is not all. After his conversion, Edward Wanton got married, became a Quaker preacher, and had a Quaker family of his own. Two of his sons became colonial governors in Rhode Island. And then how about this? His son Michael married Mary Mew! Thus Edward Wanton is my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. I let that sink in and realized that if he hadn't become a Quaker because of standing at the gallows of courageous Mary Dyer, I would not be here. This ripple effect has washed over me like a tidal wave. What she did became my story. I am here because of her. And I am changed by reading her example. I am so grateful. In turn, what I do and what I say becomes the story of others. 

I look at my computer clock here in 2016. Midnight on the dot. It is now Mother's Day.

I am a woman. I am a mother and a grandmother. I have a voice and I'm not afraid to use it. This has already made a difference to many. By the grace and power of God, my life and words will ripple forth and change history. Join me?

2012: My daughter Mary and her two
oldest sons, my late mother Mary,
my late grandmother Dorothy, and me.

Related blog posts:


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five Things Home School Moms Should Know About Abusive Marriages

Five Things Homeschool Moms Should Know About Abusive Marriages
by Virginia Knowles

(Note: This article was originally requested by Ryan Stollar of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out and first appeared as a guest post on their blog yesterday: Five Things Homeschool Moms Should Know About Abusive Marriages.)

When our family started the homeschooling journey about 25 years ago, I envisioned my comrades in the movement as the ideal examples of healthy marriage and parenting. I have learned much along the way about educating and nurturing my own ten children, and I am seeing this legacy continue with my six grandchildren. However, as the years have gone by, I have had to lay aside my cute little rose-colored glasses and acknowledge that there can also be a dark side. Abuse, whether it is against a child or a spouse, is a tragic reality in far too many homeschooling families. Because I write frequently on the topics of domestic violence and other forms of family dysfunction, HARO has asked me to share five things that homeschool moms should know about abusive marriages.

1. Homeschool moms are not immune from abusive marriages.

How many of us started out thinking that homeschooling would guarantee us harmonious families? Educating at home can help this effort in many ways, but it is not a magic potion. There are even facets of homeschooling, such as greater responsibility and stretched resources, which put families at increased risk of stress. We must never justify abuse due to these factors, but they can bring latent harmful tendencies to the surface and then compound them.

Worse yet, homeschooling often attracts fathers who already feel a high need for psychological control over others. (Yes, women  can be this way too, but that is beyond the scope of this article.) Fathers may try to exert this control with intentions of raising superior children, but it backfires because good fruit does not come from the bad root of a domineering personality. Common homeschool movement teachings about authority, child training, and gender roles can enable these unhealthy control issues, which can in turn fuel abusive behavior. A man who craves power can easily become a tyrant and a bully against his wife and children, while justifying it by twisting Scripture.

A mother has the moral and legal obligation to shield her children from abuse. Though right and necessary, this puts her at risk of injury. He may shove her out of his way, which could bruise her or cause her to fall and break a bone. She may suffer joint or muscle damage while trying to pull him away from or off of a child. He may impulsively hurt her in retaliation without thinking much about what he is doing. These are forms of domestic violence against his wife, even if he is not intentionally beating her up, and even if she does not have noticeable or lasting injuries. Beyond that, a homeschool dad may purposely and maliciously hurt his wife - physically or emotionally - as a way of dominating her or “punishing” her for her supposed shortcomings.  

If a homeschool mom feels she must defer to her husband in everything, or she is trying to protect her family’s Christian reputation, or if she has no financial resources or current job skills to support her family, then she can feel she has little recourse when the marriage turns toxic. If she protests or even offers an alternative opinion, she is often labeled as rebellious, told she will ruin her children, and intimidated with threats. This shaming and fear is often reinforced by her church leaders and homeschool friends who do not fully understand the dynamics of abusive relationships. If she has been conditioned to distrust or even fear government  or community resources, she is at a further disadvantage.

I cannot even begin to tell you how many Christian homeschool moms I know who have been in abusive marriages for far too long, and feel like they have no choice but to put up with it. This has to stop.  Even if you don’t think domestic violence personally affects you, please read these articles and the others I have linked later:

2. Abuse in marriage is not just physical.  

Physical violence is not the only way a man can abuse his wife.

Abuse also includes threats, ridicule, coercion, manipulation, intimidating body language, playing mind games like gaslighting, humiliating her in front of others, isolating her from friends and family, denying access to resources (finances, medical care, transportation, information, counseling), neglecting to follow through on promises and responsibilities, blocking her exit from a room, damaging her possessions, blaming her for the abuse, alienating her from her children, and more. You can see this by looking at the Power and Control Wheel.

Again, a wife is particularly susceptible to these forms of relational abuse if she believes that she must comply with her husband’s demands for authority. Because her husband has not physically injured her, she may not realize that he is still abusive. She may acknowledge that something is wrong, but think that she herself is the problem. She may attempt to work on marital intimacy, a more cheerful and submissive attitude, better child training, a cleaner house, and everything else she can think so that her husband will treat her better. What she needs to realize is that she is being abused, and that the necessary response is much different. The marriage is not just difficult or dysfunctional, but destructive and dangerous.

Recognizing abuse can be particularly confusing because it often occurs in unpredictable cycles of repeating phases: tension building (increased frustration, conflict, withdrawal, mood swings, pressure to comply), acute explosion (aggressive crisis incident that may either “come out of nowhere” or be intentionally escalated by the abuser), honeymoon (active attempts by the abuser to rebuild trust through apologies, compliments, promises, gifts, favors, spiritual activity, counseling, etc.), and calm (settling down, forgetting, minimizing, relief, normalcy). It is important to realize that even in the lull after an explosive incident, the husband is most likely still emotionally abusing her through other means, whether she realizes it or not. Again, it is important to recognize the many forms of abuse in order to realize the continued gravity of the situation.

Here are some more resources to read about recognizing the forms of marital abuse, and realizing why so many women stay.

3. Children are at risk of lasting damage when abuse is present in a marriage.

While you started homeschooling to nurture and care for your children, if your marriage is abusive, they are not in a safe and healthy environment. Most states consider it child abuse when children witness abuse between their parents. In extreme cases, you can be held liable and lose your children if you do not take appropriate action to protect them from the consequences of their other parent’s abuse. Think carefully about all of this if you are “staying together for the sake of the children.” You may be doing more harm than good.

At the most basic level, the stress of seeing abusive behavior in their parents’ marriage can create emotional disturbance which will also affect physical health. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bedwetting, self-harming, and defiance are common side effects. Children often internalize parental conflict and blame themselves. Or they can turn their anger and aggression against other people and become bullies themselves. If your children have been affected in any way by abuse in the home, please seek medical help and mental health therapy for them and yourself as soon as possible. If you don’t think you can afford this, call a community mental health or child protective organization for assistance.

A child is at additional risk for physical injury as an innocent bystander to domestic violence, especially if the child attempts to protect the mother, or if the father hurts the child as a way of causing extra distress to his wife. No child is safe if the father is throwing things, shoving his wife, slamming doors, or other manifestations of rage. In addition, a mother who is being abused can in turn blame her children, and then treat them in harsh and injurious ways.

While the mother is dealing with the distress in her marriage, she can easily be distracted from providing an adequate education for her children. They can also be too stressed out to focus on their assignments. While there are certainly times to lay aside formal academics to deal with family issues, if they cannot regularly attend to homeschooling because of this, then something needs to change.

Finally, marital abuse exposes children to a powerfully toxic example of a dysfunctional relationship which they may normalize (see as the usual) and then carry forward into their own romantic and parental relationships. Depending on how they process the experience, they may be more likely to tolerate or perpetrate abusive dating or marriage relationships, as well as perpetuate abusive practices with their own children. It is important for them to understand what is happening, know that it is wrong, and develop strategies to keep themselves safe for their present and future.

See also:

4. Decisive action is necessary, and sometimes it has to be drastic.

Unfortunately, abuse does not just go away on its own. A mother must take decisive action to ensure safety and sanity for herself and her children. Here are several things she might do, starting out with the basics and ramping it up as necessary:

  • assess the situation to acknowledge exactly what has happened in the past and what the current and future risk is
  • strengthen her confidence and resolve to move forward into a safe and healthy family life
  • educate herself on the dynamics of abuse, which will involve reading and focused research
  • break the silence and share her story with a supportive network of friends, family, and trustworthy on-line forums
  • seek appropriate professional help (more on that in the next section)
  • set and enforce firm boundaries with specific consequences
  • determine her optimal alternatives if those boundaries are not respected
  • make safety/exit/escape plans and preparations in case the situation escalates
  • separate from the abuser, which may entail persuading him to leave the home, having him removed from the home, or moving out with her children
  • go “no contact” to prevent harassment by phone, texts, messaging, e-mail  
  • file a restraining order to keep the abuser away from the family and home
  • as necessary, file for divorce as an increased legal protection against continued abuse

Please note that while each of these steps can lead to more clarity and progress, none of them will guarantee an end to the abuse. In fact, the risk of retaliation can increase each time a woman takes initiative to distance herself further from her abuser. This should not dissuade her from taking action, but at all points she needs to be extra vigilant and not let her guard down as she moves forward to safety and dignity.

Depending on the severity of the situation, it may be necessary for the children to transition into other formats of education so that their mother can focus on the actions necessary to protect and provide for the family. This could involve homeschooling with outside assistance (hybrid school, co-op, online programs, grandparents) or enrolling some or all of the children in traditional full-time schools. This doesn’t have to happen immediately. A mother might set a goal of preparing her children for the change within a certain time period as she simultaneously works through her own future options. If a woman’s identity is wrapped around mothering and homeschooling, any of these transitions can be an uncomfortable sacrifice for her. She will appreciate compassionate understanding and support from her network of homeschool friends. She can know that she is doing her best to nurture her children, even if this was not part of her ideal plan.

Here are some other articles about taking action against abuse in marriage:

5. Help is available, but you have to know where to look.

Taking action in a domestic violence situation can be confusing and intimidating. A woman’s access to solid help in the form of reliable information and practical assistance can make a huge difference in how she is able to proceed.

Often, her first step is reaching out for advice and emotional support from family, friends, and religious leaders whom she already personally knows. How they respond is crucial. They can either move her toward safety and healing, or send her back into the lion’s den. Will they believe her story? Not always. Many domestic violence survivors are accused of misunderstanding, exaggerating, or worse yet, lying about their circumstances. Even if they are believed, they are often advised to forgive their offender, patch things up, and work on their own problems without setting appropriate boundaries or separating from the abuser. Yikes! At this point, a woman may give up trying to change the situation and just keep muddling and agonizing, questioning her own perception of reality. However, if she keeps talking about it or or finds someone else who will listen to her, she will hopefully find some support in her own personal network.

This facetious list by a domestic violence survivor and (former) homeschool mother of 12 can help others know how to best respond:

The reaction of a woman’s pastors and elders is also key, but this can get confusing, too. They may know and trust her husband, and be reluctant to acknowledge a serious problem if he seems like a normal, caring human being. Or they may be so fixated on preserving marriages in the congregation that they are unwilling to entertain the potential necessity of a separation or divorce. Or they may not have professional training in the area of domestic violence, and counsel the couple as if they had a difficult marriage instead of a dangerous and destructive one. If they use a nouthetic or so-called “Biblical” approach to counseling, they may blame the wife and tell her to deal with her own sins in the marriage. Or they may say something to the husband about the alleged abuse that embarrasses him, and he in turn takes it out on his wife. On the other hand, think of the good that would result if pastors sought professional level skills in crisis counseling, and took a broader and deeper view toward God’s heart for families. At the very least, a pastor should be able and willing to refer domestic violence victims to professional counselors in the community who are educated and experienced in this specialty, as well as gain a basic understanding of the issues. He or she can find out more at these links:

One very important thing to know is that couples counseling - whether pastoral or professional - is not at all recommended when the dynamics of abuse exist in a relationship. This is rarely (if ever) effective and puts a wife at additional risk of abuse and retaliation. Both parties do need counseling, but it should be individual. If they use the same counselor, there must be an absolute guarantee of confidentiality.

Beyond a woman’s existing personal circle of friends and family, there is much help available in the community. She can research information and participate in support groups on the Internet, check out books at the library, call a domestic violence crisis line, seek help at a women’s shelter, get professional counseling (can be faith-based and may be covered by insurance), apply for government financial and medical assistance, and find a referral for affordable (maybe subsidized) legal help.  Here are some links for these community resources:

This is a lot of information to process right now. If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please read more and come back to it again, even if it is just a little at a time. Let it sink in. Think about what you need to do next for yourself or someone else, and start taking steps in that direction. What you know, what you say, and what you do about domestic violence can make a difference not only now, but for generations to come. Let me know if you
need help.