Saturday, July 27, 2019

Give Me Ears to Hear, Eyes to See, a Heart to Love


"Give me ears to hear, eyes to see..."

That's what I was thinking on the board walk at Blue Springs State Park.

I have only a half an hour, not nearly enough time for the extended exploring that I crave. 

I had been visiting with friends in Deltona, 45 minutes from my house, all afternoon. I would be meeting my daughter and her fiance a little later closer to home. Since I was still in Deltona, I wanted to squeeze in a little natural beauty when I could. It's kind of my thing: making the most of where I am when I'm there, not knowing when I'll be that way again.

I park my van and try to find a trail. Right next to the parking lot, I hear rustling. I turn to see an armadillo snuffling in the dirt for food. He (or she?) lets me quietly approach. 



After a few minutes of wandering, I find a boardwalk overlooking the river. Motion catches my eye. Can you see the squirrel peering around the tree? So elusive, I can only snap a dozen photos and hope one would find its focus.



Now can you see?




While trying to capture the squirrel with my lens, another swooshing sound piques my attention. The camouflaged owl perches on the branch, swiveling head to and fro, capturing the surroundings, yet seemingly oblivious to the potential dinner of squirrel. Must not be hungry?


Further down the boardwalk, a rotted and maybe burned out tree juts up.




What entire little worlds of insects and other tiny  animals dwell and thrive in what seems to be debris to me?


I peer down into the water. I see a long gray fish, but it barely appears on my camera. I snap the photo anyway. So much we don't clearly see beneath the surface at first glance.




Editing at home, adjusting the light, clarifying... Here it is.




This is better than the alligator. I see just the tip of the snout gliding along the surface of the water. Just the tip of the snout, but it is there, a silent witness to all that lurks beneath. There is always more than we see. Always. At one point the alligator turns, this time with only two eyes visible, staring right at me.



Blue Springs is famous for manatees, so I hope against hope to see one swimming, but no.... Then again? A mosaic manatee, beauty crafted from broken pieces.



The views from the boardwalk are beautiful, even if only for such a brief time. I am still trying to drink it all in. My motto: "Fill your soul with all good things, and let the beauty pour forth."




To fill the soul, we first need to notice.

Ears to hear? Bird song! I hit the video icon and slowly swivel to and fro to capture the music in the trees. Then I scurry back to my van because I have places to go, people to see. 

It isn't until I listen to the video later that I realize I must have hit the slo-mo instead. The first few seconds I hear cheerful chirping, and then... It's spooky. Weird. Intimidating. I think of how just this change of speed, or perception, makes all the difference in the atmosphere.





I had already been thinking back to my afternoon as I'd been ambling along the river. I had already been praying, "Give me ears to hear, eyes to see," knowing it wasn't just for the beauty around me.

It was for the broken, too. The world we hear as bird song may be to them a very scary place full of traumatic memories for those who have experienced domestic abuse, sexual abuse, or spiritual abuse. Someone has been messing with their mind, their soul, their core identity, and even their perception of God. They don't know what to think or who to believe. They don't know where to turn. It's not safe out there.


And this was once the case for one of the friends I had been visiting. I'd like to introduce you to her.


Valerie is a home schooling mother of 11. She lives in Wisconsin but was in Florida visiting family. I met her on Facebook first, then in person last year. She is a domestic violence advocate, because she is first of all a survivor. Her family has suffered horrifically, first at the hands of the one who abused them for decades, and then at the hands of their church, which shunned her for taking action to protecting her children and herself.





Valerie and our other friends and I spent that afternoon talking about advocating for those who have abused in various ways within churches and families. We agreed that we need to learn to notice when others are suffering, to pick up on the subtle little clues they might not readily admit. We must pay attention, because it's not always obvious. And then we must be there, with emotional and spiritual and practical support. Tragically, many churches are aware that something is wrong, but choose to either turn a blind eye and shove it under the carpet, or to add insult to injury by blaming, shaming, and pressuring the victim. They must learn to love well and not spout off ignorant rhetoric. I still need to learn to do that, too.

If you know me well, you know that this attentive advocacy is what I have been called to do as a lifetime pursuit. It's one reason I blog about spiritual and domestic abuse here at Watch the Shepherd, one reason I'm a student at Asbury Seminary, one reason why I'm a presence on Facebook (whether in public or in advocacy groups), and one reason I started the Empowering Christian Women Facebook page. 


Not everyone will understand this or appreciate it. I don't care. I'm here for the hidden ones. One by one. It spreads. Ripple effect and all.


"Give me ears to hear, eyes to see, a heart to love." 


Friends, I plead with you: Listen to the words that others are saying, and the words they aren't saying. Hear the stress in the voice, the whimper, the awkward pause, the sighs. Watch the body language, the facial expressions, the deflected glance. Keep an eye out for bruises, scratches, other unexplained injuries. Pay attention to their texts, their emails, their social media. The clues may be there. It's up to you to notice. It's up to you to care.


What to do? Be gentle. Be trustworthy. Be patient. Be safe. Be vulnerable about your own story, as appropriate. Be involved. Not nosy. Not intrusive. Not bossy. Not gossiping. Not judging or shaming or blaming.


Listen well. Listen again. Listen. Love listens.


Love well. Love with words. Love with deeds. Love again. Love always.


Let me know if you need help. I can connect you with information and support. You can also check out my resource page here: Domestic Violence. It has links to my own articles, as well as to other web sites. Here are several blog posts to get you started:




Here's some music for you: "Give Me Your Eyes" by Brandon Heath.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Open a Door





Devote yourselves to prayer, 
being watchful and thankful.
And pray for us, too, that
God may open a door 
for our message
so that we may proclaim 
the mystery of Christ, 
for which I am in chains. 
Pray that I may proclaim it 
clearly, as I should. 
Be wise in the way you act 
toward outsiders; 
make the most 
of every opportunity. 
Let your conversation be 
always full of grace, 
seasoned with salt, 
so that you may know 
how to answer everyone.


~*~*~

I am taking the Vocation of Ministry class online this summer from Asbury Seminary. We are reading Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton as an encouragement to embrace the spiritual disciplines such as solitude, prayer, and Scripture. I have practiced Lectio Divina as an approach to Scripture study before. It is a slow, reflective reading of a short passage, seeking to hear from God, meditate on the words, pray the Scripture, and find ways to apply it. The goal is transformation rather than information. 

Barton also recommends listening for one word or phrase that stands out, one that God is bringing to mind right now. That is not my usual practice, but as I sat tonight with Colossians 4:2-6, I pondered it phrase by phrase, line by line. What resonated most with me? 

"Open a door..."

Why this phrase? I realize that in the strictest interpretive context, this is about evangelism. Paul is talking about God opening doors in the community and the world for people to hear and receive the gospel for the first time. 

However, what resonates with me, and is also true, is that God wants my own heart to be open to the word, too. Aren't there so many ways we close ourselves off to God? Even as a believer for 43 years, I know I do. Whether it is from apathy, or resistance, or fearful self-protection, I close myself off to what I need most: a fresh message from God, Scripture for my own soul. What is the remedy? That is here too: devotedly, prayerfully, watchfully, thankfully contemplating the mystery of God's message of grace and letting it do its deep work inside of me. I need God to open that door... in me!

And you know what? This is still about sharing the gospel with others.

When they see me embracing God's word, taking it seriously, letting it shape me, that speaks powerfully into their souls. When they hear gracious words, salted with divine wisdom, that's redemption on display. When I make the most of my time for the Kingdom, choosing my actions with intention, that's such a witness to the goodness of God. This is one way God opens the door in their lives: by seeing the open door in ours.

You know, God actually already said this through Colossians 3:16-17. The message dwelling within, the overflowing gratitude, the wise words and the deeds that please the Lord... It's all there.

Let the message of Christ 
dwell 
among you richly 
as you teach and admonish 
one another with all wisdom 
through psalms, hymns, 
and songs from the Spirit, 
singing to God with 
gratitude in your hearts. 
And whatever you do, 
whether in word or deed
do it all in the name 
of the Lord Jesus, 
giving thanks 
to God the Father 
through him.


The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Hallelujah!
Open the door!

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

P.S. Related posts on Scripture and seminary:

Plus, one from another site, also an Asbury assignment:

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Goal is Not Control, But Empowerment


"Has the community served to make individuals free, strong, and mature, or has it made them insecure and dependent? Has it taken them by the hand for a while so that they would learn again to walk by themselves, or has it made them anxious and unsure? This is one of the toughest and most serious questions that can be put to any form of everyday Christian life in community." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I just read Bonhoeffer's book Life Together as a Church History assignment last week, and I love how this quote coincides with my own personal Scripture study. I'm working through Colossians right now, taking notes in my journal. This isn't a formal study of a passage, as I would do for my seminary classes. It's more of the Read + Reflect + Respond approach that I've used for about 40 years. I sometimes cover only a very short section each day. 

Today I pondered Colossians 2:2-3.

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

This is the apostle Paul describing his strenuous and sacrificial labors as a single man traveling in the ancient world, preaching the gospel, establishing churches, and writing letters of instruction and encouragement that we still read today. 

Here is what struck me as I sought to make application to my own life and ministry as a home school mom, grandma, seminary student, crisis hotline worker, friend, and social media user. What is the best way to help people grow in life? How will they be affected by my influence? How have I been affected by the influence of others on my spiritual life?

Many of the people in my own circle, both those I've met personally and my connections on social media, have experienced a significant amount of spiritual / emotional / physical abuse in the context of the church / family / organization. They are understandably wary of any kind of God-talk because religion has been used to control and coerce them. But that is not what God has in mind!



Read the verses again with me as I offer a little informal commentary along the way...

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart...

  • Goal: purpose, motivation, desired result
  • Encouraged: filled up, nourished, flourishing, refreshed, motivated, empowered, strengthened
  • Heart: inner being, spiritual center, core of who they are as an individual

Two questions: Is this your goal as you influence others? Is this the goal of those who are influencing you? An abuser or dysfunctional dominant leader may claim they want to lead others in the righteous ways of God, but what is the fruit? Are those in their "care" being filled up or drained out, nourished or famished, flourishing or withering, refreshed or parched, liberated or enslaved, healed or wounded, motivated or demoralized, empowered or hindered, strengthened or weakened?

...and united in love...

I see "united in love" as a healthy and healing bond. There is mutual strength, a synergy (working better together than apart) that enables greater fruitfulness. This is not a suffocating or constricting relationship. Some people think that an abusive relationship is disconnected, and in one sense it is because there is no sense of mutual partnership. However, there is a toxic bondage that throws others aside like trash but won't let them leave. Things may improve for a while, just enough to give hope that things will change. But then it escalates again, over and over. That's called the cycle of abuse, and it's why people stay instead of escaping! It's a "unity of control" but only unity in the sense that there is one person setting the agenda. That's not even true unity. It is just unilateral. 

But Colossians 2:2-3 offers a powerful contrast: wholesome bonding, being truly united in LOVE. Don't accept a counterfeit to that.

...so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden the treasures of wisdom and understanding.

So being encouraged in heart and united in love is a means to further goal, which is knowing and experiencing the abundance of a spiritual life in Jesus Christ. This is a growth and enlightenment process that starts in the heart, that core of who you are. It's walking with Jesus through grace and faith, leaning into who he is and what he wants. It's not a system of pointless rules, or of conforming to the selfish expectations of others. It's an authentic transformation. An abuser communicates, "All you need to know is what I tell you." Abusers want to control the narrative. If others are under their "leadership" they don't want them to explore the Bible for themselves, seek out more education that might contradict what they are being told, have their own opinions, know enough to contradict them or hold them accountable, or be emotionally strong enough to challenge or leave them. They paralyze others through confusion, deceit, accusations, threats, trauma bonding, and religious manipulation. They communicate either overtly (in direct words) or covertly (by implication): "You are being rebellious. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. I am your God-given leader. God wants you to obey me. You will never succeed unless you listen to me. God will punish you. I just want what's best for you. You are sowing discord. You are just bitter. You never want to be accountable to anyone. You are usurping my authority. You are out of line. Why don't you just let me lead? Look at me! I'm the important one here!" 

To a lesser extent, this dynamic of control can also occur inadvertently with leaders who aren't even trying to be selfish. They may think that  demanding compliance to their commands is what they are supposed to be doing as bold leaders, but this still leads to disillusioned, disempowered followers. I have often found myself slipping into this dynamic as a mother, usually as an overflow of the emotions of fear and shame. ("If I don't make them obey, I'll be a failure as a mother.")

I encourage you to evaluate your own family, friendships, churches, organizations and other your spiritually-based relationships, no matter which role you play. Does this relationship or community display the riches of God? Is this true wisdom that leads to abundant spiritual understanding? Are we growing together in our core relationships with Jesus and one another? Are we seeing Jesus as both the source and goal? Is this a treasure or a theft?

My goal is to be spiritually empowered so that I can empower others. I don't want to control or be controlled. I want to have a full life in Jesus Christ and inspire others to do the same. How about you?

Grace and peace,
Virginia

P.S. Lots of links to extend these thoughts!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

All the Way My Savior Leads Me (Strength in Hymn)


"All the Way My Savior Leads Me"
Fanny Crosby

All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.


All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living Bread.
Though my weary steps may falter
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.


All the way my Savior leads me,
Oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way.




About This Hymn:



This hymn was written by Fanny Crosby (1820-1915), who became blind when she was six weeks old due to a doctor's error. She wrote this hymn as a response of a curious incident of God’s providence. You can read more here: Fanny Crosby and the Story Behind the Song “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”. Fanny wrote several thousand hymns, many under pseudonyms. I remember reading her biography many years ago. She didn’t have an easy life. You can read more about her here:

Why I Chose This Hymn:


I had been musing lately on how God has led me through the nearly 43 years I have been a Christian believer. I have so many stories tucked away in my memory of odd little circumstances which set into motion long reaching ripple effects leading to huge changes in my direction. (More on that later.) So I muse and I’m amused.

Anyway, the title to this hymn came to mind during my ponderings, which is unusual since I didn’t even recognize the lyrics nor the melody when I looked it up on YouTube. (The video is at the bottom of this post.)

Reading the words “Jesus doeth all things well” at the end of the first stanza reminds me of the famous words, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” written by Julian of Norwich in her book Revelations of Divine Love. Julian was a medieval anchoress, a woman who chose to withdraw from public life to consecrate herself to a solitary life of prayer and devotion. She literally lived in a cell attached to a church, St. Julian’s, from which she took her name. I’m not planning to follow her footsteps in that, I assure you. However, I am preparing for some sort of ministry, the form of which I do not yet know. To that end, I am currently a student at Asbury Theological Seminary’s Orlando campus, and last semester I wrote a Primary Source Analysis (PSA) paper on Julian’s work for my Church History 1 class. You can read it here: Revelations of Divine Love.


The story of how I ended up at seminary is one example of God’s curious way of leading me. It involved:


  • a lifelong desire to be educated for ministry
  • a conversation with my mother about grad school several years ago before she passed away
  • a journal entry specifically mentioning Asbury Seminary even though I could not attend then
  • assorted family crises
  • ministry among other women in crisis
  • a lot of blogging about church abuse issues
  • the resulting FB friendship with a woman who blogs about the same topics on the opposite side of the country
  • that new friend’s Facebook post about the Christians for Biblical Equality conference she was attending in my city
  • a mutual FB friend (whom I had also not yet met in person) offering a scholarship so I could attend that conference
  • meeting several Methodist women at the CBE conference
  • my grandson’s rescheduled birthday party (the Sunday-morning-several-weeks-late timing of which caused me to visit a Methodist church’s early service since it was my late mother’s birthday and she had been born into a Methodist family and I had admired the Methodist women I had met at the CBE conference)
  • running into an old friend at that Methodist church (whom I had met when we worked for the same school years ago)
  • attending her Lectio Divina Bible study, and hearing her talk about her Inductive Bible Study class at seminary (a conversation which made me drool)
  • my 2018 "one word" Focus
  • and several key shifts in my own family circumstances.

And that’s just a tiny sample of the story. There is much more to it, but I don’t want to write a book here.  And all the way my Savior leads me. That much I know, even though I don’t always know what’s next on the agenda. Life is quite an adventure. I can trust God to be with me every step of the way. And then I look back and laugh.

Related links? Sure thing!

The Photos in this Post: 

The photos in this post are from my visit to the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in Washington, D.C. last fall. I had wanted to go back to the National Cathedral the last time I visited family in Maryland. (See my poem God of Joy, I See Thee for photos of my first visit in 2017.) My nephew Doug also loves the cathedral and offered to take me. When we were driving home, I found out he had plotted a surprise detour to see the monastery too. He knew I would enjoy it, and I certainly did! I love this kind of adventure. You can see more about that here: My Birthday Weekend in Maryland

Oh, all that for one hymn post! You never know what you're going to get when you read my blogs!

Blessings,
Virginia