Sunday, November 28, 2010

Invitation to Stillness

Invitation to Stillness

Advent Poem 2010

by Virginia Knowles

Quiet your soul to ponder, wonder, 
  and worship the Amazing One.
In these still and focused moments, 
  embrace his everlasting love for you.
Savor his sacrifice: Heaven to Earth, 
  an infinite journey of grace
When he came to rescue, release, and renew you.

In sacred response, draw near with a whole heart, 
  a deepening communion.
Be still in his presence, be filled with his presence
Father, Son, Holy Spirit: God with us.
Day after day, time with him 
  is your most precious treasure.

Be the fruitful branch abiding in the Vine.
Be the little lamb in the Good Shepherd’s tender care.
Be the beautiful Beloved in the Lover’s embrace.
Ask, and he will surely show you how.

I have a hard time just sitting quietly to pray or read the Bible, meditating on God's goodness and listening to what he is trying to tell me. Part of this is because I'm a busy mother of 10, but I can't use this as an excuse. I think sometimes I just avoid it. Maybe I just don't want to face myself in the light of his face because I'm too proud to humble myself and admit I've done wrong. Maybe I don't trust him and I'm afraid of what he'll tell me to do or that he will reject me. Maybe I have forgotten how very good and kind he is, that his plans for me are so much better than any that I could concoct. Whatever the reason, there is always a way back to his open arms. If he came this far to save us, don't you think he'll go to the same great efforts to draw us back when we've wandered? And when I do sit still to wonder and worship, I wonder why I waited so long! Do you need help learning how to quiet down and listen to God? Read here: Busy, Dizzy & In a Tizzy?

I wrote this new poem last night, so imagine my delight to find that this prayer by Henri Nouwen was part of a responsive reading at Lake Baldwin Church this morning for the start of Advent:
Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!" Amen


Virginia Knowles

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Between the Seed and the Tree

Between the Seed and the Tree

by Virginia Knowles

A seed so small
A mere breath might scatter it
Never to be seen again
Lost on a barren path
Yet by some miracle planted with purpose
Dry shell softens
Releasing a pale root into welcoming soil
Down growth
Up growth
Green stem
What will it be?
A tree?
From this tiny seed?

The seedling grows
Straight up
Skyward bound
Up and up
Empowered by life within
A tree to be, and already a tree
Defying doubt
This slender sapling
Shall someday become a solid trunk
With lush canopy of branches and leaves
A fruitful, sheltering garden blessing.

Though lost and fragile
Once found by Love
We took root and grew
Now between the grace and the glory
Still in the middle of the story
By faith
With hope
Skyward bound
Springing forth from the first promise toward the full reality
Our destiny unfurls in slow motion
Between the seed and the tree.


Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:16-20

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." Colossians 2:6-7

The title and concept for this poem came to me as I listened to Dave Abney, a pastor at Lake Baldwin Church, talk about the parable of the mustard seed in his October 3 sermon.  He reminded us of the apparent tension between what God has ultimately promised for the future and what we experience right now in our lives.  It all starts so small and we grow into it, sort of like how Jesus seemed to have such a quiet, localized personal ministry, but it has grown to be a huge force all over the world.  Someday, we shall see the fullness and magnificence of his Kingdom with the eternal glory of Heaven.  Nothing we know on earth can even begin to compare to that!  We just trust that it's coming, and that gives us hope for the here and now.  The gospel of Jesus is simple, enduring, and beautiful.   We are like seeds planted to become strong trees, his life within ours.  We long to be like Jesus : loving, bold, servant-hearted, free, and yet sometimes the progress seems so slow.   I've often thought of this as living "between the now and the not yet."  But we are comforted to know that he is still at work in us, and his love is not dependent on our progress but on his grace.
"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3:2

Back to the poem a moment: When I was working on the early drafts of this poem, I sent a raw version to several friends who are all fellow writers/teachers in various venues, asking for their comments.    Dan Christensen and Cheryl Bastian helped me prune the words and adjust the flow in the middle of the "critique and tweak" phase. 
Dan's advice: "Here's an exercise: Go through the poem. Set aside form, rhythm and rhyme. Take out any word or phrase that isn't missed if it's gone. These often include our favorite gems--in everyone's writing! Being brutal pays off because you start to see the poem's essence and you get comfortable with making judgments that propel the essence. You save
the reader from having to sort through. Fewer filters means the message is more apt to get through."

(I hope you got the message!) 

Later, my friend Gary Thomas wrote: "It gets even better with the 3rd or 4th reading.  I think it's one that needs to be read slowly, Virginia, so I wonder if you want to work the structure to encourage that--shorter lines, more breaks, slow the reader down.  In a way, that kind of structure would play into the theme of slow growth.  I think you've got the language down marvelously, but on my first reading, I think in part because of the longer lines, I read it too quickly, and that undercut the message.  You've got some really nice language here, so a slower structure would be sort of like (keeping with the season) slowing people down to 15 mph so they can see the Christmas lights on the houses instead of just speeding by."  

Gary suggested some specific line breaks, so what you see above is the new version, revised after the initial blog post.  Another critiquing friend, Doug Vardell, liked an even earlier (but never published on-line) raw version because he felt the choppier rhythm had more emotional impact and offered a slight grammatical change which I have just incorporated.  I'm thinking this new structure may bring some of that back.   In free verse there is no metered rhythm, which can either mean liberty to do it however, or a challenge to figure out what is best without a rule to tell me.   So I want more feedback! What about it, folks? Do you like the stanzas to each have six longer lines, or more but shorter lines?  I can go either way reading it myself, but it helps to know how it speaks to others.  Let me know what you think! 

Here is the first published version of the first stanza...
A seed so small a mere breath might scatter it

Never to be seen again, lost on a barren path
Yet by some miracle, planted with purpose
Dry shell softens, releasing a pale root into welcoming soil
Down growth, up growth, green stem, leaves
What will it be? A tree? From this tiny seed?
Here are the same words in Gary's suggested structure again...  

A seed so small

A mere breath might scatter it
Never to be seen again
Lost on a barren path
Yet by some miracle planted with purpose
Dry shell softens
Releasing a pale root
Into welcoming soil
Down growth
Up growth
Green stem
What will it be?
A tree?
From this tiny seed?
So even a poem is a "work in progress" -- sometimes even after I think it is done. Leave any comment you want about the poem below! 

Between the seed and the tree,
Virginia Knowles

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Honesty, Respect, Leadership, and Academic Success

Honesty, Respect, Leadership, and Academic Success
by Virginia Knowles

Dear friends,

Recently, I went to see a humorous presentation by a home school dad who travels the country to talk about family life.  I had promoted the event on Facebook and my local home school list so now I want to follow up with several clarifying comments.   Though I enjoyed and appreciated much of what he said, I am still uneasy with many facets of his message and how it will affect those who listened.  I realize his limitations in being able to fully develop his reasoning in such a brief hour or so, especially in a comedy format.  So it might be that we actually agree on what I'm going to say here.  I would just hope in the future that he might be able to tweak his routine so it doesn't come across as it did.  Another veteran home school mom who saw him the night before in a different city said she had to apologize to a new home school mom for the picture he presented of family dynamics, and other moms who were there the same night that I was have shared with me the same concerns.  I too, feel a need to offer my own perspective to balance out what he (along with other popular home school leaders) have taught.

The thing that bothered me most was his implication, via an analogy about a dog sled team, that a wife's duty is to follow her husband's leadership even if he is going the wrong direction out of disobedience to God.  I agree that a wife should not be contentious or domineering in a marriage, however, the Biblical mandate and example is that we must obey God rather than man, even if the command is given by otherwise legitimate authority (Acts 5:27-29).  A wife must never act against her own God-given conscience, even if she is under pressure from her husband.  After all, in Acts 5:1-11, Sapphira was held accountable (to the point of instant death) when she cooperated in her husband Ananias's deceit.  Besides, a Christian wife is not a sled dog panting down the snowy path.  She is an intelligent, creative, spiritually aware human being who can talk with her husband and explain what she is thinking.  She can search the Scriptures, pray to her Heavenly Father, get outside counsel to help her sort through the issues, and then reason with her husband.  And she can take a stand if need be.

Closely related to this, I was also rankled by the speaker's extended insistence that a wife should not offer any correction to her husband if he happens to do something wrong while he is trying to help out with housework or home schooling, discipline the children, or lead the family.  After all, his tender male ego will be offended and then he will never want to try to help or lead again.  He likened the husband to a puppy whose nose gets whacked and then doesn't want to venture out of hiding again. While I certainly agree that a wife should be grateful about her husband's efforts, and not expect him to do things just as she would have done them herself, I am rather disappointed at his bleak estimation of a husband's ability for maturity in the face of honest correction.  There are times when a wife needs to share her differing perspective with her husband, and he needs to take it like a man.  (If we cave in to someone else's childish tantrum and selfish demands without addressing this problem, we are actually showing them disrespect because we are coddling them like a child who can't help it, rather than an adult who has the capability for mature reasoning.) Whether it is a husband or a wife offering correction to a spouse, there are very different approaches to how this can be done.  The dysfunctional way to do this is, "You are wrong.  You blew it.  I'm really offended.  You are such a stupid jerk that you need me to tell you exactly how you messed up and exactly how you should do it next time so you can get a life and I can be happy."   Ouch!   OK, so we might not use those specific words (I hope!) but that's what can be implied even in our tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, sarcasm and loaded language.  The overall effect is disapproval, manipulation, alienation, and bitterness.  The attacked spouse will likely want to do just the opposite of what he or she is told to do just out of defensive reaction, thus escalating the conflict even more.  But that is such a faulty model of correction!  That's probably the kind of response the speaker was addressing that night, but that doesn't mean that correction is bad.  Here is an alternative that is so much more healthy, grace-filled and edifying: "I respect you so much as a person, that I know you are capable of handling an honest discussion of some issues that are causing conflicts in our relationship.  We can talk this out as adults, face the unpleasant facts with dignity, and come up with mutually agreeable solutions.  Neither of us needs to pull rank or play the victim.  I am not necessarily saying that you are wrong or that you have sinned, but that I have a different opinion which I would like for you to take into account."   Wow!  We can all live with that!  Sure, it takes effort, restraint, and creativity to speak like this, but the overall effect is an affirmation of the relationship and a respect for the other person, who will then be more likely to want to cooperate and make it work. 

My third area of concern is the speaker's portrayal of wives as both fickle and emotionally fragile.  He joked that they will ask their husbands for advice about petty things like which socks to wear and then do the exact opposite.  Blech!  Even though it was meant to be funny, that was still a demeaning comment and he did nothing to offset that attitude.  Then, according to him, 100% of home school moms feel like they are failing at what they do.  He was trying to encourage moms that they are just what God designed, that each mom is just perfect for her own children.  I appreciate his attempts to bolster our confidence and trust God's plan for our families.  However, in his manner and words, he seemed to be implying that because our personalities are the way they are, there is not much need to change our style of motherhood in response to how things are going in our families.  He thinks we just need to be pumped up with generic praise.  Yet very often, we do cause our children to stumble by not being flexible, not breaking out of ourselves and our way of doing things.  We all need to grow -- and to grow up!   As a mom, I can't just excuse my shortcomings because, "That's just the way I am, so get over it!" 

On the other hand, contrary to his dismal estimation of a mom's self-esteem level, there are many of us who justifiably believe we are doing a decent enough job of home schooling and mothering.  We've seen the fruit.  We've had a measure of success.   We know we're not perfect.   We are aware of our problems. We're looking for ways to improve, but we're also content with how far we've already come. We gratefully see the grace of God at work, which gives us renewed confidence for the journey.   In contrast, some moms do feel completely inadequate and think they are ruining their kids.   Maybe they are, maybe they aren't.  We can't just offer the blanket affirmation, "You are all doing a terrific job just because you're doing it!"  That's not necessarily true.  Some moms have botched it and need to be challenged to get with it.  Yet there are so many who are doing fine but don't realize it.  They need a boost of encouragement.  Perhaps they are being nitpicked and criticized by their husbands.  In this case, the negative self-image is externally inflicted by unrealistic expectations from someone who should be understanding and encouraging, rather than selfishly demanding perfection. Or perhaps these moms are comparing themselves to friends or mentors or nebulous cyber-Super-Mommies who seem to have it all together in every way.  (None of us do.  Certainly not me!  But I'm quite OK with being "here" and then moving forward in faith.)   Perhaps their theology is the "worm mentality" when they learn to distrust their own thoughts, dismiss their own success, and never ever give themselves permission to feel like they are doing OK.  After all (as the pious mantra goes) our hearts are all deceitfully wicked and full of sin.  It seems more holy to be down in the dumps about ourselves, but that is not humility or honesty.  If God is at work in our lives, then there are good things happening.  We  don't need to be consumed with nagging guilt or feelings of inadequacy.  Whatever happened to being more than conquerors with Christ?

A final area of concern that I want to address is what to do about a child who is struggling in school subjects.   The speaker portrayed children as seeds who grow up into certain kinds of plants.  For example, one of your children might be great at reading but struggle in math, while another might be a math whiz but "flunk" at phonics.  He would explain that that is just the way they are, just the way they were designed. (This is similar to his view of moms, I think.)  So, if your child is pitching fits when you sit down to do math and you both end up screaming every day, that supposedly means he just isn't a math person and there is little you can do about it.   The speaker says that since your relationship is so much important than math, you should just quit doing math!  He did jokingly acknowledge that this shouldn't be permanent, but that disclaimer didn't seem to do it justice in the context.  Maybe I'm being too picky with his blend of humor and serious advice.  Nonetheless, it brings up an important discussion point, especially since I've heard the same line of reasoning elsewhere.  I agree that it is unwise to push full steam ahead with academics when the parent-child relationship has broken down, but I truly can't stand to see academics pitted against character/relationship matters, like you have to pick between them.  I have actually heard Christian home school parents piously proclaim that "academics are optional"!  They are not!  Given all the resources that we have at our fingertips, there is simply no excuse for neglecting basic academics.   We must pursue excellence in all that God has called us to do, not just those things which are innately more spiritual.  This is not an either-or situation anyway.  There are other vital factors to consider.  First is that this child might need a different approach to match his learning style.  What worked with the last child -- or what fits your own nature teaching style -- might not work with this one.  It's not so much a matter of one not being born for math success, but of needing a custom-tailored strategy for his own unique brain wiring.  This might include hands-on manipulatives, rote memorization, drawing diagrams, doing practical word problems or projects, or switching to a workbook that is more visually appealing rather than having to copy problems from a non-consumable text.  Or perhaps the pace is too rushed.  In this case, you just need to s-l-o-w down and patiently go over it again and again rather than quitting.   Slow and steady wins the race, says the tortoise to the hare... It could be that your own unrealistic expectations about how fast the child should proceed are backfiring by robbing him of the confidence that he can do it.  If he can't seem to please you, he may quit trying.  The other key thing to consider -- after you have adjusted the learning style and pace -- is that the child might be lazy, and is manipulating you to get out of doing the work.  Or he may be resistant and trying to get back at you for offending him in some other area.  If you give up too quickly, you are letting him get away with poor character.  So, OK sure, put the math lesson off for a little while so you can have a heart-to-heart talk about attitudes and behavior, and so you can reevaluate your approach to teaching.  But then get back in there with renewed determination and plug away at it, working on the relationship as you work on the math.  In this way, academics becomes the very workshop where you can build character.  It's a win-win situation.

I could write more, but that's enough for now without my brain exploding.  


Friday, October 1, 2010

Truth and Grace in the Stories of Our Lives

Truth and Grace in the Stories of Our Lives
by Virginia Knowles
(Written in April 2007)

“Every happening, great and small
is a parable whereby God speaks to us,
and the art of life is to get the message.”

~Malcolm Muggeridge

I’ve always said that God is in control, that he is Sovereign. Now it’s sinking in a little deeper, a little richer, a little more personally, as he is illuminating a fresh way to renew my mind. If you are like me, you have a Life Story with countless chapters, and more than a few of them swirl up your soul with confusion, fear, guilt, or bitterness.

    “What if?”

          “If only…”

                “Why, God, why?”

Compelling questions, to be sure, but what are the answers? I am learning to reinterpret the experiences of my life by searching out evidences of God’s truth and his grace in each situation, whether past or present. In his Awesome Providence, he has a plan for my life, and that includes the bumps and bruises along with way. So: truth and grace! What do I mean?

Truth: What actually happened (or is currently happening), apart from how I have perceived it? This requires a little objectivity because our feelings can be so deceptive! What details would someone else add to the story? This could either be someone who was involved in the situation, or a mature, trustworthy friend or pastoral counselor. Now, what would the Bible say about what has happened? I have to be careful not to pick out an isolated verse, but instead seek out the “whole counsel of Scripture” as various passages round out the picture. Truth requires acknowledging my own contribution to the problem rather than merely blaming someone else.  In that, there is hope: since the circumstances are not entirely out of my sphere of influence, then I can become a part of the solution, too. Another question: What truth did I learn from (and about) the Lord in this situation, and what does he still wants me to grasp even now?

Grace: How has God poured out his mercy and forgiveness on me during this time, even though I may not have recognized it or appreciated it yet? How has he used a proverbial “brick wall” (a blocked opportunity) to channel my life in a new direction? How has he brought about spiritual growth? How have I learned to lean harder on him, rather than rely on my own self-effort? How has he provided other people to bring encouragement, comfort and truth to me? How can I experience his grace and liberty freshly, even if much time has passed? How can I find a release from my bitterness through forgiving others? How can I overcome evil with good, and respond to an insult with a hearty blessing? How am I to extend this healing balm of grace to others who might be suffering as I have?

If you have been through a troublesome time that still weighs heavily on you, or if you are still rehashing uncomfortable details and feelings, you may have been encouraged just to forget it all and pretend it didn’t happen. That’s a nice thought, but it isn’t always possible or healthy to suppress painful memories. I believe that we can learn to reinterpret our life stories so we can release the bitterness, confusion, guilt, or fear from our minds without necessarily forgetting what happened. Then we can look back on the very same story with joy and gratitude over what God has done for us. This will enable us to move on in life with confidence that he will still be with us, working his quiet wonders! I think the story of Joseph and his spiteful brothers in Genesis illustrates this principle beautifully. No matter what he had suffered as the consequences of his brothers’ jealous hatred, he could say to them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” He saw the providence of God in bringing him through slavery and prison to a position of power where he could preserve the lives of entire nations throughout a famine.

Try this little exercise. Pick a chapter from your life story that still bothers you – maybe not a big hairy one this first time, but something manageable. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you take time to evaluate it from a fresh perspective of truth and grace. (You can use the Truth and Grace questions above as a launching point.) Write your thoughts down if you can, and don’t rush through it. If you kept a journal during this time (which I highly recommend!) then read through it carefully to glean insight. If you need the perspective of someone else involved, ask for it if you can do so without undue conflict. After you have your thoughts organized in your head or on paper, start summarizing the key points. Now, write out a short “Authorized Version” – the “Grace And Truth Edition” of the story -- that you can quickly recall whenever this memory comes to mind again. I like to use the acronym GATE for “Grace And Truth Edition” because a gate is usually attached to a fence, which is a boundary designed to keep things and people secure. You can go in and out of a fenced area safely by walking through an open gate and staying on the path. Likewise, the Grace And Truth Edition of your story allows you to revisit your past on the Path of Providence, rather than veering off into destructive thorn bush thought patterns again. We must continually discipline our minds toward true and wholesome thinking, even after we know how. This is not a one shot deal, but the spiritual warfare of taking our thoughts captive to Christ Jesus. (See 2 Corinthians 10:5.)

I find these Scriptures helpful when I wonder why God is “dealing” with me in a certain way:

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:4-8, 12-13

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:26-39


I encourage you to meditate on these Scriptures and let them sink deeply into your heart! I think they are the key to understanding what God is doing in our lives through the hard times. You may also wish to read Christian biographies, such as The Hiding Place by Corrie tenBoom, in which she recounts God’s faithfulness during her years at the horrific Nazi concentration camps. She even thanked God for the tormenting fleas, and later found that this is what kept the guards out of their barracks, giving her free reign to minister the Messiah’s grace to the perishing women there. Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God by Noël Piper shares the stories of Lilias Trotter, Sarah Edwards, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim, and Helen Roseveare. Each of these women faced trials in life that we could barely even imagine surviving, yet they not only endured but conquered with courage and thanksgiving.

Staying in God’s word, coming before His Throne in continual prayer, worshiping with songs full of sound doctrine, and receiving wise counsel and correction from mature Christians (through reading, church services, personal discussions, etc.) are excellent ways to keep yourself strong in truth and grace. Then, as new situations arise in your daily life, you will be prepared to deal with them rightly from the start, and spare yourself much future heartache and heartbreak. I know how easy it is to be plagued with fear and confusion about what will happen in the days and years to come, whether with my health, children, marriage, home schooling, ministry, finances, and whatever else touches so close to my heart. I want to be able to look forward in faith and confidence. And I can, because “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future!” God is great and God is good! I can trust His truth and grace!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mothering by Faith and Grace

"For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.  I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth.  Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy because it is by faith you stand firm." 2 Corinthians 1:20-24

Paul wrote this to the Corinthian church.  Yes, they had serious problems.  Yes, he had to confront them firmly and exhort them to turn away from their sin.  And yet, he lead with grace, full of confidence that God was at work their lives.  His letter to them was positive and uplifting, calling them to their best by faith.  

As parents, we must not "lord it over" our children, as if anything God would want to say to them has to come through us.  This is especially true in adolescence and young adulthood.  Instead, we come alongside them and work with them for their joy.  We bring them to Jesus, who alone can save them, and then we help  them to establish and grow in  their own identity in Christ.  We show them how to discern between right and wrong, without acting as if our own house rules (as helpful as they might be) are equal to Scripture in authority.  Legalism will not transform their hearts!  By our own example, we must demonstrate walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to hear his voice in their own hearts.  We will not always be there to tell them what to do, but he will.  We can not force them to do the right thing (even if we can control their outward actions for a moment) but he can make them want to do it and give them the ability to do it.

Do you really want your children to stand firm?  Then teach them to lean on God and not on you.  And that takes mothering by faith and grace.  That's where he wants you anyway!

Many blessings,
Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"It Became to Me a Dark Thing" (A Poem)

"It Became to Me a Dark Thing" by Virginia Knowles

It became to me a dark thing:
Words spoken over me, into me
Claiming divine light, right, might to rule.
"Go down, worm soul, go down -
You are unworthy to assume the dignity
Of one with victory crowned."
As if I had swindled treasure!
Embezzled grace and glory from celestial storehouses --
A dastardly slave, masquerading as a devoted heir.
Contrary! The enemy himself ransacked, 
   then accused and confused this child.

Truth: Every spiritual blessing is lavished freely
From the Father's endless bounty of grace -
And these are not even His only such gifts to me!
First He paid, once for all, a royal ransom of liquid crimson
To redeem me as one who, yes, had bolted astray in wild folly 
   with trinkets to squander
But then, once broken and defiled, repented and
Returned from far off, drawn homeward by trust in a certain goodness
Welcomed with wild glee by Him 
   who sees down the road with forgiving eyes.
Such is the magnificent mercy of a Father's unending love
The true inheritance all along, abandoned and then reclaimed.

It became to me a dark thing:
There is a sulking shaming one who spurns my merry celebration of grace
Who daily offers back my filthy prodigal rags in place of my dazzling robes.
His grudging shadows seek to quench the light of truth.
What shall rekindle in me my Father's radiance?
Lift eyes from mud. Look up for rainbows, brilliant and glorious
Reflected by a well-washed and shining prism: 
   saintly faith turned toward the light of truth.
Set your focus on things above, not on earthly things
Gaze on the Throne where darkness never dwells, 
   to the King whose rule is Love
To His right side, where the Redeemer Son intercedes 
   to purify the Beloved Bride.

"Let there be light!" Words spoken over me, into me, right and might.
A daily echo of unspoiled Eden calling forth fresh life
Revealing the delight on His face as we walk in the Garden again, restored.
Shall I ever listen, as Eve did, to the serpent's hiss of deceitful destruction?
The father of lies wraps words in figments of light 
    to drag us downward to a certain darkness.
Yet there is One who speaks a more powerful word: 
    Mercy triumphs over wrath.
"Let there be light!" My heart dances once more, sings the hallelujah!
So this gracious truth, this truthful grace, has silenced the foe again.
May I always trust, rest, bask, delight in my Father's life and love.
It has become to me a thing of light.


I wrote this poem the same week we left our last church to find one where we could breathe grace.  Looking back, it seems very fitting.

My husband Thad says this poem will take a few readings to fully understand! I wrote it that way on purpose, to give you something to chew on for a while. My hope is that each of us will treasure who we are in Christ because of the sacrifice he made for us, and not give in to the dark lies of the accuser who wants us to strain ourselves earning the favor we already have. If you have any questions about why I wrote it, send me an e-mail and ask, but for now I would like to share with your some of the Light that inspired this poem. This is just a small sampling of Bible verses related to the ideas in my poetic verses. If you can think of more, please post them as a comment!

The story of the Prodigal Son is found in Luke 15:11-32.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death... What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:1-2; 31-39

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Matthew 11:28-30

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." Ephesians 1:3-4, 7-8

Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm... The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:14-15, 17

"Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Genesis 3:13 (See the whole story of the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.)

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." 1 Peter 5:7-8"Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light."2 Corinthians 11:14b

"The devil …is a liar and the father of lies." John 8:44

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." Titus 3:3-7

"I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels." Isaiah 61:10

"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Colossians 3:12

"Mercy triumphs over judgment!" James 2:13b

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9

"After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal." Revelation 4:1-6a

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1a

You may also like these related posts:

On Walking by Grace Instead of a Focus on Mortifying Indwelling Sin

The Life of Christ, Our Identity in Christ, The Priesthood of All Believers...

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Dear friends,

Grace!  We sure need it, don't we?  Unfortunately, we don't always experience it.  That can change.

The title of this video is "When You Get Tired Enough." I found it on-line after someone gave me an audio CD labeled "Grace" by the same man, John Lynch, on the same basic topic.  This one was for the students at Biola University.  John Lynch is the pastor of Open Doors Fellowship in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as an author.  I find his perspective extremely refreshing and motivational  just about now.   God's love for us is not at all based on how well we perform or how well we hide.

I highly encourage you to watch it!  (He's pretty entertaining, too!)  I'd love to hear what you think, so hit the comment button when you're done.

Grace, peace and joy to you!
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Covering Your Coquina" -- How to Withstand an Enemy Attack

My daughter Julia and her boyfriend Alex drove up to St. Augustine yesterday for a daytrip.  I haven't talked to her about how their trip went, but I was talking to them at Sunday dinner and told them something I had learned on a visit many years ago to the fort there. 

One thing that interested me about the Castillo de San Marcos was when the guide related that during a bombardment, the British attackers, situated on an island across the river, had to aim their cannons continuously at the same spot to have any hope of breaking through the tough plaster-covered coquina. Once they broke through the white plaster, the darker bare spot became their visible target. Fortunately for the Spanish, the British would cease firing at night so they could rest. Then the Spanish, under cover of darkness, would scale their own fort’s walls and apply new plaster, making the weak spot disappear. The British eventually gave up! It struck me (pardon the pun) that we all have weak spots spiritually. Those who have received forgiveness from God, through trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus, are covered with his righteousness. But sometimes it seems that a hypocritical hole is blown right through our faith. Rather than wallow in guilt and let Satan keep taking fire at our vulnerable areas, we need to daily be re-covered and hidden in Christ’s protecting grace.

Virginia Knowles

Friday, May 21, 2010

Praying for Your Children

"A Parent’s Prayer"

by Amy Carmichael
(Missionary to India)

Make them good soldiers of Jesus Christ;
  let them never turn back in the day of battle.
Let them be winners and helpers of souls.
Let them live not to be ministered to, but to minister.
Make them loyal; let them set loyalty high above all things.
Make them doers, not mere talkers.
Let them enjoy hard work and choose hard things rather than easy.
Make them trustworthy.
Make them wise, for it is written, He hath no pleasure in fools.
Let them pass from dependence on us to dependence on Thee.
Let them never come under the dominion of earthly things;
   keep them free.
Let them grow up healthy, happy, friendly,
   and keen to make others happy.
Give them eyes to see the beauty of the world
   and hearts to worship its Creator.
Let them be gentle to beast and bird;
   let cruelty be hateful to them.
May they walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.
And for ourselves we ask that we might never weaken.
   "God is my strong salvation…"
We ask that we might train them to say that word and live that life,
   and pour themselves out for others unhindered by self.



That's a good prayer not just for our children's lives, but our own as well.  Here are some more things to think about...

What to Pray for Your Children

  • A heart which personally and fully understands, embraces, and shares the gospel

  • Reverence for God, and a passion to please and serve him

  • Continual filling, anointing, and equipping of the Holy Spirit

  • God-honoring family relationships filled with respect, affection, compassion and cooperation

  • Protection and strength to face moral temptation and cultural pressure

  • Repentance and humble acceptance of correction

  • Guidance for decisions about education options, as well as future college and career

  • Maturity to make the right decisions for the right reasons

  • Wise priorities for using time

  • Preparation for marriage and parenting – pray for their future spouses, too!

  • Ask your children how you can pray for them!

What to Pray for Yourselves as Parents

  • Unity in and commitment to your marriage – or if you are a single parent, basic harmony with the other parent (and any step-parent) in raising your children

  •  A warm and trusting relationship with your children, characterized by healthy and open communication

  • Forgiveness and release from bitterness, whether conscious or subconscious

  • Confidence and boldness to lead, even when a child attempts to manipulate or rebel

  • Wisdom to know which battles are worth fighting, and when to let your child make decisions (and face the consequences)

  • That you will be an example of godliness, wisdom, grace, and good humor

Praying the Scriptures

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11

“…We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Colossians 1:9-12

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:22-23

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things… When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 11

(See also Ephesians 1:17-21 & 3:14-21 / Romans 15:5-6, 13 / 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 & 5:23-24 / 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 & 3:1-5 / 2 Peter 1:2-11) 

Virginia Knowles