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 
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.
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: