Monday, December 28, 2009

The Thessalonians Prescription

The Thessalonians Prescription

by Virginia Knowles

One day I found an excellent Bible passage that I think really talks about how we must work on daily to reach our children’s hearts with spiritual truth. I use 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 to evaluate my effectiveness as a mom, and to give me the perfect prescription for getting our lives back in balance. This is not a “one shot deal” – we all need to be renewed in these things continually, whether we are adults or children. I find a deep need to cry out to God to restore this kind of reverent order and fervor in my family. We are in spiritual warfare for the hearts of our children, and since we so easily forget that in the fog of daily life, we also get distracted from what is really, truly, vitally important in mothering. As a mother of 10 who has traveled this road for nearly two decades (and still has a long way to go), I plead with you to pay careful attention to what the Lord is saying here and apply it to your own family:

“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”

Based on this passage, I developed a checklist to evaluate my own progress in nurturing my children in the Lord:

A Checklist for Home School Moms

1. Do I take the time to cultivate a reverent, fervent, joyful heart and home life?

2. Do I work hard to provide spiritual leadership through good example and teaching?

3. Do I require my children to show proper respect toward both parents?

4. Do I keep my children busy doing good things?

5. In my pursuit to teach my children independent living and learning, do I patiently exhort those who refuse to work, encourage those who lack confidence, and help those truly need direct assistance?

6. Do I seek to be a peacemaker by encouraging kindness and prohibiting revenge?

7. Do I give thanks in all circumstances, knowing God will bring good from them?

8. Do I eliminate influences and activities which are not the best for my family?

9. Do I teach my children to discern good from evil and to seek God’s will for their own lives?

10. When I see God’s Spirit beginning to work in my child, do I avoid quenching this progress with my own impatience and perfectionism?

11. Do I pray earnestly and continually for my children?

Daily discipleship -- for ourselves and for our children --needs to be the focus of any true education in our family. When Mom’s heart is nurtured through abiding in Christ, she can handle the challenges of the day better. Having a tender heart toward the Lord cultivates a more tender heart toward our children. But being tender doesn’t mean being a wimpy Mom, and letting them walk all over you with disrespect. Even if you don’t feel adequate to be respected by your children, even if your life is not always the best example for your children to emulate, and even if they blatantly challenge you, don’t abdicate your authority as parent! Again, this is tied to your own spiritual life. When you are strong in the Lord, you will have the strength to be tough when necessary. If they don’t learn basic reverence for God and respect for parents, you will experience great difficulty with each passing year. However, when children’s hearts are cooperative and teachable, you will have peace in the home, and they will learn academic skills much easier. Sometimes it seems like a sacrifice to lay aside my own individual interests to invest the necessary time, energy, and love into my children, but the blessings are abundant and the rewards are eternal. It forces me to lean hard on God and cry out to him for the divine wisdom and strength that only he can provide! As we all lay aside the old attitudes and methods that have hindered us, may God renew our minds so we can aim for the heart.

(This is an excerpt from my book The Real Life Home School Mom, which is available for free download in the sidebar of my main blog,

Stop, Drop and Roll! (How to Deal with a Conflict!)

Dear friends,

I'm about to start teaching the Young Peacemaker curriculum in my home school co-op English class.   Meanwhile, here is something I came up with several years ago to teach my own kids.  It's just as good for moms! (This is an excerpt from my book The Real Life Home School Mom, which is available for free download in the sidebar of my main blog,


Here is another idea for moms who are trying to be peacemakers: Stop, Drop and Roll. Given the sheer size of my family, there is a high probability that someone will be involved in an unpleasant confrontational conversation (argument) in a given day. A mom needs a way to deal with all this and not get overloaded. Here's a quick explanation of something that helps me keep my sanity when conflicts arise. I developed this concept from the standard "what to do when you clothes catch on fire" Stop-Drop-and-Roll instructions. Think of a conflict as a fire that is about to burn you up. If you thrash around wildly or run away, the oxygen is going to feed the flames. You've got to stop, drop and roll.

STOP: When you find your temper flaring, your jaw clenched, your muscles tense, STOP! Don't yell, nag, threaten, accuse, slam doors or otherwise lose it. You've seen the red warning flag, so STOP! "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." (James 1:19, NIV)

DROP: You've got resentment, bitterness, frustration roiling around inside. It's a burden, and a heavy one at that. You're going to have to lay it down eventually -- why not RIGHT NOW? Drop your burden at the feet of Jesus. "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7, NIV) You don't have to carry it one minute longer. Forgive!

ROLL: Get on with it. If there is a solution to your conflict, work it out calmly, paying special attention to preventing a recurrence of the same problem in the future. After that, go about your business and don't let the whole thing stop you in your tracks or cause you to stew. You've got a life to live! "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV)

When I remember to Stop, Drop and Roll, it helps me solve problems much more effectively and efficiently. I also don't carry around frustration quite as long, which makes me more productive the rest of the day.

Setting Sensible Standards

Dear friends,

This is an excerpt from my book The Real Life Home School Mom, which is available for free download in the sidebar of my main blog, We're reevaluating standards in our family, so that made me think of posting this for others who might be doing the same.


One cause of conflict between parents and children is rules. Home school parents are famous for setting standards for their families. After all, we want nothing but the best for our precious ones! As I think about how we make decisions on various issues, a few important principles come to mind. Our family’s standards and rules should be fair and reasonable, not arbitrary or picky. We shouldn’t make a rule just because other families do it. We don’t want to be self-righteous, pretending that we have perfect knowledge and obedience. Eventually, people would see the many flaws beyond our masks -- the same faults our children see in us every day. So in all things, we want to be wise and humble, depending on God for both guidance and strength to do what is right. There are four principles I think we can use when setting sensible standards for our families. As our children understand them, they are more likely to want to cooperate.

The Test of Truth: For a Christian, the absolute standard is the Bible. The Scriptures are quite clear on crucial issues, and give plenty of general principles to guide us through the gray areas. We shouldn’t have to agonize about whether it’s OK to get drunk, cheat on tests or taxes or spouses, etc. (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17.)

The Law of Love: The whole law of God is summed up in the command to “love one another.” (See Matthew 22:334-40.) Will our choice help other people or hurt them? We teach our children to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” We don’t want our children to call each other nasty names because it violates the law of love. Similarly, we don’t take what belongs to others or punch people in the nose. We want our teens to come in at a reasonable curfew hour at night so that Dad can go to bed and get some sleep. It all boils down to loving others! Read 1 Corinthians 13!

Sensible Stewardship: We must faithfully use and care for the many resources which God has given us, and neither squander nor destroy them. These include our time, money, possessions, health, energy, intellect, talents, moral purity, relationships, the environment, and much more. (See Matthew 25:14-30.) If I restrict TV viewing, I am preserving our time, intellect, and moral purity. If I don’t let anyone take food and art supplies into the living room, I am trying to extend the life of our furniture and carpet. If I warn them against the dangers of smoking, I am guarding their health. If I insist that we take our recyclable garbage out to the garage instead of tossing them in the kitchen trash, we are conserving the earth’s resources.

Winsome Witness: How will this affect my ability to be a positive influence on others? I’m not advocating the “what will the neighbors think?” kind of fear that provokes many picky rules. But, we should honestly evaluate whether our choices will cause others to stumble on their journey of faith. That may mean we do some things in private or keep our opinions to ourselves. (Look up Romans 14.) This will also mean that we need to keep our front yard looking neat and tidy. The children have to put their bikes and roller blades away when they are done. And it means that we keep complete school records for our annual evaluations. We want to be a good testimony for our chosen lifestyle!

Let natural and logical consequences pack their own punch when you can. If a child leaves her toys out in the rain and they get ruined, this natural consequence is its own “punishment.” Logical consequences are initiated by the parent but still closely related to the “crime.” If a child “forgets” to do his math, he might miss out on a family activity until it is done. If he carelessly damages school materials, he might have to pay for replacing them.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Bittersweet Advent

by Virginia Knowles in 2002

[Virginia's note: This was written in December 2002 -- and still as applicable as ever! As many of you know, my mother-in-law passed away the following September, full of Jesus.]

It’s Christmastime, and life is supposed to be jolly! But it’s not, at least not always. For many of us, this Advent season brings a strong sense of the bittersweet aspects of real life.

Several weeks ago, as I was speaking to a home school group, I commented my family is “swimming in stress soup” right now, with unemployment, an exhausting pregnancy, and all the other niggling challenges of life in a large home schooling family. Little did I know what was to come! My wonderful mother-in-law, who has been quite ill this past month, was diagnosed with a second case of cancer, this time inoperable. My dear husband Thad has been taking care of her and tending to her business matters almost full-time since she has been sick, which actually makes me thankful for this period of “unemployment.” As we await more test results, and then see her through chemotherapy and radiation, the future remains uncertain.

I know that we aren’t the only ones in the midst of trials. I hear from so many of you who are facing illness or death, either for yourself or in your families. Some of you sorely miss loved ones who have passed away, or are just far away in other cities. Some of you have spouses who are being deployed to the Middle East or other far-flung locations for our national defense. (And God bless you for it!) Some of you have simmering and even boiling conflicts with family or friends, which alienate you during this season of supposed “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Some of you are on what could charitably be called a “tight budget,” and like us, are doing your Christmas shopping at the dollar store and the clearance bins. And some of you are just plain tired from running all over town searching for just the right gifts, or chauffeuring children to endless holiday events that require hours of preparation and fancy clothes that will only be worn once.

Yes, the Advent season can be bittersweet, even in the middle of jolly parties, holiday baking, tree trimming and gift wrapping.

May I offer a few observations and encouragement?

The manger was not filled with tinsel, and I don’t think there were any candy canes or mistletoe hung overhead either! That first Christmas, joyous as it was, spangled with the Star of Bethlehem, heralded by an angelic chorus -- was still bittersweet. Imagine being God the Son, leaving the glory of Heaven, and being plopped into a scratchy, smelly barn to be raised by lowly humans, and later, mocked and crucified by those you came to save. That’s a real life Christmas. Life on earth was no vacation for our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to serve, not be served. Likewise, we should be about our Father’s business, not just expecting everything to be automatically perfect just because it is December. As we face the challenges, we should have a multi-faceted approach.

First, we trust that God has allowed each circumstance to enter our lives for our enrichment in the faith. If we have confidence in the sovereign grace of God, who controls all things, we can not only survive the trials, but learn and grow through them. At least they will cause us to learn harder on our gracious Lord, who wants us to depend on Him and not ourselves anyway.

Second, we look for practical ways to minimize the extra stress by dealing with the realities of life. For example, we can reduce our expectations of what Christmas needs to be. Much of our overload is caused because we are trying to create unrealistic images or experiences for our children. This causes us to overspend and overschedule, just cramming it all in. Slow down! Spend less! Learn to savor the relationships you have with family and friends -- you never know when this will be the last Christmas you will see or talk to a loved one! If those relationships are ailing, we must seek to repair and restore them, rather than shoving the problems under the carpet. Preferably this could be done right now, so you aren’t trying to hastily patch things up over the sweet potato casserole at the Christmas dinner table.

Third, we should find little ways to follow Jesus’ example of serving. If you are not personally going through trials right now, I can assure you that someone you know is suffering, perhaps in silence. Please be sensitive to this, so that you won’t blithely blunder through the holidays! Find a way to extend the healing grace of God. For some, this will be as simple as writing a sweet note to a discouraged friend or a check to a charitable organization. Other families might be involved in some sort of service project -- caroling at the nursing home, serving food at the homeless shelter, or delivering gifts to a needy family. It takes our minds off our own troubles when we help those who may be even less fortunate than we are. It can remove the root of selfishness that clamors for our own needs to be met, and instead plant the seeds of compassion.

Above all, let us seek to glorify the One whom we celebrate in this Advent season, bittersweet as it may be.

"Love's Eternal Wonder" poem by Amy Carmichael

"Love’s Eternal Wonder"

by Amy Carmichael

Lord, beloved, I would ponder
Breadth and length and depth and height
Of Thy love’s eternal wonder,
All embracing, infinite.

Never, never have I brought Thee
Gold and frankincense and myrrh,
In the hands that groping, sought Thee,
Precious treasures never were.

What was that to Thee? The measure
Of Thy love was Calvary.
Stooping low, Love found a treasure
In the least of things that be.

O the Passion of Thy loving,
O the Flame of Thy desire!
Melt my heart with Thy great loving,
Set me all aglow, afire.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Winter by Spurgeon

“Thou hast made summer and winter.” ~ Psalm 74:17

“My soul begin this wintry month with thy God. The cold snows and the piercing winds all remind thee that He keeps His covenant with day and night, and tend to assure thee that He will also keep that glorious covenant which He has made with thee in the person of Christ Jesus. He who is true to His Word in the revolutions of the seasons of this poor sin-polluted world, will not prove unfaithful in His dealings with His own well-beloved Son.

“Winter in the soul is by no means a comfortable season, and if it be upon thee just now it will be very painful to thee: but there is this comfort, namely, that the Lord makes it. He sends the sharp blasts of adversity to nip the buds of expectation: He scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes over the once verdant meadows of our joy: He casteth forth His ice like morsels freezing the streams of our delight. He does it all, He is the great Winter King, and rules in the realms of frost, and therefore thou canst not murmur. Losses, crosses, heaviness, sickness, poverty, and a thousand other ills, are of the Lord’s sending, and come to us with wise design. Frosts kill noxious insects, and put a bound to raging diseases; they break up the clods, and sweeten the soul. O that such good results would always follow our winters of affliction!

“How we prize the fire just now! How pleasant is its cheerful glow! Let us in the same manner prize our Lord, who is the constant source of warmth and comfort in every time of trouble. Let us draw nigh to Him, and in Him find joy and peace in believing. Let us wrap ourselves in the warm garments of His promises, and go forth to labors which befit the season, for it were ill to be as the sluggard who will not plow by reason of the cold; for he shall beg in summer and have nothing.”

~ Charles H. Spurgeon from his devotional book Morning and Evening

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Handling Family Issues and Visiting During the Holidays

As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, I realize that these holidays can be stressful when visiting others, and I would like to encourage you with a few ideas to make the best of your celebrations, especially family gatherings.

  • Communicate ahead of time what each person expects during the visit. What will you be doing? Who will you visit? Who will stay where? Who is going to pay for what? Who is providing food, and what kind? Are there any special diets or restrictions on treats? Are there any guidelines about acceptable gifts or spending limits? "The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." Proverbs 16:21, 24
  • Prepare for conflict about varying lifestyles. Some people may criticize your decisions on how you raise your children.  Or, they may be open about their own lifestyle choices that you might not approve of. I have found that the best approach to this is to be confident and pleasant about how we live and what we believe, and not get into unnecessary conflicts about how other people live. Smile! If a conversation gets a little too heated, change the subject or quietly leave the room. "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." Colossians 4:5-6
  • Be aware of the "emotional baggage" that each person might bring into a situation. Our past relationships with those we are visiting can affect our present relationships of those we bring with us. Do you or your spouse revert to old patterns when you go "home" to your family of origin? Is this a good thing? Talk about this ahead of time -- sweetly, of course! "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:18-19
  • Discuss ahead of time how you will deal with your children's misbehavior. First of all, you can prevent much of this with proper rest, regular meals, and advance training. If you are visiting a house that is filled with people, you may need to come up with creative solutions for privately dealing with an unpleasant situation. "The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools." Ecclesiastes 9:17
  • Remember that wherever you go and whoever you see, if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you must seek to honor him in whatever you do and say. "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." 2 Corinthians 5:20.
  • Be flexible if things don't work out as you have planned. Your children might get sick, your car might break down, you may get snowed in. God is still in control! How you respond to challenging situations will be a powerful example to your children, for better or for worse! "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:2-5

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Help for Hurting Marriages

Dear friends,

I wrote this a few weeks ago and sent it to some friends, but thought I would post it here on the blog for you, too.

Note: This post is for wives in troubled marriages, not dangerous marriages. If you or your children are being abused by your husband, what will "work" in a normal family will probably not work in yours. Your first priority is to get yourself to a safe place, not rebuild a relationship. Please read these posts instead:


    I couldn't sleep this morning, so I decided to get up and write for a little while since there is something that's been on my heart to share. I know that a lot of you are struggling in your marriages right now, and I feel for you. I wanted to give you the title of a book that might be a tremendous help, Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands by Gary Thomas. I first read it a couple of years ago when he sent me a review copy. Then I lent it to a friend last year, and she recently returned it, so I've been flipping through it again. At the same time I've been hearing from a lot of wives who are struggling in their marriages and wondering what to do. There are various opinions floating around about this, and I will share some of my own thoughts a little further down in this blog post, but I think Gary has covered the topic so well that I want to draw your attention to his book first. I've recommended it to many friends, and so many of them have told me what a vital help it has been to them. He starts by encouraging wives to be strong in their own spiritual lives (for their own sakes and to equip them for helping their husbands) rather than giving way to fear or intimidation. He helps them to understand the mind of a man (we are SO different!) and to create a climate for change. In the last section of the book, he presents real life case studies of couples who have faced issues such as anger, marital unfaithfulness, lack of involvement with home & children, etc. He writes:

    "If you always play it safe in your marriage, you’re going to end up in some ruts. What I believe will give you the most boldness and courage to address issues that need to change is, first, understanding who you are in Christ, and second, letting God, not your marital status, define your life. Armed with that acceptance, security, and empowerment, you become a mighty force for good. You can then claim the power of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 31:8: “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

    Fear and discouragement create stagnancy and persistent disappointment in marriage. If you’ve had your fill of those, why not try God’s path of faith and boldness?

    One of the things I’ve been trying to do in these opening pages is to awaken in you a capability not often expressed to Christian women. Our culture in general – even Christian culture – is on a long slide toward passivity that completely goes against who God made us to be.

    Let me be blunt: hope is not a strategy. Merely “wishing” that your husband would change, merely “wanting” your marriage to be different, won’t do anything. The problem is that some Christians spiritualize “wishing – we call it “praying.” Please understand, I’m not knocking prayer; I’m challenging a misconception about prayer, namely, that we can merely voice our displeasure and expect our world and our relationships to be transformed. True Biblical prayer is about much, much more than that. It involves receiving our marching orders and then acting on them.

    A good marriage doesn’t happen by accident, and a good marriage isn’t maintained by accident. I’ve never written a book by accident, and you can’t build a business by accident. These endeavors require deliberate choices and much perseverance. When you start acting instead of merely wishing, when you begin taking initiative instead of simply feeling sorry for yourself, you become an active woman, and active women mirror the active God who made them." (from pages 34-35 of Sacred Influence)

    That's just a tiny sample of this wealth of wisdom for wives, and from just one of his many books. I've lost count of the times I've told you all how much his other books have meant to me over the past few years. They have really pulled me through some rough patches in my faith. You can download free sample chapters and study questions for most of Gary's books, such as Sacred Marriage, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, Holy Available, Authentic Faith, etc.  Just go to

    Oh, I can't resist giving you a paragraph from his earlier book, Sacred Marriage, too:

    “The key to the discipline of fellowship is understanding this fundamental reality: All of us face struggles, and each one of us is currently facing a struggle that we’re having less than one hundred percent success overcoming. If we’re married, the fact is we’re also married to someone who is failing in some way. We can respond to this “bitter juice” by becoming bitter people, or we can use it as a spiritual discipline and transform its exercise into the honey of a holy life. In this fallen world, struggles, sin, and unfaithfulness are a given. The only question is whether our response to these struggles, sin, and unfaithfulness will draw us closer to God – or whether it will estrange us from ourselves, our Creator, and each other. Will we fall forward, or will we fall away?”

    Now, a few thoughts of my own on what to do about a troubled marriage, with the disclaimer that this is my personal perspective after reading, listening, and asking a lot of questions.

    On the one hand, I don't think it particularly helpful for husbands or wives to be overly focused on what is wrong with their marriages. I would say it isn't healthy to expect to fix every little irritating thing. And though we should be willing to honestly confess our own sins and to be prudently aware of the struggles our husbands face, there should also always be a delicate balance between transparency and reserve, even in an intimate marriage. It is not necessarily edifying to know about every little thought that goes through each other's hearts and minds. Some issues, at least initially, might best be handled with the help of a wise and trusted friend or pastor. I also think that gratitude and affirmation for each other's positive qualities can really sweet things up. There are so many petty things that can be overlooked and tolerated with the acknowledgement that we aren't perfect either. A culture of constant confrontation (whining, nitpicking, harsh criticism, accusation, suspicion, assumption, etc.) needs to give way to a culture of grace, patience, and forgiveness.

    That said, I totally agree with Gary that a wife should not be a doormat when her husband is doing or saying things that are truly damaging the marriage or negatively affecting their children. A lot of Christian wives buy into the misconception that in order to be submissive (as the Bible encourages) that they need to suffer in silence and just passively go along with whatever happens. (Remember Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5?) I've actually heard some people say, "If you bring it up once, that's an appeal. If you bring it up again, that's nagging." Personally, I think that's bosh. That would mean that a husband could just conveniently ignore a glaring problem, figuring that his wife has to shut up if he chooses not to listen right away. A wife has the sacred responsibility of addressing these important issues with feminine strength, prayerfully and firmly persisting, while entrusting the results to God. That doesn't mean her husband will change. She is not responsible for that. But she is responsible to keep speaking the truth in love, as creatively and persuasively and sweetly as she can, until he "gets it." No matter what happens, she at least has the dignity of knowing that she is "beloved in Christ" and precious in the sight of God, whether her husband realizes it or not.


    May God of hope restore to each of us this vision of the glory of marriage.

    I would be glad to hear your thoughts on these things!

    Grace and peace,

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Busy, Dizzy, and in a Tizzy?

    Busy, Dizzy & In a Tizzy?

    (Christian Contemplation for Busy Moms -- and Anyone Else! )

    By Virginia Knowles

    OK, I know what you are saying: “I don’t have time to sit around and think deep thoughts about God! I’ve got homework to check, diapers to change, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to make, bathrooms to clean…” I hear you. I have ten kids, nine still at home. Granted that some of them are now very helpful teenagers and adults, but I still remember having five little girls ages seven and under, with a husband working long hours. And we can find time for what is really important. It just takes some juggling and adjusting. You probably know by now that I’m on a lifelong quest to find the balance between being and doing. Remembering the story of devoted Mary and busy Martha in Luke 11, I want to “choose the good portion” while not neglecting my family.

    As you read, keep in mind that the point is not to do something for the sake of saying we did it but to make a deeper connection with the God who made and redeemed us. The goal of this time is to come out more filled with the Spirit, to see more love, peace and joy in our daily lives as a result. Do you have more passion for the Kingdom of God? Are your delights and desires more in tune with his? If not, are you holding back anything in your heart from unreserved worship? O come, let us adore him! Here are more than a dozen ways I’ve found to make time for soul nourishment through the spiritual disciplines.

    Remind yourself daily of the Good News of the cross. We always need to start with this foundation. If you don’t have a living relationship with Jesus Christ (which is not just about church attendance or mental assent), none of the rest of this will make any sense at all. I would be delighted to talk with you about this if you have any questions. We don’t deserve any of the blessings we have, least of all the immense treasure of fellowship with God. But because of his mercy, we can ask him to forgive our sins! “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). The Bible promises that those who have trusted in Christ's sacrifice for their salvation can confidently enter the Lord's Throne Room to find grace and mercy. If you would like to see a painting I did about this, along with more inspirational thoughts, click here: The Throne of Grace

    Designate a quiet comfortable spot in your house as a “personal chapel” where you can go sit every few hours to regroup and refuel spiritually. Mine is an easy chair in my bedroom next to a fully stocked bookcase and CD player. I slip in there several times a day for at least a few minutes and up to a half hour or so, often while I am putting our preschooler, Melody, down for a nap. It’s not completely quiet – I often have Melody perched on my lap and other children wander in and out. And this is also not the only place I can have “devotional time” – I think about God throughout the day, whatever I am doing, whether it is washing dishes or stuffing laundry in the dryer. Taping up little cards with Scripture verses around the house can be a great inspiration, too.

    Be ready to focus quickly on the things of God during what little time you might have. Learn to lay aside “the cares of this world” and concentrate on what the Lord has for you. Yes, there will be a time to bring before him in prayer the issues that concern you, but your focus should be on his sufficiency, not on your troubles. He is so much bigger than our circumstances! We bring our problems, our confusion, and our weakness into the Throne Room of God. As we draw near to him, we will bring out his strength and wise answers so we will be equipped to deal with them.

    Keep a Bible handy at your “personal chapel” spot. Use book marks to keep the places you are currently studying so you can easily sit down and read a bit without fumbling around. Make a plan for what you are going to read so you don’t just flip open and see where you land. For example, if you read a chapter of the New Testament every morning, you’ll have read the whole thing within several months. You can also finish the Old Testament at the rate of two or three chapters a day, perhaps in the evening. Make a little chart to mark off your progress as you go. You can also go to to read a daily portion of the English Standard Version Bible or even hear it in audio as you are washing the dishes or folding laundry. This web site also has a really good search function for doing topical studies.

    Rather than just quickly reading the verses, take the time to meditate on them. What do they mean? How can you apply them at your house? It is good to sit quietly and think, but you can also meditate on Scripture as you go about the rest of your day, pondering these things in your heart. I read from Luke 16-17 this morning, and jotted down several application phrases onto a card to put in the pocket of my capris: "Faithful in little, faithful in much. Serve one Master: God! God knows what’s inside your heart. Forgive others repeatedly. Don’t expect praise for doing your job. Thank God for what he has done in your life. Lose your life to keep it." Just feeling the crinkle of the card in my pocket as I’m sitting or walking reminds me of what I have read, and I do take it out once in a while to remember them. Occasionally, I will even write a poem based on what I have been meditating on in my times with the Lord. You can see some of these at: Poems by Virginia Knowles

    Try to read regularly from good solid Christian books to help you walk out your faith. Several trustworthy authors are Andrew Murray, Gary Thomas, Elisabeth Elliot, Corrie ten Boom, and Amy Carmichael. Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life has come highly recommended by our pastors as a way to dig in to Scripture study, prayer, meditation, fasting, and other heart-nurturing practices. A good devotional book with short selections can be just right for a busy mom. My daughter Joanna found Charles Spurgeon’s Morning by Morning, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest and Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ for me at our library’s used bookstore – nicely bound hardbacks for $1.50 a piece! You can find some of these resources listed on my CBD affiliate page or read (for free) countless Christian classics on-line at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

    Take time to pray, to ask God to lead you in your own life, and to intercede for others. It may be helpful to write out a prayer list of various requests for family members, your pastors, friends, missionaries, current events, etc. I keep my list in the back of my journal so it is handy. Prayers don’t have to be clever or even original. Christians throughout history have prayed The Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This does not have to be a rote formula, as some have made it, but a way to acknowledge our humble dependence on him throughout the day. I often shorten it to “Sweet Jesus, have mercy!” I also use the Valley of Vision Puritan prayer book at times, as well as prayers from Scripture, such as Colossians 1:9-14. This helps me keep the focus on praying according to God’s will, rather than my petty desires. Sometimes I pray just sitting there quietly, other times while I am on my knees, and other times as I’m working around the house. “Pray continually…” He is always listening! Or, as Alfred Lord Tennyson notes, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” Oh, please remember that prayer is not just talking – it is listening for God’s still small voice speaking into your heart.

    Start a journal and use it! I write my own observations and questions about life, some of my prayers, and plenty of Scripture verses and quotes from whatever books I am reading. This has been such a lifeline to me in the past few years as I’ve been so acutely aware of my need for God’s mercy. I think of so many Christians through the ages who whose lives have been enriched by journaling. This may be a short paragraph, but I don’t want to underestimate the importance of this vital spiritual discipline.

    Be appropriately aware of your emotions, especially as they can indicate your spiritual health. We are not robots! God made our emotions to help us respond to him and to life around us. You don’t have to be ruled by your feelings, but if you are anxious or irritable or depressed, find the spiritual remedy for that, rather than ignoring or suppressing these sensations. Ask God for wisdom in dealing with your emotions. It’s not a one shot deal, but continually offering up to him what is roiling around in our hearts. “Lord, I’m feeling so overwhelmed… Help me to see you as my strong tower, and please show me why this situation bothering me so much and what I can practically do about it.” God is not afraid of our emotions. With him at our side, we don’t need to be afraid either.

    Play and sing worship music throughout the day. If you move from room to room a lot or spend a lot of time away from your house, buy a little MP3 player and load it with your favorite songs or other audio downloads, such as your pastor’s Sunday sermon if your church posts those on-line. Listening while you do other things is a great way to redeem the time. I listen to worship CDs on a Walkman with headphones while I work out on the treadmill at the YMCA. Even if you don’t have music playing, you can always sing in your heart. I've put some of my soothing and inspiring favorites on this blog, so turn your speakers on!

    Establish a regular devotional time with your children. Read the Bible, sing, and pray with them sometime during the day, which is a fantastic extension of your own time with God. This will not just be an academic exercise, but an opportunity for you connect again with your Heavenly Father as you bring your children to him for a blessing. (See Mark 10:13-16.)

    Use your daily duties as object lessons of God’s truth and grace. When you are making dinner, think of the feast he is preparing for us in heaven. When you are washing dishes, be thankful for the abundant food you ate off of them, and pray for those who are less fortunate. When you are cleaning up your kids’ muddy toes, think of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. A yucky toilet, stubborn laundry stain, or dirty diaper can remind us of how he washes our foulest sins away: “white as snow.” This attitude not only inspires our souls with the holy character of God, but makes our work meaningful and less irksome. I find that, like Brother Lawrence, I can “practice the presence of God” no matter what I am doing, even if I am not kneeling in prayer or reading my Bible.

    Think about God “in the watches of the night.” I am a chronic insomniac, usually waking for an hour or more in the middle of the night. During these times, I remind myself of the mercies of the Lord, pray for others, and think of Bible verses I have memorized. I also do this as I am falling asleep at night, and sometimes as I lie in bed trying to wake up in the morning. This is also a good practice for mommies who are night nursing their babies, as I did off and on for nearly two decades. “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” Psalm 63:5-7

    Enjoy your Sabbath! This is a time when I don’t have to feel guilty about laying aside many of my regular daily duties. I like to use Sunday afternoon as a time for leisurely reading and contemplation, as well as rest. What a precious gift from God!

    I hope these simple suggestions have been helpful to you. I don’t present them as a formula, but as a means to help our hearts be captivated by our Awesome God.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Motherhood by Jeanne Merrihew Lofgren

    by Jeanne Merrihew Lofgren

    My aunt sent this newspaper clipping to me several years ago, and it has always been a humorous encouragement. I presume that it was written in the 1950s, and I sure would love to meet the lady who wrote it!

    MOTHERHOOD, by Jeanne Merrihew Lofgren

    “A Mother is a maker, a mender, a moderator, and a teacher.

    She makes boxer pants and chocolate pudding, law and sometimes order, castles, threats, promises and rabbit suits. She makes horses’ heads from paper bags, little suits from big ones, new dresses from old ones, sunsuits from kitchen curtains, small balloons from popped ones, stew from nothing whatever. She makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and peace when possible.

    A Mother is a maker and a mender.

    A Mother mends broken dishes and broken hearts, trouser knees, hurt noses and hurt feelings, trouser knees, torn jackets and torn fingers, and trouser knees. She mends old sheets, old rosebushes, old baby dolls and brand new trouser knees.

    A Mother is a maker, a mender and a moderator.

    She is a moderator in times of war --- civil war, verbal war, insurrection, minor skirmishes, attacks from the enemy; in times of strife, in times of injustice, in times of temper, in times of hairpulling.

    A Mother is a maker, a mender, a moderator and teacher.

    She teaches how to button buttons and how to say a prayer. She teaches how to hold a knife and fork, how to hang up clothes so they sometimes stay hung, how to sit still in church. She can teach a love of books and of music --- she can even turn child hearts to God. But almost never can she teach how to close a door without a bang or how to come in without bringing in mud.

    A Mother can count. She counts calories and blessings, pennies and children’s heads in the car. But she never counts sheep!

    A Mother is immune to surprise --- whether it is a glass of water in her desk drawer, a cat sleeping on fresh sheets in the linen cupboard, worms in trouser pockets, good report cards, bad report cards, split foreheads, split infinitives. Nothing ever really surprises her.

    But sometimes a Mother reaches despair. The dryer won’t dry when all the clothes are washed and wet. The baby bites the cat’s tail and is scratched for it. Three-year-old dumps the tinker toys by the front door when you expect the minister to call. The baby screams for attention - soothing medications must be halted while Mother sprints to a relentless doorbell. There stand two neighborhood children to report, “Your baby is crying.” Six-year-old after forty-five minutes cannot spell “what”.

    Eight-year-old dashes in to say he forgot, but it is his turn to take cookies to his meeting today. Fingerprints all over the house loom
    suddenly vivid. The ragged edge of the rug seems suddenly dreadful. Three-year-old won’t go outside. The cat won’t come in. The gelatin won’t jell. The sun won’t shine. The stew sticks and the pudding boils over while the phone rings on and on and on. And with it and above it and through it all comes, “Mommy, come and see --- Mommy, come and see”, incessently, monotonously, unendingly from three-year-old.

    Mother leans chin on broomhandle and mutters, “Next time I’ll raise chickens, Lord. Children are just too much.”

    Then ten-year-old crashes in --- rough and ready, all boy --- to confide, “Mommy, at Cub Scout meeting we had to list the five things most precious to us, and I did: One, God; two, love; three, America; four, babies; and five, sunsets.”

    Suddenly the baby’s eyes seem very blue, six-year-old recites from memory the entire 23rd Psalm, which is better than spelling “what”, fingerprints retreat again. Daddy walks in. Really life could not be richer. It is a glory never to be bartered.

    Dear Lord, keep the chickens. I’ll carry on for now. And thank you --- from the bottom of my heart.”

    My Glorious Dishtowel

    My Glorious Dishtowel
    by Virginia Knowles in 2007

    I confess. I guess I am just sentimental about dishtowels. This one came into my life 25 years ago, fluffy and fresh, bright with glorious rainbows, back when I was still a fluffy, fresh, and bright young college student. It arrived in a care package from my mother, nestled in with edibles and kitchen practicalities, and maybe an inspiring new book to feed my idealistic soul. My mom understood about such things (and still does). She always said that new dishtowels could perk up even the dreariest kitchen, and that rundown apartment kitchen sure needed it! We had no dishwasher except the human kind, so that towel did daily duty at my sink. And each time I would hang it up proudly so everyone could see its glorious rainbows.

    And here we are now, all these years later. I wearily plop a toddler on her little oak bed in my bedroom. My tenth toddler. In my bedroom still. Someday she will move out to another room, when my first no-longer-toddler-now-bright-fresh-idealistic-young-adult-daughter moves out of the house, but we are in no hurry for that, no hurry at all. Still, I am a tired mommy, a busy mommy. And even after this particularly long and tiring day, it is not time for me to go to my bed yet, except to sit on it and fold another mound of laundry, the foothills of Mt. Neverest, as I call my unending five-loads-a-day pile. And then a wave of melancholy washes over me. Even in the dim light of the go-to-sleep-sweetie-I’m-still-right-here bedroom, I can see this dishtowel in my hand, this faded and threadbare dishtowel, with its once bright rainbows barely recognizable. It is so thin I can see through it. How has it survived this long? In these 25 years it has done its daily duties for sure:

    • drying dishes (imagine that!), sometimes in the hands of my handsome and helpful young husband-to-be, who though no longer as young but still as handsome, is also still kind enough to help in the kitchen

    • soaking up the drips from the leaky air conditioner in that old apartment

    • laying under fresh-baked cookies cooling on the counter in our newlywed apartment or our first little townhouse

    • wiping away traces of morning sickness

    • playing peek-a-boo with a baby

    • soothing a fevered brow of a sick child, and another sick child, and another…

    • cushioning china in a cross-country move to a bigger home for a growing family

    • mopping up spilled apple juice, milk, and assorted unmentionable liquids from the floor

    • covering a pan of rising bread dough made by an eager baker-daughter for a family Thanksgiving feast

    • cleaning a soft young face covered with spaghetti sauce or peanut butter or blood or runny nose

    • wrapping an ice pack to keep it from being so cold on a bruised forehead

    • maybe even cleaning a hamster cage, though I hope not…

    • and much more, much much more, over and over and over again

    And between each time, to sanitize it for its next task, it is stuffed in a bucket with all of the other wet smelly kitchen linens, churned with bleach and detergent in the washer, and then shoved unceremoniously into the dryer with the heat and dizzying spin, sacrificing its lovely fluffy fiber to the lint trap. Then, after being crumpled into a clean basket, it is folded and crammed into the linen closet or the drawer by the kitchen sink, or, bypassing all of these, snatched right from the dryer and put immediately to desperate use again. It is needed, needed all the time. Like me.

    And so the wave of melancholy, as I sense its metaphor of my own life. I feel like this dishtowel. Old. Used up. Threadbare, with frayed fringes where neat hems used to be. Always in a spin. Like the faded rainbow, where have my once sparkling young dreams gone? I weep and wipe the tears with the towel. I hold it to my face and breathe in deeply. It is soft, so soft as it comforts me, as it has comforted others. It deserves dignity. I do not want it to be carelessly discarded by someone who does not understand dishtowels and nostalgia, so I tuck it safely into an unseen crevice on my bookcase where no one can find it. I clear the rest of the folded laundry off of my bed and sleep. Oh, how I need sleep.

    I wake in the wee hours of the morning, as I always do, like it or not. My mind churns, as it often does, thinking, pondering. This is not a bad thing in itself, because I love to think and ponder and dream awake, but right now I would rather sleep. And then it dawns on me, like a glittering rainbow as a shaft of sunshine suddenly illuminates a gray and drizzly sky. This is the glory of the dishtowel, the glory of my life. What? What is the glory? Service. Being used up from constant need. Emptying myself in order to fulfill my purpose. Love working itself out in humble and practical ways. This is why I’m here: in God’s strength, serving my husband and children in our busy life-filled home, where celebrations mingle with sorrows, and the momentous punctuates the mundane. This is the life I chose, preparing young hearts and minds to fulfill their own life destinies. It is a good life.

    The recent words of another bright, fresh young woman flood in to comfort me: “Mrs. Knowles,” she said, tapping me on the shoulder on a Sunday morning at church. “Mrs. Knowles, I believe the Lord wants me to remind you that your motherhood is a holy service to him. It is no waste. When you bow down to wipe up a spill from the floor, you are bowing in worship and service to him.” Remembering these refreshing words, I rise from my bed and tiptoe over to the bookcase, quietly, so as not to wake the tenth toddler, who nonetheless starts to rustle in her bed, sucking her thumb furiously until her I’m-about-to-wake-up-breathing evens out into restful sleep again. I grope around in the crevice and my hand feels the softness of the towel, the esteemed towel. There are tears to wipe again, but this time tears of gratitude. I am thankful that, unlike my lowly and lifeless dishtowel, I can be renewed and I will receive my reward.


    “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliott, martyred missionary

    “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

    “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” John 13:3-5, 12-17