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