Sunday, April 13, 2014

Moving on from Broken - My Church and Life Transition Story

This article is an update of one I did two years ago.  It has been cross-posted on the No Longer Quivering web site this evening as part of their series on recovering from spiritual abuse.  Please note that many people who post and comment there have chosen to leave the Christian faith because of abuse.  I ask you to be sensitive to that as you read and interact.

Four years ago, our family left a church organization which was and is facing major issues with legalism and abuse. It wasn’t easy to be there at the end.  It wasn’t easy to leave.  It still isn’t easy to navigate what I believe and how I relate to people.  Despite my deep disappointment and disillusionment, I have continued to rebuild my own spiritual life.  I have also looked back on several things that helped me transition out of more than one less-than-ideal-for-me situations.  I’d like to share these with you.

Before we left, I started reading widely and deeply about the subject of abuse of authority in churches, organizations, the full quiver / home schooling movement, and families.  I continue with that research nearly every day. Since then, I have been grieved by how many iconic celebrity religious leaders have bit the dust in a big way, and more importantly, how much damage they have done to others in the name of God. It makes me really wonder why I trusted what they were telling me about how to “do the Christian life right” when they were leading double lives with desperately dark sides.  I am no longer shocked when I hear such news.  It just seems inevitable because the legalism they espouse does not transform lives. 

As I started contemplating potential changes in my life, I took a lot of time to think through what was bothering me, evaluate it according to what I already knew, read as much as I could from a variety of trusted sources, and seek advice from wise friends and  counselors.  One Christian counselor, extremely knowledgeable about spiritual abuse from both personal and professional experience, helped me to think through leaving our church, as well as deal with some other very troubling situations.  My current Christian counselor (who found funding to pay for our sessions) has helped me deal with even more issues, such as grieving the death of my mother and re-entering the work force. One counselor was a total fail in our only appointment.  I can laugh a little now, but at the time his insensitivity was seriously triggering to me. I understand that many others have had similar experiences with those who identify themselves as “Biblical” or nouthetic counselors.

I spent a few months researching what I wanted in a new church. I asked around, surfed the web, listened to sermons on-line, made a short list of possible churches, and talked to my family about the options. When I found a potential church that looked especially good, I called a friend who had attended there for a few years and grilled her for about an hour. The pastors, elders and other members there have been extremely supportive in light of our prior church experience. It has been a safe place where I can breathe and recover.

I have attempted to stay on good terms with our friends and pastors from our former church, which was challenging because of what I have written about the church’s parent organization.  I am pleased to say that those who were truly my friends are still my friends.  I know some folks have been shunned by members of their former churches, but that really hasn't been an issue for us.  I have taken the opportunity to communicate clearly with some of the pastors what my issues were with the church. They took the time to interact with me, they have expressed authentic sorrow, and I believe they have taken my words into consideration as they plan for the future.

I have given myself permission to handle this transition at my own pace without expecting too much.  It certainly wasn't over the minute we left our old church, and frankly, they didn’t cause all of my issues in the first place. From what I've read on web sites about spiritual abuse, these kinds of situations can trigger PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), with the associated depression, anxiety, anger, apathy, disillusionment, distrust, relational conflict, and spiritual doubt.  I have experienced every single one of them.  It can be a complicated tangle that takes time to sort out.  There are some phrases, songs, subconscious impressions, and even Bible passages that give me a spiritually allergic sensation and make me recoil.  I ask myself, "Why am I reacting like this?" and try not to let negative associations ruin otherwise good things.  It is especially comforting to know that God is big enough and loving enough to handle my angst. I find that I am much less "put together" than I thought I was before, but I've also learned to be OK with that.

I now have the freedom to live outside the box of other people's expectations of what it looks like to be a “godly woman” particularly in the area of marriage and motherhood.  After years and years in strongly complementarian settings and mindset, I have steadily edged toward evangelical egalitarianism.  I have also rethought my views on parenting and education. I am a mother of 10, ages 8 to 26, and I taught them at home for over 20 years. I was a die-hard full quiver home school mom, publishing three books and 16 years of e-magazines and blogs about it.  I had nightmares about the thought of sending my children to public school. Yet some of my own children have thrived there in the past few years.  I have been criticized and questioned by a few who are bewildered by our choice, but the fact that most of my kids are in public school is not the most pressing issue in my life at the moment.  I no longer feel the need to justify my educational decisions.  I just do what needs to be done each year.

Journaling and blogging are also important to me.  Writing it out clarifies some of the issues, and helps me to go back later and reconsider what I had been thinking before. Sometimes I see a little bit of progress from then until now, and other times I have to go back and reclaim some of that progress that seems to have slipped.  For me, journaling is a private matter.  No one has permission to read them.  It has to be a safe place to let it all out without the fear of having to explain it to someone who might misinterpret what I'm saying.  I write out personal thoughts, Bible notes, life management and inspirational book notes, prayers, and plans for the future.  Blogging is obviously more public than my journaling, but it is a huge help, too.  I have always said, "I write to stay sane" and that is more true than ever. I blog about spiritual abuse and recovery at, observations about daily life at www.VirginiaKnowles.blogspot.comand motherhood at   

Another way that I use writing in recovery is creating poetry. Three that touch on these issues are:

One more restorative gift is appreciating the beauty of nature that reminds me that God is a Magnificent Creator. Clouds, flowers, tree trunks, sunrises -- all powerful for building trust in the goodness and power of God!  In 2013, I started a new “Strength in Hymn” series that couples vintage hymn texts with nature photography and encouragement for the disillusioned Christian.  I love finding beauty through my camera lens!

What about you?  What has helped you recover?  What didn't?

Peace to you and yours,
Virginia Knowles

I Know that My Redeemer Lives (Strength in Hymn)

I Know that My Redeemer Lives

By: Samuel Medley (1738-1799)

I know that my Redeemer lives!
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever living head!

He lives triumphant from the grave;
He lives eternally to save;
He lives exalted, throned above;
He lives to rule his Church in love.

He lives to grant me rich supply;
He lives to guide me with his eye;
He lives to comfort me when faint;
He lives to hear my soul’s complaint.

He lives to silence all my fears;
He lives to wipe away my tears;
He lives to calm my troubled heart;
He lives all blessings to impart.

He lives to bless me with his love;
He lives to plead for me above;
He lives my hungry soul to feed;
He lives to help in time of need.

He lives, my kind, wise, heavenly friend;
He lives and loves me to the end;
He lives, and while he lives, I’ll sing;
He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King!

He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.

He lives, all glory to his name!
He lives, my savior, still the same;
What joy this blest assurance gives:
I know that my Redeemer lives!

Today is Palm Sunday,
the start of Holy Week!

May this remembrance
and this obscure old Lutheran Easter hymn
be a blessing to you and your family.

You might like to visit my Holy Week and Easter Link page.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"God the Artist" by Dag Hammarskjӧld

"God the Artist"

You take the pen
and the lines dance.
You take the flute,
and the notes shimmer.
You take the brush,
and the colours sing.
So all things have meaning and beauty
in that space beyond time where you are.
How, then, can I hold back anything from you?

Dag Hammarskjӧld (1905-1961)
Secretary-General of the United Nations (1953-1961)
Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Portrait of Dag Hammarskjöld, 1959.

Related posts:
Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Blog Link Parties:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Take My Life and Let It Be (Strength in Hymn)

"Take My Life and Let It Be"
Frances Ridley Havergal,  1874

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;

Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;


Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;

Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee,

Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;

Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose,

Every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.

Take my heart; it is Thine own;
It shall be Thy royal throne,

It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.

Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee,

Ever, only, all for Thee.

About the Hymn

Frances Ridley Havergal, daughter of a British minister, consecrated her life to Jesus as a teenager in the mid 1800’s. A teacher, Mrs. Teed, had an indelible spiritual influence on her.  Frances never married, and only lived until age 42.  She was incredibly accomplished not only in academics but in personal ministry.  Though due to her poor health, she didn’t receive much formal education, she learned six languages, including Greek and Hebrew.  She was an excellent musician and wrote over 100 hymns.  Of the writing of this hymn, she is quoted here:

I went for a little visit of five days [to Areley House, Worcestershire, in December 1873]. There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted but not rejoicing Christians. [God] gave me the prayer, "Lord, give me all this house." And He just did! Before I left the house, everyone had got a blessing. The last night of my visit... I was too happy to sleep and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration, and these little couplets formed themselves and chimed in my heart, one after another, till they finished with "Ever, only, all, for Thee."

Why I Picked This Hymn

I picked this particular hymn for my Strength in Hymn series because I’ve been thinking lately about the topic of consecration – presenting yourself to God for his set-apart service.  So many of us started well in the Christian life but have wandered in one area another away from a whole-hearted devotion to Jesus and his ways.  Yet consecration is not a once in a lifetime offer.  It is something we do continually, in small ways from day to day, as well as more momentous recommitment and repentance at certain crossroads of life.  I am seeking ways to draw closer to God during a difficult season of life when it is more challenging to see his purposes and providences. 

If you like this hymn about how God uses each part of our bodies for his glory, you might also like my poem Corpus Christi.

About the Photographs

All of these pictures were taken at Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida.  I have visited there countless times over the past 30 years, often with several children, and especially enjoy the free admission on the first Monday of each month.  I’d been meaning to visit for a long time, but something always came up.  A few weeks ago, while my children were in school, I went all by myself and strolled around at my pleasure – through the lovely plant displays, past the sculptures, to the lake to feed the turtles with bits of stale tortillas and watch the stately heron.  I also toured the historic Leu House, decorated in Victorian style.  I’ll save those photos for another post.  I enjoy being refreshed with the beauty of God’s Creation as well as the creativity of people.

Other botanical garden posts:

Other flower posts:

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Sunday, March 9, 2014

O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (Strength in Hymn)

“O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”
Samuel Trevor Francis

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!

Rolling as a mighty ocean
in its fullness over me!

Underneath me, all around me,
is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward
to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
spread His praise from shore to shore!

How He loveth, ever loveth,
changeth never, nevermore!

How He watches o’er His loved ones,
died to call them all His own;

How for them He intercedeth,
watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
love of every love the best!

’Tis an ocean full of blessing,
’tis a haven giving rest!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
’tis a heaven of heavens to me;

And it lifts me up to glory,
for it lifts me up to Thee!

About the Hymn:  The hymn was written by Samuel Trevor Francis after a moment of despair when he was tempted to end his life by jumping from London’s Hungerford bridge into the turbulent waters below.  You can read more here at Songs and Hymns: O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus.   The hymn tune, “Ebenezer,” is Welsh and its name means “stone of help.”  It is also the tune for “Once to Every Man and Nation” by James R. Lowell, which I mentioned here: For Such a Time as This.

Why I Picked This Hymn:  This hymn has been on my list for upcoming Strength in Hymn posts for a while, but a recent beach trip with our family clinched the deal.  Of course this post needs ocean pictures!  I love the hymn, which we have often sing in church since I was a teenager, because it reminds me of the all-sufficient love of God even when I feel like I am overwhelmed with life.  He is very deep, but he paradoxically lifts me high.  The story of how this hymn was written brings to mind the beautiful old Simon & Garfunkel song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” that I’ve been listening to a lot lately.  (That's an understatement!)  I am thinking of a young friend of our family who is going through a very tough time, and how we’ve tried to be there for him - like a bridge over troubled water.  Our concern is not enough to fix his problems, but we do what we can.  We need to trust the love of God, which is far deeper, far wider, far higher.

With God's love,
Virginia Knowles


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

If You Expect Real Respect...

If you expect real respect, show your strength, not your power. Lead with your character, not your charisma.  Cultivate your inner integrity, not your outer image.  Admit your weaknesses; don't pretend perfection.  Be tender-hearted yet tough enough to endure; don't be bitter or brittle.  Motivate with inspiration, not manipulation.  Leaders listen.

Embrace your equality with others.  Don't cling to (or hide behind) your gender, your color, your age, your wit, your wealth, your beauty, your education, your successes, your connections, your rank, or your title.  We need each other! 

Real respect is reflected in mutual consideration, cooperation, community, and most of all, compassion.  Respect flourishes when there is liberty and justice for all.  Look out for the least and the little, for the Greatest One is watching you.

If you want real respect, share it freely and fully with others; don't demand it for yourself.  Coerced admiration is worse than worthless.  Insincerity increases insecurity.  Flattery is a feigned feast that leaves you hungrier than ever.   Sham will not cover shame.  It is far better to be clothed with simple dignity than to be exposed as the “emperor who wore no clothes.” 

Real respect?  The kind that truly matters?  There is no other way.  If you expect real respect, just set your heart on becoming really respectable.


A few more thoughts on my essay above...

A popular Christian blogger, Matt Walsh, recently wrote an article called "Your Husband Doesn't Have to Earn Your Respect" and set off a firestorm of nearly 2,000 comments so far.  The irony is that so many, while claiming to promote respect, expressed their viewpoints with words of contempt for the opinions and experiences of others.  Sarcasm, loaded language, subtle put downs, unveiled ad hominem attacks, insinuations, and presumption of motives all detracted from the conversation.  I prefer to be civil and cordial.
As I wrote, "I think it would be helpful to distinguish between kinds of respect. We can treat everyone with a basic dignity, especially a close family member, even if they don’t have particularly commendable behavior. This includes looking for the good and verbally acknowledging it, even when there are problems. It means overlooking what we can. That does not mean, however, that we have any obligation to admire the character of anyone who really has poor behavior." 
Reiterating this in my later comment: "Respect is important, no matter who you are, man or woman, young or old. Words have power. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart.  Basic dignity is due to all, no matter what. We should be courteous and kind, even if we do not agree, and even if we must, in good conscience, intervene to prevent destructive behavior.  Authentic trust and admiration are based on our perceptions of what someone is doing or saying. They can be built up or broken down. We can’t demand it. We have to earn it. That’s a fact of life."

I didn't say this in my comments on Walsh's blog post, but we should obviously have proper respect for position as well: spouse, parent, pastor, teacher, employer, government official, the elderly, those with whom we have business contracts, etc.  However, this is what we focus on when we think of respecting others, not what we can just assume as our absolute right when we are in those positions ourselves.   As a mother, I want my children to respect me.   As a teacher, I want my students to respect me.  There is nothing wrong with that, and I should be regularly encouraging them in that healthy habit.  After all, part of my job is keeping order in the home and classroom.  However, this is not for my own ego, but for their good, packing their "life toolbox" with skills for their success, both now and in the future.  If I expect a more meaningful personal (rather than positional) respect from them, I should try to live up to it. That starts with mutual respect.  The one who leads should be the one who serves.  Frankly, that has been a paradigm shift for me in recent years, and I still have a long way to go in both giving and receiving respect.  So really, you could say that I am writing to myself most of all.
I share those comments to clarify what I wrote in my little "If You Expect Real Respect" essay above.   That's not the only thing that prompted me to write today, however.  I see this issue of respect as an on-going and very pertinent theme in the Christian blogging community.  Though I have mainly been writing about old hymns lately, the main mission of this Watch the Shepherd blog is to address the issues of abuse of authority in families, churches, and religious organizations.  Why does this happen? Usually, it's because those who are in perceived positions of power are demanding respect but not giving it.  That is just my two cents worth.

There is so much more I could say.  I could think of numerous Scripture verses, Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and even links to other web sites.  In the interest of time, however, I'll leave you with these related posts from this blog instead...
I would love to hear your thoughts about real respect, so leave a comment!

Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How Great Thou Art (Strength in Hymn)

"How Great Thou Art"

Swedish poem by Carl Gustav Boberg (1885)
English translation and two verses by Stuart K. Hine (1920's)

O Lord my God, 
when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds 
thy hands have made,
I see the stars, 
I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout 
the universe displayed:

Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! 
How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! 
How great thou art!

When through the woods 
and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds 
sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down 
from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook 
and feel the gentle breeze:

Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! 
How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! 
How great thou art!

And when I think that God, 
his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, 
I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, 
my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died 
to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! 
How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! 
How great thou art!

When Christ shall come 
with shout of acclamation
And take me home, 
what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow 
in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, 
My God, how great thou art!

Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:

How great thou art! 
How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, 
my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! 
How great thou art!

About the Hymn:  "How Great Thou Art" started out as a Swedish poem in 1885.  In the early 1920's, British missionary Stuart Hine was ministering in Poland and heard the words sung in Russian to the original Swedish melody.  He translated it to English and added two verses, partly inspired by a hike in the Carpathian Mountains.  Read more of the story here: HymnSite.

Why I Chose the Hymn: I first remember this from my teen years in the Presbyterian church, but I've probably sung it in every church I've been a member of since then.  It ranks as one of the all-time favorite Christian hymns, after "Amazing Grace."   I was thinking of it recently in light of my love for nature as a means of communicating God's glory and grace.  I had it running through my head one evening as we passed by a lake on our way home from a church event.  Two of my kids were bickering rather loudly.  I asked them to stop, but I don't think they heard me, or at least they weren't paying attention.  I thought, "Well then, Mama is just going to have to start singing!"  And I did -- loudly, to drown out the conflict.  Miracle of miracles, within a minute or so, they stopped the argument.   Blissful silence reigned, only broken by calm apologies from both parties.  Was it the hymn?  Maybe not, but I tend to think it helped.  I know words like these help to quiet my soul when a storm is raging inside.  Yesterday I had a rough time of it - lack of sleep, kids not cooperating with my dreams of a clean house, and yes, a bit more bickering.  I finally fled the house in the evening and drove to our church's ladies' Bible study at the home of a friend, even though I hadn't been in a year.  I got there late, and stayed mostly silent during the study to keep my composure, but during prayer time, my tears flowed freely. The sweet ladies, some of them strangers to me, gathered around, laid hands on me, and prayed.  They didn't need to know everything going on, just that a sister in Jesus needed a wee bit of encouragement and intercession.  When I arrived home again, I was greeted with warm embraces from some of my children.  Though I love the beauties of nature - clouds, trees, birds, flowers, lakes, and more - I think God's most awesome creation was human compassion and fellowship.  That, and his Word, which assures us: "
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, 
He bled and died to take away my sin."  That's enough to make a soul sing.

About the Photos:  I took these pictures while walking around Crane's Roost, a suburban lake park.  I like to take the time to really notice nature.  I see the difference between the two palm trees.   One has great clumps of pollen on it; the other does not.  They stand separately, but need each other for fruitfulness.  I quietly followed the young blue heron as he strutted along the boardwalk and fluttered up to the railing.  He evaded me with his amazing gift of flight.  The squirrel, too, escaped my attentions by climbing a tree.  Shadows, bare branches, small creatures, the vibrancy of purple pansies  and luminous yellow snap dragons, all there for us to enjoy.  Glory to God. "How great Thou art!"

This post is part of my Strength in Hymn series, which combines vintage hymn lyrics, nature photography, and inspiration for those who have struggled in the Christian faith community.

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles