Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Am An American! (A Poem and a Call to Vote)

Dear friends and family,

I went to vote this morning! Many of my friends had reported waiting 2 or 3 hours, but our county has extended the hours, so there was absolutely no line at our local public library when I went at 8:20 AM. With as much as I have to do in life, I'm thankful for that, but I would have voted even if I'd had to wait. It is worth it to me. That is not to say that I'm particularly enthused by the presidential candidates. I'm not, although I do like John McCain well enough. But cynicism doesn't excuse us from voting. After all, when you refuse to state your choice, you are leaving it up to others to decide. I don't want to play roulette with my children's future, so while the candidates might not be perfect, it is my responsibility to choose the one who is most likely to lead well on the issues that are important to me. Our friend Jesse Phillips writes about this in his essay: Christians & Politics: Where Art Thou, Perfect Candidate? You might also find a voter guide helpful in sorting through the issues. Here is one for Florida.

I am not a one issue voter. I care about the economy, world peace, educational choice, and a host of other issues. One of the key issues in our state is Amendment 2 on Marriage Protection, spearheaded by our good friend John Stemberger. There has been much misinformation circulated about this amendment by people claiming it will strip away existing rights, but it doesn't. You can find out more at http://www.yes2marriage.org/. The other heartbeat issue, as always, is the sanctity of life. If a man can't stand up for the helpless ones, what can he do? Barack Obama voted four times against a law to protect the lives of babies who have survived late-term abortions, like Gianna Jessen of http://www.bornalivetruth.org/. (You can see some of her videos further down in this blog. Obama has tried to backpedal on this, but he has vowed to sign the Freedom of Choice Act and his voting record has consistently proved that he is no friend of unborn babies. This is completely unacceptable to me. You can find ample factual information on the abortion issue at http://www.abort73.com/.

After I sent out an e-mail with some political satire last weekend, a few folks wanted to let me know why they were voting for Obama. That's certainly your choice and I respect that! It's wonderful to live in a country where we can vote according our conscience and where, despite much media bias, we still have access to abundant information on the issues!

Finally, now that I am done with my political rant, I want to share you a favorite poem that I have given out to my English class the two years we have studied American literature. Written by a Russian Jew who came to the USA at age 7, it is sure to stir your patriotism -- not just for the past, but for the future. The first stanza speaks for folks like me, whose ancestors (Captains Samuel Ransom and Alexander Quarrier) really did fight in the Revolution. The second is the voice of those who have immigrated from oppressive countries, like my friends Olga, Monica, Ovi, Anna Marie, and Zamfira. (I met Ovi Pauna's mom Zamfira at our last soccer game. I have put our picture at the bottom of this e-mail. Zamfira told me about her foundation Heart of Romania and how she is organizing a Gala fundraiser to be held at Metro Life Church early next year to raise money for a vehicle for a Romanian orphanage. Which reminds me: the rummage sale at Metro Life this past weekend netted several thousand dollars for the orphans in Haiti! Yippee! You see, the solutions to the world's problems are not all political ones. It takes ordinary citizens like you and me, faithfully doing little and big things for others, not because we have to, but because we want to, no matter who gets elected.) But I digress. On to the poem, which I do hope you enjoy...

I am An American
by Elias Lieberman

I am an American.
My father belongs to the Sons of the Revolution;
My mother, to the Colonial Dames.
One of my ancestors pitched tea overboard in Boston Harbor;
Another stood his ground with Warren;
Another hungered with Washington at Valley Forge.
My forefathers were America in the making:
They spoke in her council halls;
They died on her battlefields;
They commanded her ships;
They cleared her forests.
Dawns reddened and paled.
Staunch hearts of mine beat fast at each new star
In the nation's flag.
Keen eyes of mine foresaw her greater glory:
The sweep of her seas,
The plenty of her plains,
The man-hives in her billion-wired cities.
Every drop of blood in me holds a heritage of patriotism.
I am proud of my past.
I am an American.

I am an American.
My father was an atom of dust,
My mother a straw in the wind,
To his serene majesty.
One of my ancestors died in the mines of Siberia;
Another was crippled for life by twenty blows of the knout;
Another was killed defending his home during the massacres.
The history of my ancestors is a trail of blood
To the palace gate of the Great White Czar.
But then the dream came
The dream of America.
In the light of the Liberty torch
The atom of dust became a man
And the straw in the wind became a woman
For the first time.
"See," said my father, pointing to the flag that fluttered near,
"That flag of stars and stripes is yours;
It is the emblem of the promised land,
It means, my son, the hope of humanity.
Live for it die for it!"
Under the open sky of my new country I swore to do so;
And every drop of blood in me will keep that vow.
I am proud of my future.
I am an American.

~*~*~

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When It Rains, It Pours -- More Prayer!

Dear family and friends,

My sister Barb called last night to say that my Grandma Hess fell and broke her femur. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance. They are going to do a hip replacement since the break is right near the ball joint. This is NOT the same hip that she broke on August 3. She won't be home again for another several weeks.

It has been two weeks since my dad was hit by a motorcycle and suffered a brain injury. He is scheduled to come home from rehab on Friday. He will be needing outpatient physical, cognitive and speech therapy for quite a while. He is still somewhat delusional, doesn't totally understand what is going on, and has unpredictable behavior. Yesterday he asked my sister to go to Home Depot and buy a box cutter so she can come to the hospital and free him from the restraints, as he is still strapped to the bed. He keeps saying he wants to go back to work tomorrow, but it may be three to six months from now, if at all. When he comes home, he is going to need round the clock supervision, especially when walking, since they are not sure of his balance. My mom's cousin Ruth Ann Douglas is there now helping out and her brother Henry is coming next. I am flying up next Monday (Grandma Hess's 94th birthday) right after co-op classes and will stay until that Friday (Grandpa Hess's 96th birthday). Thad is being so kind to hold the fort for me while I am gone for several days for the second time this year. My son-in-law's mother, Donna Tindall, is taking me to the airport, and I'm thankful for the help!

In brighter news, my daughter Mary excitedly told me that she got the copy editing job she has been pursuing with the Orlando Sentinel. This is quite something, since the journalism industry has taken a huge hit, there were a whole bunch of other experienced applicants, and she just graduated from college in May. I think that Wall Street Journal summer internship definitely helped out there! I am so proud of her because she has worked hard for this! She and her husband Ryan will both have roughly the same afternoon/night work schedule, which is another plus. She has also been freelancing quite steadily for the Orlando Magazine, too.

That's about enough for now. Please do continue to pray for our family. I know that my mom is under a huge amount of stress right now. I didn't hear until this morning that she has been walking with a cane for a few weeks since she has problems with her feet! I'm glad I can go up there and give her lots of hugs and kisses.

Oh, one last thing. At times like this, I like to listen to uplifting music.

Yesterday, I played the following country music video for some of my students as we were talking about America's Christian heritage. I think you'll like it too: "In God We Still Trust" by Diamond Rio.

Right now I am listening to Sara Groves' new Christmas album, O Holy Night. Here's the information and link...
CD55277: O Holy Night CDO Holy Night CD by Sara Groves

Evoking the friendly warmth of a community church candlelight service, Groves plies her acoustic pop sound on traditional Christmas favorites---plus four new original songs. Includes "Star of Wonder"; "Peace, Peace"; "Go Tell It on the Mountain"; "It's True"; "Silent Night"; "To Be with You"; "Angels We Have Heard on High"; "Toy Packaging"; the title track; and more.


Blessings,

Virginia Knowles

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lord Have Mercy!

Dear friends,

You know by now that I am a raving evangelical who can’t quite seem to shut up about God. I suppose some might even venture to call me a “Bible thumper” though I don’t think I’ve ever actually thumped one. (Well, maybe once or twice.) But it hasn’t always been so. Many years ago, I harbored great hostility and scorn toward pushy Christians and their precious little Bibles. One time my sister Barb and I were strolling along the aisles at the San Mateo, California county fair when we suddenly met some of them at a booth. They cornered us (at least it seemed that way then) and tried to explain about how we were sinners who needed a savior. I was more interested in finding the fudge booth (I still love chocolate!) and stomped away in disgust, while Barb, who hadn’t yet managed to pry herself away, looked at me helplessly. I fumed. Who did they think they were? Why didn’t they mind their own business? This was my continual attitude, not just one incident. I was “looking for a skylight in the floor of my upside down world” – but I did not want to concede that Christianity could be the truth.

About that time, my Aunt Fay in Pennsylvania, whom we hadn’t seen in quite some time, sent us a letter saying that she had become a born again Christian and urging us to do the same. I thought she was totally off her rocker. Crazy! And yet that summer, when our family drove all the way across the country for vacation, we met this crazy Christian. She was different all right. She had peace, joy, and love – and I didn’t! Even at that tender age of 12, I had often contemplated suicide. Yet when my cousin Cindy explained the gospel to me using some ridiculous looking Bible tracts, I contemplated the truth and grace of God instead. In July 1976 (our nation’s bicentennial anniversary of independence) I found my own true spiritual liberty and joined in with the crazy born again Christians. I have never ever regretted it. Since then I have always sought to share the incredible good news of Jesus Christ. I am in awe of such lavish mercy that makes my heart sing!

I know I talk a lot about God, but I realize that these bits and pieces don’t always communicate a full, balanced understanding of who he is and how we can know him. “God talk” is actually pretty popular these days. Spirituality is all the rage. Most of modern culture takes a smorgasbord approach to truth as a random collection of inspirational ideas that we are free to pick and choose to suit our cravings of the moment, rather than a revealed, universal, objective Truth that can stand the test of time and place no matter when or where we live. We do need to think and reason about truth. Yes, spiritual life also takes a leap of faith, but it is a leap onto a firm foundation. Truth matters, especially when we are seeking the right path to our eternal destiny.

So, I would like to take a few moments to share with you some basics about what it means to be “saved” or “born again.” It would take a lifetime to exhaust this topic and I don’t want your eyes to glaze over, so I’m still only giving you a small sample. If you aren’t familiar with this sort of discussion (or it even makes you uncomfortable), perhaps you could just read it to find out why all of those Christians (like me) are making such a big deal about it. And I hope in the process you might discover why it should be a big deal to you, too.

I like lists, so I’ll give you one right now with several key ideas:

1. God is utterly holy, pure and just. He will not tolerate the presence of sin. His thoughts are infinitely high above ours. He knows everything in our hearts. He is sovereign, all powerful over things and people. Our Creator is filled with incredible beauty and majesty and deserves our complete and humble worship. God is a trinity: three in one. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are completely unified and completely God. (Yes, this is an awesome mystery that boggles the human mind!)

2. Mankind is utterly sinful. We have repeatedly rejected God’s truth and God’s ways. We have each broken his commandments, either in our actions or in our thoughts. We have actively participated in ruin. We cannot make ourselves righteous by any amount of good deeds or by any amount of religious activity. We deserve God’s full measure of eternal wrath as punishment.

3. God is merciful and forgiving. He has made a way for us to cross the chasm. Jesus (God the Son) took on human form and lived an absolutely perfect, sinless life on earth. Then he was crucified on a cross, taking the punishment for our sins. He was buried and then rose again on the third day, appearing to hundreds of people before he ascended to Heaven. His resurrection proves his claim to be God the Son. Jesus was the promised Messiah, who had been foretold by the Old Testament prophets hundreds of years before his birth. (Read Isaiah 53!)

4. We can escape God’s righteous wrath and claim the promise of eternal life in Heaven only by trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus. That means confessing our sins and placing our full faith in him alone, not in being good enough or following some sort of religious system. He is our only hope. When we ask God to save us, our sins are forgiven and we are declared righteous in his sight.

5. When a person is born again like this, he or she becomes a “new creation” with a changed nature. We repent, which means to turn away from our sins and seek to please God instead. We realize that we are not our own anymore – we belong to God and must obey him with a whole heart. We still struggle with a sin nature and temptation, but we are also given a new heart that really wants to love God and other people. The good works that a Christian does are the grateful fruit of salvation, not the path to it. As disciples (followers of Christ) we continually grow in our faith and in our ability to make right choices, but we will not be perfect until we get to Heaven and see him face to face. And because we want others to experience the lavish mercy we have received, we boldly speak to them about sin, wrath, grace, faith, and salvation.

But why all this talk about God’s wrath and judgment? Can’t I just be tolerant and say that if anyone is sincere or tries their best to be a nice person that this is sufficient?

Good question! I’ve often asked it myself! Several months ago, in a philosophical mood, I decided to pick the theological brain of our friend Tom Clinkscale, who is a Baptist preacher and teaches at a Christian college. I asked him: "How do you reconcile the wrath of God that we see in the Old Testament with the mercy of God that we see in the New Testament?" I had put him on the spot, but he thought for a few minutes and then gave the wisest answer I have heard for that cosmic question. He replied that the one event in which God poured out his fiercest wrath was also the one where he poured out his most lavish mercy -- on the cross where Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. The cross bridges the chasm between Hell and Heaven for us. It transports us from fierce wrath to lavish mercy!

I have talked enough in my own words. Now I want to let God’s work speak to you in a way that I could never do. Pause to let it sink in!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” John 3:16-18

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Isaiah 64:6

“As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one… For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:10-12, 23

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James 2:10

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:6-11

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17, 20-21

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:4-10

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” John 14:6


I will close with a poem that I wrote about two years ago, during a season of life when I became freshly aware of my sin and my continual need for my Savior.


Rhapsody in M
by Virginia Knowles

Myriad mercies:
more and more
merited? no! no merit in murky miserable me
Mystery:
manic malice meted on Messiah Martyr
Mighty and Meek
Miracle:
manic malice meted on my Mediator misses me
marvelous mercies ministered on me

Majestic Master:
master me
move massive mountains in me
make merry melodies in me
mirrors of Thee in mere me
more and more
myriad mercies



~*~*~

That’s enough for now. Let me know what you think. I’d be happy to talk to you about this if you send me an e-mail. Feel free to share this with others.

Blessings,
Virginia Knowles

Thursday, October 16, 2008

NEW INFO ON OCT 17: Gianna Jessen Speaks for Life with Passion and Grace!

Dear friends,

My daughter Joanna showed me these videos and I couldn't resist passing them along to you. Please listen to what Gianna Jessen has to say about surviving an abortion -- when she was the baby! She speaks with passion and grace.


Part 1:



Part 2:



Check out the site http://www.bornalivetruth.org/ as well as http://www.abort73.com/.

UPDATE ON OCT 16: After I sent this out, Eric Novak, the son of one of my newsletter readers, e-mailed and told me that he had just interviewed Gianna that morning. Here is the link to the audio: Gianna Jessen Interview with Eric Novak on October 16, 2008.


UPDATE ON OCTOBER 17 FROM WWW.BORNALIVETRUTH.ORG

DEBATE 3: OBAMA’S LIES
Hear Dr. James Dobson interview Gianna Jessen and Jill Stanek on his Focus on the Family radio show Friday, October 17. Find stations and air times here.

In 1999 a gruesome discovery was made that an Illinois hospital was shelving babies to die in a soiled utility room who had survived their abortions. The Illinois Born Alive Infants Protection Act was introduced in 2001 to provide legal protection to all born babies, wanted or not, including the right to medical care. Then-state Senator Barack Obama voted against Born Alive 4 times in 3 years and was the sole senator to speak against it on the Senate floor in 2001 and 2002. In 2002, the Federal version of Born Alive passed unanimously in the US Senate and by overwhelming voice vote in the House. The pro-abortion group NARAL even went neutral on the bill. But In 2003, Barack Obama voted against the identical version of Born Alive in Illinois. Then, for the next 4 years he repeatedly misrepresented his vote until it was recently discovered in the IL General Assembly archives. Explore our website to learn the shocking truth: Senator Obama opposed granting legal recognition to born alive infants as human beings, and thus denied them the guarantee of medical care.

View Barack Obama's Actual Voting Record

“If Barack Obama had his way I would not be here.”

Can you imagine not giving babies their basic human rights, no matter how they entered our world? My name is Gianna Jessen, born 31 years ago after a failed abortion. I’m a survivor, as are many others…but if Barack Obama had his way, I wouldn’t be here.

Unfortunately, Barack Obama voted four times against affording these babies their most basic human right. I have serious concerns about Senator Obama’s record and views on this issue, given he voted against these protections four times as a state Senator. Just as abuse victims share their stories to educate the public, fight for the common good and hope that as a result politicians do what’s right, I felt it was important to come forward and give these new born babies a voice.

I am living proof these babies have a right to live, and I invite you to learn more about Senator Obama’s record on this important issue.

-Abortion Survivor Gianna Jessen

Blessings,

Virginia

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Preparing Children for the Storms of Life

Dear friends,

I wrote this article in November 2006. Though it was originally written in the context of home schooling, somehow I think it's also appropriate for adults in light of the recent financial crises. I will follow it up in a few days with the handouts from a class I am teaching Monday for English, including an essay called "What Will It Take to Forge Our Character?")

Preparing Children for the Storms of Life


The storms of life will come and go, but will your child be prepared or be blown away? In some ways, home schooling shelters children from many storms of life – appropriately so! In other ways, it can prepare them to be even more effective in dealing with challenging and disappointing situations. This process takes effort on the parents’ part as they try to discern the balance of sheltering and preparing. There are many ways any parent can help prepare a child for weathering the storms of life.

Cultivate a sense that God is in control, no matter what happens. Show how faith, hope, and love can conquer depression, fear, and anger. We don’t always understand what is happening, but we can trust a sovereign God. In showing God’s providence and our need for perseverance, you can use Bible stories (such as Joseph, Ruth, or David), Bible verses (such as Psalm 43:5, James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5, Romans 8:26-39, 1 Peter 1:6-9, and Habakkuk 3:17-19), hymns and worship songs, and prayer. Many children are disillusioned when they pray and God doesn’t answer like they want him to. Explain that sometimes he answers yes, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. Share stories from your own life when you asked God for something that would not have been good for you, and how you are glad you didn’t get your own way. You can also model a wholesome response to trials in your own life. Your children are always watching you!

Equip your child with both skills and responsibility ahead of time. Don’t coddle your children – challenge them! If you make life too easy for them, they will never be strong enough to face the outside world. Stretch them appropriately in their academics and household chores, and don’t let them give up on an assignment just because they think it is too hard. Press on! Children who have learned to value responsibility and duty over comfort and convenience will have more inner strength to face challenges in life. There are also specific skills you can teach that will help your child prevent or solve problems. Be sure to cover time management, money management, organization skills, household repair, etiquette, and communication, etc. With younger children, play “What If?” games, asking what they could do if they got lost at the mall, or another child dared them to do something wrong. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Teach Biblical peacemaking concepts. Walk them through how to resolve interpersonal conflicts, which are usually either the cause or result of so many of life’s storms. Peacemaker Ministries (www.peacemaker.net) has many wonderful resources.

Let your child “own” his trials. You can comfort them and brainstorm with them, but don’t be quick to offer easy answers. Make it a dialogue, where you are merely coaching them through solving their own problems. Give plenty of time – don’t rush through this process! Follow up later on to see how well they are coping with the aftermath, and if there is any bitterness or confusion. Teach your children to think ahead of time about the consequences of their choices. “If I do this, then that could happen.” Let them suffer the natural consequences of their own poor behavior, since they will learn from that more than from a lecture. Do not let them whine, sulk, or manipulate others. Hold them responsible for their share of conflicts, rather than simply blaming the other party to salvage a child’s feelings. If you see your child reacting to a frustration with bitterness, accusation or impatience, stop them and role play a calm, wholesome response. I no longer allow my children to yell, “THIS IS STUPID!” Instead, they may say, “I don’t understand this.” And finally, encourage your child to look for a life lesson that God is trying to teach them through this lesson. If they caused their own problem, they could learn to repent and prevent situations from happening like this again. In a situation that was not the child’s fault, they can learn patience to endure, faith in God’s care, and compassion for others who are suffering. Be sure to point out “evidences of grace” that you see in your child’s life because of this trial that has helped them to mature.

In your home schooling time, be aware of teachable moments. Read plenty of heart-reaching books where the people face difficult circumstances. Talk about what they did that was appropriate, and what they did that wasn’t. Biographies, well-written fiction, and even history text books can be so vital! The time periods of the early church persecutions, the Reformation, the American Revolution, slavery, Civil War, Holocaust, Civil Rights era, and others provide many examples you can use in teaching how to deal with adversity. We also like the animated history videos produced by NEST (www.nestfamily.com), since they show the struggles that famous people have faced. While studying science, point out instances in the natural world where “adversity” is necessary to produce the best results, such as precious metals being refined, gemstones being hacked out of the ground and chiseled into shape, muscles being exercised, tree roots growing deep for nourishment and anchoring, etc. Math can be a major source of frustration. However, it can model more general problem solving principles, such as staying calm in the knowledge that the problem is here to teach you something valuable, following any instructions, breaking it down into smaller parts, thinking through the different options, working carefully with keen attention to detail, asking for help when necessary, and checking to make sure the solution is reasonable. See how even the academic aspects of home schooling can prepare your child for facing the storms of life? What a blessing!

I hope that these ideas are as helpful to you as they have been to me over the years. Of course, we’re still working on them, but with 10 children in the house, there are plenty of opportunities to practice!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Happy Birthday to My Dear Mom, Mary Quarrier

Today is the 70th birthday of my mother, Mary Quarrier. She is the most special lady in the world to me, so I honor her with this brief little photographic tribute.

Mom was born to Henry and Dorothy Hess on October 8, 1938 in Kingston, Pennsylvania, and grew up in the rural outskirts of the Scranton / Wilkes Barre area. She was named after her grandmother, Mary Grave Hess, who also had a grandmother named Mary. My mom’s first granddaughter (my daughter) is named Mary, which continues this tradition. Really, though, it’s because I associate the name with that sweetness and light that my mother exemplifies. Mom was the middle of five children. I don’t have a picture of her when she was a child, but I remember seeing the cutest one of her with braids. Her childhood pictures and mine look so much alike, and we were often mistaken for sisters. At age 17, she met my dad when he came for visits with his roommate (Mom's cousin Charlie Davis) from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King's Point, New York. They celebrated their 50th anniversary on Christmas Day last year.


My brother John, sister Barb and I came along soon enough, so she kept busy mothering us full-time for many years. Isn't this a cute picture of us?

















Eventually, when I started full day kindergarten and tough economic times hit the country, she went back to work. She’s had a variety of careers, including secretary, hotel manager, typesetter, and owner of an office cleaning business, medical transcriptionist, and computer trainer. She retired from this last position (working for the National Institutes of Health) several years ago. Even when she was working, though, she always made time to do stuff with us, like read us stories.









I wasn't always really grateful for what my mom and dad provided for us. They gave me this little red wagon for Christmas one year, but I thought it was a "boy toy" and refused it. Mom said if I didn't want it, she would take it. She rode off in it, then filled it with her own stash of Christmas presents. Of course, my jealousy was quickly incited, and she graciously gave it back to me. Smart mommy!








I like this pensive picture, taken when we lived in California in the 1970s.

Gardening has been one of her favorite hobbies. We always had flower gardens when we were young! The first one she helped me plant, in Kansas City, had zinnias. We grew pumpkins there, too. Later, in a San Francisco suburb, we enjoyed growing pansies and golden poppies. We also had a small corn field and a blackberry patch (from which we made fruit leather) in our backyard there! Mom still lovingly tends gardens – her own flower gardens and a vegetable garden supervised by my Grandpa Hess, who is a gardener extraordinaire! I wish I had their green thumbs.

Along with the garden, my mom loves to watch birds. She has a whole bunch of feeders in her yard, just outside her windows, with different kinds of seed (or nectar) for the various species.


Mom was a Girl Scout leader for more years than I can count, and one year she was the city coordinator for all of the troops in San Carlos. She was also the cookie mom. I remember one time when a hapless young Girl Scout knocked at our door wanting to sell us a few boxes. I merely opened the adjacent door to our garage and showed her the cases and cases of them! Somehow she survived dozens of troop camping trips, but she always managed to come home with a splitting headache for some reason! We also camped often as a family, especially when we lived in Northern California and could visit the gorgeous Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, as well as Big Basin. We even had a family tradition of roasting hot dogs on the beach at Half Moon Bay on Christmas Eve every year.

My mother is also a very creative seamstress. I distinctly recall a pumpkin outfit that I wore for Halloween for several years, a big round orange thing that we stuffed with newspapers. She has also made quillows (a cross between a quilt and a pillow) for several of her grandchildren (and me), and together we made a few sets of jumpers for my five oldest daughters when they were naive enough to still put up with wearing matching clothes.


My mom loves to take and edit pictures and videos to record our family happenings for posterity. I know I inherited my love of family history from her, and I am blessed to know so many of my precious relatives because we often traveled to family reunions “up home” in Pennsylvania and kept in touch with everyone in between times. You can read about some of this here: Hess Family Heritage.












My mom has always been up for learning something new. When I started college at Northern Kentucky University in 1981, she took a class in Small Business Management with me. A lot of college kids might be upset to have their mom go to class with them, but I treasured this time with her! When I went away to college, she kept up with me through phone calls and letters. I remember one note that she wrote to console me when I had endured a big disappointment in life. She was so sweet about it. She is not only my mother, she is my dear friend.







Mom learned the fine art of stained glass when she was in her 40s, and I am the lucky owner of a nativity set, as well as several other beautiful pieces.

And then there is her singing! I remember that from my very earliest years at home. Always a song in her heart! Her mother had been a church organist, so music played an important role in her own growing up years. Mom played the piano and made sure that the three of us had music lessons of our choice, too. My sister and brother performed in a whole bunch of high school musicals, so attending them as a family is another happy childhood memory. Many choirs have been graced with her voice, and she spent many happy years singing, recording, and touring with the National Christian Choir in her “spare” time. Though she is no longer a member of the NCC, she is going on a New England cruise with them, leaving this Friday! I’m so excited for her!

Speaking of traveling, my mom is the adventurous sort. When we were young, we traveled all over North America, visiting 48 different states, as well as Canada and Alaska. With all of that long distance driving, I don’t know how she had the patience to spend that many hours hearing, “Are we there yet?” and “I get the front seat!” But she did, and we are richer for it. I suppose it helps that we lived in several states: Illinois, Missouri, California, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky. They moved to Texas after I left for college in Florida, but they now live back in Maryland. Since they became empty nesters, she and my dad have taken the opportunity to visit such far-flung locales as Bolivia and Germany, among other countries.

But really, my mom is just as happy right at home. You see, she is a nurturer at heart. And she’s had plenty of practice, starting with her own three kids and thirteen grandchildren. She also opened her home for months at a time to a few of my cousins in their teen or young adult years. My sister’s family stayed with them for a while and my mom helped home school my nieces and nephew. She still plays an active role in their lives since they live nearby. (My one and only beef about living in Florida is being so far away from them. At least she visits us often!) Mom also took care of her mother-in-law, my Grandma Driggs, who lived with them from 1995-1997.



And twice, for a total of three years so far, she has had her own parents live with them. They are turning 96 and 94 next months, and she keeps very busy as their primary caregiver! Right now, she is helping my grandma recover from surgery for a broken hip. She does all of this so cheerfully, even though she herself suffers from migraines and arthritis. She is such a treasure. I told her I wished she could take care of me when I am in my 90s, but she has declined that opportunity.












Here is she is with my little Melody, who absolutely adores her Grandma!




There is so much more that I could say about my sweet and lovely mother, but I guess I’ll have to leave it at that!

I also wrote something about my dad on Father's Day. You can read it here: A Tribute to My Dad.

Blessings,
Virginia Knowles

(P.S. You can probably figure out that this last picture is from my wedding in November 1985.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fireproof Your Marriage

Dear friends,

My husband Thad and I went to see the new movie Fireproof this afternoon, and I wanted to encourage you all to go see it while it is still playing in the theaters. Kirk Cameron plays a firefighter, Caleb Holt, whose father challenges him to a "40 Day Love Dare" when Caleb's marriage is about to fall apart. There is plenty of action in the movie, too, so it's not just sappy stuff for women. This is the perfect date night movie for husbands and wives. Better yet, think of another couple who needs hope for their marriage -- and bring them along.

There are also some very helpful web sites associated with the movie, including:

http://www.fireproofthemovie.com/ (be sure to watch the trailer!)
http://www.fireproofmymarriage.com/
http://www.40daylovedare.com/

I also want to encourage you to visit Family Life Today's web site, http://www.familylife.com/, and sign up for their excellent e-newsletters on marriage and family.

Be sure to spread the word!

Blessings,
Virginia Knowles

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Justice by Heart

Dear friends,

The LORD spoke through his prophet Isaiah: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." Isaiah 58:6-12 New International Version (NIV)

I found this passage during my quiet time this morning and it is so relevant to me. I've been thinking a lot about justice lately -- how to live it, how to help make it happen for others ("the oppressed"), and how to teach it to my children. (Of course, that means learning how to treat each other better right here at home.) I try, but I come up short time and time again in applying these truths. So I seek insight and encouragement. A trusted friend at church commented recently about how a Christian book, Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen, is totally rocking her world. I think a lot of us need to be challenged in this area. I know I do.

I read Isaiah 58:6-12 again to some of my children at the start of our home school day, stopping to define words like "oppression" and "yoke" along the way. Later, Ben found an old Bible alphabet puzzle in the closet and saw the Y piece with the yoke picture. Then he understand what I had meant, at least a little bit more. A yoke steals freedom. It is hard and unbending. It makes you do things that you would not otherwise do.

A simple picture like this is worth a thousand words. And pictures are sometimes what we need -- visual ones, verbal ones, relational ones -- to shake us out of our lethargy. The promises are profound: we shall live as well-watered gardens in the midst of a sun-scorched land, with light and healing, with guidance and protection. Isn't this such a comfort even in such a time of financial turmoil and global conflict? Our blessings are not always tangible ones like money and the tantalizing things it can buy. They are the essential ones of inner peace and joy, of the paradoxical wholeness that comes from being broken for others, of the knowledge that we have made an impact in the lives of precious human beings.

I searched the web for something about Bolivia this morning, and by chance came across a site mentioning a movie about the crime of human trafficking -- modern day slavery. I wept. What can I do? I don't know yet. Thad and I are going to Sara Groves' Art*Music*Justice concert two weeks from tonight in Tampa; it is a benefit for the International Justice Mission, which deals with this issues. I also rejoice to see folks from our church doing things like organizing a rummage sale to benefit a Haitian orphanage damaged by the hurricanes. This is Christian compassion in action. I want to be part of all of this, as busy as I am with my own large family. I hope I will breathe it until the day I die. I hope I will pass it to my children, not just in words but in my own example. That's how my daughters got involved in the pro-life movement at first. Then they stayed in it because they believed in it for themselves, even though I haven't been as directly involved for several years. Now it's my girls who decide to order the "Love Lets Live" T-shirts from the pro-life web site http://www.abort73.com/. (Yeah, I ordered one, too -- I didn't want to be left out!)

I'll write more on the topic of justice later, I am sure. More and more and more, even as I have written in months past. You can see some of it in the category Do Justice ~ Love Mercy.

What about my blog title today, "Justice by Heart"? It was partly inspired by the novel, Words by Heart by Ouida Sebestyen, in which a young black girl (a Bible memory whiz) must painfully learn to apply the Scriptures about forgiveness when violence erupts against her own family. Then this morning, Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience blog mentioned Ann Kroeker's Mega Memory Month project where a challenge has gone out to memorize something substantial, something MEGA. I am personally choosing Isaiah 58:6-12, along with my own related poem, "Corpus Christi." It's not really really MEGA but it's enough for me right now. I have already written three of the Isaiah verses up on our white board in hopes that my family will join me in this challenge.

What will you memorize? And how will you then live?

"Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God." (See Micah 6:6-8)
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