Friday, April 1, 2011

In the Middle of the Story

Dear friends,
This "In the Middle of the Story" blog post is my multi-faceted view of the role of "story" in life: spiritually, emotionally, in history, in family heritage, in our own destinies, in education, in ministry, in marriage and parenting, etc.  This article comprises most of the new edition of my Hope Chest e-magazine, which I send by e-mail to about 1,000 families around the world. If you would like to subscribe, just send any e-mail to the automated list server at and then reply to the confirmation e-mail.   I'll warn you that this post is quite long and full of embedded links, but I think you will enjoy it anyway!  Drop me a note and let me know what you think!

Virginia Knowles

In the Middle of the Story
by Virginia Knowles

A pile of vintage books lay on the coffee table in front of me, free for the taking at my next door neighbor’s house.  I nudged my reading glasses up on my nose, lamenting that I hadn’t grabbed my stronger pair for this impromptu task.  I squinted and spotted Leo Tolstoy’s name on the spine of two fat tan ones.  Anna Karenina!  It had been my “someday goal” to read a Russian novel; I had been feeling terribly uneducated by my lack until then.  Anna Karenina has been hailed as one of the finest, and here she had come looking for me, around the globe and down a century or so.  Tolstoy, too, would be my top pick since I had already read his short Confessions and appreciated his contemplative Christian worldview.  I figured I would pass along the extra copy to my daughter Mary, who is much better educated in literature than I am.  A few days later, I finally settled into my comfy reading chair, and with book in hand and strong glasses on, eagerly opened the pages to settle into a masterpiece.  However, confusion quickly set in.  What an odd way to start a story!  No lead in to introduce the characters?  It was like jumping into the middle of the plot.  Really, that is exactly what it is, as I discovered to my chagrin that what I thought were two copies of the same book were indeed part 1 and part 2 of an epic, and you can guess which volume I had picked up.  I did read volume 1 after that, staying up late a few nights and paying for it in grogginess the next mornings.  I haven't yet had the time to resume reading in volume 2, so I am wondering what will happen to Anna and Vronsky, Kitty and Levin.   I'm still “in the middle of the story” not only with the book, but with the story of my own life.  I bet you are, too.

You see, we are all in the middle of a story, the Grand Adventure of life.  The world did not begin when we were born; it will not end when we die.   What has gone on before us profoundly affects our lives, and what we do will have its own ripple effect in turn.  We influence others.  We matter.  Christian author Dan Allender, in his book To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future urges his readers to explore and understand their life stories so far, as a means not only for becoming spiritually and emotionally whole, but also so we can write the end of the story well.  What we have come through in life already can help us determine where we should go next.  It gives contour and texture to our ministries as we learn to relate to other people out of our own experiences. 

Allow me to make several observations about life stories…  


A screenwriter, especially of an on-going TV series, must create an entire backstory for the main characters.  What was their family like?  What kind of education did they receive?  What are their hopes and insecurities?  What are their favorite foods?  What was their first job?  They have to become a virtual persona before their story hits the screen, and even then, not all of this backstory is ever shown to the viewers.  It's just there, to be drawn upon as needed, or to be checked to make sure the story stays consistent!  (After all, if a character's deceased mother was referred to as Jane in one episode, her name shouldn't be Shirley in another -- unless there has been a dramatic plot twist regarding parentage!)

We have a backstory, too.  It goes way back, in fact!   We start by understanding our context in human history, with the tale of our creation and re-creation by the Divine Author.  For the “people of the Book” there is a beginning, a Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.’  Paradise.  Lost. A distinct downturn in the form of a devastating fall from grace. But then later in the same Book, the Gospel speaks: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…   The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”   Redemption.  Restoration.  Do you see most of the word “story” in that last word?  When Jesus came to rescue us from the twisted legacy of the Fall of Mankind, he also restarted our story, made us new creations, with full dignity as children of God whose image is being renewed in us day by day.   Have you seen my Christmas poem, The Story Did Not Start with a Stable and a Star?  I love tracing the narrative of God's story from the very beginning up through the end of the Bible!  That's one reason why I love The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.

But the story does not stop even there: Anno Domini is over two millennia old now.   Much water has flowed under the Bridge of Time.  That is one reason why I am such a strong advocate in teaching history to my children somewhat chronologically.  I want to give them a sense of their heritage, of where they came from.  I want them to be able to logically trace cause and effect from generation to generation.  This person’s actions led to that event, which in turn triggered that social movement, which birthed an amazing idea in this person, who shared it with that friend, who taught it to her son, who invented this gizmo which revolutionized that culture.   Plot twists.  History down through the ages speaks into our lives through the legacy of myriad choices – seemingly random – made by the movers and shakers of the world.  

Challenge: What difference have the Bible's stories of creation and redemption made in your life?  Write it down!

Your Ancestors Bring it Home

History lessons can seem so distant and boring, but one way to bring them home to our hearts is to study the stories of our own family heritage.  You might not have an elaborate family tree, but you probably have at least an inkling of the native countries and cultures of your forebears.  If you're a genealogical mutt like me, you have a lot to pick from, so go take a veritable world tour through books, videos and Internet sites!  I'm really fortunate that my ancestors have kept detailed genealogical records for most branches of our tree.  I've also taken the opportunity to talk to my relatives about our heritage.  In turn, I've written down what I have learned on my blogs and posted vintage pictures of our ancestors on-line.  Not only does this leave a legacy for my own children, it has also given me a closer connection with my aunts, uncles, and cousins.   I have even had e-mails from very distant relatives (third and fourth cousins!) who stumbled on my blog posts on-line and contacted me with even more information about the family.  I love to see what other have written about our ancestors.  I own books about one who was the first female King's Printer in Scotland and another who smuggled persecuted Huguenots out of France on his river boat.  I've also read the accounts of how my ancestor Margaret Scott was hanged during the Salem witch trials in the 1690's (no witch, just a crabby old lady) and how Samuel Ransom was massacred by Indians during the Revolution, and his son George was captured, taken to Canada, and escaped.  (See link below -- the stories are fascinating even without the family connection!)  

While hearing about long, long ago is intriguing enough, the nearer you get to your own generation, the more you see the impact on your own life.  The stories I have heard from and about my parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents have helped me understand my own personal story more clearly.  We always joke about being a "true Hess" when someone makes a thrifty decision, because that's the way Grandma and Grandpa were.  Reading through a vintage book, What is Worth While?,  that my great-grandmother Mary Hess gave to her new daughter-in-law (Dorothy Ransom Hess, who is my grandmother) shows how she was trying to pass on her values to the next generation.  Did she know it would later be passed down at least another two generations after that?   

As we've being studying history, we also dip into a book from the 1920's called Hero Tales from History by Smith Burnham (still available from Amazon here) that has Grandpa Hess's signature in the flyleaf.  Did he dream, while perusing its pages as a young boy, that his great-grandchildren would be reading it nearly a century later in their home school?  

When I was at my parents' house a few years ago without my kids, I scanned photos from my grandmother's photo albums and uploaded them to a Facebook album so that my relatives could enjoy them.  On the same trip, as I was visiting her in the hospital (she had broken her hip) I recorded stories about her mother's family, whom I knew little about, on my MP3 player.   My husband has a collection of home movies that his grandparents made.

Challenge: What books have been passed down to you?  What will your great-grandchildren be reading or looking at or listening to that will remind them of you?  Take some time to explore and record your family history, even if it is just a birthday tribute for a parent or grandparent.  
Your Own Story Thus Far

Bringing it even "closer to home" how about your own personal story? How has your life been subtly or radically shaped by your family of origin, the circumstances surrounding your conception, your birth order and family size, your childhood and teenage experiences, your education (or lack of it), your jobs, your friendships and romances, your heroes and enemies, your growing awareness of God, your experiences with churches (positive or negative), your spouse and children, your travels and adventures, your successes and failures, your joys and griefs?   How does this still affect you today?  Is this good or bad?

Does the thought of recalling your life story bring pain to your soul?  You are not alone.  I think everyone winces at the remembrance of certain chapters of life, and most of us have a skeleton or two (or at least a pinky bone!) in the closet.  Some of you have even endured serious trauma and haven't yet recovered.  And yet we don't have to be stuck or defeated.  We can learn to rethink and reinterpret our pasts through the lens of wiser eyes.  Here is an article that has helped many people with this: Truth and Grace in the Stories of Our Lives.

And we can remember that the story isn't over yet.  There is still hope for the future, even if the present seems too difficult to even move forward.  I try to remind myself of that when I am going through a particularly challenging situation.  This will pass.  I  will grow stronger from it.  I will learn something new.   Even a good night's sleep can make all the difference.  So can a heartfelt apology.  Do you remember the old poem, "My Life is But a Weaving," about not understanding all of the loose ends and random patterns of our lives until we get to Heaven and see the front side of the tapestry?  The best part of Heaven will be worshipping in the presence of the LORD forever.  The next best, in my mind, is the opportunity to listen to the stories of believers from around the world and from centuries and millenia past and future.  No barriers of time, space, or social constraints.  We can finally start to figure out how He worked it all together.  Who shared the good news with this person, and where did it go from there?  How did this or that tragedy or misunderstanding paradoxically result in the gospel of grace being poured out on a whole people group?

In the meantime, while we wait for Paradise Regained, where there will be no more sorrow or pain, perhaps talking over the issues with a pastor or professional counselor would be helpful to you.  (I have done both at various times, and would love to recommend a wonderful, seasoned Christian counselor, Roger Shepherd of Florida Counseling Foundation, if you live in the Orlando area.)

I know that many of you struggle with unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior which may have existed in your family for generations, whether it is fear or prejudice, anger, abuse, addiction or shame.  You might feel trapped, with little or no hope of change.  Don't lose heart.   In God's story, there is always room for a radical plot twist.  He is Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals inside and out.  The devastation can stop here, in your generation.  You don't want to pass it down to your own precious children and grandchildren.  Be bold.  Ask for help.  Let your heart be transformed!  You do not need to be bound any more!  
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations." Isaiah 61:1-4 
Challenge: As you look back at the story of your own life, are there any chapters that are quite challenging for you?  Is there anything you can do to reinterpret them or to resolve a conflict?

Remembering in Words

Many years ago, in the midst of a midlife crisis, I started journaling as a means of understanding my past and preparing myself for the future.  I filled up so many hardbound journals over a period of months that I finally switched to using full-size binders, which made it easy to add in interesting tidbits that I printed off the web, as well as sermon notes (from my Sunday folder) or thoughts on books I have been reading.   These journals are private thoughts for the most part.  But when I turned 45 a couple of years ago, I made a goal.  Over the next three years, I want to compile a memoire of my first half century from looking back at journals and other records.  My working title is “Pilgrimage and Jubilee.”   Pilgrimage because life is a journey toward a goal, the Celestial City of eternity.  Historically, a Jubilee occurred in the Jewish culture at 50 year intervals to celebrate freedom.  I will be 50 and I am in a season (hopefully an unending one) of celebrating grace and liberty in Jesus.  So, pilgrimage and jubilee!  Will I ever get around to finishing writing it?  Probably not, but at least I’ll be living it along the way.  That’s what counts the most, life lived to the fullest.   I have already written a lot of different blog posts to incorporate into my memoire, including one about a small slice of time from ages 4-7: Childhood Memories: Our Kansas City Years

Sharing my story is one reason that I write blogs and take a lot of pictures.  It's also why each month or so, I try to write an e-mail letter to our family and friends telling what is happening in our lives and how we're responding to it.  I usually include some sort of spiritual inspiration, including web links, and a practical item or two, such as a great recipe or an idea for a family outing.  So many people have written to tell me how much these letters mean to them.  Have you considered doing something like this? 

Challenge: Can you write it all down?  Other ways to chronicle your family story: 
  • Keep a notebook of momentoes, such as programs for musical events or graduations, copies of awards, descriptions of special accomplishments, samples of artwork, family newsletters, souvenirs from trips, etc. 
  • Encourage your children to do their own journals, too.  (I still have mine from my teen years.)
  • Start a Family Gratitude Journal to write testimonies of good things that have happened to you this past year, or the ways God has sustained you through difficult times.
  • At bedtime or during family nights, tell your children stories from your own childhood.  My husband and I have both done this many times, but his are usually more interesting since he has lived in the Bahamas, at a ski lodge in Massachusetts, and at a British boarding school.  Ann Voskamp has a wonderful article on this here: Epic Parenting: Staying in Story.
Your Role in the Grand Story

Oddly, sometimes it is the minuscule movings and the small shakings that send the tremors to rock the cradle of history.   You may not be a household name, but you count in the grand scheme of things.  Make your choices and speak your words wisely, because they are not for you alone.  You cannot even begin to fathom who is in your ultimate sphere of influence.  Who will benefit from your random acts of kindness?  Who will find hope to go on after reading your recollection of God's faithfulness in a tough time?  Who will "pay it forward" when you invest your life in someone else's life that seems to have no worth?  I've always loved these verses, 2 Corinthians 3:3-4:  
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
Sharing your life and sharing your story can be a powerful ministry to someone else.  A few years ago, one of our pastors suggested that someone else speak to me about a certain topic, knowing I had some personal history with it.  It dawned on me that day that everything we have experienced so far in life becomes part of our message.  It becomes a bridge for relating and caring, for warning and encouraging and amusing.  Realizing this, I sat down and wrote a poem: This is My Song and I Sing.  I love to see how God's strength is made perfect in my weakness, and how even the difficult parts of life can turn into a testimony of his faithfulness and grace to bless others.

Because of the strong sense of the sovereignty of God in knowing and transforming our life stories from beginning to end, I have always loved the story of Joseph in the Old Testament.  I wrote a study guide for my middle school students a few years ago, which you can find here: The Life of Joseph in Genesis .  In the context of helping our children find their way in life, I wrote about him (as well as Hudson Taylor) here: A Sense of Calling for Life.

Challenge: How can your life -- past, present, and future -- make the most impact on others?  What have you learned from your experiences and what can you plan to do next?

Story in Education

Perhaps it is because I (probably) have Attention Deficit Disorder that I love stories so much.  They seem to hold my attention much longer than any other form of speaking or writing.  Somehow the story holds all of the facts together.  It engages and sustains interest.  I suspect this is why stories are so effective in educating children, even those who don't have attention deficit difficulties.  One of my fondest memories from elementary school is my 5th grade teacher, Brenda Mueller, reading chapters of novels to us every single day.  Stories also have a way of sneaking behind our defenses and reaching our hearts when the dry facts or dutiful moralistic lectures cannot.  Well-written stories so powerfully and naturally teach values and character qualities, cause and effect, the nuances of human thought and behavior, the complexities of the spirit.

French archbishop Francis Fenelon wrote in 1687: “Children filled with thoughts of their romantic heroes, become astonished when they look around in real life, and cannot discover a single person throughout the world bearing resemblance with their ideal hero. They would wish to live like those princes and princesses who are always charming, always adored, always above every care. What a disgust for them to descend from a hero and heroine, to the low detail and drudgery of taking care of a family. Children should be influenced by books that vividly portray life in all its trials and victories. Divine providence should echo throughout its pages. Characters who suffer wrongfully in a righteous manner, and display humble dispositions, will lay a secure foundation for the time when childhood may be stolen away; perhaps through the death of a loved one, sickness, or calamity. Children need informed instruction, and models of heroes and heroines of righteousness to fill their reserves for such a time. In literature as well as in history, God who doeth all things well, must be seen through the filter of His divine love and tender care of His children and as an avenger of all who harden their neck.” 
How can we use stories in our own children's education?  I absolutely love the Charlotte Mason approach to home education.  She firmly believed in using well-written stories to teach just about everything, from history to literature to science.  Then she would have the children narrate back, orally or in writing, what was most interesting or important to them from what they heard or read.  I am so enjoying the opportunity again, after four years in a co-op, to spend our morning hours reading historical novels, biography and narrative poetry to my children as we study American history.  Read more here:  American History Unit Studies at Our House.  Last fall, during our unit study on the Revolutionary War era, we were thoroughly engrossed in Johnny TremainI love the themes of humility and courage that Esther Forbes masterfully weaves into her tale.  Click here for my comprehension questions and a link to a free PDF publisher's study guide: Johnny Tremain Literature Study by Virginia Knowles.  (This is one of the books I featured in my workshop, "With Literature and Justice for All", at the Books & Beyond conference in January.  I was so excited to get to hear fellow speaker, master story teller  Jim Weiss of Greathall Productions!)
Here are some blog posts to help you in choosing, reading and writing stories with your kids.
Challenge: Have you tapped in to the power of stories in your child's education?  What small steps can you take to do this?

Story in Church & Ministry

This topic is a little bit close to my heart right now since we have just recently transitioned to a new church.  Since last September, we've been attending a small Presbyterian church plant, Lake Baldwin Church, that lives and loves the paradigm of life as a story.  In fact, the newcomer's brochure that we received when we first visited starts out with these words on the front cover: "Real. Life. Story." Inside: "A Story is Being Written  It's written on the faces of people around you.  In the dimples and creases.  In the tears.  In the laugh lines.  In the furrowed brows.  Every life has a story to be told and our stories are intertwined."  Just words on a page?  No, I've experienced it in my conversations there.  In some churches, visitors are almost completely ignored, but the people I've met there don't just want to know my name, they want to know who I am and what my story is.  They make time for that.  Tears?  "There must be a story behind that!" is the warm response.  I especially loved the series last fall on Jesus the Story Teller, going through a dozen or so parables in the book of Luke.  I feel like I can be part of the story there.   Here's the start of mine: 

Weekend Gratitude: Lake Baldwin Church 5th Anniversary Celebration

It's sort of funny that I started out my church life as a young teen in the late 1970's as a Presbyterian. You can read more about that part of my life story here: Happy All Saints Day!  I've been a part of nearly a dozen other churches since then, all quite different from one another.  As I look back over my own church history from the past 34 years, I realize that I was at each one for a reason.  I learned a lot, found opportunities to serve, made significant lifelong friendships, grew to love my sisters and brothers in Christ more.  Though I am often disillusioned, I choose to put my faith in God that he will continue to lead me for the rest of my life, placing me just where he wants me for that season.  It's all part of the story.  My story.  The Grand Story.

Yes, I know that "story" is one of the big buzz words in the Emerging Church Movement.  It's in.  It's trendy. And yes, I strongly disagree with some of the doctrinal teachings of the Emergent end (such as Brian McLaren) of the Emerging spectrum, since it seems like they view so much of the Biblical story as fable or symbolism rather than literal fact.   They discount or deny the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the fact that he died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins.   Many in the Emerging Church also believe in "open theism" which is a belief that God has voluntarily limited his own omniscience so that even he doesn't know what will happen next -- he merely responds creatively and powerfully to whatever challenge human history throws him.  Hello?  Last I knew, my Bible told me that our Sovereign God knows and plans the end from the beginning!   So I think there are serious concerns within the Emerging Church movement. (See Why is Rob Bell So Alarming?

On the other hand, I think that one lure of the EC movement is that they are responding to a deep lack in many of the traditional churches.  Are we so caught up in theological jargon and religious rules that we have forgotten the life of Christ in the gospels?  Are we so plugged in to meeting the demands of the organization and its rigid system of living that we have neglected the uniqueness, giftings, and worth of the individual believer?    Can't we have a love of the arts, a thirst for justice and missional living, a sense of story -- and sound doctrine at the same time?  Why either/or? 

The church itself has stories to tell.   Have you ever read a comprehensive book about church history?  At a yard sale, I picked up a 1919 copy of A History of the Christian Church by Williston Walker.  I wanted to look up what a "Latitudinarian" was, found it in the chapter on the English church, and started reading.  But I was curious about what had led up to this, so I flipped backward a chapter or so.  I kept having to go back and back and back to see what caused what!  Church history is fascinating to me.  It's a bit disturbing to read about all of the little splinter groups and schisms over what seem like minor issues.  But it's also comforting, knowing that I am not the only person who has been in flux about church, not the only person who has left one in search of another that fits better.  Even if you can't plow through a 624 tome on church history, you can at least research the background of your own church denomination and congregation.  What you find "way back when" might disturb you, but try to keep in mind that church movements change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  There are dark blots and bright spots anywhere you go because people are human, and humans aren't God.  If you can't find a printed history related to your church affiliation, try Googling it.  

Along with that, I think it is also important to be aware of how much a church organization can affect family life with teaching on gender roles, marriage, child training, attitudes toward home schooling, expectations of involvement, spiritual authority, etc.   We cannot just assume that what we are taught is correct just because someone claims it is "Biblical" or "the Godly way to do it."  Be a Berean and study the Scriptures for yourself.  I know that it is tempting to get disillusioned if you have been burned here, but abandoning church altogether is not a wise long-term option.  You may have to change what you are looking for, and it may not look much like what you had before, but choose your church carefully.  It can profoundly shape who you are.

Beyond the institutional church, think for a few moments about the role of "story" in your own personal ministry to others.  Do you make time to listen to the stories of others, to hear where they are coming from, to empathize with their hurts and sorrows, to laugh at their funny tales, and enjoy them as friends?  Or are they projects that you schedule in for 10 minutes as your rattle off your doctrinal spiel, attempt to "close the deal" and then either mark a notch on your spiritual belt or chalk them off as unreachable heathens?  Personal outreach in the name of Jesus takes time, love and authenticity.  It takes story: theirs and yours and God's.  Do you have a good grasp of the Biblical narrative from beginning to end? The gospel starts with creation!  (There is a little story about my experience with this in the next paragraph!)  Are you prepared to share your testimony, the reality of how God reached into your life story?   (Here is part of mine: My Story of Liberty in 1976.) Is what you have spiritually anything they would even want?  Are you in love with the Lord ~~ ignited and passionate and enthusiastic?  Does this overflow with the beautiful adornment of genuine joy and peace and compassion? 

Now for my little story... When I was in college, I had the opportunity to spend several hours talking to a lady I had never met before.  I was a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding, and her husband was a groomsman.  We had both declined to go out on the town for the bachelorette party, so we talked until the wee hours of the morning.  She was quite interested in the Christian message but had minimal exposure to Scripture, so I really did start at Genesis and give her the Grand Tour.  She asked a lot of questions and I tried the best I could to either come up with a reasonable answer or say, "I don't know but I'll try to find out!"  I never saw her again, but I heard years later that she had trusted in Christ shortly after that. I can't wait to sit with her in Heaven and hear the rest of her story!  Glory!  What a day that will be when we all see Jesus face to face!  

Missions?  I don't have time to write much here except that I love, love, love the book Missionary Stories and the Millers by Mildred Martin.  Our copy is dog-eared.  My daughter Joanna read it at least a dozen times.  She's already been on a missions trip to to the Dominican Republic, and now she and Rachel are living in Italy for three months to help our missionary friends Lee and Jeannette teach English as an outreach.   They use this valuable service as an opportunity to connect with Italians on a more personal level through social activities and personal conversations.  There is a story behind this as well.  A few years ago, I wrote in my family & friends letter about a visit from my friend Ruth Ann, a missionary on furlough from Italy.  Jeannette read it, told her husband about it, explored the possibilities, applied as missionaries with the same organization, and left for Italy just a year later.  They are now working with a different group (Italian Ministries) but I am still amused that I had a little something to do with getting them there in the first place.  And now I've sent my daughters to live with them for three months!  More stories to follow, I'm sure!  You can see some of their lovely pictures and read what's going on at their blog,    I also have a page on this blog ~~  Missions  ~~ with links to what our family has been involved in over the years, as well as a list of recommended resources and links for a whole slew of blog posts related to missions.

Challenge:  What has your experience with churches been like?  How has this affected your family?  Talk about this with your husband.  How are have you used stories as a way of ministering to others?  How can you do this in the future?

Story and Marriage & Parenting

"We start with where we are, but where do we go from here?"

Despite the rosy "normal" picture we would all like to portray about home school families in general, I realize that some of my readers are single parents, or have wayward teens, or have unsatisfying marriages, or are living on the financial edge, or have struggled with infertility, or feel like "the old woman who lived in a shoe and had so many children she didn't know what to do."  Some of you can't even point to one specific problem, but you have an uneasy feeling that things just aren't going right, that somehow you missed a critical step in the manual.  I have often been at that spot.  I'm not "there yet" and sometimes not even sure where "there" is or even if I really want to "go there" anyway.  So this section is a challenge for me to write. However, if I could offer just two words to you and to myself, they would be grace and hope, no matter where you are or what has happened in your family.  Your story is not over and there are still many chapters to write.   

That's not to say that home schooling your children automatically guarantees success and happiness.  It doesn't.   We make mistakes.  Other people can throw a wrench in the works.  Circumstances beyond our control happen.  And even home schooling can contribute to problems in the family.  Let's not sugar coat this.   Home schooling can add a lot of stress to a family, especially if you are listening to people who have a rigid way of thinking about education, child training, and marriage.  Just because someone has been home schooling for a long time, has written books, can throw around a lot of Bible verses and dire warnings, and claims to know the right way to do xyz does not make them an authority on your family.  That goes for me or for anyone else.  I have a lot of opinions and convictions, but I am not your Holy Spirit.  

That said, here is my counsel, but be a Berean as you read!
  • Pursue a grace-based approach to family life and education, rather than legalism or autocratic control.  You can sour your own family's story by being prickly, self-righteous, and overly concerned about outward appearances.  Read: Mothering by Faith and Grace
  • Let your children be unique individuals.  Each one has their own story. They are not merely extensions of you or part of the family herd.  Each one deserves dignity and respect because they are created in God's image and he has called us to nurture them.  Don't try to force them in to your cookie cutter.
  • Be careful with your family's stories.  Your spouse and children are vulnerable because you know them so well behind the scenes.  Use discretion when talking to other people about your struggles.  And be very careful what you bring up again to your spouse or child who has shared sensitive information with you.  You will severely damage their trust if you use what they have entrusted to you against them in an improper manner. 
  • Teach your children about their right to speak up if anyone is molesting or mistreating them.  They don't need to give in to fear or accusations that they are tattling.  (Listen to this powerful podcast by a home school mom about the trauma of childhood sexual abuse and the healing that came much later.  Though this has not been my personal experience, this podcast really ministered to me when I listened to it again the other day.)
  • If there are problems in your marriage and parenting, you must learn to face them squarely and persevere with grace through the difficulties, no matter what happens along the way.  Ignoring them, rationalizing them, or just praying they will go away will not solve your problems -- it will just allow them to grow more serious.  I invite you to read Child Discipline or Child Abuse? and Help for Hurting Marriages.   
Please also read Honesty, Respect, Leadership, and Academic Success, my heartfelt critique of a presentation by a popular home school speaker about family dynamics.  We need so much discretion and discernment when we listen or read, no matter who it is!

I can't write more about this at the moment, but here are some more blogs by others for further research...

Submission Is Not Silence by Lizzie Julin.  While she was growing up, Lizzie's family traveled all over the country since her father, Arnold Pent, was an evangelist who wanted to encourage others to read the Bible more.  Their story is chronicled in the book Ten P's in a Pod.  Lizzie writes from the perspective that Christian wives do not need to "sit down and shut up" -- in fact, she says they are doing a disservice to their husbands if they don't speak up!  She wants to equip women to bless their husbands by offering their full God-given gifts, not by squelching their unique personalities. 

Karen Campell's podcasts at these links or download on iTunes here.
Challenge:  Take a long look at your family dynamics.  What is working?  What needs to change?


I'd like to end this edition of the Hope Chest with a link to the updated version of my poem "Between the Seed and the Tree" since it was the original inspiration for "In the Middle of the Story."  You can find it right here: "Between the Seed and the Tree"

Many blessings,
Virginia Knowles

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