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In a few days, it will be one year since my mother passed away. In general, I’m in a very happy and relaxed state this Advent and it is a sweet Christmas season for our young family. (Ella is the only person I have ever met who genuinely lights up with deep joy at Christmas decorations in the MALL because she just loves the red and green and sparkles and FUN so much. Her enthusiasm is definitely infectious and we’re all pretty jolly around here. In general.)
But every once in awhile, especially in the early morning (like now) when I used to talk with my mom pretty much every day, I cry and cry and can’t stop (like now). Warm tears against cold cheeks. The ache of missing my dear friend. The strange, exposed loneliness of being “the grownup” because now, somehow, I’m supposed to be the mother even though I still feel like a child in so many ways.
Not all the time, but sometimes, I think about the last few weeks and days and hours of her life. I am grateful for the thousands of dollars my sister and her Fred spent flying me back and forth to Michigan so that I could be there, helping, grieving, just being present. Were it not for their generosity, our family could have swung ONE trip back for me to say goodbye, but that would have been it. Instead? I was there for the major doctor discussions as we shockingly learned of her rapid heart failure—25% functioning, 8% functioning … not enough oxygen going to her brain. This is the end.
That’s what happened, I am sure, to precipitate her call to me in early December of last year—the last time I heard her voice; the last words she ever spoke to me. Her brain was undoubtedly oxygen-deprived. She was “not herself” as it were.
But I didn’t know that in the first few minutes of our call. I didn’t know that when my cell phone rang in Albertson’s and I (happily!) saw the “Mom Cell” i.d. pop up and I (even more happily!) heard her cheerful, NORMAL, wonderful ol’ lifetime of smoking crackly, gravely voice say:
It had been so long since I had heard our normal greeting. What a gift God gave me to hear it one more time! What a sweet grace. But then. Sadly. Everything got understandably bad. She began to talk in that warped, distant voice that I’m sure many of you know because you, too, have loved a dying person and/or a mentally ill person and you know when they are not in their right mind.
It’s scary—like a waking dream; terrifying when you are a child and it’s an adult, a parent, who is standing in front of you saying words, but their eyes are off and the tone is off and what they are saying doesn’t make any sense. It’s disorienting—like the worst parts of life in a fallen world, truly, not the way it’s supposed to be. Frightening. Dark. Disturbing.
It’s also incredibly, incredibly sad:
“Can you call your dad and have him come here to take me home?” My mother asked. “Please call dad.”
“Mom? Dad is dead. Are you talking about Charlie?” I asked. Not knowing, yet, that she really wasn’t there.
“Yes. Charlie. Of course. Charlie. Please call Charlie so that he can take me home,” Mom pleaded. ”I just can’t remember my address,” she continued in her confusion, “If you just tell me my address, I can go home.”
“Mom? You are home. This is your home now. You have to be in the hospital because you are very sick. I know it’s hard. I love you so much. But this is your home.” I choked out the words. I started crying in the mineral water section of Albertsons.
“OK. Goodbye.” And she hung up.
Those were the last words my mother ever said to me.
I immediately called her best friend, who was also the nurse manager in charge of my mother’s hospital wing and room (what a grace!) and she told me that she had JUST been in her room and she was not agitated at all. But that of course she would go immediately and check on her and try to calm her down/help her.
And that was that. That was all I could do. I was thousands of miles away. I had already said my goodbyes to her the previous month when she was still present mentally. I had already told her hundreds of times over decades of life how much I appreciated her and enjoyed her and admired her; how grateful I was for her forgiveness and friendship and care. I didn’t have to rush to cram in token words before she passed. I was not overwhelmed by regret for harboring bitterness or (even worse!) blatant apathy rather than moving towards her in mercy because God had moved toward me in mercy.
No. Hearing her voice for what I guessed in that moment might be the last time (and it ended up being the last time), I was rightfully sad. It was worthy of grief and I grieved. I grieved the loss of my mother and my friend. I grieved for my sister and my stepfather and my mother’s best friends. I grieved that Ella would never really know my mother and that my mother would never really know Ella because Ella would have cracked her up.
I grieved and cried and I longed for redemption. I longed for Heaven. Just like my mother, I longed for Home.
Thankfully, I have every hope and assurance that one day I will get to go home and then, there will be no more tears. Will my mother be there? I don’t know. I think maybe, yes, she will be there. There were surely not a lot of what some Christians would call “evidences of regeneration” — my mother never became a church-goer — but having had hours and hours of conversations with her over the years, I know that she was a genuine seeker and that she could articulate the Christian gospel (the true Christian gospel of God saving his children by grace alone by faith alone through Christ alone, not some sort of sham religiosity of rule-following that some people claim is Christianity). I know this for sure because that was the SECOND-to-last conversation I ever had with my mother. The day (in November of 2012) that I held her in my arms for the last time and played my last game of Scrabble with her, I also asked her:
“Mom? If you will indulge me, I’d like to talk with you one more time about Jesus. Would that be OK?”
“Yes. Absolutely. Of course you would want to, Tara,” my mother graciously replied.
“I know we’ve talked about this a lot over the years and I appreciate you understanding that I only want to talk about it again because I want to be sure that I’ve done everything I can to clearly articulate the claims of Christ with you with the hope that you might put all of your faith in him and be saved.”
“I know. And I’m happy to say that Christianity says I am a sinner and God is perfect and the only way for me to be right with God is through Jesus—God bridges the gap to me through the perfection of Jesus and his dying on the cross for my sins,” mom continued, “So if I believe in Jesus, that’s how I am made right with God.”
Pretty good summary of the Christian gospel for a non-church-goer, eh? I think so. And I continued to pray, until her last breath, that even if it were a thief-on-the-cross-experience, my mother would transfer the weight of all of her hope onto Christ and be saved. Maybe she was! I hope dearly she was. And then? Those words I typed above will NOT be the last words my mother ever said to me. No way! They will only be the last words in this life. Ah! I do pray that is the case.
Either way, I know that God is good and His ways are best. And here is all my hope:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3, ESV)
Amen and amen!
And much grace to those of you who are likewise grieving on this beautiful December day.
I hope that I can live like this man. We don’t call them The Greatest Generation for nothin’ …
(Oh! And for the first time in my life, I actually watched the little ad that I could have skipped AND I BOUGHT (well, my sister bought) the item advertised: Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine. It seemed like a perfect fit for my daughters who are SO into math, science, design, and engineering these days. I’ve been looking and looking for things to inspire and delight them in these spatial, “hard-science”, quantitative areas that I am so particularly weak in.)
Oh no! My broken blog software has blocked all of your comments … PLEASE try again! Double entries if you try TODAY!
I’m SO sorry—I just learned that my blog software has been blocking all of your comments. Yeek! No wonder we’ve had even LESS comments than normal these days.
Would you PRETTY PLEASE try one more time to Enter our Family’s Current WIN FREE STUFF GIVEAWAY by clicking through and leaving a comment on this post? I would be ever so grateful.
If you enter today (Saturday, November 30, 2013)—OR if you try and let me know if you’ve been foiled again. (Grrrrr.) I’ll give you TWO entries to (hopefully) make up for the inconvenience that my broken software has caused you.
Free Peacemaking Materials (or Resources by Ed Welch, Elyse Fitzpatrick, David Platt, Tim Elmore and more!)
Happy Saturday-After-Thanksgiving to my blog readers in the United States! I hope your holidays were super fun and NOT filled with relational strife.
But just in case there are some of you who might benefit from a little peacemaking help (or maybe you KNOW someone who might benefit from some peacemaking help), I thought I’d do a little Win Free Stuff Holiday Peacemaking Giveaway. Here are the specs:
1. Leave a comment on this blog post any time between now and midnight, Tuesday, December 10 (Mtn). I’ll let Random Number Generator pick a winner and then I’ll let the winner pick which one of my peacemaking resources he or she would like (single video series, either book, audio teachings) and I’ll send them to you at my cost. Or … if you already have those, I also have some other miscellaneous resources that you could choose from:
- Ed Welch: Shame Interrupted – How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection
- Elyse Fitzpatrick: Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety
- Ed Welch: When I Am Afraid – A Step by Step Guide Away from Fear and Anxiety
- Ken Sande: Resolving Everyday Conflict
- Tim Elmore: Generation iY – Our Last Chance to Save Their Future
- Robert D. Jones: Uprooting Anger – Biblical Help for a Common Problem
- Alex & Brett Harris: Do Hard Things
- David Platt: Radical – Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
- Dannah Gresh: The One Year Mother Daughter Devo
2. If you mention this giveaway in a social media context (Facebook, Twitter, on your own website or blog), I will give you an extra entry for each mention.
3. Please be sure to check back on December 11 to see if you’ve won and make sure I have your contact information. (If I can’t reach you within 48 hours, I’ll pick a new winner.)
That’s pretty much it! The only other thing I can think to add is that, as always, there is NO risk of SPAM with this giveaway. I’m really just little ol’ Tara Barthel and this giveaway is really just going from our family to you.
Oh! And my last giveaway had only 20ish entries, so your chances of winning are SUPER high. Why not join in the fun?
With prayers for a more peaceful, grace-filled holiday season for us all—
Your sister in Christ,
If only I could give you the product advertised in this classic (a TOTAL favorite of mine!) video spoof:
I know that not all of you struggle with the habitual sins of gluttony and/or turning to food for emotional/spiritual comfort (idolatry). So if you’re one of those people who are just looking forward to the treats and pleasures of this holiday season without concerns over your spiritual and physical health, I say—Hooray! Great. Enjoy and see ya’ in January.
But for the rest of us? You know. The majority (I assume) of the 3,000 people who read my “It’s a Grace to be Fat” post? (By far, my most-read blog article; the latest in my two most-read blog topical series: Losing 100 Pounds and Disordered Affections.)
Those of us who have an ongoing love-hate relationship with the pleasures of eating and drinking because our affections are prone to be disordered regarding such things? Those of us who have a history of loving food and self too much and God too little? Oh man! The season of constant nibbling on constant treats can be particularly trying for us. And if you’re anything like me, you may be tempted to give yourself a “pass” on “the holidays.”
I’m really hoping that this blog post will encourage you (and me!) to not check out of faith’s fight against this particular sin during this particular time of year.
The main reason I care about this is because (just as I know you know!), this is a heart issue and your enjoyment of the Christian holiday of Thanksgiving will be sweeter if you are not indulging in attitudes and behaviors that you KNOW lead you AWAY from right worship of the Only One Who rightly deserves your love, devotion, focus, energy—worship. Ditto on the whole “celebrate the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity!” holiday. Seriously. It is possible to enjoy treats and sweets and fun and food without sinning. And your heart will be happier if you take even just one or two steps of faith and obedience, right worship and loving devotion to God not self as you interact with bowls filled with cookie dough and icing, plates loaded with turkey and stuffing, and stockings overflowing with chocolate covered toffees (my absolute favorite candy!).
Another reason I am really hoping that we will not give ourselves a complete and utter “pass” regarding food and the holidays is physical: “The holidays” are not just a few days. I plotted it out last week (when a good friend and I committed to a weekly check-in during “the holidays” because we both know our propensity to sin and foolishness regarding such things) and there are 42 days (!) of potential holiday “fun eating.” That’s a lot of days.
For those of us who can (mindlessly) chow down on thousands of calories in one sitting? Thousands and thousands of calories in one day? Yeah. We can do a LOT of real physical damage in 42 days. Not just weight gain (although that is a real possibility) … if we check out of our workout patterns, we will lose real progress in strength training and being flexible and thus, we will be less equipped to serve God and neighbor when we emerge on January 2 and decide to “try again.”
So please. (I’m speaking to myself here too!) Let’s not give ourselves a pass regarding faith and godliness; wisdom and discipline; spiritual faithfulness and spiritual adultery just “because it’s the holidays.” Let’s not “do what we’ve always done” and thus, lose all sorts of huge amounts of progress re: even this very personal, very vulnerable, area of our lives. Faith is often expressed by doing what doesn’t seem natural. What doesn’t come easily and comfortably.
Our standard does not have to be some sort of creepy stoicism and self-denial. We don’t have to draw attention to ourselves by being the ONLY one who passes on Uncle Ron and Aunt Judy’s (phenomenal! melt-in-your-mouth!) homemade pie this Thursday. I personally think eating chocolate right out of the stocking in the darkness of Christmas morning is one of life’s greatest happinesses and pleasures (as does Ella—but it totally grosses out Fred & Soph). Why would we ever think that our celebrations of the Source of our deepest happinesses and joys should be marked by missing out on these true pleasures? I don’t think that’s what “faith expressing itself in love” looks like.
But do you know what we COULD do? Just brainstorming here. But maybe these ideas will spur you on to your own, faith-filled, deeply joyous attitudes and actions …
- Maybe we could identify the one or two food items that absolutely tempt us to creepy, unpleasant overindulgence—you know, the kind where even we feel grossed-out and unhappy after we have over-indulged because we know the pleasure has lost all of its pleasure because it’s turned the corner into an enslaving, ruling lust—and we could push back against this temptation. Maybe it’s complete abstinence. Maybe it’s “No More Than One Coke a Day” moderation. Whatever it is, it’s intentional. It’s mindful of the truth that our temptations are sneaky; Satan is real; and nothing in the marketing of this season is going to encourage us on towards self-denial and spiritual health. So we’re going to have to engage if we are going to try to turn away from the rut of our patterns in this regard.
- If we are so inclined, we could ask a friend to pray for us and we could pray for them. We could commit to (daily? weekly?) accountability / “reporting in”—possibly tied to an actual “weigh in.” This might be too legalistic! But it also might be just what we need to counterbalance our propensity to say, “I’m doing great!” while our pants become tight and we quietly move up a size in our closets that have three or more sizes in them.
- Some of us are prone to mindlessly eating “just because it’s there.” Maybe we could stop. (And drink a glass of water.) Or … others of us like to hide away in the living room by camping out at the candy dish because the relational tension in the dining room has become too high and we just need an emotional break/an escape? Yeah. Eating sugar may FEEL like a peacemaking response because we get a temporary “fix” or feeling comforted. But it doesn’t actually do anything redemptive for any lasting amount of time. So maybe, instead, we could pray. Or take a walk. Or call a friend.
- For some of us? We need to keep exercising. For all of us? We are called to keep up our spiritual disciplines too (even while traveling! this is hard!).
- We might want to give ourselves a little help with portion control by measuring out our snacks into bowls or onto plates so that if we CHOOSE to eat six servings of Bugles and an entire package of M&M’s, we are at least aware we are doing so. (This is very hard to be aware of when we are eating out of seemingly bottomless bowls.)
- We could enjoy. Really enjoy. Enjoy in a God-honoring context and a God-honoring way. Enjoy in a way that leaves “no residual guilt, exhaustion, or unrest” (to use David Powlison’s description of an “innocent pleasure”).
This is my prayer for you and this is my prayer for me, especially as we navigate the spiritual and physical minefield of eating during the holidays.
God bless you and help you if this is an area of struggle for you like it is for me.
In case it helps to motivate you to make your own visual reminder, this is the calendar portion of what I plotted out last week. I’ve left off the quotes and headlines and photos and commitments that also fill this sheet to help to encourage me and spur me on each day because, well, that’s too personal to share on a blog. But I encourage you to consider making something like this and then filling it in with all sorts of quotes and headlines and photos and commitments to help you to make wise, God-honoring decisions. We are all prone to forget. We all benefit from reminders, especially reminders that are tangible and practical and really helpful.
I was almost knocked over this morning by a wave of extreme vulnerability.
When I thought about December 20, 1993 (the day Fred “formally” pursued a romantic relationship with me—at an Illini basketball game at Assembly Hall, aided by the pep band cranking out, “Hey Baby, I Wanna Know if You’ll Be My Girl!”) … rather than my normal happiness (December 20th is usually an incredibly romantic date for me), I felt shame:
- Why did Fred pursue me 20 years ago? Doesn’t he regret it? I bet his friends and family members were counseling him against a relationship with someone as messed up as me. There were so many beautiful, smart, godly, together women from happy, godly homes who would have loved to marry him. I wonder if he wishes someone much better than me was the mother of his children?
- What was I doing in a top tier law school anyway? I had no idea what I was doing there. I didn’t even really understand what it was lawyers did. I had absolutely no educational background that prepared me for the study or practice of law. Why was I there? I didn’t belong there. I didn’t fit in with all of those smart, together people.
Then I thought about all of the people in my life who are suffering deeply this morning. Intense physical suffering. Spiritual suffering. Relational suffering. I thought about my feeble efforts to help them—by just being present. Praying. Talking a lot / conflict coaching. Being completely silent and just weeping. Sharing substantive help. Doing “nothing” but just distracting and laughing. And again, I felt shame:
- What is WRONG with you, Tara? Don’t you KNOW that (she/he) just needs (a friend who is silent and present/more tangible, practical help and counsel)? Why can’t you ever figure this relational stuff out? You talk (too much/too little). You (give away too many resources/don’t give away enough).
- You are a bad friend and the people you think love you are only tolerating you. You don’t really have a place that you belong. You’d better pull back and just try to not offend people too much. There is no place for the real you.
Sad, isn’t it? And just a little melodramatic, to be sure. But I don’t think I’m the only one who has these waves of not-good-enough-ness, especially at the holidays.
On any given day, our society is rife with a disastrously fake, shallow picture of perfectly beautiful people living perfectly beautiful lives in perfectly loving and harmonious relationships. We are constantly bombarded by ridiculous notions of really (hip / socially-active / godly / witty / good-at-friendships / perfect-romantic-relationships / perfect parenting-in-laws-extended family relationships / great at cooking and change management consulting and decorating and volunteer management / more involved with our children’s education / more content as a single person / more and better at whatever it is we feel our LACK in) people. But never more so than at the holidays.
Oh, come on! Look around. It all kicks into high gear this week. Your Thanksgiving meal is not going to be (beautiful / perfect / gourmand / simple / social-action-conscious-organic / patriotic / ministerial) enough. Time to get out your decorations? They are (not beautiful enough / so beautiful that they are selfish and materialistic and detract from the REAL meaning of Christmas). It’s (make cookies / take care of orphan time)! Are you ready? Ready to create happy memories while NOT encouraging selfish, materialistic tendencies? Ready to feel the weight of the LUXURIOUS life we have because we have CLEAN WATER to drink every day and we’re not afraid of imminent imprisonment or being sold into slavery? And then we have the audacity to buy lifesaver booklets to stuff in our children’s stockings (rather than curing one more orphan of a dreaded disease)?
How lonely are you in your singleness? How scared are you in your physical pain? Your financial vulnerability? Your spiritual doubts?
Take just one glance around you during this season of (intense spiritual confidence in God’s gracious work through the incarnation of Christ / happy-intact-marriages-families-friendships / millions of people who either seem to be WAY more wise and godly than you re: NOT spending money or just SPENDING money and enjoying it without guilt) and let yourself be quiet with the voices bombarding you inside your deepest fears … and maybe there are one or two of you who are more like me than unlike me in my (occasional) battle with (unnecessary and un-Christianly) feelings of what Judy Dabler and I describe in Peacemaking Women as ungdoly shame. (Because of course there is such a thing as godly shame—but unlike the emotional and spiritual cancer of ungodly shame, godly shame is redemptive, leads to repentance and salvation and leaves no regret—2 Cor. 7:10.)
If you are tempted at all to go down a path of being overly self-critical, overly self-condemning, discontent, given over to fears and doubt especially related not just to what you DO but who you ARE (your core identity; your truest, most vulnerable definition of self), I encourage you to camp out on a psalm that Fred recently read to me in our evening devotions:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
Here is our hope. Here is our confidence. Here is the only way I know that we can push back against any extreme feelings of vulnerability we may be struggling with: we calm and quiet our souls, like a weaned child with its mother, because our hope is in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
Father and mother may reject us. We may blow it (again) with friends and need their forgiveness and grace (again). But relationships can be reconciled and we can learn how to love and be loved in this life. We can! All because we are loved with an eternal love that will last forever—into and throughout our REAL life in Heaven to come.
Think about it. Just for a moment as you start your busy Monday. Let your mind camp out here: on Heaven. That glorious place where every whiff of a scent of the safety and security of “Home” that marketers bombard us with at the holidays will be more than the scratch-n-sniff temporary experience of this life. When the best, most accepting, most honest, most loving, intentional, delight-filled, happy, safe, pleasurable relationship we have ever experienced in this life will be the NORM because we will see God as He is and we will view one another through unveiled faces; without all of the muck and mire of sin and self and life in this fallen world.
Isn’t that what we really long for this holiday season? And every season?
There is only one way to get there:
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore (!).
(Emphasis added. I’m preaching to myself here more than anything else.)
Today is going to be a great day. Fevered children. Suffering friends. Simple pleasures. Simple ministry opportunities. Hard work. Relaxed cuddles. Ups and downs and fears and confidences.
The Lord never changes. So I don’t have to feel vulnerable. And neither do you.
I’m praying for every one of you who will read this blog. May God bless you and keep you in Him!
With love from your friend,
In one of my most-read previous blog posts, I tackled a topic that I consider to be one of the most important topics in the church today: child sexual abuse …
After reading a link from Challies this morning (The Top Five Reasons Your Church Could Land in Court), I am only that much more convinced that this topic is extremely important and yet, shockingly and naively ignored by most Christians and most church leaders. (Thankfully, not my church leaders and my church administrator. But I know they have to fight tooth and nail, at great personal cost of time and effort, to protect the sheep in this regard.)
Where do you stand on this topic? Are you still closing your eyes and burying your head in the sand and saying, “That couldn’t possibly be true of my church”? Please. Click through. Read the stats.
After doing so, I am only that much more confident of the accuracy of what I wrote in my previous article:
“This is not a problem that is “out there” in some other church, in some other community. If you are closing your eyes to the real risk of child sexual abuse in the church, you are naive and foolish and not living up to your membership vows …”
Now that I’ve probably totally freaked you out, let me start my close with something even more awful. The words of a predator—and that is a correct term because child sexual abusers prey on churches. They do. And don’t look for a shaggy, disheveled, scary looking guy. Look at the most clean-cut, correct Bible-carrying, knows all the right words, super-duper-nice guy. Listen to how one abuser explained how he targeted his victims in the church …”
As a Christian mediator who works in conflicted churches, it is a normal thing for me to spend hours with people who are disgruntled with their church leadership and members. I’ve listened to furious people and heart-broken people. I’ve taken notes as people shared off of the tops of their heads stories of deep pain and suffering in the church, and I’ve sat, slightly amazed, as church members handed me copies of pages and pages of (dated) notes listing out every single thing wrong with their church.
Thinking about these experiences, and mulling over just how easy it can be for us to only share our criticisms and complaints with our church leaders, I recently wrote my church leaders a letter listing in great detail some of the strengths and blessings I have observed in our church for the fourteen years we have been members.
Is my church perfect? Of course not. Do we have huge areas for improvement? Absolutely. But I am grateful for each member of my church and I owe a particular debt of gratitude to my leaders. So in addition to praying for them, protecting their reputations (especially by encouraging people who are upset with them to go to them and not talk to others about them!), I try to be particularly intentional about thanking them in writing from time to time.
I encourage you to to do the same. (Thank your leaders, I mean, not necessarily my leaders—unless you happen to live in Billings, Montana, and are a member of RMCC too. )
Oh. And if you are SO dissatisfied with your church that you are thinking about leaving? Then please! Oh pretty please! First read this article by Pastor Anyabwile:
It is brilliant! It is a MUST read.
The only thing I would have added to his list is this:
Before you write a long list of all of the weaknesses in a church and dump it on the leaders’ heads, ask yourself one honest question: To what extent were you laboring to help to strengthen this church in these areas? The youth group activities were lame? How were you helping to improve them? “This church” doesn’t do enough to serve the hungry and shelter the homeless? Tell me about your hours of volunteering and encouraging others to do the same. Our Easter Brunch just doesn’t measure up? Hmmmmm. I can’t really picture you in an apron running around the fellowship hall. We are unfriendly and cold and no one greets anyone on Sunday morning? Ah. I see. And you’re making that statement from your perch in a pew where you sit, each Sunday morning, with arms crossed, greeting no one?
I will never forget the time in college when Steve Engstrom (a senior) confronted me (a freshman) about my attitude toward one of our Christian fellowship groups. I told him:
“It’s dorky! It’s poorly run! The teaching is shallow. The leaders are weak. There isn’t enough prayer. You don’t care about evangelism enough. All the people involved are uncool. There aren’t enough Bible studies geared toward seekers.”
To which Steve rightly (wisely, lovingly, confrontationally) responded:
“Then don’t stand back and criticize, Tara. GET INVOLVED. Help us to be better. You see areas of weakness—great! Use those insights to help us to grow and improve.”
I wasn’t convinced. But THEN he said:
“Fine. You don’t want to get involved because we’re so bad about reaching the lost and serving the needy—whom you claim to care so much about—so how about this: will you meet with me once a week to PRAY?”
Oh, man. He got me. Now I had to put my money where my mouth was. All of my criticisms of that organization had to do with my (seemingly) heartfelt passions for the evangelizing the lost and furthering justice issues and strengthening God’s people. The truth was—the MOST IMPORTANT thing I could be doing and should be doing was PRAYING. Was I? Are you? (And before you stomp out of a church with your focus on all of the weaknesses in the church, ask yourself how much you were praying for the church.)
I have no idea why Amazon is having this HUGE sale on my second book (Redeeming Church Conflicts), but they are:
This is MUCH cheaper than even I can buy it from my publisher as the author! If I had any extra cash right now, I’d stock up.
Anyhoo … if you’ve even been in a group conflict and struggled to know what to do, I truly believe this book will help you. It is especially good at encouraging HOPE (when things feel hopeless!) because my coauthor, Dave Edling, is one of the most experienced Certified Christian Conciliators working in conflicted organizations and churches ever so he brings not only sound exegesis but real-life, practical illustrations too.
Here are just a few of the endorsements we have been blessed to receive for Redeeming Church Conflicts:
“In Redeeming Church Conflicts Tara Barthel and David Edling draw on their extensive experience helping brothers and sisters resolve serious divisions in ways that bring glory to Jesus, the prince of peace. Perhaps even more important than the wisdom they have gained from walking with congregations through conflict are the insights that they draw from God’s Word itself and their confidence that a deepening grasp of the gospel of God’s grace sets hearts free to seek and grant forgiveness and to find the humility to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Believers and church leaders should read and take to heart the wisdom offered in Redeeming Church Conflicts not only when conflict threatens our congregations, but also when peace prevails.” Rev. Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology, Westminster Seminary California and author of The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption and multiple other books
“Church conflicts are a shameful thing—they hurt, divide, and besmirch the name of Christ. This volume does more than lament the problem. It digs deeply into the experience of the New Testament church to discover a model of forgiveness and redemption that can help the witness of the church to shine once again. May this book help to spawn a whole generation of Acts 15 churches.” Dr. Timothy George is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture
“I wish I had to wonder why a book like this is even needed. But anyone who has spent much time in a church populated by imperfect humans knows that it is. This book delivers exactly what is needed in church conflict: a wealth of biblical wisdom and professional expertise as well as an unflinching challenge toward self-examination and away from angry entrenchment and graceless condemnation. But best of all it offers a huge dose of hope that what is so hurtful and seems only destructive will be used by God to conform his church to his image for his glory.” Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher and author of the Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible Study Series
“In my roles as a biblical counselor, pastor, seminary professor, and church consultant, Tara and David’s guiding concept of “responding redemptively” deeply resonates with me. Their understanding that the Bible provides not a formula for redeeming church conflict, but a biblical, relational roadmap, equally resonates. I’m encouraged and equipped, as I believe you will be, by their practical, scriptural wisdom. The gripping way that Tara and David unfold the Scripture-saturated relational principles of perspective, discernment, leadership, and biblical response provides a real-life narrative applicable to any church conflict.” Dr. Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, Author of Equipping Counselors for Your Church