Tara’s Blog

“Brothers and sisters, let us pray!” — My Review and Endorsement of Megan Hill’s “Praying Together”

Praying Together

I love beautiful prose and apt illustrations. When I book teaches me a new word (or two or three!), I know I am in for a treat. But my favorite thing of all about excellent Christian writing is when I forget the author and stop even noticing the beauty and wisdom of the words, because my heart is actively being drawn to meditate on the Triune God as revealed in Holy Scripture. And thus it is with Megan Hill’s, “Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches.”

This is an excellent book on prayer that I endorse and recommend without hesitation.

Unlike some of my other favorite books on prayer—some are richly theological, but a little weak in the practical application; others are phenomenal in diagnosing our real-life struggles regarding prayer and offering “solutions,” but present only the pale veneer of a shell of robust practical theology—Megan strikes a beautiful balance of Scriptural exegesis with relevant illustrations and instructions. She is also extremely encouraging!

Megan organizes Praying Together into three parts: 1) The Foundations of Praying Together (Relationship, Duty, Promise); 2) The Fruits of Praying Together (Love, Discipleship, Revival); and 3) The Practice of Praying Together (Praying with the Church, Partners and Groups, Family and Guests).

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Praying Together:

  • Our relationship with the God who is three-in-one assures us that all three will involve themselves in our praying—making the prayers of a Christian part of a grand, heavenly conversation.
  • A company of praying people is a company of people equally dependent on God. But we also come to prayer with equally good help. The most eloquent giant and the most timid new believer can pray boldly together because Jesus prays for them both.
  • In prayer together, we love one another … Our common experiences are an opportunity for mutual love, and hearing the prayers of sympathetic friends gives us comfort. We take this same comfort from Christ as he prays for us.
  • Praying together is a loving act of Christian discipleship.
  • Thanking God together is an effective guard against ingratitude.
  • Whether I feel like it or not, I pray.
  • The Christian never prays alone. And the Christian never leads others in prayer by himself but always has the promised and sufficient help of the three: the listening Father, the meditating and interceding Son, and the helping Spirit. With this confidence, you can take steps (I’ll suggest three) to better lead others in prayer …
  • If it is good for us to pray in all our human relationships, it is especially sweet to pray regularly with our closest friends.
  • Praying together ought to be an element of the hospitality that God repeatedly commands us to offer … our prayers together refresh the hearts of saints and stand as a testimony to the unconverted.
  • Brothers and sisters, let us pray.

Amen and amen! And thank you, Megan, for this gift to the Body.

With much gratitude,
Tara Barthel, Author of Living the Gospel in Relationships and Co-author of Peacemaking Women and Redeeming Church Conflicts

PS
Megan also includes wonderful study questions and a detailed bibliography, so this is a book that could (and should) definitely be used in group settings.

Surrounded by People yet Desperately Alone

surrounded by people yet desperately alone

What a joy it is to be included on the PCA Women’s blog, enCourage!  I hope that you will check out my inaugural post there:

Surrounded by People Yet Desperately Alone

(And all of the other posts by wonderful writers such as Susan Hunt, Karen Hodge, Ellen Dykas, Courtney Doctor, Christina Fox, Melissa Kruger … and more!)

Teach Your Kids from Your Weaknesses

This morning, I told my girls THE Romans 12 story. Some of you have heard it. You know. That time when I was SO MAD that I ripped my Bible — WHILE sitting in my Director’s chair at The Institute for Christian Conciliation / Peacemaker Ministries.

Beloved and brilliant Judy Dabler patiently and lovingly counseled me right into repentance and faith, basically by making me read Romans 12 out loud to her over the telephone. Yup. Not my best moment. But it sure has been LIFE CHANGING for me re: how God’s mercy calls me to respond when people treat me poorly.

(Oh. And my kids LOVED this story. MAN! Do they pay attention when we teach from our failures and weaknesses and point to God’s goodness and strength.)

 

 

Help (and Biblical Hope!) for Churches in Conflict

Hope for Redeeming Church Conflicts

Our family is celebrating the release of the second edition of “Redeeming Church Conflicts” by the wonderful Hendrickson Publishers!

My sweet and silly daughters even held a little photo shoot in order to re-pose the picture we took when the first edition was released four years ago:

first edition  second edition reposed pic

Oh, how we pray that you, or someone you know who is facing the heart-breaking pain of church conflict, receives biblical, Christ-centered, imminently practical for real life HELP and HOPE.

Sending my love and greetings from Dave, too!

Your sister in Christ,
Tara B.

PS
My coauthor on this project, David V. Edling, was the primary author of the PCA Book of Church Order Appendix on Biblical Conflict Resolution. So if any of you are PCA, you may want to consider letting your teaching and ruling elders know about this resource.

As our own Book of Church Order states:

“Biblical peacemaking is one of God’s highest priorities (Matt. 5:23-24; Rom. 12:18; Gal.6:1); therefore, it must be one of our highest priorities.”

“Each presbytery should endeavor to have several elders trained in the methods of “Christian conciliation” (including mediation and arbitration), and available to serve as Christian conciliators in cases that could and should be resolved privately before judicial process is initiated.”

Amen!

 

 

Ken Sande’s Endorsement of “Redeeming Church Conflicts”

Dream big. Work hard. Sacrifice. Be excellent. And then give it away! (HT: Joe Adams)

I love everything that I have ever read or seen by Carolyn McCulley and this video is no exception:

If you have ever wondered why you are doing some “small ministry” in your daily life; or why you are working hard in secret; or whether any of it ever really matters, watch this video and be encouraged.

It reminded me so much of a man I respect and value deeply, Joe Adams of Southside Fellowship. He is the only reason why Living the Gospel in Relationships actually exists. Like the hero in this video, he too is a tech geek, he has a passion for serving God’s people, and he is brilliant and excellent at everything he does. Plus, he was willing to work hard–hundreds and hundreds of hours hard–for no pay and no glory, at least not in this life.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the importance of paying people for their labors–I do! A worker is due his or her wages. (And I do dream about the day when I might have the ability to surprise Joe with a giant thank you check!) But I know that’s not what he wants. He’s pleased as punch to have gotten to serve. That’s the kind of man he is (and the kind of woman his wife is, I might add—Hi, Rachelle!). And the truth is, sometimes, in certain situations, we get to pour ourselves out and leave it all on the mat and just serve. Give our very very best and then give it all away. It’s wonderfully exhausting, but also truly blessed, to live this way.

I’m so grateful for Joe. And my dear husband, Fred (who is the only other reason why the video series exists). And also for Carolyn McCulley and Citygate films.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 ESV


Easter Makes Me Think of Death—But That’s OK

pregnancy3

Our Easter this year will be a very strange one. Rather than church services and corporate hymns (“Christ has Arisen, Alleluia!” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”), our family will be 50 feet under the ocean enjoying a strangely-timed (but I’m sure enjoyable) SCUBA trip.

Still. It’s Easter Week. And that means I’ve been thinking through our Lord’s final steps on this planet. (Maundy Thursday wasn’t just a packing day to me.) And Easter, as always, will not only turn my heart towards the Triune God with my life-long desire to be with him, Easter will first turn my heart towards death.

My heart grieves on Easter Day because it was an Easter evening in 2007 when the Lord, in his sovereign goodness, chose to take our second child from my womb, straight to Heaven. We miss this baby so much! We wonder if he would have been a calm, type-B, phlegmatic little kid (just like the only other male in our household). We wonder what life would be like with an eight year-old right now. But mostly, we trust God’s frowning providence, even over the horror of what must be the most unnatural thing a woman faces—the slipping away of her child from her womb with her having absolutely no power to stop it. None. 

The memory of that child pouring out of me when I was supposed to be protecting him is one of the most terrible, despairing, dark, glimpse-of-hell-and-sin-because-this-life-is-not-what-it’s-supposed-to-be moments of my entire life. I clung to Christ in that moment and I cling to him now because there is absolutely no other hope for me other than the resurrection of God himself over death itself. Alleluia! Allelu! This is my hope. This is my confidence.

Easter also pushes me to think about death because my mother LOVED Easter. Like her mother before her (my Grandma Pearl), she loved the bonnets and dresses and gloves and eggs and, well, I’m not 100% sure she loved going to church–but Grandma Pearl did and it was the one time of year that my mom actually went to church. So I have always associated Easter with my mom. And since my mother died four years ago, not a day goes by when I don’t miss her. (I’m crying even just typing that sentence.)

Some of you may find that hard to believe because you know the neglect and abuse I faced as a young child. But I encourage you to read through my “Eulogy for a Bad Mother” or “How to Love a Mentally Ill Addict (Who Happens to be Your Mother)” posts and I think you’ll see what a dear friend, my best friend, my mother became as we learned how to confess to, forgive, love, and enjoy one another. (If you’re more of an auditory learner, there is a video here that might be more helpful than reading all of the posts.)

Anyway.

I’m going to re-post a few things that I wrote when my mother was dying back in 2012. Mostly, I am doing this for myself—it’s good to cry. It’s good to grieve. But also, I hope that you find them edifying! Especially if you are grieving today, I pray that you might find them comforting.

I also would like to introduce you to a wonderful book on the psalms of lament by my dear friend, Christina Fox:

A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament

It is a beautiful read it points to the true balm for our souls.

Blessed Easter to you!

Much love,
Tara B.

PS
The photo at the top of this page was taken when we found out we were pregnant with the baby we lost. He was also in all of the videos for Living the Gospel in Relationships (and making me QUITE sick in between takes, may I add!) and otherwise in only one other photo:

train2

My (Potential) Eulogy for My Mother

Having just tried to practice my mother’s eulogy out loud in the quietness of my hotel room; and having dissolved into tears. Again. I’m giving myself pretty much a 100% chance of not being able to get through it tomorrow morning at her memorial service. So, of course, I just asked my sister to promise to NOT make fun of the “professional speaker” who falls apart … and I thought it might be a good idea to post the content here so one day I can look back on what I meant to say.

Tara Barthel’s Eulogy for her Mother
Kathryn Kroncke Ford
November 13, 1944 – December 18, 2012

My mother had many strengths. She was an artist. A poet. And a very good friend.

My mother taught my sister and me that people are people, no matter what they looked like or what their life circumstances were. Prejudice and bigotry had no place in my mother’s heart and I treasure that legacy in my own life and the lives of my children.

My mother valued reading and education. She never said, “IF you go to college …” She always said, “WHEN you go to college …” So even though my financial situation would have made it seem impossible, I have had the privilege of serving in a variety of ways in life because of my college and graduate education. And even beyond my formal degrees, I delight in seeing my young daughters devouring books and enjoying learning. This is also my mother’s legacy.

My mother was a stickler for proper manners and I am so grateful for the training I received at a young age. The only reason I instinctively stand when someone needs a seat; hold doors open for anyone in need; look people in the eye, give a firm handshake, and greet them by name … is because my mother taught me to do so. And I think she was channeling a bit of her own mother in this regard, because every time I am even tempted to not do the right thing in a social setting, I hear a quiet voice in my head saying:

“Grandma Pearl would rise up out of her grave if I ever spoke back to an adult or stayed seated on the “L” while an elderly person had to stand.”

So I guess that is both my mother’s and my grandmother’s legacy to me.

My mother tried hard in life, but like me, she often messed up. We both get socially anxious and talk too much to the checkout lady at Target. We have strong, powerful personalities. We come across as brave, but we’re easily scared and often want to hide away. We’re terrible with directions. And we spill things. A lot.

But all of that just meant we were human … And learning to give ourselves a break, and give each other a break was one of the ways that we began to move toward each other and love one another as adult friends.

My mother and I got to be friends because we forgave one another. We confessed past sins and offenses. We talked about hard memories. We recognized that neither one of us was an enemy to the other and we covered over our weaknesses and failures with accepting, gracious love.

I will miss my mother every day for the rest of my life. When good things happen, they won’t feel quite as real because I won’t be able to call her and tell her all about them.

When my daughters serve through music, I will remember that it was my mother—the woman who “couldn’t play a radio” who bought me my piano and paid for my lessons and gave me (and now my daughters) the life-changing gift of music.

This was one of my mother’s strongest gifts … the ability to help people to dream big dreams. Set goals. Work hard. And move beyond their present circumstances to achieve them.

I’ll close with just one more story (even though I could tell hundreds of stories about her kindness and care). It actually has to do with the most important thing in my life: my identity as an adopted, forgiven child of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

My mother was not a church-going woman. We never had discussions about God when I was a little girl. But when I asked if I could go to church with my friends in elementary school, she said, “Sure!” And when I was just out of junior high school and members of a cult were flattering me with attention and false promises, she wisely said, “Be careful!”

And then, when I began to read the Bible in high school and I returned to the Lutheran church of my infant baptism and learned of the great gift of salvation by grace, by faith, in Christ, my mom was supportive and quite long-suffering. Because I was actually a giant, judgmental, religious Pharisee JERK for the first few years of my Christian walk. (That was one of my many failures that my mother and my sister had to forgive in order for us to be true friends—and we are. True friends. They are my BEST friends.)

My mom was always respectful when we would talk about issues of faith and belief. And she even generously and bravely gave me permission to tell our story to now tens of thousands of women all around the world.

Our story of a wonderful, brilliant, flawed woman raising a wonderful, stubborn, flawed child in a difficult family setting with many aspects of suffering for everyone related to an unhappy first marriage, undiagnosed psychiatric challenges, and as-yet unaddressed addictions.

Yes. The first two decades of our life-story had much pain for both of us. But my mother said over and over again:

“If sharing our story can help even one other woman; one other family … then I give you permission to share anything with anyone at any time.”

And this I have done. In the quietness of my real life—in my community and church in Montana. And in my public service through my books, at conferences around the globe, and in my online writings.

Kathy Kroncke Ford helped me, helped her dear friends, and has also helped thousands of women to see that they are not alone. They are not crazy. They are not (to use AA’s term) “chronically unique” if they struggle with mental illness, addiction, or broken relationships that seem as though they could never possibly be healed.

They are just human beings like the rest of us. Created in the image of God. Walking through the brokenness of life in this fallen world.

Our life stories may vary. But there is a common theme which I can only describe as God’s magnificent grace at work taking the broken things of life and making beauty; beauty from ashes.

Thank you, Mom, for forgiving me and loving me and being such a good friend to me. I love you with all my heart and I wish you were still here with us today.

I just finished writing my Eulogy for my mother …

I think my sister did a lovely job on the obituary for my mother, so I thought I would share it with you.

I actually took the photo we used. The original background is our couch and Ella is on her lap! But Fred did magical computery things with Photoshop to make it copy better in newspapers and I think it turned out great. I love her eyes and her smile.

In addition to ordering flowers, everything for the luncheon, and creating the bulletin/handout for the service, I also took a few minutes today to write my eulogy for my mother. It was not hard to do. There are so many things about her life that I find deeply praiseworthy and laudable.

Fred has read it and I may share it with you after the service—but I want my sister to read it first. And then we’ll have to see how things go on Saturday. You know that I can sometimes (hah!) be an extemporaneous speaker! But I’m also wondering if I’ll actually be able to finish it without breaking down in tears. Each time I have practiced it (actually practiced it out loud! our friends at Oratium might be so proud!), I have ended up weeping. So we’ll have to see how things go.

Thank you again for the near-constant stream of emails and Facebook comments and personal notes. I really can’t express how much they all mean to me.

It is such a privilege to be here. Such an honor to love and be loved.

I hope your Advent celebrations are going great! And that the Incarnation of the King of Kings is bringing you new hope each day.

Thanks again,
Tara B.

PS
Here is the original picture …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Sometimes even people who care an awful lot have other things on their mind …”

As many of you have known for years (and as I have spoken of publicly only because my mother gave me her express permission to do so), my mother was a recovering alcoholic. “AA” (Alcoholics Anonymous) has been a tremendous evidence of God’s common grace in her life and truly, her closest friends here in Battle Creek, Michigan are friends she and Charlie made through AA. So we are particularly blessed to have their help and creative generosity in planning the service we will share this coming Saturday morning to honor my mother’s memory:

An Open Memorial Speaker Meeting in Honor of Kathy Kroncke Ford
To be held Saturday, December 22 at 10:30AM, at the Riverside Alano Club
(223 East Michigan, Battle Creek MI 49014)

All are welcome to enjoy a light lunch to follow immediately after the service
In lieu of flowers, donations to the Riverside Alano Club would be appreciated 

The AA parlance we will use for our time together is an “open meeting.” (This means that Kali and I (and others) can attend because open meetings are for anyone, not just people who are wanting to get sober through AA.) There will be standard aspects of every AA meeting (flashing me back to many such experiences attending meetings with my mother when I was just a little child): The Serenity Prayer, “How it Works” from The Big Book, a time of open sharing, The Lord’s Prayer.

In addition, Kali and I are working hard to create a program for the meeting that will include her obituary, some of her poetry, and a request for donations to the Riverside Alano Club (in lieu of flowers). We are also preparing some photo displays, ordering flowers, and ordering/preparing food/drinks/utensils for a lunch to feed 50+ people. So our day was full today and will be Thursday and Friday as well.

I must tell you … I really continue to appreciate your continued prayers and notes both here on the blog and on FaceBook. I am (of course) walking through all of the normal aspects of grief (to be expected). But in addition, since I have been tasked with pulling together a sampling of my mother’s poetry and of gathering / sorting / enlarging, etc. photos, I am also digging through boxes and boxes of, well, the physical representations of my mother’s life.

This is not an easy task.

Sure, some of it is fun—if I felt like really humiliating myself, I’d let you see a letter I wrote her when I was 9 or 10 years old during one of her many institutionalizations. I was, ahem, a little boy crazy and obviously BOUND by the fear of man. Cringe! Plus I have what can only be described as some of THE MOST hideous photos from the late 1970’s. Oh my stars! I looked like a total freak! I would’ve destroyed the photos forever, but there is this morbid curiosity factor that compels me to keep them alive so that my own children can cringe and laugh at them with me. I was U.G.L.Y. (!!) Like 1970’s ugly. And that is just plain funny.

But most of it isn’t funny, it’s hard. Dark. Painful. In order to follow the requests of Charlie and my mother’s closest friends to find (and share) some of her poetry, I have spent hours wading through journal pages from the darkest seasons of her life (which were the darkest seasons of my childhood too) and it is terribly sad to read. So many words! (My mother was a true verbophile and I would guess, at times, hypergraphic as well.) So many thoughts, often disordered, often slurred even in script as it was obvious from one page to the next that she was writing while drinking to excess her favorite alcoholic beverage (scotch). She wrote through great suffering, pain, abandonment, rejection, anger, hatred, and fear. (Who does that remind you of?) She often felt lonely. Despairing. She longed to love and be loved. She rarely felt like she fit in anywhere. (Yes. Yes. I know. I really am my mother’s daughter. I don’t run from that statement anymore. I count it a privilege to be hers. And I am even more grateful to belong to the Lord of Creation.)

There is a lot of cynicism in my mother’s writing and a lot of pride, even to the point of grandiosity. There are repeated suicidal inclinations (especially in her journaling from various detox and mental institutions). There is darkness and rage.

But do you know what else there is? There is great love. My mother hurt deeply because she loved deeply. And all of that love sometimes burst out in sweet, beautiful light. At age 42, I still recall many of her age-appropriate poems for children. I was actually shocked to learn tonight driving to our hotel that my sticky-brained-photographic-memory’d sister, Kali, doesn’t remember them at all. (But sometimes that’s what our experience of our childhood is like—I have no recollection; Kali remembers something perfectly. She has no recollection; I can still see the sights and smell the smells.) And so it was with the “kids”  poems that my mother wrote. The first is my favorite. I could recite it line for line for you even without the old, yellowed papers that still bear the indented strikes of the keys on the typewriter ribbon and paper:

SECRETS

What do you do with a secret
When the excitement starts to grow
And you want to share the happiness
But you don’t want anyone to know
You can tell it to a dandylion
Or whisper it to a teddy bear
But if you really have to tell someone
Mommys always there.

(A little ironic because she probably wrote it when she was away from us again. But I still enjoy the heart of its sweet message.)

The next classic was obviously directed at me because I really was a terrible little child who was just plain AWFUL to my sister and often a perfect example of its title. Even as a child, I appreciate how my mom was using words to help me to express what I was feeling (and helping me to figure out better courses of action than yelling or fighting).

SPOILED BRAT

Mommy’s on the telephone
Daddy’s in the den
The big kids are watching television
And I’m feeling mean again
I asked my mom if she’d like to talk
And daddy to take me for a walk
And the big kids if they’d play a game
But all their answers were the same
NO !!

I know that yelling isn’t right
Neither is starting another fight
‘Cause when I do mean stuff like that
I feel just like a spoiled brat

I just don’t know a better way
Or know the special words to say
To make all these big people see
There’s someone else here
And that someone is “ME” !!!

I’ll close with a “grownup” poem that is more representative of the hundreds of poems I am working through to choose some for the service on Saturday. My mother would often make a hand-written note at the top of a page of poetry, then came the title (in all caps), and then the poem, usually with no indents, paragraphs or punctuation:

Life dries the tearful eyes of youth to allow the sobbing heart its due

PILGRIMS

We know of pain
You and I
The harsh Pain
Of broken promises
Shattered ideals
Barren dreams
The soft pain
Of tenderness
As gentle hands
Brush away tears
Tracing your face
Calming your fears
Yes
We know of pain
You and I.

I don’t know who she was thinking of when she wrote that. Maybe her best friend, Anne P. Maybe her beloved AA sponsor (whom I just spoke with for the first time today when I called to let her know Mom had died). I’m not sure who she was thinking of—but I know that she often thought about a lot of people. She was generous and loving and kind. And she touched a lot of lives. And she was a good friend and a true encourager to me.

I love her and I miss her already. It’s good to be sad and keep crying. That means there was a lot of love and a depth of real relationship. And for that, I am grateful.

OK. Now I’l REALLY close with one more grownup poem. This was just scratched on a sheet of paper in a box. No title. But I love how clear it is and how kind it is.

Thanks again for the prayers and notes!

Much love and g’nite,
Tara B.

If you come to me
And need a friend
And I am harsh
And curt
Please say you need
   to talk
Before you walk away alone
Sometimes even people
Who care an awful lot
Have other things on their mind

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