Tara’s Blog

Live Blog of 2015 PCA LT, Session #4: Cathe Cleveland, Dr. Stephen Estock

Cathe Cleveland – Vitally Connected to Christ, His Word, and His Church in Women’s Ministry
Dr. Stephen Estock – Vitally Connected to Christ, His Word, and His Church as We Go and Make Disciples

Live Blog 2015 PCA LT #4: Cathe Cleveland, Dr. Stephen Estock
 

Live Blog of 2015 PCA LT, Session #1: Melissa Kruger – Vitally Connected to Christ

Live Blog 2015 PCA LT #1: Melissa Kruger – Vitally Connected to Christ
 

Live Blog of 2015 PCA LT, Session #2: Courtney Doctor – Vitally Connected to Christ and His Word

Live Blog 2015 PCA LT #1: Melissa Kruger – Vitally Connected to Christ
 

Live Blog of 2015 PCA LT, Session #3: Pam Benton – Vitally Connected to Christ and His Church

Live Blog 2015 PCA LT #3: Pam Benton – Vitally Connected to Christ and His Church
 

Are you paralyzed because you don’t know how others will respond? You can’t see the future?

Wow. I really needed this today, Cap’n Dave. Thank you!

Paralyzed by endings? Mind present duties and then leave events to God.

The moment I probably came within four feet of being a sex trafficked teenager …

girl on bus

Recently, my dear friend Ellen Dykas put up a link on Facebook that rocketed me back to the early 1980′s. The article she pointed to was all about how young women become sex trafficking victims and it specifically explained to the targeted way that pimps hunt for young girls at bus stations.

Well. When I was a very young teenager. (Junior high? Maybe 13 or 14?) My mother put me on an overnight bus from Illinois to Arkansas and I have no doubt that, in addition to being molested by a dirty, disheveled, drunken man (whom I, in my naivete, just thought was being nice to me when he offered me food), I probably came within four feet of being a sex trafficked teenager. This is what happened …

Unbeknownst to me (my mother had given me no instructions or advice for how to stay safe as a child alone on an overnight bus), the bus would make periodic stops throughout the night. People would go off and on—using the restroom, getting food, exiting and entering the bus. At one stop in the late, late hours of the night (2AM? 3AM?), I remember leaning up against the bus window because I was just utterly exhausted. And lonely. And hungry. And a man—I could describe everything about him to you right now, even though this was over thirty years ago—smiled at me and waved at me and just seemed like such a nice guy.

And then he motioned for me to come towards him. Off the bus. I remember thinking, “Oh! He needs something! There is something I can do to help him!” and I stood up and started moving towards the bus door. But then, like a lightening bolt of electricity through my entire spine, and like giant hands clamping down on my shoulders, I sat back down. On the bus. I didn’t move one more foot towards the door. And then I saw the man through the window and BOY! Was he MAD. No more smiles and Mr. Nice Guy. He was gesturing and yelling and threatening me. But I just stayed in my seat. And then, after a few minutes, the bus moved on.

Interestingly, for many years after this terrible situation, I still felt guilty for not helping that man. That’s how child abuse happens, my friends! Really. It is. Children want to please adults. And when a sexual predator grooms a child? Moves into that child’s life and is such a “friend” and such a “loving person” to that child? The child REALLY wants to please that adult. And then, like clockwork, the abuse ratchets up and the guilt piles on and evil does its wicked work in shame and darkness and deception.

(And please (oh please!) before you think, “That will NEVER happen to MY child because I would never put them in such a dangerous situation!” Please remember that most child sexual abuse happens not at the hands of a stranger (a “Don’t Know” to use the term from The Safe Side Superchick program that we love!), but rather at the hands of a “Kinda Know.” Often someone who is actually trusted. Some of you may recall the post I did about my friends protecting Sophia at a farmer’s market two summers ago. And we intentionally talk about this stuff  in our family on a regular basis! Scary.)

I’ll sign off by pointing you to a few resources that might prove helpful to you on this (important!) subject:

And also by restating my “favorite” (HATE IT!! SO EVIL!!) quote on this subject …

These are the actual words of a predator—and that is a correct term because child sexual abusers prey on children. 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:

“First of all, you start the grooming process from day one…the children that you’re interested in…You find a child you might be attracted to…For me, it might be nobody fat. It had to be a you know, a nice-looking child…You maybe look at a kid that doesn’t have a father image at home. You know, you start deducting. Well, this kid may not have a father, or a father that cares about him. Some kids have fathers but they’re not there with them…

Say if you’ve got a group of twenty-five kids, you might find nine that are appealing…Then you start looking at their family backgrounds…Then you find out which ones are most accessible. Then eventually you get it down to the one you think is the easiest target, and that’s the one you do.”

Please, oh please! Be careful. Full of care. For most of you? More careful that you currently are.

And please also remember that God is sovereign and God is good. If you will allow me this description even though I am a frozen chosen Presbyterian gal … don’t you agree that it was God’s hand clamping down on my shoulders and keeping me on that bus all those thirty+ years ago? Even before I knew Him, he knew me. (Before the creation of the world, Ephesians 1 says!) And not a hair can fall apart from His perfect, sovereign will. Even our suffering. Even our worst suffering. Jesus has deprived the world of its power to ultimately harm us (Luke 12:4-7). Praise his blessed name!

With love and gratitude—

Your rescued friend,
Tara B.

Please don’t confront me on being fat. Again. (Oh wait. But YOU? Yes, please confront me.)

gracefat

Well. It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged on any topic with any level of consistency, but the ol’ “How is Tara doing with her habitual struggles with making an idol out of food / gluttony / weight loss / weight gain” topic? Yeah. It’s been crickets around here re: all of that, even though my real-life friends can tell (by my uncomfortably, unhealthily growing girth and my exile back to the ‘isle o’ dreaded stretchy-black-pants-land) that I’ve either been struggling and failing or simply not trying at all. (Giving in, is, after all, the most common and effective—destructive, but effective—way to deal with temptation, right?)

Oh, I could give you lots of excuses why I’ve been struggling. Terrible insomnia that actually had me questioning whether I needed medical help to try to stay sane. Financial burdens tied to medical bills. Feet and feet and FEET of snow in Billings, the city that doesn’t clear streets more or less sidewalks—-so there is no way Lilikoi and I could have been even down our own block, more or less out for our (life-giving!) walks. Laziness. Pride. Satan. The World. GMO. Gluten. The existence of Pez. Netflix. Soda. The combination of Pez, Netflix, and Soda. (I know. I know. Grosses most of you out. But some of you GET it. Mmmmmm. Sugar. Lights up the brain like crack, doesn’t it?)

I could point to just how disappointed I was last spring when I was a very healthy, fit weight—but my arms will still so saggy and unpleasant to look at! (Remember my “If only I had thin arms, then my marriage would be perfect!” post? Yeah. Me too.)

Or I could honestly tell you that I was growing quite annoyed by a certain subset of people in my life who started constantly commenting on how good I looked and THEN giving me unsolicited advice about THE ANSWER for keeping all of that weight off. Man! Do people get excited about running / protein / weight watchers / vegetables / calorie counting/ fitbit / obsessive watching of calories & exercise & size & weight & BLECH I find it all SO tiresome. Boring. NOT how I want to expend the majority of my energy every day.

But if all of that weren’t enough, then sure. I could pull out the big guns. My Ace in the hole: the very sad, evil, thing that happened to me last year when I was flying home from one of my speaking events. The thing I never thought would happen to me. The thing that SURELY could be my get-out-of-jail-card-FREEBIE-EXCUSE to hide myself away under unhealthy weight, because isn’t it SO understandable why I would escape to old habits to try to soothe myself and temporarily run away from the stresses of lawyers and negotiations and victim-offender-criminal stuff? I mean … who could blame me? It’s not my fault, right? Wrong.

The truth is, all of those factors are influential, but they are not causative. My genetics, my finances, the sweet taste of sugar, the crime done against me—these impact my life, to be sure. But my heart (according to Jesus in Luke 6:45) is the reason why I do what I do …

I haven’t been exercising and eating well (and thus, I have gained weight) because I haven’t wanted to exercise and eat well. 

Out of the desires of the heart, my mouth speaks. And eats. And there’s really nothing more to say about it. I sin because I am a sinner and this part of my life is not about a thyroid problem or a tumor or some lack of knowledge about exercise and calories. As I have stated publicly before, I carry my spiritual and emotional struggles on the outside. Lots of us do. Many of you do not. But that’s one reason why I really do believe that, for me, “It’s a Grace to be Fat”.  As my weight goes up up up, that’s a clear indication that I could use some prayer because I am struggling. And so, yes. I would love and appreciate your prayers very much because the only hope I have for heart change is the resurrection power of Christ at work in me. (Thank God for the sufficiency of Christ!)

At the same time? There is one thing I would not ask most of you to do: confront me.

Most of you fall into that category of people known as acquaintances. We may sort of know each other—but we don’t really know each other. You may think you know me because we have interacted through my public ministry (writing, speaking, etc.). Or maybe we share genuine fellowship in my real life locally. That’s great! I’m grateful for both kinds of relationships and I hope that we will stay in touch over the coming years.

But in order to speak into the “fine china” of this area of my life? To speak into the “fine china” of anyone’s life? It would be helpful if you first had what we used to call (in the olden days of Peacemaker Ministries), “passport.” Just as a physical passport gives you entry into a country, relational passport gives you entry into another person’s heart. Confrontation will still be hard; but if you have passport into my life, then I know:

  1. You genuinely care about me. You are not just trying to “fix me.” You are not standing above me, to use Dr. Powlison’s example, “on the pedestal, with me groveling in the pit.”
  2. You are trustworthy. Mature. Not a gossip. You are quick to listen and slow to speak. You are humble. The majority of the words between us have not been you giving me unsolicited advice, graceless criticism, or example after example of how godly and great you are. Thus, I know that if I were to open up to you, your response would be humble; you would guard my confidence and “cover over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) with the pure grace of Christ-centered, Christ-exalting, Christ-dependent love.
  3. You can help. You are competent. Seasoned. Wise with the wisdom that comes from Heaven (James 3). You “put my struggles in the context of your struggles” (to quote Pastor Jason), so you have insight and clarity—maybe not about my exact sin, but about sin. You know we are fellow beggars whose only real bread is the Bread of Life. We were both blind! But now we see. And in this instance? My idols aren’t blinding you—so you can help me. And (thank you, my friend!), you give me the great privilege of helping you with your idols when they obscure your vision because we are in this pilgrimage together.

If you are a trustworthy, real-life friend who cares about me and is competent to help me in this area? If you have “passport” into my life? Then please oh please, confront away. 

But otherwise? Please be careful. Full of care when you talk to me. Full of care when you talk to others in your life.

The truth is, when someone is struggling, really struggling? The last thing they probably need is for you to crush them by pointing out all of their failures and problems. (I encourage you to read the great Puritan classic by Sibbes, The Bruised Reedif you need a refresher on this point.) Seriously. Of all the people in the world, I know more than anyone that I am overweight. Again. I know that I looked closer to the societal ideal of what a beautiful woman is when I weighed less. I miss the kicky-knee-high-boots you saw me in last year too. I also thought they were way cuter than my clunky Danskos—but did you know that the stupid ol’ zippers on super cute boots do not give an INCH around plumped-up calves. (Not like jammy-styled-fat-lady-black-pants-do. Oh, man. Stretchy pants really are the bane of the existence of those of us who struggle with our weight, aren’t they?)

So to reiterate my first point … Please don’t confront me on being fat. Please trust that others—real-life friends who share their struggles with me too!—are having those hard conversations with me. Because they are. But also? Please hear me on this …

For every person who has ever loved me enough to try to confront me on this or any other sin in my life? Please know that I actually found your efforts to be quite brave. I was embarrassed and impressed all at the same time. Sure, given our level of relationship (or lack of same), I don’t necessarily think it’s your place to so blatantly confront me on such a private matter. Yet the Scripture is clear that we are supposed to confront one another; that I would be wise to listen to your rebuke; that it actually is quite loving and God-honoring for you to to do this uncomfortable thing of trying to rescue me (Galatians 6:1).

And so. Even as my (chubby) cheeks flushed and my pride was pricked at your words, I was also impressed by your courage because I presumed charitably that your motivations were loving. And for that, I can say an honest, “Thank you!” and “Good job being brave about a hard thing!” But I can also say, “Wow. I am just not going to have an intimate conversation with you about this topic. Thanks. But no thanks. I am going to gently demure and move the topic along to something more appropriate for our level of relationship.”

I hope that makes sense. And I hope that by sharing a little bit about my experience, I might help you to think through when you should (and shouldn’t) confront others and when it might be appropriate to gently move a conversation “up a level or two” so as to not be so forced in its intimacy. I also encourage you to read the following articles if you’d like to study this topic further:

May God help us all to know when to be silent and when to speak. How to listen. And how to gently divert or end a conversation when doing so is the best expression of faith and love (Galatians 5:6).

Thanks for listening! And thanks, especially, for your continued prayers. It really has been an exceptionally hard few months.

Grateful for you,
Tara B.

PS
If you have a similar struggle to mine, you may find my blog category on disordered affections to be helpful/encouraging. I hope so! Our church has also studied this topic in multiple summer women’s studies and I share my notes from one year of those studies in a series that begins with this post: Recovering from My Lifetime of Disordered Eating. Please know that you are not alone! And that you are loved. Your friend in the battle—tkb

When (Differently) Gifted Pastors Destroy the Church (Rather than Build it Up)

low res dave tara and rcc books

Desperate for some biblical hope (which means I was desperate for Christ!), I sat and re-read through page after page of Dave Edling’s wise and pithy words over on our Redeeming Church Conflicts site. What a feast for the soul! Nothing like Truth to reorient the ol’ heart attitudes.

This post is a particular favorite of mine, so I thought I’d re-share it here too:

When (Differently) Gifted Pastors Destroy the Church (Rather than Build it Up)

Dave’s observations as to the four main reasons why church conflicts often emerge due to the misuse of spiritual gifts is, I believe, spot-on. I hope that you will click through and read the entire post.

And I hope you will indulge me one more shameless plug, when I say that if you haven’t yet had a chance to glean from Dave’s wisdom in this beautifully-written book, today is a great day to pick up a copy:

  • The cost is WAY less than Amazon (even Amazon Prime) because …
  • The shipping is FREE in the USA; and
  • Fred just made me a snazzy new Resources Page/Bookstore, with all sorts of PayPal buttons and drop down menus, etc. etc. And honestly? We’d both love to see if it actually works. :)

So if your church or women’s ministry (or Christian school, public school, homeschool co-op, classical school—did I get them all?) … if you are ever in an organization that has conflict (which is ALL organizations, right?), consider Redeeming Church Conflicts as a tool to help you. I truly think it’ll be the best $10 you spend on this topic.

(Yes, yes, I know my name is on the front too but please just think of me as the helper who typed really quickly as Dave shared from his wealth of experience.)

I’ll give Nancy Guthrie the last word. In her gracious endorsement of Redeeming Church Conflicts, Nancy exactly described how I feel about everything I have ever learned from Dave: 

“This book delivers exactly what is needed in church conflict: a wealth of biblical wisdom, professional expertise, and a huge dose of hope.”

Amen! And thank you again, Cap’n Dave. It is a true honor to be even a small part of your ministry to Christians in conflicted churches through this resource. The Barthels send you and Pat all our love!

G’nite and God bless,
Tara B.

Forgiving (Really!) is the Hardest Thing You Will Ever Do

(Since True Woman reposted this article as being written by “A Guest Blogger”, with only a very strange little silhouette as an identifier, I’ve heard from a number of friends who said, “Hey! That sounds just like Tara Barthel!” And, in fact, at the end of the article, they found out, “Yes! It was me!”, I thought I’d save you all the mystery and repost it here myself.

Hope you enjoy. Well, if you don’t cringe too much—as I did, when I re-read it. Ouch! Forgiveness really is the hardest thing we will ever do, eh?)

—————-

sm boats

There was a time in my life when I was in a dark, dark place.

You can call it depression. Despair. The Black Dog. A valley. A dark night of the soul. Choose your term. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it hurt to live. My chest was crushed. I could not cease from crying. Day after day. I would lie there. Not moving. Incapable of distraction. My thoughts spiraling down and down.

Thankfully, I have real friendships in my life and a few people knew me well enough to rally and intervene. To care.

They asked hard questions and made hard statements like:

  • What aspects of this are spiritual?
  • Do we need to get you to medical assistance?
  • I am going to call you this afternoon and you MUST pick up. You must. If you do not, I will leave work and come to your home. You do not have the option of not picking up.

As I reflect on that time, I remember telling one friend who asked me a specific, wise, question that I didn’t really think my depression (or whatever you choose to call it) was chemical. I am undoubtedly genetically predisposed to chemical imbalances in the brain—I have relatives up both sides of the family tree who have been greatly helped by medicines related to mental illnesses. But my body did not respond well to psychiatric medicines when I tried them. And I could clearly point to a situational cause:  hurt. Hurt tied to a relational breach. Temptation to bitterness. An internal screaming of anger and rage in response to betrayal. Shock. Fear. Frustration. Not seeing a way out. Not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel—or if there is a light, it’s a train coming down the tracks to run over you again.

Initially, when I thought about all of this darkness and despair, I was tempted to self-condemnation. (“What kind of Christian are YOU that you get SO hurt and SO upset and go to SUCH a dark place?!?”) But as I have reflected more on my response (and with the blessed gift of time to grieve and think and pray and mourn—and submit and trust, by the way) … I am not kicking myself as much. OK. Sure. I still have a LOT of growing up to do in the Lord. And yes. Absolutely. I think it would be really cool to be one of those emotionally-stable, prone to readily overlook and cover over with grace, super-duper loving and godly people.

But I am being a little more gentle and gracious with myself because I also think that my response revealed something good. Right. Appropriate. And it is this: forgiveness is a death. Bearing with is hard. Choosing to risk and love (which are one in the same) means that sometimes, we will be hurt. Friends will love us, but they will love us imperfectly. And then we have to choose:

  1. Pull back from all relationships? Stop loving? Stop risking? Keep an emotional barricade around our hearts so we are never hurt again?
  2. Give in to judgment and bitterness. Stand above the people around us and rejoice that “we are not like them!” Act all godly on the outside, but inside, consider ourselves to be gods. Living in our little kingdoms. Attempting to ascend to the throne of God, while all the while, descending into the bowels of Hell itself.
  3. Or forgive.

Those are all the choices I see. That’s the realm of our response. And in view of God’s mercy (Romans 12:1)? It seems to me that actually, our only choice is choice #3. This death to self, remembering of God, right view of others and this blink-of-an-eye we call “life”: forgiveness.

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Pleasant? No way. Necessary? Undoubtedly, 100%, with all my heart YES. We cannot claim to love God and hate our brother (1 John 4:20). It is dishonoring to God and destroys our testimony to stand back and say, “OK. Sure. I don’t have a problem with her … I mean, if she has a problem with me, then she can come and talk to me. But from my perspective? We’re good. I’ve done everything I need to do. Yeah. Right. It’s all good.” While everyone who knows the real us knows that we are not truly, deeply, actually reconciled in the “unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4).

And so, we forgive. To quote Andree Seu: “Forgiving is the hardest thing you will ever do.” And to paraphrase her brilliant essay that I urge you to read: If we think it’s easy to forgive; if we can piously claim to have forgiven while knowing our hearts are cold and distant and judgmental to the person (or persons) who hurt us? Then we have absolutely NO idea what we are talking about. And there is no way that we have ever forgiven anyone anything.

Today, I pray that we will forgive one another. And if we are stuck and can’t forgive? If we are caught in bitterness? If our anger towards others has turned inward in depression and we’ve gone past the point of caring anymore? That especially then, we will get help.

Know that you are not alone in the battle! The Lord is with you. And if you’re struggling with some big ol’ sin, then I can probably relate too (as can many people in your real, non-virtual, life).

With love from the trenches,
Tara B.

PS
Two of the books that have helped me the most related to this topic:

Melissa Kruger — New (Highly Recommended!) Blog

wits end

I am so happy that Melissa Kruger is blogging! I have already learned so much from her and I am absolutely sure that her just-launched-this-week-blog will end up being one of my favorites.

I encourage you to visit her at:

Wit’s End — Having Nothing, Possessing Everything

And also to read her books: The Envy of Eve – Finding Contentment in a Covetous World and Walking with God in the Seasons of Motherhood.

In addition to being a wise, biblically-sound woman, she is also extraordinarily humble, encouraging, and kind. I have no doubt that you will find her to be as delightful (and witty! the title of her blog notwithstanding) as I have.

Oh! And Melissa will be one of the keynote speakers at next month’s PCA Women’s Leadership Conference (Vitally Connected to Christ, His Word, His Church), so I will have the joy of LiveBlogging her in just a few weeks.

You can sign up for a reminder to join in on her keynote’s LiveBlog here:

 

Live Blog 2015 PCA LT #1: Melissa Kruger – Vitally Connected to Christ
 

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