Tara’s Blog

Jennifer C. is our Winner!

Congratulations, Jennifer C.! Random.org chose you as the winner of the Kevin DeYoung book.

I just emailed you a few minutes ago to ask for your shipping address …

Thanks to everyone who entered! It was really nice to hear from you all.

Blessings and joy,
Tara B.

Growth

sleepGrowth can be extremely hard to see.

My (almost) five year-old grieves often when she fails to see growth in her heart. (Some of you may remember the despair in her quote from last year: “I know Jesus is strong. But my FITS are stronger!”)

(It only feels that way, darling. It only feels that way.)

The truth is that God is changing and growing us and nothing is stronger than His power at work in us.

Let me give you just three examples from our quiet little domestic life. All three are from yesterday:

  1. At the very beginning of our day, one of my children had to talk with me about a hard thing. She was brave and honest and afterwards she said, “Mom? I’m always so glad when I talk with you about these things. It’s so hard to start these conversations! And honestly? I was bummed when you asked me how I was really doing. It was the one question I didn’t want you to ask me … but I’m so glad you did. I feel a lot better now. Thanks. Can we pray?” Talking with your mom about hard stuff. Initiating prayer. This is growth.
  2. As we moved into our day (which was filled with a number of fun sports / music / play activities), I thought we would run a few enjoyable errands related to my daughter’s upcoming birthday party this weekend. But when one daughter became caught in a monster want and the other daughter was clearly having a low-energy-ebb day, I changed plans and we just went home. For a list-making, task-oriented person like me? This is growth! It may be obvious and easy to most of you that of course I needed to reverse course and move towards a more relational, bringing-grace-and-truth-to-the-heart, with lots of a hugs and a quieter day. But for me? This is progress. I would have been a much more pleasant person in my twenties if I had learned this lesson earlier. 
  3. A certain someone was exhausted after a 5:30PM makeup swim lesson and initially pushed against her (obviously needed!) bedtime. But then she submitted. AND snuggled into Momma for what can only be described as one of my favorite things in all of life—the privilege and joy of kissing a child who is fast asleep on my chest. I never want to put her down. I’m always amazed when I get to interact with this little love-bug and she is not moving (!)she is a very active child physically. But mostly, I was grateful for growth. The lack of a tantrum might not seem like any big deal in your family. But in our little family? In our little home? This week? We saw the power of God at work. My heart was filled with praise to God and we were all encouraged.

As I speak with my children about these things, we often review things like:

Oh. One other apsect of growth that I’m seeing this week is that I am being more wise re: the terrible season of insomnia I am currently in. When I don’t sleep, everything starts to go downhill. Physically. Spiritually. As the days (and long, long nights) wear on, I am a wreck. But this week? I am striving to guard against the sinful tendencies that tempt me when I am so shaky both physically and mentally. I am remembering that things are particularly hard when we are exhausted. And I am learning to ask for help and give myself a little kindness too. Growth growth growth.

I hope that you are encouraged today that “you are from God” and “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Big hugs,
Tara B.

Enter to Win a FREE Copy of Kevin DeYoung’s Book – Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem

crazy busyEarlier today, I peeked at the stats for the replays of The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference LiveBlogs and they are just about to go over 10,000 hits (!). So that makes me very happy and puts me in the mood for a giveaway …

All you need to do to win a FREE copy of Kevin DeYoung’s (fabulous!) book, “Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem” is leave a comment on this post by 5:00PM (Mtn) this Sunday, July 20.

If your name is chosen by RandomNumberGenerator.com, I will send you the book. It’s as easy as that!

(And, as always, you can trust that there is NO risk of SPAM! I would never give your contact information to anyone. This really is just a little gift from our family to you. Oh. It’s actually from Crossway through The Gospel Coalition through our family to you, because I received this copy at the Band of Bloggers workshop when I was LiveBlogging their women’s conference last month. :) ! )

Blessings and joy,
Tara B.

How to Write a Eulogy for a Bad Mother / a Mother Who Didn’t Love You

box-bad-mother1

(A re-post from 2013 …)

Tomorrow it will be four months to the day since my mother died. I cry less, but I still cry. My dreams are not as disturbed as they were at first—but I do still have those particularly troubling ones wherein I am leading my mother out of her nursing home and tucking her into the car to get her the heck away from there. And as I am doing so, I’m thinking to myself, “This is so great! They said she would never leave this place, but here we are. Leaving! But uh-oh. How are we going to care for her? She can’t even move three steps anymore to get to the bathroom. Why are we doing this?!” !!POOF!! I’m awake. And then I have that SUCH GOOD feeling/thought: “Oh! It was all a mistake. SHE’S ALIVE!” And then reality clicks in and I have to admit that no, she is gone.

Death is confusing. Death is painful. We grieve on conscious and subconscious levels that I’m sure I will never understand this side of Heaven.

But death comes for us all. Sooner or later. Younger or older. Without warning or only after a prolonged fight to survive. Lonely in a nursing home for weeks or in a moment. A breath. A hairsbreadth.

Death is the reality that focuses our senses—or tempts us to run away and hide away in denial. But we’re still going to die one day. So is every person we have ever loved and will ever love. You know this true. You may not want to think about it. But you know it’s true. So what are you doing about it?

Well. A large number of you are googling “eulogy for mother” and ending up on my blog entry from four months ago:

My (Potential) Eulogy for My Mother

So that seems to be a hot topic these days … and I thought I would just jot down a few ideas for when we are called to write a eulogy for a “bad mother” (doesn’t that describe us all!?) or a mother who we feel didn’t love us. (Maybe that’s true—maybe she really didn’t love us; or maybe she loved us, but imperfectly and painfully; or maybe that’s just our perspective on the situation and actually she loved us well. More than likely, it’s some sort of combination of all three.)

If I had been called upon to write a eulogy for my mother during our “dark years”—the time period when she was caught in a number of destructive addictions and behaviors and was thus interacting with me in particularly ugly, unloving, mean ways … I think I would have tried to craft a eulogy that kept the following things in mind:

  • A memorial service is not a counseling session (the time to work through your own “stuff”—pain, hurts, anger, fear, etc.); nor is it a time to bash the deceased. Maybe there are some really awful things that you need to talk through with someone; memories you need to express so that you can turn away from the lasting poison of resentment and bitterness. But your mother’s funeral service is not the best place for that.
  • Take a deep breath. Figure out your goal. Maybe it’s something like: “I want to share a few stories about my mother and reflect briefly/appropriately on the aspects of our relationship that are edifying for the situation so that I can leave this place with a clear conscience, knowing that I have finished well and honored my mother, even at the time of her passing.” Maybe it’s something very different. Whatever your goal is, keep it in mind and work towards the goal.
  • Recognize that the death of a parent is stressful. This is true even for a parent with whom we have had no relationship or very little relationships or an extremely troubled, conflicted, terrible relationship. You’re probably not getting much sleep. Are you turning to calming substances that feel relatively better at first (because they keep you from feeling at all?), but then leave you feeling even worse (guilt after foolish sexual choices or illegal drug use; physical sickness after drunkenness; shame after hidden gluttony)? Try to not add to your stress by layering on these physical and spiritual burdens as well. What can you do that is redemptive and freeing to handle your stress–rather than compulsive and enslaving? (Take a walk in the fresh air; make one wise eating decision at the beginning of your day; give your prescription drugs to a trusted friend who can help you to use them only as prescribed and only in moderation; get help monitoring your alcohol intake; limit your escapism time online/on your iPhone/watching television.)
  • Even if your mother really was a terrible mother, she was still your mother. Maybe your life will be better with her gone—she’ll stop asking you for money (or just stealing from you); you won’t have to put up with her embarrassing you at every major life event any more (late and drunk to your graduation—or just not showing up at all; drunk at your wedding; creepy and scary (and scared!) in her agoraphobic bondage at the birth of your first child) … OK. Great. That’s reality. She had some (fill in the blanks with whatever terms best fit): weaknesses, addictions, personality flaws, foolishness, sins, fallenness, darkness, bondages, enslavements, physical weaknesses, emotional weaknesses … she had some humanness that caused you pain and shame. Admit it. It’s true. But she was still your mother. So maybe she was graceless and critical of you—don’t be graceless and critical of her now. Maybe she treated you like crap—don’t treat her memory like crap now. Maybe she doesn’t deserve one teeny tiny iota of kindness or mercy from you. Well. Welcome to the club! You do not deserve any kindness or mercy from God or any person—mercy isn’t deserved! That would be justice! Yet you and I both know that we receive mercy every single day of our lives. So be merciful just as your Heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). You won’t regret it—but you may very well regret a hate-filled (even if it’s factually-based) diatribe at your mother’s funeral. Don’t go there. Don’t do it. You don’t have to be that person.
  • So … with all of that in mind: What one or two things can you say about your mother that are true, but charitable? Can you dredge up even just ONE exchange, ONE memory that wasn’t pure hell for you? If not, that’s OK. (But in that situation, I really encourage you to think about whether you should even be speaking at her memorial service at all). For most of us, we can remember a few instances when things weren’t all bad … I remember my mother telling me in a genuinely kind voice how much she enjoyed listening to me play the piano. It had a huge impact on me and it is now something I try to remember to tell my daughter often. I want my daughter to hear my kind voice saying, “I love hearing you play the piano.” And every time I say those words, I remember one kind memory about my mother. I also remember my mother trying SO hard. She really did try hard! For example, one time she was working so hard to get me to my National Honor Society awards ceremony on time. I was wearing this light-weight dress with white nylons and white leather pumps and as we got into her (smoke-filled) little Ford Escort, she splashed her dark coffee all over me, ruining the nylons and staining the dress. She felt so bad! But I wasn’t even angry. I knew she didn’t mean to. I knew what she needed right then was my compassion, not my judgment. So I comforted her and told her it would be OK (and it was). But when I think about that memory, I think about her TRYING—sure, she “failed” in so many ways; just like so much of my childhood. What charitable memories might you be able to share?

Oh. So much more is flooding my heart on this topic—but I must scoot into my real job now. Small children are calling!

Will try to write more in the coming days and weeks—

And so very, very sorry for those of you who are reading this because you are facing the loss of your parent. It’s awful. It really is. You’re not imagining it. I pray for you—truly pray for you—hope and peace, even as you process memories and as you grieve.

In Christ our Hope,
Tara Barthel

Not Slipping into Either Direction: Lack of Love OR Demanding Love

lonely-womanI am beginning to re-emerge from my tech break since our family vacation is ending today.

Sadly, I have a number of emails waiting for my attention from (godly, mature, loving) Christian women leaders who have deeply and painfully resonated with a post I did last month:

Are you living day-by-day in a ministry community, fundamentally unknown and uncared for?

I thought about trying to write them back this morning, but I honestly don’t have some great point of wisdom or edifying word to share with them. I want to encourage them! But, like so many of us, they are just now beginning to have the scales of their eyes drop off a bit re: relationships they thought were friendships, but have really morphed more into one-way ministry/service relationships. So they are trying to sort it out a bit:

  • Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with one-way/ministry relationships! Unless we are facing some sort of unmitigated season of suffering that requires our family to solely be on the receiving end of love, care, tangible helps, etc. … something is undoubtedly wrong with our own expressions of loving God and neighbor if we fail to have one-way/ministry relationships. To be a Christian is to follow Jesus and serve.
  • None of us us wants to go through life with a checklist, tallying up whether this certain person has ever noticed our birthday or that certain family has ever invited our children over for a playdate. Did they even acknowledge our husband’s (huge, life-changing!) job transition? Leave a voicemail (more or less bring over flowers) when our parent or beloved great aunt died? Ask how they can pray for us and then actually pray for us?
  • No one can be invited to every social get together; but if we observe a pattern for years that we are only and ever the ones doing the inviting (never the ones being invited); if we are always kept on the “out” of whatever relational and social structure exists in our (workplace, family, neighborhood, church, schooling association), this may be a fairly telling clue that relationships we thought were friendships may actually be mere acquaintances; overlaps associated with activities or service opportunities; a degree of fellowship—genuine care and wanting the best for one another. But not friendship.

I am personally thinking about this topic more and more because I am currently raising a pre-teen and although I have heard (and read and prayed) about how this season of life can be prone to deep relational hurts, like most of the big-time-heart-impacting-parenting issues, I had no idea how hard it would actually be. Especially for myself.

You see, the one thing that has crushed me the most associated with this entire topic has been the weak example I have been for my child. I genuinely thought I was modeling Christ-like love and covenantal relationship in a number of relationships. I did! But once a number of things came to light and I was forced to look at some of these relationships with fresh eyes and the prayerful insights and help of wise and mature friends in my life, I saw that I had some really bad patterns of modeling going on for my pre-teen daughter. She saw me  giving, giving, giving—to certain people, to certain families; but even at her young age, my daughter quickly (and even more clearly!) saw that these women and families were not the ones who had a pattern of entering into our lives with intentionality and care. Sure. In a pinch, we could call on them and they would help us. The unplanned, brief conversations we had hither and thither were sweet. These are great people! And we love and enjoy them.

But, with a bit of reflection, it became clear that for whatever reason (life is busy! children are growing up! babies are being born! health problems! moving! financial issues! family responsibilities!—all legitimate, time-consuming, things) … the truth is, as individuals and as a family, we were just not on the radar of these dear folks. And there really isn’t any indication that this pattern will be changing any time in the future.

And so. Yet again. I had let my pre-teen daughter down. (I wept and wept throughout a sleepless night when I finally realized this! Oh oh oh. So much pain. So much to learn.)

But then! But God. Ahhhh, but God. The good news is that God is always at work and there is always forgiveness! There really is. Forgiveness from God and forgiveness even from pre-teens (and even for forgiveness from friends whom I have let down!)

The very morning, weeks ago, when I confessed to my pre-teen my failings re: modeling friendship to her, she responded with such sweet and comforting words (and insightful, discerning words), that she was able to see and help me to understand things that even the other adults involved, who had been helping me, didn’t see!

For example, she was the first one to point out all of the real life friends who have blessed and served us, but for whom WE have failed to bless and serve as we ought! She listed out friends who call / text / email us to check in. Who pray for us. Who help with the children. Who delight in our blessings and comfort us in our pain. Wow. That was humbling too! We have definitely made plans to try our very best to be even better friends to them now too, I can assure you.

In addition, my pre-teen daughter prayed and exhorted us both to keep our eyes on The Cross and eternity and NOT on ourselves as we continue to move forward in ALL of these relationships. Let me try to summarize the good advice she gave me:

“You know, mom, just like walking the razor’s edge of the gospel—where we never want to lean too far to one side and go into legalism, nor do we want to slough off and lean too far to the other side and give way to licentiousness … in our relationships, now that we are seeing these new insights, we never want to fall off to one side and stop loving and serving and giving! We love these people. They are our friends and our brothers and sisters in Christ and we have made covenant vows to them. So let’s have the very, very best relationships we can have with them! Always.

But.

Recognizing that not everyone is going to be deep, intimate friends with everyone else; and recognizing that “friendship” that is primarily one-sided (receiving not giving), and can at times be a source of exclusion and keeping us just on the “out” or failing to protect our name and reputation when we are absent; or maybe just not thinking about us much at all because we’re really just not on their radar? Well. That’s not really something that can be described as friendship. Acceptance, maybe. A certain degree of tolerance and care, of course. But friendship?

Maybe it’s time to listen to Pastor Alfred’s counsel to you and daddy from way back before I was born and: PRAY FOR FRIENDS. And then take intentional steps to DEVELOP FRIENDS—real friends!—people who actually WANT to include us and enjoy us and get to know us. All the while, of course, doing our very best to enjoy the relationships we do have now. But STOPPING any of our own selfish demands that these relationships be somehow more than they choose to be.

Let’s do our very best to serve and give and love. Just like always. But let’s also, shall we, work hard and pray hard and take steps to grow some new friendships. We never want to slip into lack of love in one direction or demanding love in the other direction, right Mom?”

Right, daughter. Well said.

And that’s pretty much all the time I have to try to respond to the women who have written me asking for specific advice about this post, because it’s time to pack up my family for the airport now! So please bear with me. As my “contact Tara” page explains, I can’t really respond to each personal contact I receive—sometimes at all, but usually in any sense of a timely manner. But I do try! And two of you (you know who you are!) are quite dear to me and I want to respond. So please do bear with me.

I will also copy the list of books from the original post here, with a few edits:

And a few other suggestions that might not be directly on point, but I find helpful:

(Thanks to Maryanne Challies Helms for the last two links.)

My heart really does ache for those of you who are suffering, especially in relationships, right now. My chest is tight with pain! But Jesus knows your suffering far more than I do and He can actually COMFORT you too! This is my prayer for you.

Run to your Elder Brother. The Suffering Servant. The One Who loves you with an everlasting, real, never-abandons-you, gets-you-REALLY-GETS YOU and ADORES you because you are HIS!

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV

Amen and much love,
Tara B.

It Takes a Lot of Work to Have this Much Fun on Vacation

vacations are work2

 

Our family is enjoying a fabulous vacation right now, all courtesy of the astounding generosity of my sister and her Fred. (Yes, we both really did marry men named Fred.)

We have all sorts of wonderful family photos that I cannot wait to put into our 2014 Picaboo Family Photo Album and print three copies (one for us, one for each of our girls to take with them when they are adults). But if our combined iCameras were truly honest, we would also have many photos that look like the one to the right at the top of this post. Yes, it’s a few years old, but I still think it’s pretty much the gold standard for our family re: always trying to hold lightly the hoped-for “success” of any birthday parties, family trips, theme-park adventures, etc.

We may achieve the occasional photo on the left. You know. The one we send to grandmothers and print for the fridge magnets. But the picture on the right is a much more accurate example of quite a few moments of every family trip, even the trips wherein everyone is prayed-up and in the zone to work as a team to try to have the best vacation possible.

Why is this? Why don’t our “once in a lifetime” trips or our “happens every summer” trips turn out to be solely refreshing, pleasant, and fun? The answer is obvious—and if we will all admit it in advance of our trips, we will give ourselves (and each other!) a lot more grace as we persevere through the hard times in order to enjoy the fun times.

Life is work. Work is work. Worship is work. Fellowship, rehearsals, studying, and hosting friends is work. Prayer is work. Daily upkeep of life in a fallen world that is subject to the laws of entropy? Work work work. Sure, some fun and play and rest too. But always, also, work.

Now take that (blessed) life and cram it into a car and drive for 20+ hours; or have your constitutional rights (potentially) violated by TSA agents as you run for multiple connections in between fighting the battle of the ages for overhead bin space. Stick too many (sun-soaked, sugar-infused, out-of-routine) bodies in a too-small (tent, hotel room, friend’s guest room, cruise ship “cabin”/closet) and try to locate appropriate clothing and necessary soap/toothpaste and (if the Red Sea of Family Vacations really does part and a mini-miracle happens so you can find your) Bible? Wow! Go for it. Try to pull together any semblance of your family’s normal Bible / hymn / Catechism / prayer time. That is so great. But if you’re anything like our family, so rare. We plan for it. We try for it. And then reality sets in.

We may appear (at home!) to be organized and diligent and disciplined. But nothing reveals our disorganization, sloth, and selfishness like the “happiness” of a planned vacation. And? Especially for a family of introverts? (We really do only actually recharge when we are alone. At home. Un-peopled.) Vacations are exhausting. It takes a lot of work to have this much fun. A lot of work from everyone! Consider …

vacations are work 2Organizers? List makers? In-charge-of-packing-ers? Hi! That’s me too. I’m the Ziplock / Sharpie / start my lists weeks in advance / pack and unpack at first hotel to repack and unpack at three-day-location to repack again for water park time into formal American Girl tea-time into lie around in jammies introducing aunties and uncles to Frozen (and Frozen’s parodies) while laughing our heads off at Perpetual Commotion and Reverse Charades and laying down cover fire so our littlest player can blast away during Wiley Vision for Wii Alaska Super Slam. We think about (and plan for) personal care needs, medicine, travel-time books and coloring, technology chargers, temperature shifts/layers, footwear, how and when we will have access to laundry, and many, many more things. Honestly? love my job! I do. I find it challenging and relaxing, frustrating and satisfying. Like homemaking in general, I think it is hard, but worth it. And I love to serve my family in this way.

I also, however, can struggle when the job feels SO overwhelming and even impossible. I don’t have the details on the dress code for the wedding rehearsal. No one can tell me if I will or will not have access to a laundry machine. I may know the exact amount of toothpaste I need to serve on an eleven-day conflicted church intervention team, but how do I calculate out for my hubby and littles? Hmmmmmm. And, of course, there is always that guilt-ridden moment right before I actually start to load the suitcases when the I look around the room at all of my (organized, labeled) stuff and think, “WHY OH WHY can’t I pack lighter? Mrs. Ingalls brought her entire family across half of an entire continent in one covered wagon? What is up with me that I can’t bring my family across the Bozeman pass without it looking like a D-Day invasion?!”

zpacking

But I am not the only one who is working hard to have this much fun …

vacation are work5Daddies work hard on vacation. And it’s not just their brawn in hauling, arranging, and hauling again all of the bags full of sharpie-labeled ziplocks. (Although I sure do appreciate the brawn!)

Daddies are trying to live out Philippians 2 and consider all sorts of interests—including (v21), the interests of the Lord Jesus. Maybe they’ve read even just a few of the “Be Sure to Be A Godly Leader and Servant on Your Family’s Vacation” blogs and articles that exist out there and they really want to serve well … but it can be hard to be diligent and disciplined at home. How much more so in the chaos and exhaustion and constantly flexing schedules associated with vacations?

If they are the traditional “bread winner” for the family, daddies are also leaving behind work stresses (and a growing-by-the-day Inbox of actionable emails). Because they want to serve well, it may be hard for daddies to take time for themselves without feeling guilty. They also may be navigating the (muddy! difficult!) waters of extended-family-group-dynamics (cue scary music!) and feeling the weight of their (slightly controlling) stressed out Ziplock-and-Sharpie-toting wifey. Hypothetically.

And yet … there are still two more groups of people who work hard on vacations …

family vacay

Children work hard to have fun on vacation. They do. They may not understand what is happening without our clear instruction, regular encouragement, and (yes!), redemptive discipline when things get out of control. But the truth is, it is hard work to be out of your childhood routines and placed into so many (fun! indulgent! exciting!) situations. Children get tired. Our children who are introverts get especially tired by all of the peopling. At times, our children will be facing some James 4 Monster Wants that have exposed their spiritually-adulterous hearts with an intensity that even they were not expecting. (And their parents surely were not either. You know. Again. Hypothetically.)

It’s hard work to wait in (hot, boring) lines; to sit politely at fancy schmancy linen-covered tables (and not break or spill things); to tackle the huge fears related to the huge water slide / elephant ride / zip line / rock wall / dolphin fin push. Fun? Yes! Work? Also yes.

vacations are work7And finally, it is hard work to host people on vacation. It is. We may want to do it. We may look forward to it all year-long and count down the days until the vacation is finally here. But even with all of the love and the laughter, there is also an increase in dirty dishes, laundry, and constant cleaning up associated with hosting people.

Plus, we pay an emotional and relational price when we host people in our home. We lose out on the ability to interact normally (comfortably, easily), especially related to personal things like disciplining children; walking around in our PJs; eating and drinking what we want when we want it; being extra-quiet at strange times to accommodate our guests; and yes … practicing spiritual disciplines, especially around our loved ones who are not of the same faith as we are. But even for those who share the same faith, the practice of that faith can look very different.

So let’s all admit it and plan for it because it really does take a lot of work to have this much fun. 

Here are some of the ways our family tries to anticipate and plan for the “work of fun” that is family vacationing …

family vacations are hard 9d

Recognizing that we all get tired, we try to encourage sleeping and napping without guilt. This means that as the momma, I am always looking for the signs that my kiddos are wiped out and could use a little momma-snuggle rest time. I can help them sleep on a bench, in an airport, or even at our host’s home while cheering and playing are going on around us. Mmmmmm. Sleep. Sometimes we really need some when we are on vacation.

family vacations are hard8bOh. And for the “love-to-sleep-in” folks? (I’m married to one.) That means that we “wake-up-before-dawn-100%-ready-to-go” folks (Fred is married to one) try extra hard to be super quiet in the morning so that the sleepy-sleepersons get their vacation too. I LOVE having everything organized the night before so that when I pop awake in our room, I can quietly step out and go and have my fun (I love love love the early morning hours!) while my darling husband gets to have his fun of sleeping until he wants to start (slowly) moving. Ahhhhhh. That feels like a vacation to him.

vacay2

Another thing we have recognized (after many a doozy of a fight on a family trip) is that all of the introverts in our family need alone time if they are going to (lovingly, in a Christ-like manner) make it through the (happy / fun / fabulous) adventures associated with vacationing. This is how introverts recharge. This is how our souls remember truth—who God is, who we are in Christ, how our union with Christ enables us to love both God and (vacationing-with-them) neighbor.

DIGITAL CAMERANo. We never use our “introvertedness” as an excuse for sin or selfishness. But we have also learned that it is not necessarily selfish to respectfully ask for some alone time with our book. (As the momma, I watch for opportunities to gently ask if a little alone-book-time might be appreciated by certain tiny-sized-introverts under my care.) Or maybe it’s listening to an e-book while doing some knitting, coloring, or Mosaics.

Even in a jam-packed vacation, we can serve one another by carving out time to float a lazy river or take a private SCUBA dive. (Man. There is no quiet like SCUBA quiet. Mmmmmm.) We enjoy the doing of vacation all the more by taking some time to not do. But just to be. Quiet. Contemplative. A little no-peopled re-setting of the equilibrium of the gospel in the heart that is otherwise tempted by vacationing to be destabilized and fried by all of the “fun.”

(And for my extroverted friends? I’d love to read your ideas on how you hang out in the hotel lobbies just looking for people to talk to—as opposed to running up to the hotel room and double-locking the door while putting on the “do not disturb” sign. Or maybe you have learned to recognize when there has been too much quiet and your children and you need something loud and relational and **!!OUT THERE!!** to help offset all of that introspective, non-verbal, quiet time? I’m sure there is a mirror post for this essay that is just itchin’ to be written by one of you …)

Whatever the temperament makeup of your family, I do hope that even just these few ideas from the Barthel family are an encouragement as you remember to give yourself a break on your next family vacation.

You’re not making it up. You’re not crazy. It really is a lot of work to have this much fun!

Your vacationing friend,
Tara B. (& fam)

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The Difficult Task of Declining the Sleepover Invitation

A recent post by Tim Challies on why his family doesn’t do sleepovers, reminded me of an awkward conversation we had to have with some of our dearest friends in the world. It had to do with an invitation that one of our daughters had for a birthday party sleepover.

As a general rule, we are a “NO SLEEPOVER” type of family. But we have some exceptions to this rule—basically, when we have known a family for years and years and we trust them and their children to be not only appropriate, but vigilant, re: access to and use of technology, nature of entertainment, length of unsupervised child-time, etc. etc. … we may allow the occasional sleepover. But since our children are still in the incredibly vulnerable season of life of little child/pre-teen years, we try to be very careful. And when we KNOW that there are going to be other children / teens in the house whom we do not know? Yeah. That’s a deal-killer for us. We must do the difficult thing and decline the sleepover invitation. (This includes any type of sleepover camp too.)

There are many reasons for our vigilant commitment re: this topic, but let me name just a few:

  1. Even though the vast majority of people with whom our children interact would never sexually assault a child, we just don’t know. And thus, we must be careful. (That is why we LOVE—and share often!—the “Safe Side Super Chick” materials for explaining some healthy and wise ways to talk about “Don’t Knows” and “Kinda Knows” and “Safe Side Grownups”—because the vast majority of children who are harmed in this way are not harmed by a “stranger” but by a “KINDA-KNOW” Sad, but true.)
  2. Whether we admit it or not; whether we are taking intentional steps to address it or not, we are raising children in a pornified culture. The VHS videos and “Pl**boy” and “Hu**ler” magazines that saturated my childhood? Yeah. Sure. I really do not have even ONE early childhood memory that is not affected by p*rnogrpahy, but as vile as that all was (and it was vile!), those images are TAME compared to what is insidiously, intentionally “out there” (meaning, on every single internet-linked device in your house and in your children’s pockets!), purposefully and shrewdly designed to ensnare and addict our children.
  3. Let’s say we trust the parents; really trust them. And even the children in the family. Great. But what about the child we do not know who also is invited to the sleepover? That’s what happened in this situation. We were happy to drop our child off and come back at ANY time of the night (post games / presents / movie / popcorn) and pick her up. But our daughter could not stay for the sleepover. Because something bad would happen? Not necessarily. But because we just didn’t know. Oh, and we had these data points too: a (terrible!) s*xting situation had just happened to a very good friend of ours at a (sweet, innocent) sleepover involving nine year-olds (explained further below); every statistic I find from every citation indicates that the age of inadvertent exposure to p*rn for young children (even the “good kids” from “involved parenting” homes) is dropping lower and lower each year because the p*rn industry TARGETS children (with innocent search terms and progressively addictive images and experiences); and lastly, we operate at an extremely high level of vigilance because I can still remember the smell and touch of the (drunk) father of my eighth-grade friend who came into our “innocent/fun” pre-teen sleepover and pressed his (filthy) body against mine as he ran his hand up and down the entire length of my body before I jumped up and ran out of the room and threatened to call the police or my dad. (Why, oh why, didn’t I do both?! 30+ years later and I still regret that. But children are incredibly vulnerable; it was the middle of the night in the world before cell phones; somehow I felt responsible and bad about it all and I just wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened. Just like so many young child abuse victims.)

So. What do we do with all of that information? All of those warnings? We read just a few things more (SO worth your time!) and we keep talking and praying with our children AND taking steps to help them as they navigate this difficult area of life:

  1. Teens and Unrestricted Access to the InternetI would change this title to “Children and Unrestricted Access to the Internet because the first “sexting” text my friend’s child received was at a sleepover at age 9!! (“C’mon! Take off your shirt and send us a photo!”) Age 9! At a sleepover. And these were “good kids” having a sleepover in a godly home! The mom heard the friend’s phone buzz at midnight and took it away of course. And rethought sleepovers for their family.
  2. Three Things You Don’t Know About Your Children and Sex *(Short and to the point, but worth the read.)
  3. Teach your children about the limits on authority (!!). This is particularly important for families that emphasize the blessings of headship and submission / “first time obedience.”
  4. Affirm over and over again that you WILL believe your children, even if someone whom we ALL thought would be a trustworthy, safe-side-adult-level person. (I had to ask my oldest daughter to forgive me when I did not emphasize this enough re: a sleepover situation.) Strangers may assault our children. But statistically, if they are ever hurt in this way, it’s going to be by someone they “kinda know.”
  5. Start young. “The Right Touch” has been a good introductory book for our family, but I’m sure there are many others.
  6. Speak positively and happily about the blessings of s*x within marriage. Our oldest child is very fond of talking about an analogy we read together about fire in the fireplace bringing warmth and light and safety and pleasure—but even a spark outside of its rightful place can bring pain, destruction, and utter devastation.
  7. Remember: When it comes to child abuse, especially in the church, justice may be grace. (Lots more links in this article too.)

Oh. And yes, please do re-think your standards for sleepovers. There’s something about undressing and being completely vulnerable while asleep; the adult-free-access to online things and technology things; nephews and uncles and friends of brothers who are also in the house. It’s just a higher-risk-situation than more normal situations for most children who have involved parents in their lives. So please be careful and wise. (And please don’t think this issue is only about girls being assaulted. I know the statistics and I have heard personally the unimaginable suffering young boys experience when they are sexually assaulted.)

God gives grace for survivors of child sexual abuse! Praise His name! But we want to be able to say with a clear conscience that we did everything we could to keep our children from this horror.

For God’s glory and the protection of our littles,
Tara B.

I could have SUED and WON. Almost guaranteed. All it would have cost me was my integrity.

This past weekend, someone I respect very much encouraged me to write up the story of how God provided the means for our family to send me all the way from Montana to Florida to LiveBlog The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference. Having reflected on her comments for a few days now, I think she is right.  I see many evidences of God’s grace at work in this story and it is good to pause, remember, and make a little e-stone-of-remembrance so that one day, like Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12, my family and I can raise our Ebenezer to God’s gracious provision in helping us.

(Plus, there are elements of the story that are just plain funny. So I thought they might give you a chuckle or two as well.)

This story begins on an airplane way back in January. I cannot tell you the name of the airline or any identifying details because that would be breaking a confidentiality agreement that I signed related to this “in-flight incident.” But just know that it’s a big airline, not a little rinky-dinky-prop-jop-casual airline.

Back to January …

It was a completely normal air travel day. No weather problems. No delays. You can picture me just sitting there in my nice, elite-area, aisle seat, watching a video on my iPod. (I have flown around 75,000+ air miles a year every year since 1997, so I have been a million-miler for quite awhile now. Thus, air travel is one of the few things I am confident at and competent in; unlike, say, cooking, which I still can’t do very well.)

Suddenly, without any warning, I felt a huge jolt and clonk to my head because a large, heavy, carry-on suitcase had dropped directly onto me when an overhead bin malfunctioned during our ascent. Honestly? It hurt, but I didn’t think I was seriously injured. Sure. I had an immediate, large egg-sized bump on my forehead and some pretty drastic scratches down my face. But I did not lose consciousness; I had no sharp pains down my neck or back. I was injured and it wasn’t pleasant, but I didn’t think it was necessary to take the lead flight attendant up on her urgent offer as she rushed to my side:

“We are SO sorry! The pilot said he will immediately turn the plane around and go back to [giant city] so that you can receive medical attention if you would like.”

I quickly thought about how many people were on that plane. (I know the Boeing 757 well.) Elderly people. Business people. Families with young children and babies. As I mentally calculated how inconvenienced they would all be (especially re: connections) and as I tried hard to “consider their interests” (Philippians 2), I replied:

“Thanks. But I don’t think that’s necessary. May I please just have a bag of ice?”

She quickly filled a little barf bag with ice from first class and brought it to me. I then just collapsed my (bumped, scratched) face into the bag of ice in my hands, rested on the tray table in front of me,  and tried not to cry from the adrenaline of the experience. (I’m not much of a crier and I’m certainly not a crier-in-public person.)

But then. (Cue scary music.) Again, without any warning, the same overhead bin popped open and the same (giant! heavy!) suitcase crashed onto me again. This time, it grazed the back of my head and mostly landed on my right wrist and arm which (like my face) immediately started to bleed from the scratches and soon afterwards turned some nasty shades of bruising. Not fun! But again, not a broken bone. Just a minor injury. Unpleasant, but not all that serious. (Although it did leave a small, permanent scar on my right wrist, which I think of as my own little “Ebenezer” every time I see it.)

Again, the lead flight attendant rushed to my side and offered to have a “medical team” meet us at the [connecting big city]. Again, I didn’t think that was necessary, but I did ask for some towels/bandaids. And that time? I did cry. No sobbing or sounds, just hot, frightened tears rolling down my cheeks as the flight crew (finally!) emptied the obviously defective overhead storage bin so that this would not be a triple-play kind of injure-the-passenger-situation.

But now my legal brain started to kick into gear. Yes. You can take the lawyer out of Illinois and plop her into Montana, but you can’t ever really remove from her brain three years of law school and all of the studying it took to pass the Bar Exam. And as I sat there, reviewing the facts of what had just happened, I was quite sure this was a strong (if not slam-dunk) case of prima facie neglience on behalf of the airline. (Equivalent to being rear-ended in an automobile accident.) There’s just no defense to that bin popping open twice (and the flight crew not adjusting bags or emptying the bin until after the second injury). Plus, I did not have anything in the overhead bin, so there was absolutely no way I was contributorily negligent in the situation.

I knew what I would have to do to prevail in the courts:

  • Get the names and contact information for the people sitting near me to make it easier to depose them (they were all clearly “on my side,” as it were, because they could not believe this had happened to me; even seasoned frequent-flyers and [name of airline] crew members were telling me “You HAVE TO sue!”);
  • Accept the offer of having a medical team meet me at the connecting city so that my injuries could be formally documented;
  • At the stroke of 8:00AM the next morning, hire a personal injury lawyer; and
  • Spend countless hours of the next year with my lawyer preparing for the fight, in depositions and settlement negotiations, or (if the airline was stubborn for some unimaginable reason), hours and hours for multiple years preparing for and finally executing the trial.

I would probably win. The lawyer would make a good profit. And our family (which could really use the money for basic needs and future expenses) would enjoy a substantial in-flow of cash.

But I also knew:

  • Litigation would take a tremendous amount of time away from my service to my husband, young children, church, and community;
  • If I sued, I would have a strained relationship with one of my favorite airlines. (I bake cookies for my local Billings crew!);
  • I would not be following wise, biblical counsel to “settle matters quickly” re: going to court (Matthew 5:25);
  • I would be following the litigious nature of our society which I despise (remember when kids used to get bruises and cuts on the playground and find them all to be badges of super-fun-honor? not reasons to SUE and then PAD with protective gear every schoolyard playground?);
  • I would be violating the core biblical peacemaking principles to which I have dedicated my professional life as a professional Christian conciliator (and which were the reason my husband and I left our careers in Chicago to move to Billings, Montana back in 1999). John 17:20-23 & 1 John & Ephesians 4 & 1 Corinthians 6?! Man. Persuasive stuff.

As my tears subsided and my barf-bag-of-ice melted against my scraped and sore body, I pretty much re-read in my mind Appendix D in Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker (“When Is It Right To Go To Court?“) and the “Biblical Conflict Resolution” Appendix of the PCA’s Book of Church Order. I am not proud of the fact that I wavered a bit in this moment. There was such a draw to imagining a world in which we had a little financial margin! But ultimately, it was clear what I had to do:

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” Abraham Lincoln

The next morning, when the Vice-President of the airline’s insurance carrier called me, I violated every mantra of legal negotiation and just told him the truth: I was a Christian and a peacemaker and I had no intention of suing the airline, as long as I was treated fairly and justly. I told him honestly what happened (on the phone and in writing) and, after a few short weeks, I was offered a fair settlement. The dollar amount was just enough to send me to Orlando so that I could have the joy of serving The Gospel Coalition on the LiveBlog. And that’s exactly what I did.

No. We still don’t have a balanced budget and that is a stressful situation to be in. My children do not have a nice, secure college fund waiting for them. My husband still drives a vehicle with nearly 200,000 miles on it. We did not deceive, manipulate, or warp these minor injuries into major financial benefits. But I do not regret this at all because I know that if I had exaggerated my injuries; if I had been litigious for selfish reasons; if I had sinned and violated my conscience and convictions and destroyed my name and integrity for MONEY? Oh. Any “benefit” would have been rightly burdened by deserved guilt and shame.

Instead, I had a (guilt-free), wonderful conference as I joyfully reflected on the sovereignty and goodness of God re: both Nehemiah and broken overhead bins and crashing-down suitcases.

SDG,
Tara B.

Live Blogs (Near-Transcriptions) of the 2014 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference

I hope that the following LiveBlogs for The 2014 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference are a blessing to you. It truly was our family’s joy to have me serve in this way.

Friday, June 27

4:00PM (Eastern) Plenary 1 – Kathy Keller: Taking Action in Light of God’s Word (Nehemiah 1-2)

7:30PM Plenary 2 – Tim Keller: Laboring for a God Who Fights For Us (Nehemiah 3-4)

Saturday, June 28

8:30AM Plenary 3 – Paige Benton Brown: Fearing God in a Fallen World (Nehemiah 5-6)

10:30AM Plenary 4 – Nancy Guthrie: Coming Together Around God’s Word (Nehemiah 7-8)

7:30PM Plenary 5 – John Piper: Responding to God According to His Word (Nehemiah 9-10)

Sunday, June 29

10:30AM Plenary 7 – Don Carson: Leaning Forward in the Dark – A Failed Reformation (Nehemiah 13)

(To access all of the LiveBlogs from the 2012 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, click here.)

If Only I Had Thin Arms, Then My Marriage Would be Perfect

thin armsTowards the end of our school year, I was watching my dear friend (who happens to be very beautiful and very petite) stack our lunch chairs and vacuum our crumbs. As she worked, I thought to myself:

“If only I had thin arms like her, then everything would be perfect. Especially in my marriage. MAN! It must be SO easy for her husband to love her because she has such beautiful, feminine, lovely arms.”

Then. Of course. I bust out laughing at the ridiculousness of my unbiblical, ungodly, un-reality-based stinkin’ thinkin’.  As my friend turned in response to my guffaw, I had to confess my stupidity to her (and make her laugh too). Because of course, we are real friends and thus, we talk and pray about the real struggles we both have in our marriages, none of which could possibly be helped or hindered by the circumference of our arms.

So why did I even have the flash of such a ridiculous, unwise, non-redemptive thought?

The answer, like so much of life, is complex. But processing it through the grid of our three enemies (Satan, the World, and our Flesh) helps me:

1. Satan hates women. Sure, he hates men too and boy! Do they have their own set of struggles. But let’s just take a moment and think about all of the time, energy, emotion, and money associated with keeping women in bondage over how they look. This is a societal thing to be sure. (“The World” is up next!) But it must also be a spiritual thing. The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and the Kingdom of God comes when women’s eyes are off of themselves and onto the things that matter for eternity. Does that mean we shouldn’t try to be feminine and lovely when situations call for us to dress up and enjoy getting to be the girl? Of course not! Modesty and beauty are lovely—reflections of Heaven to be sure.

But worshipping at the altar of a media-saturated, p*rn-saturated culture that says women are only beautiful when they are six-feet-tall, surgically-enhanced creatures with eleven-year-old-boy’s (non) hips and grotesquely-out-of-proportion breasts? That women exist not to glorify God and love neighbor, but to enslave themselves for the wandering-eye-approval and selfish use and abuse of (non)-men? C’mon! This is from the pit of Hell. And I think this was one of the reasons why I was most disgusted with myself over my stupid, stupid thought about my arms. I hate the father of lies! And I do NOT want to give his wickedness even one more inch, one more iota, in my life. Ever.

2. The World has one message and one message alone: Skinny, beautiful people are happy and worthwhile; fat people are bad. Oh, sure. There is the occasional “Dove Ad” for true beauty. Some of the movers-and-shakers in Hollywood TRY to push back against the completely misleading impact of air-brushing and photo-shopping. (The Cindy Crawford quote of “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford” being one of my favorites. As is the Jamie Lee Curtis no-make-up photo shoot. And of course the “photoshopping real women into cover models” video has its strengths.) But the truth is, these reality-checks are not the norm. Even for our family—we don’t watch television, we don’t see commercials, we live in a town with like twenty billboards (that are all for flower shops, dentists, rodeos, or warnings against meth)—and yet we are still bombarded by the “only skinny people are happy/worthy” message ALL. THE. TIME.

I know that tape started playing in the back of my head when I was just a tiny child and my mother would turn in front of a mirror and say how she would “NEVER” “GET FAT.” She taught me that THE key to success in life was, sure, an education (blah blah blah), but really—DON’T EVER GET FAT. What a crushing weight! What a lie. The truth is, I know lots and lots of skinny/beautiful/rich people who go to bed lonely; who never know the depth of happiness associated with decades with one spouse; who long for one true friend; who would trade their money or pants-size in an INSTANT if it meant they could be accepted, really accepted, not for how they look or how much wealth/power/fame/money they have, but just because they are who they are.

The world (and too much of the worldly influence in the church!) says I am at least a little bit beautiful when I am thin (we may couch it with words like “healthy,” but so often we just mean skinny) … but I am a little LESS loveable a little more BLECH when I am fat. Not so my husband. He looks at me and sees Tara, whom he loves. He loved me when I weighed nearly 300 lbs. My life was harder then. Our lives were harder then. I had a lot of physical and emotional pain associated with my excess weight. But whereas the world saw “A Fat/Unattractive Woman.” Fred saw me. The wife of his youth. The love of his life. His best friend. And He loved me. I didn’t stop being his because of how I looked. I didn’t stop being me because of how I looked. This is truth. And the world needs to SHHHHHH with all the lies to the contrary.

3. As does my Old Man flesh. Yes. I have been born again by God’s Spirit. I am renewed in my inner man. I have been made holy by faith. By grace. I am justified. But I am also being made holy—and that process? The doctrine of progressive sanctification? OH MAN. What a drag! Especially regards eating. And not eating. And how I look. And what I think about how I look. Why I care. And why any of it matters.

These are hard issues and I’m not the only one struggling with them. (That’s why my “Disordered Affections” and “Losing 100 lbs” blog entries are currently my most-read series.) If change regarding these things were merely physical, I could probably handle that, especially with the advent of MyFitnessPal & Weight Watchers & any of the other excellent helps for exercise and calories, etc. etc. (I might start loving a number on a scale a little too much or evangelizing a book or program too much—but hey! I’d be skinny, right?) Or if change were merely spiritual, I could SO do that. I’m all about the prayer thing! Or the “counseling” thing. Let’s just talk and talk and pray and pray and claim this and renounce that until we’re blue in the face. You bet. I’m there.

Just don’t ask me to actually CHANGE. Really change. Heart and body change.

Ah. Now we’re finally getting down to the real problem I don’t really want to change. And that’s why, for most of us, we never do change. We get into our ruts and we may exert a little effort here and there (especially for an upcoming wedding or reunion or when we are trying to get pregnant / right after our Dave Ramsey Sunday School class / the moment after our wife finds our hidden stash of p*rn or finally files for divorce). Sure! Change! You bet!

But then the temporal thing moves on, the crisis passes, we’re left with our normal loneliness and disappointment, boredom, frustration, stress … and 9 times out of 10, we devolve right back into our old habits. Inertia is real. Change is hard. It is. It is. It’s not impossible. (God promises to give us everything we need for life and godliness!) But especially for some of us, especially in certain areas (money, drugs, sex, alcohol, shopping, controlling our husbands and children, food, compulsive exercise) … it is REALLY hard to change. There are biological and spiritual components. Satan is real. The world is real. Our flesh tries to squirm off of the altar because it really, really does not want to die.

(If you don’t believe me, just do this little test: Try giving something up for just one week. Facebook. Television. Sports. Reading. Coffee/chocolate/sweets. Take a break. Maybe one week sounds too long. OK. How about just one day. Try for just one hour. How do you feel? Where do you turn when the agitation starts? How have you been looking to “that one thing” to satisfy you? This, my friends, is a great diagnostic for rooting out the James 4 spiritual adultery we all struggle with—when we love anything or anyone more than we love God.)

Say, for example, skinny arms.

This rightfully shames me. I should be embarrassed. I coveted my neighbor’s skinny arms and I was disgusted when I finally saw my own heart and admitted just how worldly I still was, deep down.

Sure, I can talk an OK game about body image and true beauty and fearing the Lord. I can comfort short girls and plump girls and advise them on the market-saturation of cheap women (really, even now, just little girls!!) who will degrade themselves through texting and touching and doing things I didn’t even know existed when I was their age. (And I was raised in a p*rn-saturated home for the 1970’s!)

I can pray for my daughters’ husbands (if they marry) who are probably somewhere between the ages of 6 and 12 right now—so statistically, even if they have been raised in a relatively happy, stable, involved-parents-home, they have already faced their first inadvertent exposure to p*rn. The images are there. Now. How will they respond? Will they feed them? Move toward the darkness? Begin to live a double life of deception that separates them from real relationship, destroys their trust with their closest family and friends, feeds obsessions that dehumanize and degrade women and make s*x all about their own physical pleasure—pleasure that will soon stop being pleasurable and will instead rule if not destroy their lives as enslaving lusts that lead them one day to do things they never would have thought possible?

(If you don’t believe me. If you think I’m trying to scare you into action—and I am!—-read this.)

But even with all of this information and passion and life experience, sometimes, I can still be just so incredibly foolish. Worldly. Immature. Ungodly. I can objectify women with the next person and judge a book not only by its cover, but by a warped, wicked standard for judging book covers.

I call myself a Christian, but I still sometimes care more about granny arms than lonely grandmothers. Too often, I spend far more time thinking about my pouchy-belly than offering to hold a newborn (who, happily, just created her own special pouchy-belly for her own momma).

On paper (or in blogs or at events), I know how to say the right answer. And deep down, really DON’T want to be the kind of person who tolerates (more or less idealizes!) the creepy, anorexic, plastic Barbie-shaped-ideal. But when I see my snausage-y arms poking out from my opera gloves on the ONE NIGHT when I really REALLY wanted to be feminine and lovely for my darling husband. Well. In that moment, unless I fight faith’s fight against sin/Satan/the world, I will forget the real me. My theology will fly right out the window on the wings of vanity and not only will I be tempted to hide. (“Why did I ever say we would Grand Marshall The RMCC Ball anyway?!?!”) I will be tempted to chuck it all—spiritual disciplines associated with idolatry and gluttony, (DAILY!) aerobic exercise and weight lifting, and FOR SURE all of that healthy-shmealthy-eating-business. Why try? Why try SO hard? If my arms are still snausages, then why even care?

Ah. Now we’re getting down to it.

If my goal was to LOOK a certain way (which apparently, at least a portion of my mixed-motives-heart was!), then sure, I am a failure and my effort to push back against worldliness and selfishness and laziness really is all in vain.

But if my goal was to steward God’s resources for Kingdom purposes, to be stronger and better able to love and serve and give? And if that included one glorious night this month when Fred and I had the privilege and joy of stepping away from our normal duties and slipping on far more formal accouterments than we enjoyed even at our own wedding 19 years ago? If our faces were split open from grinning ear-to-ear as we bowed and curtsied to greet the most wonderful people in the entire world and then danced the night away to beautiful music created by our beautiful daughter with dances called out by our beautiful friend? Well, then. I am success! A plus-sized, beloved-by-her-husband, success.

thin arms2And his was the only eye I really wanted to catch anyway …

Oh, friends. The circumferences of our arms may vary, but our marriages are quite the same: sinners married to sinners, living life in a fallen world, loved and saved by the Triune God.

May we find our identity in Him and not in a number on the scale or tape measure.

Sending my love,
Tara B.

PS
Here are a few of my favorite books that might encourage you a bit on this topic:

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