Tara’s Blog

Grief Sometimes Feels Like Fear

Grief-Statue

As Fred and I continue to face ongoing disappointment and confusion in our (now) months-long season of pain, I find myself very sad. At first I thought I might be dipping my emotional toes into the pool of the Black Dog of Depression. But then I realized:

a) I recognized that I felt sad. Depression hardly ever feels likes sadness to me—I experience depression more as NOT feeling. Well. Anything. It’s just sort of a numbing or nothingness that is, yes, depressing.

b) I don’t have the sense that this sadness will NEVER lift. When I am in the throws of depression, I don’t see it is depression (see point a. above) AND I feel like the funk / dullness / inability to breath or smile or live WILL NEVER END. Yeah. The hopelessness for change is a red flag that my melancholy personality has skidded into some depressive cul-de-sacs of thinking and believing and acting.

c) There really are a number of extremely tiring, worthy-of-grieving, SAD things happening in my life right now. Friends are facing surgeries and fatal diagnoses. Adoptions are being held up and families that already hold one another in their hearts can’t quite hold one another in their arms due to bureaucracy and paperwork. Long-time relationships that experienced some struggle this summer tempt us to feel like there is no hope for resolution in the near future, so that is affecting many aspects of our lives in terribly painful ways. I am concerned about changes affecting a group of people that I love —change is often so hard and my heart is never far from all of the fine men and women who serve in this ministry and labor for God’s glory because I love and admire them so much. The criminal case tied to my sexual assault last year has ended and the lawyers are negotiating the final details of the civil settlement (or else we will need to try the case)—everyone has been professional and gracious, but with every voicemail and cc’d email from their litigator and my litigator, it’s tiring to turn and face and talk about the very bad thing that happened to me. Plus, I’m in trauma survival counseling for the first time in my life that MAN! Counseling is H.A.R.D. My adult-violent-crime-PTSD counselor is wise and experienced and I trust him! But it’s still very hard to do the work of facing things and working through things. (Avoidance feels so much better in the short-term)

So what do I do when I am grieving these real losses, bearing these true pains?

  • Sometimes I freeze. I do. I freeze physically (as I did, much to my shock!, during the sexual assault—I always thought I’d be a brave screamer but nope, I moved not a muscle and said not a word). I freeze emotionally. I don’t know what to do or say so all too often I do nothing—but I am trying so hard to break out of that. To stop by the person’s home. Call. Text. Email. Send a card. Just let them know I care and I am praying. Asking again and again, praying for a meeting.
  • Sometimes I cry, but not very often. I have to be with someone I really trust to let myself cry. More often, I am tempted to cynicism (“doubt, mistrust, an inclination that defaults to an uncharitable interpretation of situations, words, and actions”) or stoicism (“passive detachment from the world and everyone in it”) … neither, of course, being even near the mark of my life’s work which is LOVE—for God, for neighbor, for my closest neighbors (family members, friends, church members) whom I am called to do good, bless, pray for, and never curse.
  • When I cry, really cry, soul-pouring-out grief … I am lamenting. And the Psalms are my guides. (My dear friend Christina Fox has a book coming out of the Psalms of Lament and I can’t wait for it to be here. I’m already giving away—-with her express permission of course!—the pre-release copy she generously shared with me.)

In addition, I often end up re-reading favorite C.S. Lewis passages. Here are three that struck me as I’ve sat here reading this evening:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”

“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith but they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ.”

So true. So true.

As someone who is prone to fear … (I really appreciated when Ed Welch described himself as a “fear specialist” in his excellent book, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest. I could relate!) … I am really praying for wisdom and grace to a) not default to GUILT over fear and anxiety; b) not default to ESCAPISM when that tight-chest-feeling overwhelms me; and c) learn what it means to “share in the passion of Christ” and LIVE LIFE in a fallen world.

Moment by moment. Breath by breath. Grateful, but not enamored with this life. Content, but really? Looking FORWARD with hope and expectation to the next life–when our real life begins.

I hope your Monday was not one of grief or anxiety! But even if it was, that in your suffering, you have also experienced hope.

Your friend,
Tara B.

I love this! “I Will Wait”

Two of my favorite people, Carolyn McCulley and Pastor Anyabwile, pointed me to this video years ago and it is still a favorite. I do SO urge you to watch it all the way to the end.

It may not be your culture. Poetry reading may not be something you take part in often.

Listen anyway. This is excellent.

The Struggle with Perspective

“When hope fades, cynicism is often waiting in the wings. And this is indeed one of the great challenges of our time. Skepticism (there is nothing good and I know it) and cynicism (I can’t trust anybody or anything and I know this) seem reasonable choices. But is this a necessary outcome or orientation for us? I think not

The Scriptures open up for us a view of the world that is very different. There is a God. This God is the creator, and He is personal, loving, willful, and particular. We see that despite being a good creation, a disruption and disorder has occurred and the drama of redemption unfolds. But the central character here is God! It is what God does, whom God appoints, and what God decides that makes the difference. Now please don’t go rushing to theological dictionaries or well-entrenched beliefs to determine “whose” side I’m on in terms of God’s purpose and human will. I’ll tell you. I believe in both.

I have seen too much, experienced too much, read too much, and pondered too much to believe that my choices are determined, socially conditioned, or illusory. I believe they are real. However, I have also seen too much, experienced too much, read too much, and pondered too much to believe that they are, as Lewis would say, “the whole show.”

History is not a fatalist’s game. Humans do act, and often with serious and sad outcomes. The good news is that we are not alone! Writing to the Romans, the apostle Paul reminded them that hope is real because it is anchored in one who is able to carry it, sustain it, and fulfill it (Romans 8:24-25; 28-30). History is moving to an end, and the Bible offers a good end.

Thus, the difference between optimism (short term and easily overcome) and hope (eternal and anchored) is where they are rooted. One leans on human effort; the other rests in God and God’s promises.” (excerpted from a 2009 RZIM’ “Slice of Infinity”)

Vandalizing Shalom

From one of my favorite books … C. Plantinga’s, Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be–A Breviary of Sin:

“None of our lives is an accident.
We have been called into existence, expected, awaited, equipped, and assigned.

We have been called to undertake the stewardship of a good creation, to create sturdy and buoyant families that pulse with the glad give-and-take of the generations.

By the sins of attack, we vandalize shalom.
By the sins of flight we abandon it.

We ‘hate the light and do not come to the light’ (John 3:20).
[BUT!]

Don’t forget the resolve of God.
God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back.

Human sin is stubborn but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way.”

Banking on the resolve of God–

Your friend,
Tara B.

Up & Down, Up & Down … And So it Goes as I am (Still) Recovering from My (Lifetime of) Disordered Eating

yo yo weight

My 2016 event schedule is starting to fill up, and many of the events are related to my new retreat on disordered affections. This teaching content has really been born out of my lifetime problems with food. (Ever since my pacifier was dipped in white sugar to sooth me as a newborn with multiple birth defects, I have always been comforted by sugar. This is not good—physically or emotionally! I was able to keep it relatively in check as a young person, but WOW! Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I struggle with this a LOT, especially when I am recovering from the shock and misery of physical and/or relational trauma.) This content has also been born out of multiple studies I have led at my church for women and out of my Master’s work at Reformed Theological Seminary.

If this is a topic that is of interest to you, I hope that you will check out my other articles on disordered affections, peace with food, and my journey to lose 100 pounds. If you, too, go up-and-down, up-and-down with your weight; if you are also (still) recovering from a lifetime of disordered eating, I do SO hope and pray that they will be an encouragement to you. As I’ve blogged about before, I can totally relate to the ongoing, annoying, exhausting strugle!  If you can’t relate to this struggle, but you love someone who can, I hope and pray that they will help you to have compassion and patience and empathy as you minister wisdom and grace in their lives.

With that, I will sign off for the day by sharing my inaugural blog on this topic … from years ago, but the content still holds firm.

Thanks for stopping by!

Yours in the battle,
Tara B.

Recovering from My (Lifetime of) Disordered Eating

There are many very good things going on in my life right now related to my lifetime of disordered eating (and the last ten years of my life that I have spent as a morbidly obese woman). I am so grateful to God for His continued, gracious, winnowing work! And one day, I may be ready to blog about the details. But not today.

Today, what I am ready to talk about is our church’s summer women’s study on Disordered Affections. I came up with the title after reading a bunch of books/articles, etc. on the topic, but when Fred read the title in our church’s bulletin, he teased me a bit about how archaic it was and how vague it was (“What do that even mean?! Is it from The Valley of Vision or something?”). But I stuck with it because I like it quite a lot—it’s a better fit for me than “addiction” or even “idolatry” (although both of those terms are helpful to me in understanding aspects of my heart struggle).

And what I’d like to do now is give you a glimpse into our study last week. I won’t be sharing any personal information about the attendees (of course!), but I will be giving you the same overview that I am providing to the attendees each week because it’s summer and we have a lot of women going in-and-out due to schedule changes, travel, etc.

I hope these notes are a blessing to you!

Grateful to be with you on the journey—

Yours,
Tara B.

SUMMARY NOTES FROM SESSION 1 of the Rocky Mountain Community Church (PCA)
Summer Women’s Study – “Disordered Affections”

We began our study by discussing the question: What does the term “disordered affection” even mean?

 - Any affection that is out of order or out of balance
- Sin / inappropriate
- Self-serving
- When good goods become bad gods
- Codependent / disease
- Hopelessly stuck / caught

We then spent an extended time in God’s Word studying James 4:1-10 and discussing “monster wants” and “functional idolatry”:

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (ESV)

Many of us deeply resonated with some of the statements I had typed in our handout from Ed Welch’s “Crossroads Addictions Curriculum”):

  • You feel out of control. What began as an escape from the hassles of life has become hazardous. Something—drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, sex—is taking over. You feel like its slave.
  • You still love your addiction, but it is no longer friendly. You think it is time for a change.
  • You think it is time for change—you want to leave your addiction—but you aren’t sure how to change. You have already tried a few strategies and they didn’t work.
  • Someone told you that you’d better change.
  • You are sick and tired of the lies, broken relationships, and nagging conscience that accompany all addictions.
  • You are already off and running, already leaving your addiction behind.

When then discussed  what makes our affections disordered. We talked about a lot of things—being deceived, discontent, etc. But ultimately, everything we talked about came down to our “three enemies” as summarized in the catechism: Satan, the world, our flesh (“The Old Man”).

By the end of that discussion, our time was running short. But we still discussed briefly the question: Have you (or someone you love) ever tried to turn away from a disordered affection? What did you do? Where did you turn for help? How did your effort to change go?

  • Some of us looked to Scripture and wise role models (and “reverse role models”–people we did NOT want to emulate)
  • We sought counseling (biblical, pastoral, professional psychiatric counseling and medication)
  • We went to 12-Step Groups, read books, studied, made lists 
  • We tried to do healthy things like listen to music, make sure we got enough fresh air and light and water (and coffee)

But then I really wanted us to dig into our use of the term “addiction” … (See Crossroads Addictions Curriculum, Addictions: A Banquet At The Grave, and Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be—A Breviary of Sin). I knew that the term “addiction” might be TOO comfortable for some people (especially if they grew up around or were greatly helped by AA/NA/OA or any 12-Step, disease-based program, like “Celebrate Recovery” for example). And that the term “addiction” might be too AWFUL for some people (who think that all we need to do to combat our sin is “believe the gospel” and POOF! We’re all fixed!).

The content I sent them home with had a number of quotations from Dr. Plantinga’s “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be”: A Breviary of Sin (my favorite book thus far on the doctrine of sin, although my current reading and study schedule is bringing me to more and more tomes that are so excellent that they might rival it one day). If I could have assigned the entire book, I would have. But 200+ pages of reading a week is a little aggressive, even for a bunch of Presbyterian women, so this is the summary I gave them from the section that was directly applicable to our discussion:

“Addiction is a complex, progressive, injurious, and often, disabling attachment to a substance (alcohol, heroin, barbiturates) or behavior (sex, work, shopping, gambling) in which a person compulsively seeks a change of mood. Addictions eventually center in distress and in the self-defeating choice of an agent to relieve the distress. In fact, trying to cure distress with the same thing that caused it is typically the mechanism that closes the trap on an addict.”

“Addiction is driven by longing—not just of brain, belly, or loins but finally of the heart. Addiction longs long for wholeness, fulfillment, the final good that believers call God. Like all idolatries, addiction taps this vital spiritual force and draws off its energies to objects and processes that drain the addict instead of filling him.”

“An addict longs not for God but for transcendence; not for joy but only for pleasure; mere escape from pain.  Addicts go to saloons to buy for a few hours the illusion of comfort, hope, love—whatever one most longs for.”

“Alcohol and other drug abuse: chronic intoxications are marked by increasing depression, anxiety, and belligerence. An addict repeatedly makes and then breaks contracts with himself. An addict finds his longing narrowing and hardening into an obsession with things he knows will devastate his work, self-respect, relationships, and bank account and who yet seeks compulsively to satisfy those longings.”

“An addict finds his will split between wanting to banish an addictive substance from the earth and wanting to protect his private cache of it. Addicts reproach themselves, confess their sins to God, make and break resolutions, set even new dates for one last fling. Addicts struggle to deal with the depressing accompaniments of their secret life—lies, deceptions, scapegoating, alternating rage and self-pity, isolation, fear of discovery, the loss of real intimacy with loved ones.”

“When her attempts at self-management fail, as they usually do, and when her self-esteem plummets, as it always does, the addict feels compelled to seek solace in her obsessive behavior and thus cycles down one more level. Addictions flourish by feeding on human attempts to master them.”

“Addiction is misplaced longing. Healthy people keep a rein on their longings; enjoy the freedom that is born of contentment (a “freedom from want”) which is in turn owed to a sturdy and persistent discipline of desire; eat and drink only enough to relieve hunger and thirst, not to sate themselves.”

“Addictions include patterns of self-seeking, childish impatience with delayed gratification, and refusal to accept reasonable limits on behavior. Addiction is disordered appetite.”

“People often commit sins in order to relieve distress caused by other sins.”

We ran out of time before we could discuss the notes I had provided about Dr. Welch’s Crossroads Addictions Curriculum (I have even more information on this curriculum available on my liveblogs from his teaching the material when it was first released):

“The inner world of addiction is: foreign, hidden, complicated, insane, shame-filled, hopeless, immature, and God-suppressing. The fog of addiction is so messy and unclear that it is hard to find words to express it.”

“The words, “STOP IT” are not enough.”

“The experience of addiction is complicated. Coexisting in one heart: hatred for the addictive object; love for the addictive object. You find death and you find life. Warring themes; kingdoms in conflict. Chaos and insanity. Hopelessness. Immaturity.”

“So how do you start? ‘Lord, have mercy!’ The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of change.”

“We sin because we love it. That’s why saying, “No” is not effective. We say “no” when the thing is far away. But when it gets close? We love it. That’s why when talking to the addict, we quickly begin saying, “we” instead of “you.” Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector? This is a wonderful beginning every day treatment for the addictive heart. We come to the temple and don’t feel worthy to lift our heads. “Lord have mercy toward me a sinner.”

“We have a God Who delights in showering an abundance of mercy on those who ask for mercy. Those who ask for mercy receive an abundance of mercy.”

“Your struggle is a common one. Don’t begin with the idea that your experience is out of the ordinary. It is, of course, unique—no one completely understands your struggle (not even you). Still, we are all cut from the same cloth. All of us, if we are truly honest would have to acknowledge a familiarity with that tug of addictions. A lot of wanting is in the human heart. The desire for drugs, alcohol, sex, and food are the more dramatic ones, but they aren’t fundamentally different from our cravings for comfort, significance, relationship, money, love, and so on. Try to find one person who has successfully and consistently said no to any of those wants. You won’t succeed.”

“The path you will be traveling has much to do with God. That should come as no surprise. Books about addictions always say something about God. But much more is happening between you and God than you may think. You will be surprised: To learn how you avoid him; To learn how he pursues you; That you know him more than you think; That you know him less than you think.”

“If at all possible, do this work with someone else. Addictions are private, so doing this in public is a way to take a stand against your addiction. God has always planned for people to live and grow in a community, where we give and receive, pray for others and get prayed for, and learn wisdom and offer it.”

And then we closed with an extended time of prayer. I shared my favorite quote from Paul Miller’s excellent book, A Praying Life:

“Jesus does not say, “Come to me all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.” No. Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy … Don’t try to get the prayer right; just tell God where you are and what’s on your mind … Private, personal prayer is one of the last great bastions of legalism. In order to pray like a child, you might need to unlearn the non-personal, non-real praying that you’ve been taught. The real you has to meet the real God.


ASSIGNMENT FOR THIS WEEK

  1. Read the handout: “Sin, Sickness, or Both?” (from pgs 17-43 of Addictions: A Banquet at the Grave) and come prepared next week to discuss its contents. Also complete the questions on pages 41-42 (“As You Face Your Own Addiction”) and consider sharing some of your responses if you feel comfortable doing so. (No pressure!)
  2. Read the (brief!) handout: “Streams in the Desert” (from pgs 212-214 of How People Change) and come prepared next week to discuss its contents.

(If you would like to read the summaries from all of our church’s summer women’s study sessions on “Disordered Affections,” you can read week 1 hereweek 2 here, week 3 here, week 4 here, and week 5 here.)

I Bet I Was A Prayer Request Just Like That When I Was 13 Years Old (The Rich Tapestry of God’s Providence)

tara high school group pic

If you haven’t read this Tim Challies’ post, you really should. It is wonderful!

The Rich Tapestry of God’s Providence

It reminds me of five minutes I spent with a woman at my church after our service. She had given a prayer request during the service for a thirteen year-old girl she knows whose life situation is utterly chaotic: addict mother, no stable home, might have to move out of state to live with a father who has had no contact with her in years. This dear woman was not only concerned, she was trying to discern the role (if any) she and her her husband should play in this child’s life.

I told her that I would bet anything that two decades ago, Christians stood up in churches and gave prayer requests just like that—for me. That looking back now at my life and when God saved me (my freshman year of high school—yes, that’s really me all the way to the right in the photo above, circa 1980′s), I have absolutely no doubt that Christians had been praying for me and having various levels of influence in my chaotic life:

  • A friend in Kindergarten who let me go to church with them once or twice
  • A particularly kind Girl Scout leader
  • A band teacher who took the time to encourage me when I was at an all-time low
  • Parents of teen friends who gave me rides, listened to me, and told me they were praying for me
  • A health teacher who allowed kids to gather in her room after school to pray (and friends who asked us “How can we pray for you?”)
  • Friends who invited me to “church stuff”
  • A man and a woman (much like the Challies’ story) who I only saw on one night who listened to me, answered my questions, and then opened the Scriptures to me and prayed with me—and I was saved
  • Multiple English teachers, all with quiet, beautiful, radiant lives for Christ that I longed to understand and emulate
  • Paul and Donna Livingston who let me live with them for 18 very painful (for them!) months (painful because I was so wounded, so scared, so incapable of loving or being loved, that they just had to persevere in letting me live in their home event though they wouldn’t get to love and be loved by me for YEARS afterward)

I told this woman yesterday that sometimes we can be afraid to have ANY input into a troubled person’s life (especially a troubled child’s life) because we feel like, “If I can’t feed, clothe, adopt, basically provide EVERYTHING to this child, then maybe I shouldn’t try to do ANYTHING for this child.” But the truth, is, her prayers and asking the saints to pray are worth far more than we can ever imagine. Plus, I encouraged her to be bold and tell this child that there IS a God and that He is sovereign and good. And that even though this child’s suffering is great, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t care.

I told her that the child’s life situation might be such that she isn’t even allowed to reach out again until she is 18 years old. But that a letter (or email or FaceBook contact) might come in five years saying, “Tell me more about this God Who is good and in control.” Because that’s exactly what happened in my life. I heard inklings of Truth as a child and I longed to know more. And (thankfully!) people told me more. And here I am today, a very different woman than I would have been were it not for these dear saints along the way.

The rich tapestry of God’s providence. Indeed.

Rejoicing in the Truth,
Tara B.

My Arguments Bounced Off of Her Like Tigger on Red Bull

world map

A few years ago, I had the joy of serving a group of pre-teens and teens in a Geography class. Not being a geography expert (understatement of the year and a fact that I made quite clear to the parents and students when they asked me to serve), I was happy to walk with the students through their Geography textbook as they memorized vocabulary words and definitions and took their tests and quizzes. But, as I told them, I was never going to remember the name of every ocean / river / lake or the capital of every country / province / state, etc. because:

A) I don’t have the time to memorize all of those details; and
B) I don’t really care.

I know that I can look up facts and figures when I need to know them and I’m very happy to be a 40-something stay at home mother rather than a junior high student.

That being said, I did have big ol’ goals for our class—goals that went far beyond memorizing the capitals of countries only long enough to pass a test:

1. I opened each class by having one student read from Operation World and then lead us in prayer so that we can always remember that history is His-story and geography is NOT just about memorizing facts and figures. We learned about religions in other countries and how temperature, land masses, population growth, etc. etc. affect real people because we want to live our lives for the glory of God and the love of our neighbors; even if our neighbors are thousands of miles away.

2. I wanted to help my young friends to learn how to THINK. I prayed that by the end of the year, they will have even an introductory understanding of logic and thus be able to both identify and avoid some common logical fallacies.

3. By the end of our time together, I hoped that my students would agree with my conviction that citations to Wikipedia are not acceptable for any report or presentation they would ever do that they wanted to be trusted and well-received.

4. I prayed that I might be even a tiny encouragement in their young lives to know that truth exists and is knowable and (to quote Kevin DeYoung), there are “reasons for reason” and “one of the first tasks of evangelism today is to reintroduce the law of non-contradiction.”

Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Oh, how I pray that the young people I serve will have sweet compassion, jaw-dropping patience, and not a scintilla of fear when they encounter people making faulty arguments (or no arguments at all) about the most important things in life! When our arguments bounce off of people “like Tigger on Red Bull” (to use Kevin DeYoung’s turn of phrase), we can be gracious and calm, unmoved and unruffled.

My favorite Bible memory verse on this topic?

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24-26

SDG,
Tara B.

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

lawsuit

Last summer, 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. I prayed and reflected on her comments for a few days and then decided that she was right.

The entire situation was so strange—but also, I did see many evidences of God’s grace at work in the story. It was 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.

PS
Please don’t take this post to mean that I don’t ever think it is appropriate to sue another person or entity, because I absolutely do. It’s just that in this situation, no one was intentionally doing me harm. I was injured. Absolutely. But it was a genuine accident, not an intentional, malicious action. Hope that makes sense.

The Only Way to Overcome Evil and Fear is with Goodness and Love

I’m not sure from where I took these notes, but they are around ten years old, so I’m assuming they are a combination of Judy Dabler, people from my church, and anything and everything from CCEF:

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” Psalm 56:3-4

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.” … “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged!” From Deuteronomy 31

The only way to overcome evil and fear is with goodness and love.

“There are two kinds of righteousness, active and passive, to the end that manners and faith, works and grace, policy and religion, should not be confounded, or take the one for the other. Both are necessary; but must be kept within their bounds; Christian righteousness appertaineth to the new man, and the righteousness of the law appertaineth to the old man, which is born of flesh and blood. … So both these continue while we live here. The flesh is accused, exercised with temptations, oppressed with heaviness and sorrow, bruised by its active righteousness of the law; but the spirit reigneth, rejoiceth, and is saved by the passive and Christian righteousness, because it knoweth that it hath a Lord in Heaven, at the right hand of His Father, who hath abolished the law, sin, death, and hath trodden under His feet all evils, led them captive, and triumphed over them in Himself (Col. 2:15).” From Martin Luther’s Introduction to His Commentary on Galatians

What do we look like when we fail to accept who we are (good and bad)?

    • Perfectionism
    • Idealism
    • Intolerance/judgment
    • Phariseeism
    • Resignation/defeatism
    • Rejection of God, the Gospel, Christ
    • Excessive anger, rage, frustration, disappointment
    • Rejection of self, others, broken relationships
    • Insecure image/esteem

“The test of our observance of Christ’s teaching is our consciousness of our failure to attain an ideal perfection. The degree to which we draw near to this perfection cannot be seen; all we can see is the extent of our deviation.” Tolstoy

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?” Psalm 27:1

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons.” Romans 8:15

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18

“Remember, merciful Jesu, that I am the cause of Your journey.” From Mozart’s Requiem
He remembers.


The Difficult Task of Declining the Sleepover Invitation

pottery barn sleeping bags

Last year I read a 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.

(Photo courtesy of PotteryBarnKids.)

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