Tara’s Blog

PCA Women’s Blog: enCourage – Gospel Love in Uganda

 

Super happy to share about Uganda on the PCA Women’s blog today! Thanks, Christina et al.

Sticking with People is Frustrating … You Will Suffer Pain if You are Committed to People

Hands in Prayer

What a contrast in articles!

The first is what I would charitably characterize as a, well, not very gracious, thoughtful, or helpful article on why every woman should “ditch the guilt” dropping her little baby off with the “professionals” because staying home with young children can “drive you bonkers,” “give you a back problem and a brain ache,” and women “just need more.”

(If you’re really interested, you can read it here, but I think there are far better articles “out there” that graciously and intelligently address this important wisdom issue. And I do think it is a wisdom issue—so discernment, humility, and love are required when we talk about this or any other parenting issue. Drawing harsh, judgmental, black and white lines in the sand is never encouraging, redemptive, or helpful—but boy people can sure do it.)

In contradistinction to that “I don’t like it; it’s not a good fit for me; I’m not using my gifts; I want—I DESERVE—more!” attitude, oh oh oh! If you only read one online article today … I urge you to read THIS ONE (!). It has “nothing” to do with parenting or motherhood, well, except the way that all good (biblical, Christ-exalting, focused on eternity, loving God & neighbor for the glory of God) theology always applies to all of life.

The author is a personal hero of mine—truly one of the greatest men I have ever met with in person in this life. Brilliant, yet humble. Extraordinarily gifted, yet laying down his life to take the least place and serve. A preacher who can (and does) hold the attention of thousands, yet is a quiet and gentle man when he talks face-to-face with you (a benefit I have personally been blessed to experience). A churchman. Laying down his life for his wife and children.

I really could go on and on, but a) I know he would hate that; and b) I know that he is not the reason why the insights in this article are so profound. Instead, it is because Christians through the ages (until recently, in certain geographical areas) have not only known these truths to be, in fact, true; they have lived these truths:

To Serve is to Suffer

Oh, friends! If we could only begin to grasp even just a sliver of how important suffering is in the life of the Christian … our families, churches, schools / homeschool co-ops / tutoring relationships (did I get everyone?), sports leagues, youth orchestras, workplaces, rescue missions, pregnancy care centers, mission organizations … would be changed. If Christians would learn to suffer well, the world would be changed.

Let me pull just a few excerpts from this profound article by Ajith Fernando to hopefully tempt you to click through and read it all:

“I write this shortly after returning from a week of teaching pastors in the deep south of Sri Lanka. These pastors’ experience shows that when people pioneer in unreached areas, they usually wait 10 to 15 years before seeing significant fruit and reduced hostility. In the early years, they are assaulted and accused falsely; stones are thrown onto their roofs; their children are given a hard time in school; and they see few genuine conversions. Many pioneers give up after a few years. But those who persevere bear much eternal fruit. I am humbled and ashamed of the way I complain about problems that are minute compared to theirs.

When I return from ministry in the West, my feelings are very different. I have been able to “use my gifts” and spend most of my time doing things I like. But when I resume being a leader in Sri Lanka’s less-efficient culture, frustration hits me. The transition from being a speaker in the West to being a leader in Sri Lanka is difficult. As a leader, I am the bond-servant (doulos) of the people I lead (2 Cor. 4:5). This means that my schedule is shaped more by their needs than by mine.

… “Young Christian workers who come back to Sri Lanka after studying in the West struggle with this. They are highly qualified, but our poor nation cannot afford to give them the recognition they think their qualifications deserve. They cannot use their gifts to the fullest; they struggle with frustration; some start their own organizations so as to fulfill their “vision.” … I try to tell these students that their frustration could be the means to developing penetrating insight. I explain that people like John Calvin and Martin Luther had a dizzying variety of responsibilities, so that they could only use their gifts in the fog of fatigue …”

“We call our churches and Christian organizations “families,” but families are very inefficient organizations. In a healthy family, everything stops when a member has big needs. We are often not willing to extend this commitment to Christian body life.”

…”When people leave a church because they do not fit the program, it communicates a deadly message: that our commitment is to the work and not to the person, that our unity is primarily in the work and not in Christ and the gospel. The sad result is that Christians do not have the security of a community that will stay by them no matter what happens. They become shallow individuals, never having true fellowship and moving from group to group. Churches committed to programs can grow numerically, but they don’t nurture biblical Christians who understand the implications of belonging to the body of Christ.”

“Sticking with people is frustrating. Taking hours to listen to an angry or hurt person seems inefficient. Why should we waste time on that when professionals could do it? So people have counselors to do what friends should be doing.”

“Ideally, counselors help diagnose and treat difficult cases, and friends give the time that is needed to bring healing through acceptance, comfort, and friendship … Several people have sympathized with me, saying it must be hard and frustrating to serve in a country wracked by war and hostile to evangelism. Indeed, we have suffered. A few months ago, one of our staff workers was brutally assaulted and killed. But I think the biggest pain I have experienced is the pain I have received from Youth for Christ, the organization for which I have worked for 34 years. I can also say that next to Jesus and my family, Youth for Christ has been the greatest source of joy in my life.”

“Whether you live in the East or the West, you will suffer pain if you are committed to people. This is suffering that can be avoided. We can avoid pain by stopping the relationship or moving on to something more “fulfilling.” But what do we lose?

Some years ago I was preparing a message on commitment while traveling in the West. Within the space of a few days, three people told me how they or someone close to them had left a group or a person because of problems. One had left an unhappy marriage; another, a church; another, an organization. Each person described his leaving as a merciful release from suffering. But I could not help asking myself whether, in each of these cases, the Christian thing to do would have been to stay and suffer …”

There are still two more pages of nuggets and his conclusion (“The Glory of the Gospel”)—well—I just want you to read it for yourself.

Because it’s not about working “outside” of the home or “inside” of the home; it’s not about whether you CAN get a divorce (“biblically” and “without guilt”); it’s not about whether you will be happier, feel safer and more accepted, use your gifts more strategically, be rewarded, be affirmed …

Life is all about Him. God. And life is a just a blink—a flash. Then it is over and our Real Life begins.

This little season? These 40, 50, 80, 100 years? This is our one opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ; to bear up under the pain of even unjust suffering because we are conscious of God (1 Peter 2:19). Once this life is over? No more suffering for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I pray that wherever our duties take us today—to the boardroom, courtroom, or surgery center; out on the ranch, in the corn fields of Iowa, or into the blazing sun for a day of hard, manual labor; stuffing bulletins in our church office, volunteering at a local ministry … or, yes, sitting on the floor stacking blocks over and over again while your friend’s one year old delights in knocking them down, after having spent 90 minutes cuddling and reading with your five year old (and then 30 minutes talking, disciplining, and praying with your seven and thirteen year olds … hypothetically, for, you know, a woman we’ll call Lara) …

I pray that we will use our gifts in the fog of fatigue; pick up our cross; count it all joy; and suffer well as we live lives that are committed to sticking with people. Pain is the price of love! And love is worth it.

Grateful for you—

Your friend,
Tara B.

PS
When I was checking the links for Ajith’s article, I found this Gospel Coalition post that includes links to Ajith’s book on this subject and links to videos of him teaching on this subject. Enjoy!

Don’t Kid Yourself — Parents Die

 

(A repost from 2013.)

Thanks to my astoundingly generous sister, I have had an iPhone for one year now. She bought it for me mostly because it was the same cost as renting a GPS for me for one of my events that required me to drive—and she knows that I am the MOST spatially-confused human on the planet. I get lost in my own neighborhood, more or less navigating in a new, large city. Sixteen lanes of 75 mph traffic doesn’t bother me—I am a confident and competent driver—but trying to be “in my map” and figure out whether I’m supposed to turn left or right? Well. It’s like a bad dream in my head. I try and I try but I just can’t figure it out. And Kali has been my own personal GPS when I have called her in a panic on many, MANY occasions:

“OK. What state are you in? Do you know what city you are in? Can you see what street or highway you are on? Got it. All we need now are two cross streets so I can figure out which direction you are heading. OK. Now. Where are you trying to go?”

(I’m not kidding about this.)

Anyhoo …

The Google Map feature of an iPhone to me is amazing and it has navigated me to safety on countless occasions already—so that is one aspect of a smartphone that I have sort of figured out. (I still can’t figure out the whole “pinning” thing, but oh well.) But it’s only been a few weeks since I started even trying to figure out the whole email on a phone thing (and I’m only able to do that because Fred is helping me). And last night? In some sort of setting up POP/IMAP mystery, my laptop had to receive a backlog of old emails (just one time) to get everything set up. No problem. I just went to delete them all. But then I saw old emails from my mom. And my heart screeched to a deleting halt.

These were not important emails. They were one line responses to me sending her photos from our normal, simple, boring little life:

dsc0123

August 6, 2012
Me: Swim lessons are about to start!
My mom: Adorable! What sisterly love. Mom

 

 

 

I couldn’t delete it.

It was like she was right there again! Probably playing her Facebook games while watching FOX news and listening to talk radio. Drinking coffee all day. Puffing away on her cigarette. Helping someone in AA (or being helped by someone in AA). Brushing her cat. Laughing at something funny my stepfather just did. Talking on the phone with her best friend, Anne.

And emailing me little one-line notes because she loved my children and she loved me.

I miss my mom. I do. I’m crying now and that’s just the way it is. But I’m also SO grateful now because my mother and I were reconciled years and years before she died. We pushed through the pain of the start of our relationship to forgive one another and move towards one another as adults and as friends and as fallen creatures living in a fallen world. Thus, when she was dying, I was not scrambling to say all sorts of things before she was gone. I was not tied in knots over whether I had shared the gospel with her “enough” or shown her love “enough.”

By God’s grace, by His Spirit, with the help of His Word and His Church, I knew I had already spent years loving my mother. So when she declined so horribly quickly and when she died, I was sad. I still am sad. But I am also grateful.

How about you?

Are you taking it for granted that “some day” you will forgive your mother? Your father? Your child? An ex-spouse? A daughter-in-law?

Are you living under the delusion that you have all sorts of time to work hard and make things right with a friend? A brother in Christ? The church leader who offended you? The sheep who bit you?

I can tell by the email chain with my mother that the above message was sent only DAYS before we found out her heart was functioning at 25%. I know this because there were only two or three more normal emails and then it was all coordinating itineraries and hotels for my sister and I to fly repeatedly to Michigan to help with end-of-life decisions and mostly, just to spend time with her before she was gone. (My mother’s heart functioning dropped to less than 10% in only three months and then her brain just couldn’t get enough oxygen for normal communication and within weeks she was gone.)

None of us knows the length of our days or the days of people who have hurt us. We are foolish to try to kid ourselves and say that we can be reconciled “tomorrow.”

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15 ESV

We have no idea when the call will come that our parent is gone. We have no idea when we will die. But we do know this: The Lord does will it that we are to forgive our debtors and love our enemies. Even when—especially when!—that enemy is someone in our family:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:12-17 ESV

You will never regret loving. You will never regret forgiving. But I know many people who live with the burden of deep regret for not loving and not forgiving before it was too late.

This life is short! Eternity is long. May God help us to be so filled with amazement over God’s forgiveness of us that we are eager to forgive others:

“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35 ESV

I know it’s hard. Our flesh rebels at the thought of forgiving the people who have hurt us the most.

So don’t concentrate on THEM and don’t even concentrate on YOURSELF. Fix your eyes on JESUS, the Author and Perfector of your faith. Don’t mull over what your parent did or did not do to you. Don’t replay it in your mind and feed your bitterness and self-righteous, judgmental heart. Meditate on what your Heavenly Father did in order to reconcile YOU to HIM. Compare your filthy rags to His glory. Live your life replaying over and over again in your mind what it cost GOD to save YOU because of all you have done and you have failed to do. And then fall at His feet in worship!

This is how we forgive our parents. This is how we forgive anyone and everyone who has ever betrayed, abandoned, attacked, belittled, slandered, maligned, or hated us. (Or even worse! Just didn’t even notice we were there and thus, lived in indifference toward us—the “real indicator of true hatred” to use Ed Welch’s line.)

Owed such a great debt. And yet forgiven. Should we not also forgive?

For God’s glory, our good, and the proclamation of the gospel to a watching world—

Your sister in Christ,
Tara B.

Church Youth Group: The second most likely place for childhood abuse (!!)

child sexual abuse graphic

Well. It’s the time again. Let’s talk about where your children are most likely to be sexually abused.

Today I read an article from a pediatrician citing church youth group as the second most common place that her patients are sexually abused. (And she sees 1-2 children per week who have been sexually abused!!)

This makes me sick. This makes me angry. And this make me long to try to encourage you all, once again, to (please oh please!) stop pretending that children are not at risk in your church.

I have been writing on this topic for years. I have been encouraging you, pleading with you, to become better informed by reading excellent, excellent resources such as:

I talk with pre-teens about p*rn, littles about Safe Side grownups and Kinda-Know’s and Don’t-Knows (because the term “stranger” is 100% irrelevant to this topic), and I even went public about my 2014 sexual assault (in an airport returning from a PCA speaking event in the Midwest) — which is not, as you might imagine, an easy thing to do. But I did it because it tied specifically to this issue of protecting children.

Even now, 2+ years into trauma counseling and biblical counseling and pastoral care related to the assault; with the criminal investigation over and civil matter settled; after thinking quite, quite often about deleting that post because I wondered (probably appropriately) if it was TMI for a public context,  I stand by that post because I truly believe that many of us are unwittingly putting children in danger.

Please. Read the actual words of a sexual predator who targeted churches. Look at the actual statistics for how often (millions!) of children in Christian homes and Christian churches are sexually abused. Ask yourself hard questions about whether your church is really doing everything it can to educate its members and protect its sheep.

And then pray. Get educated. Prepare a respectful argument/appeal. And then do everything you can to help as many people as you can. Your efforts will not be wasted. I guarantee it! Because if each one of us helped to protect even just one child, that is enough.

Thanks, friends!

Sending you my care,
Tara B.

Being Human vs. Sinning

I’ve had many long conversations with children about the differences between life in a fallen world as a fallen human being and intentional sin.

These discussions often come up after a chld has been given an instruction or correction, and he or she over-reacts with very strong emotions that often manifest themselves as anger. They can try to hold it in and stuff it down, but we both know it’s there.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed by such wonderful books as Uprooting Anger, The Heart of Anger, and Don’t Make Me Count to Three, so I knew that her angry responses were just the presenting issues—the proverbial tip of the iceberg as it were.

The real issue (as always) was a heart issue. And the only hope we ever have for heart issues must begin and end with the gospel.

My conversations often go something like this …

1. We used the example (hypothetical) of walking down the sidewalk, tripping, and hurting someone else.

– In the first example, I was walking carefully and paying attention—but I still tripped and hurt someon’e leg badly. How should I respond? Should I apologize and try to help her feel better? Yes. Should I beat myself up and say, “I’m such a horrible person!”, and have the rest of our day ruined by my mistake? No. I should give myself grace because, although I feel very sad that I hurt Sophie, it was completely unintentional. It was simply life in a fallen world. A mistake. And grace covers not only our sins but our mistakes too.

– In the next example, I was carrying a bunch of boxes while I walked down the sidewalk and Fred had just given me some wise counsel to be careful and possibly consider not carrying so many boxes all at once because I could trip and hurt myself or hurt someone else. He hadn’t commanded me, but he did instruct me and if I had been wise and listened to him, I could have avoided hurting the person. But I didn’t.

In that situation, my culpability is higher because I made an intentionally foolish decision and as a result, I accidentally hurt her. It was still an accident, sure. But I could have avoided it if I had listened to counsel. So I need to ask her to forgive me and strive to grow in wisdom by learning from my mistake.

– But in the final example, I was driving my car 70 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone. I knew the law and I intentionally disobeyed it. And then I caused an accident that hurt someone.

Whoa! Now we’re in an entirely different realm, aren’t we? Because I sinned. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. I need to confess to God and to others. I am called to repent and change.

(Then we had a little side lesson on the doctrine of sin—especially what “lack of conformity” means. It involved playdoh and a bouncy ball and how the playdoh CONFORMED to the bouncy ball, etc.)

  2. And what is the first step of repenting? Kids usually respond: “Feeling bad about your sin.” Nope.

The first part of repenting is not feeling bad about your sin. The first step of repentance is to remember. What do we remember? Who GOD is and who WE are in Christ.

This is always quite a telling point in our conversation because when I say, “We must remember who we REALLY are. Who are we? How would you complete this sentence: ‘I am …'”? Kids often pause. But they get there … “A sinner.” Um. Yes. But Oh! How I do NOT want that to be the first thing you think. So I said, “Yes, you are a sinner. But MORE importantly, what are you? You are LOVED. Chosen. Holy. Dearly, dearly loved.”

   3. This led into an entire conversation about just HOW MUCH she is loved, especially when she is sinning. That when she is caught in sin, God’s love for her and my love for her do not change, waver, or stop. In fact, our love compels us to draw even CLOSER to her, to help her, to rescue her because we love her so much.

The example I used for this was picturing both of us walking at a park with a little toddler. I ask the child what she would do if the toddler ignored my instruction to stay away from the high playground equipment and suddenly found her little toddler self WAY up high on the very, very edge of the play area. Would she say, “You are a TERRIBLE little girl! You should be ashamed of yourself. Mrs. Barthel said not to do that and you did it anyway and now you could be REALLY hurt. You are SO bad! You’d better start being good and THEN I’ll love you again.”

The child said, “Of course not! I would RUN to her and snatch her back from the edge and comfort her and hold her. But, yes, when I knew she was safe, I would tell her not to do that again. And I would take her to you because she probably would need a painful consequence so she would really learn her lesson and be safe in the future.”

“Would you stop loving her when she was bad?” I asked.
“No!”

“Would you want the toddler to spend the rest of our day at the park hiding her face, crying, and saying what a terrible little girl she is?” I wondered.
“Of course not!”

“It’s the same thing for YOU,” I explained. “When you are caught in sin, you are putting yourself in DANGER. And since it’s my duty to help keep you safe and train you to see that the way of the sinner is HARD, but there are blessings in obedience, I do discipline and instruct you. But I do so BECAUSE I love you. It is my love that COMPELS me to rescue you. I don’t stop loving you, step back, and wait for you to get your act together. I run after you, just like you ran after the toddler.

Then we read some Scriptures that affirm all of these truths and we pray together.

Remember! There is grace for our personalities, our frailties, weaknesses, mistakes—and yes, for our sin too. We can be forgiven because God is a forgiving, gracious God.

Blessings on your day!
— Tara B.

How to Be a Difference Maker In Your Church

I have a friend who is, well, just a solid gold gift of wonderfulness. She is! Even Fred said to me last night, “People have no idea what a gift our church has in (well, let’s call her) Mary.” (“Mary” would be quite embarrassed if she read her own name in this blog.)

Mary is one of those wise, gentle, funny, insightful, smart, godly, Christ-centered, careful-thinkers and careful-speakers that MAN! We really need in our churches.

Mary is also very quiet, single, works an incredibly important and intense job, and doesn’t get too involved in “stuff” at the church. (Even though she is devoted to the church and serves and supports in many hidden ways.)

Anyway … earlier this week we had a fun (and intense and hard in some ways—b/c of stuff going on in our mutual lives that we were sharing about and praying about) lunch together and I said something like this to her:

“Mary? We need you. You are a Titus 2 older woman and we need more of you.”

You see, we’ve been talking for a long time about how God has been pressing on her to possibly make some major changes in her life to be more available to serve in the church. And during this meal, I was so convicted yet again that absolutely ANYTHING she would get involved in would be BETTER simply for her prayerful, wise, steady, kind, faithful presence.

(She really is solid gold.)

Anyway—I was thinking about this friend when I read Kevin DeYoung’s list on “How to Be a Difference Maker in Your Church” over at PureChurch so I thought I’d share not only the list, but my little back-story too:

• Find a good local church.
• Get involved.
• Become a member.
• Stay there as long as you can.
• Put away thoughts of a revolution for a while.
• Join the plodding visionaries.
• Go to church this Sunday and worship in Spirit and truth.
• Be patient with your leaders.
• Rejoice when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed.
• Bear with those who hurt you.
• Give people the benefit of the doubt.
• Say ‘hi’ to the teenager that no one notices.
• Welcome the old ladies with the blue hair and the young men with tattoos.
• Volunteer for the nursery.
• Attend the congregational meeting.
• Bring your fried chicken to the potluck like everybody else.
• Invite a friend.
• Take a new couple out for coffee.
• Give to the Christmas offering.
• Sing like you mean it.
• Be thankful someone vacuumed the carpet for you.
• Enjoy the Sundays that ‘click.’
• Pray extra hard on the Sundays that don’t.
• And in all of this, do not despise the days and weeks and years of small things (Zechariah 4:8–10).

Good advice!

Off into my day now—-

Hope yours is a blessed one.

Clinging to Christ (Who, thankfully, has me firmly in His grip),
Tara B.

 

“How should I respond to this broken relationship?”

I recently received an email from a friend who was asking for advice regarding a broken relationship in her life. (LONG story that I won’t retell, but she’s trying to figure out how/if to try to re-establish ties with a woman who has caused a lot of conflict in the past.)

I’ve changed the names (of course!) and all identifying information, but I thought that even without the whole “back story / explanation”, my response might help/encourage a few of you, so I’ll copy it below.

Hope your week is off to a blessed start!

Yours,
Tara B.

***

Dear Tonya,

Re: your questions on your (very sad!) situation, I’m not sure I’m the best person to help you. Usually our church leaders and close friends/family have much greater wisdom to share with us. However, I do want you to know that I care, so here are just a few thoughts—please take them with a grain of salt and seek counsel on anything I share, OK?

To begin … I’m just so very, very sorry that this situation has occurred and has brought so much sadness to so many lives. Sin, unbelief, our humanness, fallenness, Satan, the world, the Old Man … life is just incredibly hard! And relationships (as I know you know) can be particularly hard that way.

So please know that I am sorry for your suffering and the suffering of everyone involved! I wish that I could help to comfort you all in that.

Regarding your specific questions on the situation (just brainstorming here) …

1. It sounds like (from what you’ve described), this is a very common situation—in missionary agencies, churches, families, etc. Everyone wants to submit as long as they agree, but who wants to submit when they disagree? (I.e., does God REALLY work out His will through authority? Do our leaders REALLY have the right to be wrong?) ALSO … it is very, very common for someone (usually a woman) to have major relational problems for YEARS and have no one (absolutely no one) help her. It’s so sad! Because I’d imagine that the woman you described has great gifts! But a history of conflict/broken relationships … well … hello pot, it’s me kettle. Of course I can relate and sympathize and I’m just so sorry for the entire situation. It seems to me that it really does take biblical, redemptive, accountable, ecclesiastical authority, redemptive church discipline, community to help us grow in grace. And most organizations / churches / families simply don’t operate this way—so how can we grow and actually DEAL with things?

2. What should your attitude be toward her? Same as toward every single person in your life, I would imagine: ‘Oh, look. A wretched, horrible sinner—just like me. Good thing God is such a gracious and forgiving God!! Now … how can I encourage HER to run to the Cross and remember the gospel and cling to CHRIST—just as I need desperate help to do the same???’ Does that mean you just pick up the friendship where it ended before? Well, no, I can’t imagine that because it SEEMS (again—I’m only hearing one side of the story and I take everything anyone ever tells me with a huge grain of salt!) … that she needs rescue in a particular area (just as you do and I do—but maybe in other areas). So what does redemptive relationship look like? Hmmmmmmmmm …. I don’t know for sure, but I could imagine that it might include, well: honesty (about what happened in the past and what is currently going on—if they truly are completely unwilling to even talk about it with you, that’s a huge red flag to me and I would be extremely cautious; that indicates a potential hard-heart and unteachable/proud spirit); truth (with charitable presumptions!); grace grace grace … and always wisdom from Heaven. (I.e., let’s say that this woman absolutely REFUSES to submit to ANY authority. Let’s say she is consistently destructive, a gossip, a slanderer … what is the most loving thing for this neighbor of yours? Who is authority over her who can help her? What is the most God-glorifying thing to do?)

3. I’m not sure how to respond to your ‘on the forgiveness spectrum’ question—because I don’t really understand how/if she actually sinned against you. Did she offend you? Sin against you? Has she sought your forgiveness? How about you toward her? Why do you feel betrayed by her? Have you discussed this with her? You say she has broken trust and that hasn’t been restored—well, my friend, that doesn’t sound like there is ‘forgiveness’ and ‘reconciliation’ and ‘restoration of relationship.’ And I know you know that YOU can’t make any of those things happen. If she is unwilling to talk with you, get help, submit, seek counsel, repent, grow, confess, change … there is little you can do. And of course, it seems to me that there is no way for genuine friendship, trust, and restored relationship to happen. That doesn’t mean that you judge her, disdain her, think yourself more highly than her (NO WAY!!!) … but real relationship just doesn’t happen without conversation/humility/genuine care, etc.

4. I would encourage you to read How People Change (by Lane & Tripp) and pray specifically for wisdom as to how the Lord may or may not be calling you to minister the gospel in her life. I know you know this: but you are not the Holy Spirit. AND you are not the Church. AND you are not her husband or her ordained church leaders OR her organizational leaders either. So how much can / should you really even try to help her? How teachable is she? Is this a pearls before swine situation? Is she a fool who refuses to listen to any counsel? Or is there an opportunity here to serve and be involved? Difficult people change in COMMUNITY. It takes a Church to help those of us who are really messed up! (And I mean ME! 🙂 ) One ‘friend’ is not the answer. BUT … one friend might be an important piece. It really is a wisdom issue, dear, dear Tonya. And I don’t know the answer.

5. Lastly, and I think most importantly … setting aside all of the stuff about HER, I would encourage YOU to seek counsel, Tonya, from wise and loving friends/church leaders who love you enough to help you see the truth. Whatever this woman has done, is doing, and will do … I am absolutely 100% sure that YOU have much to learn about the Lord, yourself, your relationships, your heart, your areas of strength and weakness, your areas of faith and unbelief, hidden sins, wonderful delightful glorious beauty in you … and focusing on the LORD and YOUR HEART regarding this situation will only be toward your betterment and your greater conformity to Christ. Honestly—there is so much room for growth in grace in YOU that has absolutely nothing to do with HER—that I encourage you to pray and focus on THAT. Oh, and you know what? As you glory in GOD and more accurately see your own heart? It is a sure bet that your heart will be more gracious and merciful to her—even if she never repents!—because you will be reveling in how much you deserve WRATH but how much God forgives YOU every single day.

OK—I totally have to run now. (Sophia and I have been on the road for two weeks helping family and I am just slammed.)

Sorry this is brief and quick and unedited … I should’ve re-read it and fixed its many errors. I do hope it is even a TINY bit edifying!!

Tonya, you are loved.
It’s going to be OK.

God is with you.
God is for His children!!

Hang in there—OK?
And get counsel from people with ‘boots on the ground’ right there with you. Let them hold you and wipe your tears and rebuke you and counsel you!

Much, much love,
Tara B.

99.9999999999% Sure Our Friends Won’t Sexually Abuse You

[From the archives …]

I had to go back to Sophia this week to apologize and clarify something …

In our “Safe Side Super Chick” and “Right Touch” discussions, we have often talked about why, as a general family rule, we don’t “do” sleepovers. It is a high-risk situation for children and if we don’t know, really know, and trust, really trust, the family, then we just don’t do it. It doesn’t matter that they are members of our church with whom we have only ever had positive interactions. It doesn’t matter if we think they’re wonderful, kind, fabulous people who by all appearances seem to be the sort of people who would never hurt a child.

If we don’t know the family, then we would never entrust the care of our children to them for an overnight and our childcare limits for any situation are pretty much the same, maybe a teenier tinier bit more lenient. (For example, we have had daytime teenage babysitters whom we don’t know very well, but we have known them since they were 3 and we know their family well.) We don’t leave our children in childcare when we are traveling and visiting other churches. Hell would pretty much have to freeze over before we would leave our children in some sort of public daycare (drop off) situation.

So anyway … I said something to Sophia this week that was wrong. We were talking about such things and I said:

“Sophia? When you are in someone’s home for an overnight it’s because Daddy and I believe with all our hearts that those parents would never hurt you. We believe you could go to them at any time with any question or trouble and they would help you. We truly believe that they would step in front of a bullet for you and give up their own lives before they allowed any harm to come to you. That’s the level of trust we have in them.”

And then we listed out some of friends that we feel this way about.

It was a good conversation and I continue to be humbled and amazed that my daughter opens her heart to me on very intimate topics and shares really insightful questions with me. But by the next day, I was strongly convicted that I had to clarify what I said to her because the truth is: most of the most heinous, wicked, horrific child sexual abuse and abuse in general happens in the context of a VERY trusting relationship. Thus, I clarified what I said to be this:

“Sophia? May I please edit what I said to you yesterday?” (She understands the concept of editing because of her writing class.) And she said, “Sure.” So I continued …

When I said we believe with all our hearts that these trusted friends would never harm you, that was wrong and I need to apologize and ask you to forgive me.” (“Of course mom.”) The truth is, we believe it strongly. We are as confident as we can be that you are in a safe situation. We are 99.999999999% sure.  But. If even a dear friend ever hurt you, do you feel confident and comfortable to come to Daddy and me and tell us and KNOW that we will ALWAYS BELIEVE YOU?

I loved her response. She’s such a deep kid. She said something to the effect of, “That’s a good questions, Mom.” And then we sat in quiet for a few minutes while she thought about it. And then she said, “I think it would be hard to tell you and know that you would believe me because I could hardly believe it myself.” I said that made a lot of sense.

We talked about it some more and said we would talk some more in the future and then we ended the conversation by my encouraging her that, just as when she (occasionally) sleepwalks, she ALWAYS sleepwalks right into my arms or my side of the bed (so something deep, deep inside of her heart, her subconsciousness, KNOWS that when she is in need, she can ALWAYS come to her Momma and she will be kept safe) … my goal as we continue to talk about such things is that her conscious mind, her beliefs, her “when she is awake Sophie” will likewise know with that same level of confidence and assurance that she can always walk right into my arms and I will always be there for her. Believing her. Protecting her. Delighting in her. Loving her.

I have to scoot now (time is very tight this week), but here is a post with a BUNCH of great links if you’re interested in reading more about these topics (and I hope you are):

Child Abuse in the Church: Justice Can Be Grace

Praising God that Jesus is our Rescuer!
And for the privilege of being a mother.

Your friend,
Tara B.

The Most Scared I Have Ever Been in my Entire Life

1970's family

On the drive home from church today, my ten year-old daughter asked me when I was the most scared in my entire life.

I thought for a moment and then I replied that the saddest I had ever been was when our second child died on that fateful Easter afternoon in 2007 and then when my best friend, my mother, passed away in 2012.

But the most scared? Hmmmm. For that I had to dig back to two childhood memories.

The first was when the MCHS (Morris Community High School) principal sent a runner to pull me out of my junior-level physics class because my sister was calling from the University of Chicago, frantic, because my mom had called her and through slurred speech told her that she was committing suicide and she just wanted to say goodbye. My sister and the principal weren’t sure if it was a real threat or just idle words from a mentally-ill addict, so no one was quite sure what to do. I volunteered to drive home (I was sixteen years-old) and see what was going on.

I was shaking with fright as I drove my bright orange Datsun B210 home. My fear increased exponentially when I opened the double glass doors to our apartment complex and I was bowled over by the smell of natural gas. And by the time I turned the key in the door to our actual apartment, and I had to instinctively drop to the ground just to find enough air to breathe, I knew things were B.A.D. (You can hear all of the other details here in the audio recording of my testimony if you are interested.) Yup. Pretty scary.

But not the most scared I have ever been.

When I really thought about it, the strongest memory I have of being the most scared ever had to be when I was just about the same age as my oldest daughter (the one who asked me the question). My parents had finally started official divorce proceedings (after years of separations and trying again and fighting and separations and institutionalizations for my mother and getting back together again only to fight and separate, etc. etc.). Finally, they were done—and before the divorce was even final, my dad was living with another woman. So the one parent I thought loved me (my dad) loved only two people—himself and his live-in girlfriend. I was an inconvenience and a hassle and they just wanted to be alone together—so they kicked me out and made me go and live with my mother who, at the time, was still drinking to excess, not mentally stable, and she really couldn’t stand me at all. My entire childhood, my mother and I had absolutely NO relationship. I do not have one memory of cuddling with her or being held by her as a young child and as I grew older, my memories were of a great deal of rage and rancor from her toward me. So living with her was torture for her, for me, and for my poor sister who was caught in the middle. So it was inevitable that my mom kicked me out  too and there I was, back with my father and his (by then) wife. But just for a few months because then they decided that I REALLY was the worst kid ever and they would have absolutely NOTHING to do with me.

And that brings us up to the absolute most terrified I have ever been in my life. I was just a child. I had no resources. But my father dropped me off at some location I did not know and told me to wait there because my mom was going to pick me up but he didn’t want to have to see her. So there I sat, on a curb, with all of my worldly belongings piled around me in little kid bags and garbage bags, watching my father drive away without even looking back. I knew, in that moment, that I really was completely alone in the world. The one adult I thought cared about me just left me and as far as I could tell, it didn’t bother him at all. He couldn’t wait to be rid of me. And what did the future hold for me? An adult whom I knew did not like, more or less love me, was coming to get me because she was forced to do so.

I remember thinking:

“Oh, man. This is really it. I have no home. There really is no place for me in this world. What am I going to do? How am I going to survive this?”

Sophie asked me how I DID survive that? No resources. No advocate. No safe place. Just a kid. How did I make it through? I told her that I wasn’t really sure—but that I remember I played a lot of piano (God’s grace to me way before I knew him!) and I read a lot of books and wrote a lot of really bad poetry in a lot of lame journals. (This made her laugh.) And also that I tried to do well in school and have a few friends and just survive.

But the truth was, it was a childhood of deprivation—deprivation of love, for sure, but also of just basic life things like personal care items (and instructions on how to take care of personal care issues); clean sheets and clean clothes; underwear, bras, socks, and shoes—any time I expressed a need for even just a basic clothing item that fit appropriately, I was told in no uncertain way that I was a burden and I ought to be ashamed of myself for being such an inconvenience because I cost so much money and no one wanted me.

The day I counted out 500 pennies from a jar in my mother’s apartment so that I could buy a $5 Domino’s pizza because there was absolutely no food in the house and (since I was just a child) I had no way to go anywhere and get any food—yeah. That was the day I realized that something was really messed up in our home. But wow! Was I grateful for that hot food. (Poor, poor pizza delivery guy who had to take 500 pennies from a vagabond kid.)

Both Fred and Sophie were a little extra compassionate to me tonight as they both caught another glimpse at the layers of pain, rejection, shaming, neglect, abuse, and outright hatred that I had to bear up under for a long, long time as a child. Those things don’t explain why I’m still such a messed up person today! Childhood traumas are influential but not causative (!). Still. The influence can be profound at times.

How sweet it is to know that God’s grace is always greater still. And there are no wasted tears. Just like every orphan, every foster kid, every neglected and abused kid in a seemingly intact / healthy / “OK” home, the Triune God sees and knows and cares. He comforts. He restores. He saves his children. He saved me! He gave me Himself and and He gave me a family and a home, an inheritance, kept in Heaven by God that can never perish or fail or spoil or fade. One day I will be made completely whole. In the meantime, throughout this journey of life, I am being made more and more whole / sound / at peace because I am wanted and loved and cherished now by the one Person who matters the most.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

Who has blessed us in the Heavenly realms with every spiritual blessings in Christ

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons, in accordance with his pleasure and his will–

to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely gives us in the one he loves!”

Ephesians 1. My theme song. My only hope. My enough.

When I remember these truths, all of my fears flee and I am not afraid.

“What can man do to me?”

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Christ, the Messiah of God.”

Indeed.

The Post-It Notes I Scribbled the Day Before My Mother Died

[From the archives. A few weeks after my mother died in December of 2012.]

I finally dragged myself out of bed yesterday to tackle some of the dust bunnies (really Golden Retriever bunnies) that have accumulated in our bedroom and when I was swiffering out under our bed, the following note scritched its way off of our hardwood floor:

“More out of it.
Wheezing.
Declined a LOT today.
On morphine and ativan for comfort.
Flailing arms–a sign of breathing problems.
Death is imminent.
Deep, deep decline.
Inserted a foley catheter because she can’t get out of bed any more.
Can you come right away?”

Yes. It was the scrap of paper on which I frantically scribbled notes the Monday before my mother died.

The back of the paper has a bunch of flight information—times and costs. And I did fly out the next morning. But it was too late. She died less than an hour before I arrived.

Grief is so strange. You’re going along one day, sweeping for the first time in weeks (gross, I know!), and then your chest is crushed by shaky words on a yellow paper.

I barely remember writing the note. I’m not surprised it ended up on the floor. Pain and adrenaline really do short out our functional memories. When people talk about “just going through the motions”, that is a great description of what it means to keep going, even after a shock.

My sister and I are pretty much just going through the motions lately. I keep trying to give myself permission to be sad. My strong instinct is to tell myself things like, “I’m just so grateful for the time we had with my mom” (and I am); “Who would have thought we would ever be such close friends given our start in life?” (not me!); “It’s good to hurt, that means you have loved and been loved” (true).

But really? It’s Saturday morning and all I want to do is roll over and call my mom and tell her the adorable Sophie and Ella stories from last night and how Fred is whomping me at Words with Friends and how sorry I am her cat is sick.

I miss my friend. I miss my mom. Death just totally stinks. And I’m sick of crying because I always get a bad headache when I cry and I already feel terrible physically. Plus we had a super fun family morning watching old movies—it’s amazing how much Soph and Ella look alike! Especially at this age (3-4).

All of this reminds me of a DesiringGod post from last month. Did you read this?

Christmas: The Dawn of Death’s Destruction

Amen & Amen! Thank God for the nativity. And the Cross. And most of all for the resurrection and the return of Christ in glory which makes peace with God, peace with others (even mentally ill, sober alcoholic mothers), and peace within possible.

Big hugs,
Tara B.

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