Tara’s Blog

Win TWO MORE Free Books: In addition to the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible and nine others, I’m adding TWO MORE BOOKS: “Housewife Theologian” by Amy Byrd and “Leadership for Women in the Church” by Susan Hunt and Peggy Hutcheson

three books

I’m SO enjoying all of your entries and comments on our family’s current WIN FREE (BIBLICAL! PRACTICAL!) BOOKS giveaway. Thanks so much! And I can’t wait to see who wins all ELEVEN BOOKS on September 1!

I’ve added TWO MORE BOOKS today, so here are the current books you could win:

  1. The ESV Women’s Devotional Bible (I reviewed this brand-new resource here and I strongly recommend it!)
  2. Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness & Rejection (Ed Welch)
  3. Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (David Murray)
  4. The Path of Loneliness: Finding Your Way through the Wilderness to God  (Elisabeth Elliot)
  5. Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future (Tim Elmore)
  6. Joshua: All God’s Good Promises (Kathleen Buswell Nielson—if your church has not yet discovered her studies, you really really should! Get her study way, way before anything I’ve written. Phenomenal!)
  7. Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus (Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson)
  8. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (Zack Eswine)
  9. Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up (Amy Baker)
  10. Redeeming Church Conflicts (Barthel & Edling—because we never have conflicts in our women’s groups and studies, right? ;) ! )
  11. Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary (Amy Byrd)
  12. Leadership for Women in the Church (Susan Hunt and Peggy Hutcheson)

It’s not to late to join in the fun! The odds are still very much in your favor that RandomNumberGenerator.org will pick YOU!

**Click Here (for the details on how to) Enter to Win!**

I love a good giveaway. Especially with **NO RISK OF SPAM**. Ever.

Please pray for Fred and me if you are reading this on Tuesday night, August 19, around 5:00PM (Mountain). I’m about to head into what could be the HARDEST discipline issue we have ever faced. I am cringing and trying to have HOPE …

Thanks, friends.

Big hugs,
Tara B.

I hope it’s not a disappointment to you, but just one of the books is a used library version—the Susan Hunt Leadership book. I picked up the used copy at our church library giveaway with the hope of giving it away to you one of these days and when I cleaned my office this weekend and unearthed it, I thought I’d add it into the list o’ fun. All of the rest are brand new of course!

“Housewife Theologian” sure has some fabulous recommendations!

“This is a fine book, written with gusto and infectious enthusiasm by a lady who glories in the counter cultural role of being a housewife and yet moves beyond that to delight in the character of God himself, the salvation he has wrought, and the lives he calls his people to live. Frankly, if I had a feminine side, I suspect this book would have put me in touch with it. Thankfully, I don’t—but the Housewife Theologian almost makes me wish I did.”
—Carl R. Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary, Pa.

“Aimee Byrd has created a resource that will benefit women tremendously. This book is the result of Aimee’s passion to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Dive into this theology primer for housewives in the context of community. The intentional journaling questions at the end of each chapter will certainly facilitate some fantastic discussions in your small groups.”
—Gloria Furman, Author of Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home

“When we think of a ‘housewife’ words like doormat, archaic, and cleaning may come to mind; but what about theologian? In Housewife Theologian, Aimee Byrd turns the word on its head, bringing it back to life and reminding us of the unique opportunity to leverage learning as we serve our families. She makes being a housewife beautiful, and it is. She covers a broad range of topics such as submission, beauty, and sex using God’s word as the foundation for each subject. Housewife Theologian is theological yet relatable as we get to know her better through her personal stories. Aimee’s words make me eager to open my Bible and learn more about God, who is in the mundane of my everyday as a housewife theologian!”
—Trillia Newbell, Author; Writer; and Editor of Karis, the Women s Channel at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

“With wisdom, warmth, and wit Aimee challenges women to think biblically about all of life. She connects sound doctrine to daily life in a way that inspires us to intentionally live out the gospel.”
—Susan Hunt, Author and Women’s Ministry Consultant, Christian Education and Publications, Presbyterian Church in America


Satan, the world, and ME

sophie ella summer 2014She was no Chesterton, but she reflected the truths of her catechism training well when, at all of just-five-years-old, my second born wisely responded to Fred’s question last night:

What tempts us to all of this sin? What is wrong with us?!

By saying, literally:

“Satan. The world. AND ME!”

And then. This morning? My ten year-old stopped my propensity to panic (as I looked around the growing piles of chaos in my life and started to head down those well-worn-August-paths-of-motherhood-FREAK OUT-ville) by saying something alone the lines of:

“Mom? Maybe we aren’t doing enough educationally and maybe we’re doing too much. Maybe we don’t have enough playtime in our lives and maybe we don’t work hard enough. OK. Sure. Maybe I need to listen to more audiobooks or maybe I need to have more quiet.

But given how you’re feeling right now. Today. I don’t think it’s the best time to try to figure all of that out. 

Plus. I know these things feel really stressful to you right now, but remember all of those Christian moms whose husbands are at war or who are praying for enough money for clean water or food for the day or that their children will not be killed today.

Our problems can feel really big, but they are really rich people’s easy problems. So let’s pray. And do the next thing.”

From the mouths of babes …

(And thinking of an extended Elisabeth Elliot quote that my dear friend was also thinking about this week too …)

Your friend,
Tara B.

Enter to Win a FREE Copy of the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible + Over $100 in Biblical Resources — Just by Mentioning My Reformed Video Series for Women


I know a lot of us are trying to figure out our fall and spring women’s studies and I hope it’s not too “self-promotey” to mention my own video series, but honestly? I don’t receive any advertising from the PCA Bookstore or Westminster Books or Peacemakers or, well, anyone … so I’m hoping to generate a teeny tiny little e-social-media-buzz by asking you if you might pretty please TELL SOMEONE that this video series exists:

The Peacemaking Church Women’s Study: Living the Gospel in Relationships

… and please let them know that it is being used widely in both Reformed churches and “broadly evangelical” Christian churches because the creators of the series wisely forced me to not be lazy and use a bunch o’ Reformed lingo, but instead, explain the biblical teachings behind the doctrines of grace.

That means that if your church and women’s ministry likes to self-identify as “Reformed,” I have every hope and confidence that you will approve and enjoy this series! OR … if your church does not like the “Reformed” moniker, but prefers to use words like “biblical” and “doctrines of grace,” I am similarly hopeful and confident that you will like it too!

(That being said … if you’re interested neither in the Word of God nor the glory of God as revealed in Christ, this series is really, really not for you.)

A number of people that we respect and trust have endorsed it, including:

  • Ed Welch: “Here is a one-stop guide for relationships. It is filled with Scripture. It will point you to Jesus at every opportunity. It is very practical … “
  • Elyse Fitzpatrick: “It’s with overwhelming joy that I can highly recommend Living the Gospel in Relationships by Tara Barthel. I am recommending these teaching sessions not only because they beautifully avoid the moralistic strategies so common in our me-centered churches but because she connects our struggle for peace to the only source of peace, the one who is called the Prince of Peace.”
  • Thabiti Anyabwile: “I love women’s material that doesn’t shy away from sound theological categories … I’m thankful for material I can recommend to women, material that does not shy away from good biblical truth.”
  • Colin Smith: “Tara Barthel speaks lovingly and candidly to women about what it means to live out the gospel day by day in their relationships. Looking at Scripture, she points out how many women look to the law without fully grasping what Christ has done for them in the cross, and is doing in them by the Spirit …”

And I regularly hear from women around the world, young and old, married/single/widowed who are grateful for the way the series has helped them to believe the Word of God and live out what they believe, especially in their relationships.

So would you PRETTY PLEASE consider letting someone, ANYONE, know about this series? And then please leave a comment on this post by 11:59pm, September 1, 2014 letting me you know you have told someone (anyone!), and I will totally take you at your word and enter you in our family’s drawing for over $100 in (biblical! Christ-centered!) resources that I truly hope will be of help and encouragement to you, especially as you plan your women’s ministry year:

  1. The ESV Women’s Devotional Bible (I reviewed this brand-new resource here and I strongly recommend it!)
  2. Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness & Rejection (Ed Welch)
  3. Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (David Murray)
  4. The Path of Loneliness: Finding Your Way through the Wilderness to God  (Elisabeth Elliot)
  5. Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future (Tim Elmore)
  6. Joshua: All God’s Good Promises (Kathleen Buswell Nielson—if your church has not yet discovered her studies, you really really should! Get her study way, way before anything I’ve written. Phenomenal!)
  7. Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus (Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson)
  8. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (Zack Eswine)
  9. Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up (Amy Baker)
  10. Redeeming Church Conflicts (Barthel & Edling—because we never have conflicts in our women’s groups and studies, right? ;) ! )
  11. Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary (Amy Byrd)
  12. Leadership for Women in the Church (this is the only book that is used/a library version—by Susan Hunt and Peggy Hutcheson)

Thanks so much for your help! I look forward to hearing about how you mentioned this vidoe series. (Maybe a quick call or text to a church leader? A tweet or Facebook post or blog entry? Or maybe even wrote a quick note to the PCA Bookstore or Westminster Books or Peacemakers letting them know how the series has blessed your women and how you would love to see them promote it more?)

Please know how much I appreciate your help to get the word out. Oh, how I pray that God will be glorified and His people built up in Christ! And yes, honestly, our family could use the financial help too, especially with some scary big medical bills screaming in my face right now. (I need to get some specific medical things taken care of, but I am postponing it simply because of finances.)

Thanks, all.

Your friend,
Tara B.

**FREE SHIPPING when you order the complete series from our family!**

Statistically, you will PROBABLY WIN if you enter this drawing because I historically have an extremely low number of entries for my giveaways. For example, of the thousands of hits I will get to this post, I will probably have less than 50 entries—with NO RISK OF SPAM … why not join in the fun?! Thanks again! — tkb

Just Tell Them You’re Not a Christian. Nothing is Worth Dying For.

If you have ever listened to my testimony, you know that when God saved me way back in 1984 (my freshman year of high school), I was a bonafide Christian jerk. Yes, I had heard the distinct call of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. Yes, I wanted to be forgiven all my sins; have a new heart; be the daughter of God, etc. That was all fine and well and remains the defining moment of my life and the most important thing to me, bar none.

But, unfortunately, along with the true gospel, I also heard the distinct call to be a “good person” and I tried, in my simplistic and immature way, to do just that. This meant I self-righteously stomped down our apartment’s hallway to throw away all of my BMG rock-and-roll cassette tapes. (Click here if you need help to understand the cultural reference.) And this meant that I had all sorts of long, drawn-out “conversations” (air quotes definitely needed because I’m sure my fourteen year-old, knows-nothing “preaching” was neither well-informed not conversational) with my family members in my infuriated, frantic state to “get them saved.”

I remember one conversation in particular with my now-deceased father …

In it, I was trying to explain how important salvation is and what GOOD NEWS the gospel of Jesus Christ is. I talked about the holiness of God and the darkness of our sin and how we needed a Mediator and Savior. I talked about how all of history hinged on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; that One Day, we would all face God in judgment; that everything in all of life was to be directed toward The Day, which would be here before we knew it (either with our own death or the return of Christ in glory).

(When I think about how much I must have been interrupting his post-work beer and “Wheel of Fortune”-watching, I really think my dad, especially for a generally angry and impatient man, showed a lot of forbearance toward me as I passionately went on and on about topics that held no interest to him. Even up to his death, my father never indicated to me that he had any interest whatsoever in eternally-important things.)

Still. There I was. 1980’s Tara. Big hair. Parachute pants. Neon jellies galore. Worked up to an impassioned plea, even pulling out the big guns of the examples of the martyrs who gave their lives for the cause of Christ. To this, my dad responded in such a nonchalant, blind way that even my brand-spankin-new-baby-Christian-heart knew was wrong to its very depth. He said something like this:

“Tara. It’s all well and fine for you to believe this stuff about Jesus. If this particular religion means something to you, then great. Go for it. But just remember—if someone ever points a gun to your head and tells you that they will kill you if you keep professing faith in Christ, just tell them you are NOT a Christian. Say whatever it takes to STAY ALIVE because nothing is worth dying for. You can always take it back later.”

Oh, dad. This is simply not true.

And friends? Today? It felt as though that 1984 conversation happened just yesterday, so fresh were the details (the words, the emotion, the very room it took place in) when my preteen daughter asked me pretty much the exact question:

“Mom? Is it really worth it to DIE for Christ? Wouldn’t it be OK to just SAY the WORDS of denying Him, but know all along in your heart that you REALLY love Him?”

(I assume her question was prompted by our reading about Amy Carmichael and my age-appropriate explanation and call to prayer with her and my five year-old daughter re: the things that are happening this very day that are being widely reported in the news and that are making me physically sick as I am driven either to the depths of despair or to the Only Hope.)

Oh, how happy—an uneasy!—my Momma-heart was when she answered her own question with truth, even though she did not know the biblical citation. She said:

“But then again—where would we go if we denied Christ? Where would we turn? What could we ever say?”

Yes, my dear, darling daughter.  That is the right question and it leads us to the right answer:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69 ESV)

O, my child. I cannot bear the thought of your martyrdom. Like you, I cannot imagine being able to die for my faith. But my hope and my counsel for you is this: God does not promise us grace for tomorrow, but just for the day. And statistically, at least right now, during your young years, as we live life in this home, in this city, in this country, you are probably not going to be asked to die for the faith. Our persecution comes more in being ostracized and labeled as bigoted hate-mongerers for failing to call good something we believe is evil or having the audacity to claim we know the Truth or even that there IS truth to be known.

Still. If one day we are driven to the stake; or if stakes are driven through us or our children. (It is becoming nearly impossible to type now because of my tears.) I believe in faith that God will give us the grace to persevere to the end. Not because of anything in us, but only because of Christ in us, who sustains us.

Tonight, let us pray along with all the saints throughout the ages:

“O Lord God,
Teach me to know that grace precedes,
accompanies, and follows my salvation,
that it sustains the redeemed soul,
that not one link of its chain can ever break.

From Calvary’s cross wave upon wave of grace
reaches me,
deals with my sin,
washes me clean,
renews my heart,
strengthens my will,
draws out my affection,
kindles a flame in my soul,
rules throughout my inner man,
consecrates my every thought, word, work,
teaches me Thy immeasurable love.

How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus!

Without Him I stand far off, a stranger, an outcast;
in Him I draw near and touch His kingly sceptre.

Without Him I dare not lift up my guilty eyes;
in Him I gaze upon my Father-God and Friend.

Without Him I hide my lips in trembling shame;
in Him I open my mouth in petition and praise.

Without Him all is wrath and consuming fire;
in Him is all love, and the repose of my soul.

Without Him is gaping hell below me, and eternal anguish;
in Him its gates are barred to me by His precious blood.

Without Him darkness spreads its horrors in front;
in Him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon.

Without Him all within me is terror and dismay,
in Him every accusation is charmed into joy and peace.

Without Him all things external call for my condemnation;
in Him they minister to my comfort,
and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving.

Praise be to Thee for grace,
and for the unspeakable gift of Jesus.”

–“Privileges” in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Does the Neglect and Abuse of Your Childhood Sometimes Still Jump Up and Surprise You (Even as an Adult, Christian Woman)?

Recently, a dear friend of mine wept silent streams of tears as she learned a little bit more about my childhood and some of the suffering I experienced in my family of origin. This is not a topic I talk about often, but when I do, it does not currently hurt me. It did at first. The ache; the ripping open of my chest as though I would die; the hot feeling of acid on every inch of my skin and the acute, instinctual reaction to pull back from every single person? I felt it all as a young adult when I first started to look back, acknowledge what had happened to me, and bring light into the darkness of my childhood (1 Peter 2:9).

I wanted to minimize my experience. (“After all! People have suffered FAR WORSE than me! Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember …”) I wanted to protect my parents; not speak ill of them; not draw attention to the ways that they hurt me and the imminent danger they continually put me in. (I think in many ways, I still wanted to somehow preserve the possibility that they were actually functional, loving, stable adults and we could possibly have one of those healthy, happy, functional families that I had read books about and dreamed about and observed in so many peoples’ lives—especially in the church, once God saved me as a teenager and brought me into his eternal family.)

But reality is what it is. My life story is my life story, and I can cry both for the man who has no feet and the man who has no shoes.

Yes, the Lord is sovereign. Yes, he is most definitely good. Of course there is no aspect of my childhood that was a surprise to him. Yes, he was present. He saw what happened to me as a child and he hated with a holy, hot anger the wickedness that I had to endure, just as he hates all evil, everywhere. God’s Light is so against all darkness and evil that he sent his only begotten Son into the world to deal definitively with every aspect of creation that is subject to the Fall.

This includes any and all suffering I experienced as a child. It also includes any and all suffering I am experiencing now and will experience this side of Heaven. One day, all suffering will end and God’s glory and lovingkindness will reign. Forever. But in this life, “we will  have trouble” (John 16:33). Our suffering varies, but we all suffer. The question is: how do we respond to our suffering? 

Lately, I have become more concerned over well-meaning, mature Christians who try to push themselves (and others) to “get there” (trust God! rejoice in the Lord always!) without allowing a little time to remember that God is also the God who weeps (John 11:35). Yes, we are called to trust in God’s sovereignty. Yes, he really is good. But we are denying neither God’s sovereignty nor his goodness when we stand at the tomb of our friend, suffer, and weep. It is not sin to feel pain (Luke 22:39-46). We are not failing to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) when we curl into the fetal position (in our bed, in a Garden) and finally give ourselves permission to cry so hard that it feels as though we may never stop.

One aspect of growing in grace, maturing in Christ, becoming even a slightly more functional adult Christian is learning how to remember past hurts, name them, feel them, experience them, grieve them, and entrust them to the Lord, so that we can move on. Grow up. Not be stoics!  But also, not give in to bitterness and judgment of others (especially the people who hurt us). Not give in to an overly-morbid-self-introspection that just chews and chews over our past hurts and ascribes to them far too much power, blame, and causality re: our present struggles.

(David Powlison has a fabulous article series about processing through our present sadness related to our life experiences that I strongly urge you to read. You can click here for Part 2—my personal favorite—and here to find links to all five sections.)

Some of us really did survive childhood experiences that can rightly be described as neglectful and abusive. We may be relatively functional adults now. We may have experienced great growth and healing regarding the difficult aspects of our lives. We might not be in an acute stage of suffering related to our past experiences, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t still have memories that jump on us—surprise us!—hurt us, even as we are going through our little normal-happily-boring-currently-non-abusive lives.

That’s how the conversation with my friend got started last Sunday. For reasons I can’t remember now, I happened to mention to her a relatively innocuous experience I had related to cleaning lint off of a dryer. It went something like this:

When Fred and I first moved to Billings, Montana (from Chicago) to work for Peacemaker Ministries, Fred drew no salary and mine was so small that we had to live (for free) in the basement of one of our PCA elders for a year.

Our hosts were the most gracious  human beings on the planet and we could not have been more grateful for their ministerial hospitality. But I still vividly remember when the wife was showing me how to use their laundry machines and I had a HUGE, EMOTIONAL WAVE OF SHAME well up in me re: NEVER leaving lint in the lint trap or on the top of the machine. I wanted to PROMISE HER and PROVE TO HER that I would DO. IT. RIGHT. (The intensity of my response rightfully startled her, poor, dear, sweet woman.)

But here’s the thing (and this is what I was retelling to my friend last Sunday): when I was little, my parents were very unhappily married. We moved almost every year and even after we finally got settled someplace, my dad would often intentionally take a new job out of town, leaving my sister and I in the care of my mother who was a mentally ill addict. My mom was also in-and-out of mental institutions and detox centers, and my parents finally divorced when I was in junior high, so I was shuttled back and forth between so many chaotic childhood homes, I cannot even remember them all.

I do remember this, however: I was a NOT-GOOD-ENOUGH kid and neither of my parents wanted me with them. I would do something, say something, “blow it” in some way–and I would be kicked out. Again. Sent to live with the other parent who didn’t want me. Sometimes to a well-meaning friend’s home, but I would blow it there too. Back and forth. Not good enough. Not good enough. Not keeping the lint off the dryer good enough. And then I would find myself, literally (no exaggeration), sitting on a curbside with my little bag of earthly belongings, knowing I was being sent away and forced on people who didn’t want me; pretty sure I would blow it again and be kicked out. Again.

I had no hope that I could ever change and no hope that anyone would ever love me unless I changed. So of course I felt as though there was no place for me in the world. I felt like I had no safe place—NO HOME—because the truth was, I really did not have a safe place and I did not have a home.

Until that fateful day in 1985 when God saved me (just as I was) and put me into his family (the church) and then put me into the household of the Livingstons (a Christian family who took me in after I saved my mother out of a suicide attempt). The Livingstons did not kick me out, even though it was horribly, horribly hard for them to have such a messed up kid in their house. All they wanted to do was love me, but I was so terrified, wounded, incapable of trusting and loving—it was a hard, hard season of suffering for them. Plus, of course, the members of my little church in Morris, Illinois had to choose to love the unlovable me. (I really was a manipulative, mean, terrified little gossip of a jerk—but I was a Christian! Just a really, really immature Christian.)

The people who loved me when I was unlovable taught me to trust in God’s love (God loved us when we were yet his enemies—Romans 5:10), and they modeled, instructed, and helped me to learn how to love people in response.

Thirty years later, sure … I have to admit that my childhood was influential as regards my overly-strong “I won’t blow it! I WILL clean the lint off right!” response to dear, sweet, patient Peg H. as we stood over that dryer years ago. But my childhood was not causative re: my response.  I sin today because I am a sinner, not because of sins done against me decades (or weeks) ago. I have annoying parts of my personality and I respond in weird, emotional ways to some situations because I am a fallen creature living in a fallen world with huge areas in need of further sanctification and growth in grace. 

That little story? Especially the laundry dryer lint little episode? I think that was the reason my sweet friend cried for me last Sunday. It can be so easy to forget (or just not know!) how much the people around us have endured. But every once in awhile, we get to learn about some of the specific, terrible, terrifying things that have happened to one another. We get to say the words:

“I am so sorry this suffering happened to you.”

We get to cry. To love one another and help each other to remember God’s tears and God’s love. And mostly wonderfully? Most encouragingly? Most healing-ly? We get to remember and remind each other with full hope and assurance that suffering is not the last word. God gets the last word!

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Yes. At times, painful memories may still jump on us. Until glory, we will have new reasons to feel pain and we may be tempted to withdraw or hide ourselves in shame. But we don’t have to respond in this way! Instead, we can “entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). We can “comfort in the way we  have been comforted” (2 Corinthians 1:4). We can feel our feelings, sure. But ultimately, we can listen to God, more than our feelings, more than our past memories, more than our present sufferings:

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” Revelation 22:17

Amen & Amen!

I hope you have a blessed, hope-filled Wednesday. I’m off to little Miss E’s swim lessons now …

Your friend,
Tara B.

I know I already pointed you to the David Powlison article series, but just to tempt you to click through, here is a brief excerpt that I think is particularly on point to what I am trying to express in this blog. (The bold emphases are mine.) Dr. Powlison is addressing how to help a (very self-introspective) woman who is trying to process through her past hurts and suffering:

“Exhaustive analysis of an emotional moment is impossible and not worth pursuing. One of the pitfalls to which introspective people are prone is the attempt to exhaustively understand and explain themselves. You’ll drive yourself to distraction if you try to figure out the percentage. Is it 80% self-pity and 20% honest faith? 50-50? 20-80? Or is it 20% self-pity, 20% faith, 20% not knowing how to entrust cares into God’s hands, 20% just plain hardship, and 20% not knowing how to do what needs to be done?

You can’t do the calculus and come up with numbers. But you can help her sort out when and how she crosses the line into self-pity, or avoidance, or confusion. You can help her fill in wisdom where blind spots exist. And you can help her sort out how living faith and loving actions think, talk, and choose. Wise friends and wise pastoral counsel can walk with her. We can help our sister to move forward constructively even without exhaustive understanding. We can honor her bravery in asking tough questions, her existing self-awareness that enables her to even bring such questions to the table, her desire and humility to not give herself over to what might be an ungodly temperament. She can find help in moving from self-pity to faith. Other people can help her to think through and walk through some of the matters raised in the various “Perhaps ____.”

Our letter writer is dealing with what our forebears called a “case of conscience.” When is it right to feel the sadness of the world’s wrong, and when does it become an expression of self-pity or some other redressable problem? How can she move in a fruitful direction when she feels that sadness, and is tempted to turn inward? We can help her grow more fruitful and constructive without claiming to understand all the ins and outs of a particular emotional experience.

Here’s another reason to not rush too quickly to make the moral assessment. We are God-made to grieve at losses, to be troubled by troubles, to be distressed at evil. And we are God-made for taking refuge in him and for growing in confidence in him. Faith is human and humane. Self-pity works to magnify and distort grief, turning me in on myself, rather than reaching out to God and to others.

It is possible that our letter writer uses the return of Christ to short-circuit honest sorrow, and then constructive engagement with a broken world. Instead of spinning her wheels in introspection, wise cure of souls aims to lessen self-pity’s self-preoccupation (however it appears). Pastoral care and Christian friendship aim to help her grow into faith’s humanity. Faith reaches out from ourselves, rather than turning in on ourselves. So faith grieves. Faith longs, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Faith trusts God and rejoices in hope. Faith pleads with God, “Deliver us from evil.” And faith reaches out in love for other strugglers.

Praise the Lord! And thank you, Dr. Powlison.

(Oh. And if you are not already a financial supporter of CCEF—The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation—I strongly, strongly urge you to consider even just a one-time gift this month. Even in our current financial situation, Fred and I have prayerfully worked hard to not stop our monthly donation to this organization because we believe in them so much. Won’t you please consider a gift? I don’t work for them. I have no formal association with them. I just appreciate their love for the Lord, His Word, His Bride—and their careful, biblical analysis of complex psychological/emotional/spiritual/physical issues. Thanks!)

If this topic resonates with you or someone you love, I strongly recommend the books Shame Interrupted and Loving Well Even if You Haven’t Been for further study. And (updated 8/12/14), CCEF has generously made this amazing article by David Powlison available for free too: “I’ll Never Get Over It! Help for the Aggrieved

Jennifer C. is our Winner!

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

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

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

Blessings and joy,
Tara B.


sleepGrowth can be extremely hard to see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big hugs,
Tara B.

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and joy,
Tara B.

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


(A re-post from 2013 …)

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

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

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

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

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

My (Potential) Eulogy for My Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ our Hope,
Tara Barthel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Right, daughter. Well said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and much love,
Tara B.

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