- About Tara
- Tara’s Blog
- All LiveBlogs & LiveBlog Explanation
- Gospel Coalition LiveBlogs
- Peacemaker Ministries LiveBlogs
- PCA Women’s Ministry Leadership LiveBlogs
- Free Audio Downloads
- Video Series – Living the Gospel in Relationships
- Redeeming Church Conflicts
- Peacemaking Women
- Becoming Who You Already Are
- Recommended Resources
- Contact Tara
Yesterday, I did a quick check-in with my preteen daughter about how her heart and mind were doing re: inadvertent exposure to sexual or violent images. I use different words, of course. Otherwise, the very act of asking about things could create trouble—and I surely don’t want to do that! But as we were there, nose-to-nose, snuggling and talking about important things, I asked if she had seen anything troubling or tempting on any technology or on a bookshelf at a friend’s home or in a store, etc.
She mentioned how the title “The Lady with the Dragon Tattoo” had created in her a desire for a second glance when she saw it on a bookshelf at a friend’s home, but that was pretty much it. She didn’t explore it and she wasn’t having any troubling thoughts about it.
I thanked her for sharing about this important part of her life (as I always do). I reiterated what an honor it was to pray for her about such things, especially as she continues to mature and have more and more opportunities to glance longer and longer and things that might seems so … interesting. Enticing. (As adults, the term “titillating” would be an appropriate descriptor.)
And then I told her a variation of what I tell her pretty much every single time we venture into this area of life. My spiel goes something like this:
“My darling daughter. I hope you know that when daddy and I talk about these things with you, and urge you to be careful, wise, and intentional about avoiding these things, we’re not trying to keep something good from you. We’re not standing here, body-blocking you from something super fun and interesting and beautiful because we just want you to have a drag of a life and we don’t want you to be blessed.
When I ask you about these things; when I pray and beg God for His protection for you; when I counsel you to STAY AWAY FROM THESE IMAGES AND SOUNDS, I am doing it because I SO long for you to NEVER have to deal with the ramifications of them being inside of you. Not even for ONE MINUTE.
Like a drop of black ink spreading throughout a clear glass of crystal clean water, these sounds and images get into our brains in a darkening, clouding way.
Of course, God gives us grace. You know my story. You know that by the time I was your age, my mind was bombarded by hundreds, thousands, of images and sounds that I wish I never knew existed. And God was so gracious and is so gracious to help me—to save me and sanctify me and my memories so that, by His grace alone, daddy and I enjoy a happy, sweet, fun, intimate life together.
But. It has still been hard. Very hard. It was hard for me as a child. Harder still as a teenager and young adult. Hard when I met and fell in love with your daddy and we were married and we began the good, pure, God-honoring, strong, cement-together-one-man-and-one-woman-for-LIFE, aspect of our intimate life together. At the worst possible times, specific images would come into my mind from 1974. 1975. Preschool! Kindergarten! Images that my five year-old self didn’t understand; that provoked strong physical and emotional responses in me; things that brought me shame; things that warped my view of women and of men and of sexuality. Forty years later, I remember exactly what I saw and what I felt and how I didn’t understand either. And this, my dear, is what I want to protect you from to the utmost of my ability.
Yes, we live in a hyper-erotic society. Yes, billboards are everywhere. Sounds are everywhere. Even our careful use of Netflix and iTunes with no “real” tv cannot protect you as you continue to grow up and are in increasingly unsupervised situations with increasing amounts of opportunities to look. And look again. And again.
That’s why I ask you direct questions now. I tell you the stories of the GOOD (because this aspect of life IS SO GOOD in its proper context). I try to give age-appropriate warnings and, like so many aspects of life, I pray that you will NOT be like me.
God gives us grace! I am a living testimony to that. But it would be far, far better to just avoid the disastrous poison of sexually explicit and exploitave images and sounds.”
(‘Course, that’s not even going down the whole rabbit trail of why we live the way we do as a family so that every single month we can donate to International Justice Mission so that we can be one tiny part of trying to rescue victims of violence, sexual exploitation, and slavery—a whole ‘nother aspect of this conversation that, it seems to me, we MUST be having with our children.)
Is this a hard topic for you? It is for me too. Maybe you’ll want to read some of my other posts for encouragement and practical helps.
Oh. And Mary? I don’t think I would have shared this story if I hadn’t been encouraged by your blog post that recently showed up in my stats/feed. Thank you, my friend. I love you. And maybe our combined efforts will keep even just one child from the statistically “guaranteed” early childhood inadvertent exposure to porn. I pray that it is so.
For the glory of the Lord and His Bride—and the protection of the children in our care,
Things You Should Know About Child Sexual Offenders (And a story of how my friends protected Sophia at a farmer’s market when she was only six years old …)
I do not want to raise my children to live lives of fear. I do not want them to think that most “don’t knows” are out to harm them. (We use the Safe Side Super Chick term “don’t know” rather than “stranger” because most people who do hurt children are not strangers—they are “kinda knows.” Children kinda know their coaches, their distant uncles, the nice new man at their church.)
At the same time, I do not want to raise them to be naive. Even in just my brief time leading The Institute for Christian Conciliation, I learned of many cases of children being molested in churches. Most churches and most Christians are just way too trusting of people! And sexual predators prey on churches. They do. If you don’t think they do, then you are either misinformed or ignorant and I urge you to get informed rightly. (And please don’t think you can tell a child sexual offender by how they look! They will not be creepy. They will be the most clean-cut, Bible-carrying, know all the right things to say and do, people you meet.)
Do you have policies in place to protect children from these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Do you regularly talk with children about safe-side rules? How they can (and should) look out for one another / stick together / let safe-side-grownups know where they are at all times / trust their instincts if someone is too close to their personal space / not obey every adult command of a kinda-know / NEVER think it is safe or appropriate for an adult to ask a child for help (finding their lost puppy / getting directions) / NEVER be frightened into keeping secrets from their parents (“If you tell anyone, I will hurt you/them/your baby sister.”) / learn to yell, “This is not my mom! This is not my dad!” rather than just screaming if someone ever did try to force you to go with them in a public setting. (Most of us would quickly tune out a small child seemingly having a tantrum or being defiant if we just thought they were with their parents. But if a child were to be grabbed by an adult and that child would yell, “This is not my dad! This is not my dad!”, every adult within earshot would come to that child’s defense. It’s true.)
But even with policies and training, nothing beats vigilance. Let me give you one example from our family’s life …
Sophia has been blessed to serve in the Ceilidh Fiddlers since she was very young (age 6). Because she fiddles at the level of adults, she has been in many situations that would never be appropriate for a child to be left in on her own: corporate events at large hotels, weddings at fancy restaurants/bars, and every summer at our local farmer’s market …
(As an aside … don’t you love how her sash goes all the way down to the ground because she is just such a little muchkin in this photo?)
Well. The summer she was six years old, we had a situation at the farmer’s market that reminded me that children are children and even with consistent training and reminders and prayer and conversations, they are still easily manipulated by adults and they need our vigilant protection. This is what happened …
Ella and I needed to get home, so I asked two women I trust to be Sophie’s safe-side-grownups while she was fiddling and (especially) during the break. I made sure Sophie knew that these adults were in charge and she was to stick by them, keep them informed of what she was doing, listen to their counsel, etc. (The two women are close friends whom I trust greatly.)
When the gig was done and Sophie was brought home, one of the moms told me that an adult had been taking LOTS of photos of Sophia, including very up-close photos, as she was fiddling. Now. This person may have just been amazed that a little girl could fiddle at those tempos. Lots of people just like to take beautiful pictures of sunny Montana days—so maybe that was all there was to it. But we just don’t know. And the safety antennae on my friends’ heads went UP even as my daughter’s naiveté kicked into gear.
She told me later that, yes, she thought it was a little strange, but also that she found it flattering that a grownup was taking only pictures of HER and not the other fiddlers (!!!!). Oh oh oh. What a human response! What a childish response. What a response that needs protection from adults. And that is just what she had … my friends went right up to the photographer and said, “Why are you taking pictures of that little girl? That is not appropriate. You need to delete those photos of her RIGHT NOW in front of us.” And so it was. And that was that.
But seriously, friends. We have got to work together on this. We need to find a shared language with our friends and church family so that we are all on the same team, working towards the same goals. (And, by the way, I do not mean to imply that predators and their families are not in need of ministry help too. They are! And for the predators, criminal prosecution help too! But that is not my focus in this post.)
Please. If you haven’t yet educated yourself on this topic; if you’re not talking with your children (age appropriately!); start today. Here are two brief, but excellent places to begin educating yourself:
I have also posted on this topic before and I have a number of links in this recent post that would be worth your time:
I hope I don’t sound shrill. But I likewise hope you take this very seriously. I know personally how hard it is to overcome the scars of sexual sins that are done to us when we are children. God is sufficient! There is always hope and help in time of need. But as adults, I truly pray that we are all doing everything we can to help our children to avoid this particular suffering.
Thanks, friends. Off into my day now …
If you’d to see a fun video of Sophia playing her very first song at her very first fiddler rehearsal, this is a great one:
Sophie and I still laugh at the tempo we practiced at home. We thought it was fast enough and she was ready for this rehearsal. But the tempo they play it at is SMOKIN’ FAST. If you watch until 1:37, you’ll see her little six year-old eyes sort of glance around the room as her fingers kept up with a ZILLION notes. Sophie and I have laughed many times in viewing this video as we both think: “I can’t believe six year-old Sophie’s fingers are doing that!” It truly is the fruit of a LOT of very slow practice. But even so, this is a very fast fiddle piece for a first song. 🙂
I greatly appreciated this link from Challies and I urge you to read it and listen to its counsel:
The only thing I would add is that it’s never too young to (age-appropriately) begin talking with children about these things. Let me give you an example …
When Sophia was little, my assigned task at our little homeschooling co-op was theology and parties. (Great job I have, eh?!) One Christmas Co-Op Party sticks out in my mind because that week, a dear friend had shared with me more details of how she was sexually abused for years by her own father, pastor, and other church leaders (many of whom are in jail now because they molested hundreds of children). So MAN! Was it heavy on my heart to be sure I was doing everything I could to carefully teach the children about authority.
Just like I do every week, I led the children in reviewing the photos and names of all of our elders (and then praying for them) and then I gave my mini-lesson on authority (which they nail 100% now because we’ve reviewed it every week of school):
- We’re all under God’s authority.
- In addition, there are FOUR spheres of authority that we should always be aware of: family, workplace, civil, and church.
- We obey God’s authority absolutely. But all other authority is derived from God’s authority and thus, it is limited.
What does that mean? Ask one of my 3 year olds or 5 year olds! They know:
- If our swim teacher commanded us to sit on the side of the pool during a lesson, that is an appropriate use of authority. We should obey, without delay, without complaint. But if that same swim teacher showed up at Target and commanded us to get into his car and go with him, we must not obey. That is beyond his sphere of authority.
- If our pastor commanded us to sin, we must not obey. If our daddy’s boss at work commanded him to lie or cheat or steal, he must not obey. If our mother or father commanded us to deny Christ, we must not obey. So what would we do in those situations? We would get help. From whom? From people in authority—daddies are under authority; mommies are under authority; pastors are under authority; bosses are under authority; citizens are under authority.
My precious little lovie muffins dressed all in cheery Christmas red had NO idea that by talking for mere minutes each week about authority (and the limits on authority and the appeal structures that are available), I am (hopefully!) laying the groundwork for them to stand up and stand strong and say, “NO!” if someone in authority were ever to hurt them. They have no idea of the horrors of child sexual abuse, nor should they. But I know. I’m all cheery in my red and green and happy in my Santa hat and together we talk about this important stuff with clapping and affirmations of “spot on!” and “great answer!” But deep inside, my chest is tight with grief because every time I teach on authority, I think of this beloved friend who was molested for years by her church leaders and her father. Years of the most heinous abuse you can imagine. (When she first began to share specifics with me, I was physically sick.) I know how quickly the good gifts of authority, leadership, and submission can be warped into wickedness. So even while I LOVE training children on the blessings of obedience, I never, never want to even come CLOSE to training them to think they have to blindly “submit” to authority or to think that they are powerless to get help.
I think that Pastor Jared Wilson’ sixth point in the article I linked to above addresses this perfectly:
“We must understand that the gospel is often a severe mercy to abusers, even genuinely repentant ones, and so it means consequences — disciplinary in the church, legal outside — and accountability. Too often “grace” for the abuser adds more abuse to his or her victim. But justice can be grace.”
Amen to that! “Justice can be grace.”
Having been involved in too many abuse situations as a church member helping my pastors, as a conciliator/back when I was the Director of the Institute for Christian Conciliation at Peacemaker Ministries (abuse cases in the church are sickeningly and heart-breakingly far too common and they cause a LOT of conflict), and even just as a friend who cries tears often over the suffering that my godly, beautiful, precious friends have experienced through abuse in the church, I would even go so far as to say that sometimes, grace must be justice. Sometimes, in order to be real grace, it has to come with a badge and a gun and a bigger and stronger man with the authority to take a violent man to jail.
And friends? This is not a problem that is “out there” in some other church, in some other community. If you are closing your eyes to the real risk of child sexual abuse in the church or physical abuse in your seemingly OK married couples’ lives, you are naive and foolish and not living up to your membership vows. Please. Get. Educated. And then gently, prayerfully, but intentionally, help your church leaders to implement strategies to protect their sheep.
Here are some things you might want to read to get started. This is not a topic that you want to wait until something tragic happens and then think that you and your church leaders and members can somehow just jump in and be prepared to respond wisely. Like all important things, this will take effort:
- Seven Questions You Should Ask About Your Church Abuse Prevention Policies
- GRACE: Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment
- Helping Churches to Deal with Child Abuse
- Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse
Now that I’ve probably totally freaked you out, let me start my close with something even more awful. The words of a predator—and that is a correct term because child sexual abusers prey on churches. They do. And don’t look for a shaggy, disheveled, scary looking guy. Look at the most clean-cut, correct Bible-carrying, knows all the right words, super-duper-nice guy. Listen to how one abuser explained how he targeted his victims in the church:
“First of all, you start the grooming process from day one…the children that you’re interested in…You find a child you might be attracted to…For me, it might be nobody fat. It had to be a you know, a nice-looking child…You maybe look at a kid that doesn’t have a father image at home. You know, you start deducting. Well, this kid may not have a father, or a father that cares about him. Some kids have fathers but they’re not there with them…Say if you’ve got a group of twenty-five kids, you might find nine that are appealing…Then you start looking at their family backgrounds…Then you find out which ones are most accessible. Then eventually you get it down to the one you think is the easiest target, and that’s the one you do.”
We. Must. Be. Wise.
But we also don’t want to unnecessarily frighten our children or raise them to think that every single adult in their lives is out there to hurt them. That would be awful too!
In our family, we really love how the Safe Side Super Chick materials teach us to eschew the term “stranger” with our children (because most abuse does NOT happen at the hands of a stranger) and instead uses three terms:
- Safe Side Grownup
- Kinda Know
- Don’t Know
Our safe-side grownups would lay down their lives for us; they would never, never, never hurt us. We can trust them in any situation at any time. For example, if Auntie Samara came up to Sophia in Target and said, “Sophie! Come with me right now!” Sophie should take her hand and go wherever Auntie Samara says because we would trust her to RAISE our children. She is a Safe Side Grownup.
A kinda-know grownup is someone we kinda-know. Like a soccer coach, orchestra conductor, a youth worker at church. We kinda know them and they have some level of limited authority over us. We listen to them and obey them, but with limits. (Sit on the side of the pool? Yes. Leave Target with me? No. Allow me to touch your private area? NO NO NO!)
A don’t-know is a person we don’t know. And probably? They would never intentionally hurt us. Most adults we pass in life would not stalk or prey on or abuse or harm a child. Just the opposite in fact! Think of how quickly moms keep their distance but start to surround a toddler who is not clearly with another mom when shopping at a store. Everyone’s eyes are darting, everyone is thinking, “Where is the mom? Where is the mom?” Everyone is ready to POUNCE if someone tried to snatch that child or harm that child. And when, a nanosecond later, the mom runs up and scoops up the child and says, “There you are!” And he throws his arms around his momma’s neck and kisses her, we all wordlessly disperse. Why? Because most don’t knows would throw themselves between even an unknown child and danger. But we just don’t know. And so we are careful. Wise. Appropriate.
Running hypotheticals with your kiddos can really help with all of this too. It’s fun. Safe. But it’s also excellent practice.
Whew! I guess I feel passionate about this subject. Hope that some of the ideas contained herein are helpful to you.
May we do all we can to keep our precious children safe!
I am so grateful for the entire PCA Discipleship Ministries team (PCA = my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America)! Their prayerful, sacrificial and wise ministry creates wonderful, biblical, Christ-centered resources and events for our denomination and I thank God for them every day.
This year, the PCA women’s ministry is releasing a series videos to help connect women to key doctrines and Women’s Ministry topics. Each video is paired with questions for your own personal reflection and to encourage conversation and connection among your women’s ministry too. I encourage you to check them all out! I was so honored to get to participate:
To access the other videos and the discussion questions for the PCA Women’s Ministry Connection series, click here. With videos by Melissa Kruger, Susan Hunt, Ellen Dykas, Courtney Doctor (and many more!), you definitely do not want to miss this series. (Oh! How I admire and deeply appreciate these women.)
Sending my love and praying for peace—
Yes, we believe in faith (and pray accordingly) that our lovely little girl is the Lord’s beloved child. Yes, we trust that God is at work in her (totally depraved) heart and calling her to faith and obedience. But. It can be easy to be discouraged when fits continue and defiance continues. Like one specific time I remember from back when she was around two years old. We had all been in a bad stretch of discouragement parenting-wise. At times, we thought there were some glimmers of “getting it” re: authority / respectful appeals, etc. But then, there would still be occasional times of what felt-like a constant stream of fits.
But then, this one time …
I was changing her diaper and telling her that it was naptime. And she (very politely) said:
“No thank you naptime.”
I commended her for being so polite, but I also (gently) explained that I wasn’t asking for her preference, I was giving her a command: “You must nap now.”
Oh! That did not go over well. She didn’t like that response ONE BIT. And so she pushed back in a very angry, defiant way. I disciplined her; prayed with her; we were reconciled; and we tried it again …
“Darling? God made little children’s bodies to need sleep. And right now, it is time to nap. If you cannot sleep, you can just put your head down on your pillow and rest quietly. But this is what you must do. Right now.”
And again, my amazingly wonderful strong-willed child gave the ol’, “NO!!” tantrum response. Again. So I disciplined her and prayed with her. Again. We were reconciled and we tried it again:
“Sweetheart? The path of obedience to God and to his commandments (“honor your father and mother”) is a path that is filled with the blessings and joys of righteousness. On this path, my precious child? You are kept SAFE. You are most HAPPY (in that blessed / hessed / really happy sense).
God wants your best. Your mommy wants your best. So now, dear child, please listen to me when I command you to put your head on your pillow and be silent and rest.”
This time, she paused. She cuddled into me even more and I could hear her whispering to herself—she was SO CLEARLY in the battle against her three enemies!—my sweet little one was in the battle of the ages and I was holding her, kissing her, praying silently for her and cheering her on (inside my heart) as I heard:
“(Inaudible murmurings of) shwishwishwish “NAPTIME!!” … shwishwishwish “NO. Thank. You.” … shwishwishwish “Must obey Momma. Momma in charge!” … shwishwishwish “Good things come when I obey God and Mom” …
(Spoken so clearly!)
“Yes, Momma.” And she laid down and took her nap.
For this tired ol’ Momma? Well! This moment was a true grace. Even years later, I find it such a privilege to remember this parenting moment and all of the millions of other parenting moments when I have the privilege of talking with her about the things that really do matter the most in all of life.
Today gave me another one of these sweet evidences of God’s work in my young daughter’s heart …
This morning, she and I had been taking turns reading out loud our New Testament reading from Ephesians 2. When she reached the sentences that specifically stated that “the prince of the power of the air” (v2) is at work in “the sons of disobedience” (!!) … she had to STOP and really think about that/talk about that with me.
And then she go to read out loud two of our favorite words in the entire Bible:
BUT GOD (v4)
But God didn’t wait for us to DO BETTER and BE BETTER before He would condescend to save us—NO! In fact, it was “even when we were dead in our trespasses” that God “made us alive together with Christ” (v5)!!
Wow! Oh! Wow! It was like she was hearing this for the first time (which I assure you she was not)—but she just LIT UP at the Word of God clearly stating that God is “RICH in mercy” towards her (v3)! And that God’s love for her is “GREAT” (v4)!
What. A. Moment. What a privilege! To share the gospel with anyone and everyone, to the ends of the earth, and to the tiny person tucked next to me in bed with me, my beloved child.
Thank You, God! Thank you for these, and so many other blessings.
My life is just so much better than I could ever deserve.
One of our family’s favorite Psalms is Psalm 32. I really can’t imagine parenting without it.
As one example of why it is so necessary to us, years ago, my husband and young daughter were reading through The Hobbit and Fred had to correct her attitude on something.
I wouldn’t have even known about this little exchange because I was upstairs at the time, in an entirely different area of the house, preparing (“coincidentally”) for our women’s study that week on Psalm 32, but the weeping child roused me and I headed downstairs to see what was going on.
(BTW— meditating on Scripture, praying, and looking up theological terms that I could not easily define and distinguish from one another had really helped to prepare me to help when I came downstairs to find a weeping six year-old cowering under an end table and a husband looking at me with that, “Any ideas?” look that we often have in parenting.)
From Fred’s perspective, our daughter had apologized and he had forgiven her. It should have been a done-deal-forgiven-covered-“I’ve chosen not to remember this any more”-kind of situation. But she was inconsolable. She didn’t want to look at Fred (or me once I came downstairs). Even when she climbed up onto my lap, she kept her eyes closed tight. (Reminding me, in a pathos-laden way, of an ostrich avoiding life by hiding only its head in the sand.)
And so we did what we have to do for one another all the time too—we spoke truth to Sophia and gently urged her to believe truth more than her emotions. This is what I told her:
God not only forgives our sin, He forgives the iniquity (“awon”, perverseness, wickedness, crookedness, guilt) of our sin.
Christ made atonement on the Cross for our sin. Christ’s expiation of our sin means that He paid the penalty for our transgression and thus, it will no longer be held against us.
As a result of Christ’s expiation, God is propitiated. He is fully appeased. He is no longer angry with us. Though we are often sinful and unbelieving, by grace, by faith, through the finished work of Christ on the Cross, God’s attitude towards us is full of favor.
We don’t have to hide or be afraid. God is not a liar. Daddy is not a liar.
Believe truth more than your passionate feelings. Jesus is The Way and The Truth and The Life. You don’t have to be afraid any more. You are restored to full fellowship with God and with this family. Now. Let’s go on with our night.
(And then I gave into one of her favorite desires and tickled her until she laughed so hard she forgot how sad she was supposedly supposed to be feeling.)
Thank God for both expiation and propitiation!
Your grateful friend,
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit …
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
… Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
I enjoy Melissa Kruger’s blog (“Wit’s End”) very much and her post today is surely a keeper:
I particularly enjoyed all of the printables that she included at the end of her post:
They sweetly reminded me of the kind of mom I REALLY DID WANT to be … and the kind of mom I sort of am, but just in my own (non-organized, non-listy) way. And that’s exactly the freedom of gracious living that Melissa shares in this post, through her blog, and with her real-life friends too.
Now I bet you can see why I admire and enjoy our dear Melissa Kruger so very much!
Thank you, friend.
It’s Time. Name Guardians, Sign Your Powers of Attorney, and Get Your Basic Estate Planning Done (!).
Tonight I will meet with some friends to help them finish a task they’ve been meaning to do for, well, years:
Get a Will
Name Guardians for Our Children
Figure Out What the Heck Powers of Attorney & Living Wills Are and Maybe Get One? Or Two?
Maybe some of you can relate …
You’re adults. You have young children. You know you should have those basic estate planning documents, but oh! Those pesky lawyers are so expensive. And you’re just barely living month-to-month financially, so what does it really matter anyway?
Not just because you have young children–but because so many of the financial medical issues that you may be facing one day are wisdom issues. They are not black and white. They are gray!
You value life. Great.
But you’re not afraid of heaven. Wonderful!
You know that humans beings have immense worth because they have souls and they are created in God’s image … so you don’t judge people based on their intellectual or physical abilities. But. What does that mean when a doctor turns to you (or your loved one) and asks: What do you want me to do if your heart stops beating?
What about gifting away even the limited financial assets you have if you and your family were to die in an accident without warning. Are you making wise decisions re: the tax implications of your retirements accounts? Will the equity in your house go to your unbelieving parents or siblings (and maybe even lead to their destruction if they are addicts who are currently using and for whom a huge financial windfall would actually be one of the most unloving things that could ever happen to them)?
If you have your documents in order. (Great job!) Are they up-to-date? Do your executors hear from you on a regular basis so that they know the names and addresses of the ministries and individuals that you want to distribute to? Do they know your logins and passwords for Quicken & your financial institutions? Can they easily find your insurance policies?
Are you confident that your children will go to a Christian family that will love them and pray for them and raise them in Christ and help them believe in the goodness of God, even as they are facing the unimaginable grief of losing both of their parents?
Maybe you can answer all of these questions with a happy, “Yes!’ Maybe your loved ones know your desires. Maybe you have all of the documents and files ready to go. But if so, that would be a statistical anomaly.
Most of us haven’t had these hard discussions yet. Most of us haven’t drafted and executed the required legally-binding documents. Yet.
But maybe this summer is the summer to get these things done! Maybe we can crank out this basic estate planning stuff and hope that none of it is ever needed for a long, long time.
Here is where I’m starting with my friends this evening …
(This is based on a Sunday School class that the wonderful Deacon Fred Barthel did one year. I was his happy, former estate-planning attorney sidekick.)
I hope it is a blessing to you and that it helps you to get this important task done.
(You can do it! You can do it! If you don’t have tax implications, it’s really not that hard. Not like COOKING A MEAL hard or anything. 🙂 ! )
With love from your friend,
BASIC ESTATE PLANNING IDEAS
(!!Not to be Construed in ANY Way as Legal Advice!!)
Here are my notes for today’s “(Actually!) Setting Your House in Order” Sunday School class. We’re tackling the topic of BASIC ESTATE PLANNING:
a. It’s been a long time since Tara has practiced law as an estate planning attorney—and even when she was actively licensed: a) it was in Illinois, not Montana; and b) she practiced in a highly specialized area of the law (high net worth/charitable estate planning), not general practice. Therefore …
b. This Sunday School Class is NOT going to provide you with any specific legal advice. Either you will research, prepare, and execute your documentation yourselves (without legal counsel) or you will need to hire an attorney to assist you.
c. That being said, we really hope that these classes on basic estate planning will help you, encourage you, and that by the end of the class semester, those of you who want and need basic estate planning documentation will have what you need to get started and/or make some serious progress on your estate plan.
a. We continue to recommend that each one of you get to know Crown Financial Ministries to help you with all of the financial issues we are covering in this class. In particular, we recommend the workbook, Set Your House in Order, to help you to organize your finances and plan your estate.
b. There is also a plethora of helpful, basic estate planning books available at the library and through any bookseller. If you want to go deeper into these topics, pick one up! The basics are really not that difficult to understand.
c. In addition, just to get us started on these topics, I’ve copied off a bunch of documentation off of the internet that is free / in the public domain and I will be sharing those documents with you in these classes. Please bring this ‘estate planning packet’ back with you to all of our classes on estate planning! I will not have extra copies of documents available at future classes.
3. Biblical Principles: As we progress through these estate planning classes, please brings up questions and ideas related to how biblical principles apply to these topics. We surely do not have all of the answers for you! But in line with our corporate goal of glorifying God in all we do, we truly hope that this class will be a safe environment to consider such things. We’ll get us started along these lines with:
ARTICLES ON ESTATE PLANNING TO HELP YOU
1. Consider what basic estate planning is and why estate planning might be important so that you can prayerfully come to your own convictions re: what your goals and intentions are.
Handout #1: Basic Estate Planning Fact Series—Introduction – Estate planning objectives include arranging for the well-being of your loved ones and yourself while you are living and after your death.’ This includes both personal relationships and financial considerations.
Pages 9, 10, 11 help you (and your spouse if you are married) to discuss your goals re: estate planning.
(NOTE: Many of the documents I have copied for you are Ohio State University Fact Sheets so they do not provide state-specific information for Montana.)
2. Understand the ‘Big Picture’ of the basic estate planning documents (and consider another—The Letter of Instruction):
Handout #2: Basic Estate Planning Documents
3. Think/talk through the common steps to creating an estate plan:
Handout #3: Estate Planning in Montana: Getting Started
(NOTE: The “Steps in Estate Planning” and (Page 3) “What My Attorney Should Know” are particularly helpful sections.)
MORE ARTICLES IF YOU’RE NOT FEELING OVERWHELMED
(!!Don’t Read These if You are Feeling Overwhelmed!!)
4. Take time in the next few weeks to make your estate planning a priority. Read some of the supporting documentation I’ve provided for you—or other resources that you find/purchase. Come back to class with your questions so that we can help you to get ready to either do your own documentation or meet with an attorney.
Handout #4: Why Have a Will?
Handout #5: Power of Attorney — What is it? Should I have one? / Living Wills, Health-Care Proxies, and Advanced Health Care Directives / What is a Fiduciary / Who Can Serve as Fiduciaries / How to Choose a Personal Representative / Choosing a Health Care Agent for Your Advance Medical Directive
Handout #6: Letter of Instruction
Handout #7: How to Calculate the Value of Your Gross Estate
Handout #8: Sample Estate Planning Calculations
FINAL THOUGHTS FROM TARA
1. Understand the big picture / basic documents
2. If you have MINOR CHILDREN—don’t delay! (You don’t want the courts deciding this issue. This is especially important if your family members do not share your worldview/convictions.)
3. Know your gross estate value closely enough to determine if you have tax issues and if you do, ALWAYS hire an attorney.
4. Even if you don’t THINK you have ‘money issues’—consider HOW you are distributing TAX-DEFERRED ASSETS especially if you have charitable intents.
5. It is a MUCH higher likelihood that you or your spouse will become incapacitated. Be sure to plan for DISABILITY (insurance / powers of attorney).
6. This is why your FIDUCIARIES are SO important. Don’t just pick your ‘oldest son/child’. Read the documentation I’ve given you and THINK/PRAY about it.
7. No matter WHAT—you’ve GOT to start talking about this stuff. With your spouse. With your CHILDREN. With your HEIRS / potential guardians / powers of attorney. It’s awkward, yes, but you have to do it.
8. Don’t be taken in by the ‘TRUSTS FIX EVERYTHING’ advertisements. Read the documentation I’ve provided you and be wise.
9. Regularly REVIEW and UPDATE your estate plan.
Yes, yes. Kevin DeYoung is really gaining on Ed Welch as my favorite contemporary author.
I love all of his writings (both online and in print), but this classic (written in the voice of a C.S. Lewis letter to Wormwood) is particularly appropriate this month for all of us who are celebrating our beloved high school graduates:
Here is just a snippet to tempt you:
“Your subject is now enrolled in what the earth world calls ‘college.’ I do not need to remind you what splendid opportunities these places afford us. But there is one particular danger, and you must see to it that it is avoided at all costs. And that danger is church attendance.
Though your subject seems safe from the clutches of our Enemy Above, you will recall that he has spent the majority of his Sundays, thus far, in church. The habit may not be easy to break. If he tries church for a few weeks, make sure it is a pointless endeavor. Do not forget our little rhyme: ‘If to church one must go, lead him to an empty show. And when all we can do is mettle, makes sure on one church he does not settle.’
Church attendance is bad enough, nephew, but consistent attendance at the same church spells almost certain doom for our cause. If your human persists in his church interest, you simply must devise some way to shuffle him around from congregation to congregation. See to it he never knows the people he is worshiping with. Keep reminding him of how rotten the music is over here, and how long the sermon is over there, and how bland the coffee is at that other church. Trust me, it won’t take much to get him floundering on church. Almost any excuse will do …”
SHIVER! This is just WAY too important a topic and WAY too accurate a portrayal of our “higher learning” institutions for me to do anything other than CRINGE and PRAY for the many college and grad school students in my life—and for their Christian professors and the churches near their campuses too.
I simply cannot imagine where I would be in life had God not graciously rooted me in one church during my undergraduate years in Moline, Illinois and one church during my graduate studies in Champaign-Urbana. How skewed and squishy my theology would have become were it not for great men like Vic Varkonyi, Paul Jensen, Bill Meier, and John Roeckeman. How duplicitous and immature I would have remained were it not for great women like June Kalemkarian, Cindy Lambrecht, Kim Mills, and Dixie Zietlow. I needed the counsel and oversight of deacons and elders then, and I need the counsel and oversight of deacons and elders now. I needed the encouragement, care, and accountability of authentic relationships then, and I need the encouragement, care, and accountability of authentic relationships now.
And so do our college students! As Pastor DeYoung says earlier in his post:
“Churchless Christians are on their way to being no Christian at all.”
Please do encourage your college students to PLUG IN and COMMIT to one local church as they transition to this exciting new season of life. Don’t let them believe the fallacy that a parachurch student group, as great as it is, can ever be a church.
Send them ongoing, scholarly helps to remind them that smart people believe the Bible (contrary to what most of their professors will say) — I started reading Imprimis as an undergraduate student and I’ve read it ever since.
If they can persevere through meaty prose, I strongly urge them to read anything by Phillip E. Johnson and Frame/Poythress But if that bogs them down too much, then of course anything by C.S. Lewis will surely be edifying and accessible.
I also began to study systematic theology and philosophy as a college student and both were SO engaging and SO exciting to me that, because I had wise and godly teachers in my church, I was equipped to stand against the blatant naturalism and post-modern relativism that filled almost all of my academic classes.
How grateful I am for the protection, nourishment, accountability, equipping, and opportunities to serve in the local church! And how I pray that our college students will benefit from (and take seriously their commitments to) membership in the local church too.
And with that, I’m off into my day—
I hope your Monday has been a blessed one!
Pastor DeYoung has a final installation of this letter here.
This past weekend, Fred and I had more time than usual to just talk and visit. It was such a grace to me because I am currently so tired—tired to my bones tired (physically); tired and weeping a lot (emotionally) … intellectually, relationally … spent. So listening to Fred tell me new stories from his childhood—and replaying various moments from our courtship and falling in love season of life? Well. It was sweet and I am grateful.
I am also grateful for just how much all of our discussions reminded me of the truth that I could never have experienced (almost!) twenty years of marriage and friendship and love with Fred, were it not for God’s saving grace in my life. I could never have learned how to love and be loved, were it not for my new birth and my new life as a child of God. Because of Jesus, I am forgiven and able to forgive. Because of Jesus, I am adopted and I have a home, an eternal home, an inheritance, kept in Heaven by God.
Eternity will not be long enough to express my gratitude.
If you have a life story like mine? If your story is more like Fred’s? If your family of origin was rife with abuse and confusion, or a relatively happy and stable home filled with love and clarity—know this:
What hope! What encouragement. To know that “We may be wounded, but sin is caused by a sinful heart, not a hurting past.”
This is such good news! Because if we know our PROBLEM then we can run to, embrace, believe in, put all of our hope in … THE SOLUTION. The Real Solution—Jesus Christ, the Way, Truth, Life, Redeemer, Savior, Shepherd, Priest, King. Regardless of our pasts; regardless of the horrors we experienced as children and young people. Our childhood does not determine our future (!!). God is with His children. There is Hope.
I read John 4 today and I encourage you to do the same. Let your mind drink in the truth that, just like the woman at the well, no matter your past—Jesus is the Living Water that will quench your thirst.
Alleluia and Amen!
Sending my love—
In addition to the David Powlison book that Pastor DeYoung mentioned (Seeing with New Eyes)—which is one of my all-time favorites (!), I also really enjoyed William P. Smith’s book on this topic: Loving Well (Even if You Haven’t Been).
Yes, that’s my real family. Circa 1975ish? Oh, man. I can still smell the leather in my dad’s leisure suit coat … 🙂