Tara’s Blog

Boundaries? Or Wisdom + Love? (Careful! You cannot raise these issues casually.)

heart through wall

Since my current life situation is giving me some SERIOUS temptations to move in the direction of self-protection; and since I KNOW that any level of overly-self-focus is never a good thing, I turned to an oldie but goodie article this evening to help reorient my heart …

Ed Welch’s (excellent!) writing on “Boundaries” in the Spring 2004 Journal of Biblical Counseling is a total keeper. I re-read it often and I thought you might enjoy a few of my notes too. Here are just a few highlights:

– Even “Christian” books will encourage you to “set a personal boundary” and “just say no.” But is that how we should think about such things? Is “setting a boundary” a biblical paradigm?

– Rather than the term “boundary,” think in terms of biblical priorities (prayer, opportunities to meditate on Scripture, work, service, relationships, and rest). Ask yourself, “Am I out of whack in any of these areas?” If so, seek counsel as to how you can live a more healthful and “balanced” life.

– Remember! Love does not always mean self-sacrifice. Love and wisdom can mean saying no to service opportunities.

– Guard against making the desire to NOT disappoint others into an idol. We all have the tendency to overestimate our own importance and underestimate God’s care for his people and his church (and the gifts that God has given to others).

Instead of “boundaries,” think in terms of the knowledge of God revealed in Christ; repentance; faith expressing itself in love. Love and discernment are the constituent parts of wisdom.

– Instead of erecting “boundaries,” ask, “How should I wisely love this person? What is my calling? What are my priorities?”

The challenge of love is that it is so multi-faceted. Love may entail taking a bullet for someone OR kicking them out of your house. Love may mean bearing their burden or encouraging them and helping them as they bear their own burden.

– What about unhealthy relationships / relationships where someone has a history of exhausting people? What else does the person do to push people away? Constant grumbling and complaining? Frequent discussions of their own problems but unwilling to heed advice? Demands for inordinate amount of time? Careful! You cannot raise these issues casually; you cannot help them apart from a relationship with the person. Unhealthy sometimes means inconvenient. True—we all only have room for a limited number of close friends; offer of friendship doesn’t obligate us to reciprocate in the way a person might want. An inconvenient relationship is an opportunity for us to examine our own hearts and seek what God has for us to do. Unhealthy sometimes means relationships that induce us to sin.

– Abuse? If physical—boundary is appropriate (call police, provide safe place, initiate a protection from abuse order, do whatever is necessary to protect her). Why? Love. Love says no to evil. Goal is to bless enemies and lead them to repentance. Lev. 19:17. How to rebuke and who you might have present with you when you rebuke once again are decisions that require wisdom.

– Walk in wisdom. Don’t erect boundaries. Sometimes you answer a foolish person, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you cover an offense, sometimes you speak out. You begin with the fear of the Lord, learn from similar situations, get the counsel of others, keep checking your own heart and its motives, remember your limitations, rehearse the law of love, recognize that keeping everyone happy is impossible but there are ways you can speak that encourage conciliation, mutual understanding, and unity.

– What about biblical admonitions like, “Don’t cast pearls before swine” (Matt 7:6) and “Expel wicked man from among you” (1 Cor 5:13)? Be very careful! Not a dominant metaphor of Scripture; should seek counsel when considering it.

– Thinking in terms of ‘boundaries’ can lead us to think more about self-protection than about love.

Whoa. That is a warning. As my family heads to bed this evening, we are grieving. Troubled. Feeling so alone. But we are also, by faith and with God’s help, intentionally setting our hearts to think not about boundaries and self-protection, but about love.

May God help us.
(He does! He does!)

G’nite, my blog friends. The tired, cried-out Barthels wish you a good rest and a blessed Sabbath—

Tara B. (for Fred & the girls too)

[A re-post from 2012]

My Testimony on the “Radio” (available online) March 10-11, 2018


I was just notified that my testimony will be aired again tomorrow and Sunday (March 10-11, 2018) on the “radio.” (What does one even call the “radio” that is on the internet now? I have no idea. But I think you can also listen on actual radios if you have this program in your location.)

Here is the online link in case you would like to listen in:

Our Daily Bread – Words to Live By – I am His Child

** PLEASE NOTE ** Although my mother and I were completely reconciled before her death, we had some challenging years in there, especially when I was little. (There is a reason I have tagged this post with the categories of: Surviving a Childhood of Neglect and Abuse and Writing a Eulogy for a “Bad” Mother.) So please be careful re: listening ears on littles + people who are actively suffering great pain and grief over abusive situations.


Your friend,
Tara B.

Even a child who does a VERY bad thing CAN be forgiven! (What a weird thing to stumble onto this draft of a parenting blog I wrote 5+ YEARS ago!)


It is March of 2018 and earlier today I was poking around my old blog entries, looking for one I had written on the topic of boundaries, when I stumbled onto this (never posted) DRAFT of a post about parenting one of my children from over six YEARS ago. Crazy! It felt like I was in a time warp as I read it.

I’m going to redact the name because I don’t think it’s necessary to the content–but I’ll let Ella’s sweet photo from years ago stand because she is SO Ella-rific exuberant that whenever I see this photo, I think of PRAISING GOD and rejoicing in him. And that’s the foundation I hope you stand on as you read this ancient, never-before seen, parenting post.

Just don’t assume it’s about Ella, OK? 😉

Tara B.

Even After This Painful Discipline There are FOUR THINGS You Can Rejoice In

Fred had to go back into work for the 5PM – 12:30AM shift (12:24AM to his defense because he PROMISED to be home by 12:30, not that I asked him to), so the girls and I continued to enjoy some domestic duties and then went to veg out a bit with a movie.

One of my kiddos chose “Aristocats” and after a few minutes of work getting things ready for breakfast and lunch on Sunday, I went downstairs to join her. Sadly, as soon as I got downstairs, she paused her video to confess something very serious to me: She had played with the elliptical trainer with her hands; NOT gotten on it (which she knows is strictly forbidden), but pushed the pedals with her hands. Twice. Which she also knows is strictly forbidden.

I won’t, I can’t, go into all of the details of what happened next because although she has given me permission to share our story, especially because of the “FOUR PROMISES” (as she calls them) that we got to rejoice in at the end of our discipline time, she does not feel comfortable with me going into any detail about JUST HOW BAD things got as she confessed and had to face her painful consequences (of “Aristocats” going into toy prison and of her losing the privilege of watching videos in the basement without an adult present to keep her safe, “just like a two-year-old/baby.”)

Suffice it to say that it’s going to take me about five minutes to type this blog and it took us about 90 minutes to work through our conversation, so painful (and loud) was the time of repentance and confession.

BUT OH! The wonderful, glorious JOY of forgiveness! That’s what both she and I want to share with you this morning before we head to church …

At the end of the discipline, I comforted my precious daughter by reminding her that even though there were these painful consequences in our lives and this conversation had been SO hard, we actually had GOOD NEWS that we could rejoice in. She agreed and piped up with the first two and I chimed in with the last two:

1. I can be forgiven. Yes! Totally. 100%. Forgiven. We could get up from that chair with a clean slate and a fresh heart.

2. I am always loved. Absolutely. And this is a biggie because during the worst time of the painful consequences, she kept wanting to hide her head under her blanket and NOT persevere because she “felt like the most awful kid in the world” and she “didn’t want anyone to love her.” But of course I told her, “Too bad! I will NEVER stop loving you. And God will NEVER stop loving you! There’s nothing you can do about THAT! We love love love love love love LOVE you!” (And it was so good when she came back to finding comfort in our love.)

3. God protected your hands and your weren’t HURT. This was a biggie for me because our pastor’s youngest daughter had a SERIOUS injury with a piece of exercise equipment when she was a tiny little girl and not only could she have lost the use of her hand (or the actual hand!), she lost a great deal of SKIN and her recovery was excruciatingly painful. I don’t know if I would’ve been so sensitive to just how dangerous exercise equipment can be if that horrible accident hadn’t occurred–but I’m sensitive to it now and I was SO grateful that God protected my daughter from herself.

4. Over time, you CAN earn back our trust and earn back the privilege of watching videos without an adult present. This painful consequence isn’t forever. It will take time and effort, but as you behave in a wise and trustworthy way, we will begin to trust you again. But right now, because of the seriousness of the offense, the consequence has to be serious.

(As an aside, if you read my recent blog entry on “Using Hypotheticals with Our Children”, you might be interested to know that it was at this time in our conversation last night that I DID do a hypothetical with my little one:

I asked her, “Hypothetically, if you had been playing out in our backyard and I came out to check on you and you told me, “Mom, I went out through the gate. Twice. And I went and played in the street.” … what do you think would happen?

“I would lose the privilege of playing in the backyard without a grownup present.”


“Because leaving the safety of the backyard and going into the street is SO dangerous that I could be seriously hurt or even die.”

“Right. So would you have that painful consequence because I’m really MAD at you?”

“Because I want to HURT your or do mean things to you?”
“No. Because you LOVE me and want to keep me SAFE.”

“That’s right. And can I keep you safe if you don’t obey the rules and boundaries I give you?”

“No. You have to treat me like a little two-year old or baby and keep your eyes on me all the time to keep me safe.”

But trust can be earned back again. And I really don’t think it’ll be long before someone (ME!) breaks ol’ “Aristocats” out of toy prison and gives her the privilege of watching videos in the basement again. Because actually? Isn’t her strong conviction of conscience and guilt a precious, wonderful sign of a heart that WANTS to do the right thing, but, like her Momma, like all of us, struggles at times and at times give in to temptation?

“He gives us more grace …”

Ah! Grace up on grace. Our only hope.

Here’s to a grace-filled Sabbath wherein we rejoice in the mercies of God!

Tara B.

How NOT to Respond to a Friend Who Tells You She Has Been Assaulted

I am always honored to write for the PCA Women’s Blog, enCourage, and today’s post was hard–but no exception:

When Your Friend Is Raped or Beaten

We have a strict word count–so this article doesn’t have all of the biblical citations and encouraging quotes that I wanted to share. We also have a very limited length for a title–and this one was hard to do. What I really wanted to call it was:

“Oh My Stars! Have You Ever Had Your Friend Tell You Something SO Hard and SO Painful for Her that You Were Momentarily Frozen??!! You know … you want to wrap your arms around her, but you’re not sure physical touch is appropriate after what she just said. You want to be calm for her–loving, kind, safe. BUT. You simultaneously want to PUT THE PERSON WHO DID THIS IN THE GROUND (!!!). Like grab the keys and start driving towards Toledo or wherever he is and bring the cops and the cavalry and RESTRAIN THAT EVIL and PUNISH THAT PERPETRATOR … but instead. You need to respond to her right now. In this moment. What should you be careful to NOT say? And is there anything that might not be TERRIBLE to say?”

Yeah. That wouldn’t quite be the right word count for a title. But it surely is what comes pouring out of my heart!

You see. I have been told so many heart-breaking things so, so many times that I am no longer shocked by it:

  • The 73 year-old retired missionary who had an affair on the mission field 50+ years ago and never told her husband; she listens to me teach on forgiveness and wonders if she could ever be forgiven. A missionary!
  • The seminary student whose eyes grew wide during our group pizza lunch time when I described the manifestations of the heresy of Federal Vision in abusive, misogynistic marriages. He was an abusive man and he didn’t even know it.
  • Oh, so many sexual sins. Young girls giving away their first kiss. Their first sexual contact. Regretting it. Hiding it. Do you know how many young women I have helped talk with their parents?
  • Widows beaten by their adult sons.
  • Predatory pastors.
  • Embezzling theologians.
  • Children. Hurt. By. Adults.

Oh, friends. There are so many terrible things in the world—and when someone gives us the gift of sharing even a tiny bit of their horror with us? How we respond matters.

Gasp. Judge. Criticize. “But I thought your dad was a Christian!”

Disregard. Disbelieve. Minimize. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to touch you there. He’s such a good guy! Were you flirting with him?”

“My family member shatters bottles near my head and punches me in the stomach so it doesn’t show.”
“I’ll pray for you.”

No! No! No! A thousand times no.

When someone tells you he or she is being HURT by another person–you do not respond with a dismissive, “I’ll pray for you.” That is not enough. You also need to act. (Yes, yes. Of course. Pray TOO. But also ACT.)

If we dismiss assault survivors with silence and platitudes, we are inadvertently retraumatizing them.

There is so much more I have to say about this topic, but for now, I need to throw some clothes in a rollaboard, find my travel Bible, and hit the road for the PCA Women’s Leadership Training Conference in Atlanta. Hope to see you there!

Much love,
Tara B.


(Still) Recovering from a Lifetime of Disordered Eating

wtih family both

I have lived for ten+ years now as an obese woman. (With a sweet couple of years in there of making some progress on my spiritual and physical health goals … but then, as is so often the case, losing ground very rapidly. Bummer.)

It’s a very strange thing for me to be so overweight. I didn’t used to be. But most of my current friends have no other picture in their mind of me. And with each passing year, I feel the painful consequences of my unhealthy choices more and more. I also continue to be in the battle of faith’s fight against sin and I am grateful for the blessed consequences of wise choices too.

There are so many things I wish I could discuss at length about this topic (and maybe I will one day), but in the few moments I have this morning, here are just a few thoughts:

  1. I always pray for overweight people who are doing active things–walking, exercising at the gym, riding a bicycle–because I know how hard that must be for them to do. It’s hard to exercise when you are in shape—it’s even harder when you are out of shape. And so I pray. And when I know the person, I also look for intentional ways to encourage and bless them; to cheer them on and build them up because I know the sting of a critical word and I know the sweetness of genuine kindness too. And I want to always be kind.
  2. I would love for some brilliant biblical counselor/CCEF person to write about the role spouses and good friends play when the person they love so dearly struggles with weight gain / disordered eating / lack of health. What a difficult issue! To a very important extent, we must never judge our spouse or friend by worldly standards of “thinness” and “beauty.” At the same time, when we see destructive, enslaving sin happening in the life of someone we love, we have a duty to help to rescue them. And trust me—it is a lot easier to help someone to get on top of a ten or twenty pound weight gain than it is to help them to recover from a 100+ pound weight gain. So what does wisdom combined with love look like in this situation?
  3. Unless you take the time to get to know me, you don’t know me. And if you judge me based on externals and then try to “speak truth” into my life, you may give me the exact opposite of what I need at that time. For example, I may be on the downswing of weight: losing pounds, getting thinner, looking so much “better.” How do you respond? Do you praise me and ooh-and-aah over me and gush about how disciplined I am being and how Jesus is giving me the victory? Careful! What if I am giving myself over to bulimic or anorexic behaviors? Poisoning myself by misusing medicines? Living every day enslaved by my food journal / “weigh-in” / exact calorie count? Does weight loss always equal victory, wisdom, and right worship? By no means! And what if I am giant/huge/you see me and cringe and gracelessly criticize me in my stupid stretchy black pants that are the only things I can fit in right now? What if you confront me and rebuke me? But during that season, I am for the first time in years, eating nutritious food with people (not compulsively in hiding), in moderation and I’m actually exercising daily all while delighting in Christ alone, being washed in His Word and fed by His sacraments? What if I weigh 100+ pounds more than a strong and healthy weight, but that is actually a huge victory because I used to weight 200+ pounds more than a strong and healthy weight? 

These are complex issues, aren’t they?

Sure, there are seemingly obvious answers like, “Eat less!” and “Exercise more!” And for the vast majority of those of us who are unhealthy in our morbid obesity, we probably should eat less and exercise more. That is wisdom and good stewardship! But for most of us, there are also far deeper issues that touch on giant, gaping holes in our spiritual health—damage that has been done to us and damage that we have done ourselves; life in a fallen world; spiritual warfare. To ignore those foundational issues (while only focusing on the surface issues) is like laying down a clean carpet on rotting floorboards. It might get you through a hastily convened dinner party or your 25th High School reunion … but ultimately, it will never last.

So, yes. I continue to be in the battle. Yes, some of my choices are simple choices of wisdom and obedience. But also? I am acknowledging and facing things from decades of pain and shame and hurt. I am seeing ties between my thinking and believing and behaving that I have never seen before. Some of these insights require feeling and grieving and believing and hoping with the confident, biblical hope that we can have in Christ that all of the promises of God really are “Yes!” in Him. So I need to eat less and exercise more—I do! But I also need to remember and repent and believe.

God is at work. I am growing. And I am loved, even while I am in process on this lifetime journey of sanctification.

I wonder: Do the overweight people in your life know this is true of them too? Can you say with confidence that your spouse, parent, child, pastor, friend knows that you are for them even as they tackle / run away from / enjoy blessed growth in this painful, exhausting, oft’ shameful issue of weight gain and weight loss and peace with food? Do they know you love them because you pray for them and encourage them and yes, as appropriate, redemptively confront and advise them? Are they more than just “fat” to you? Do you remember their gifts and beauty and seek out their counsel? Or do you write them off entirely because they have this particular public struggle? Are you reinforcing the worldly messages that only rejoice in external “beauty”? Even if that beauty is enslaving them to a number on the scale and a size in their closet? Or are you a voice for truth and light and loveliness and real beauty?

Sometimes, as I talk withh my children about this particular (obvious) struggle I have, I encourage them to think about all of the sins that people struggle with, but that do not have a clear, obvious, external “announcing” of them: pride. Greed. Gossip. A judgmental and critical spirit that keeps a list of wrongs. A divisive spirit that separates brothers. Haughtiness. Lust. What if every single one of those sins announced themselves by layering extra skin and fat cells around peoples’ arms and thighs and gave them double chins? How “beautiful” would those (by worldly standards) “beautiful” people be then?

I’m not happy that I have this struggle. I wish I didn’t. I would appreciate your prayers, but probably not a list of things I should “do” to “fix this.” (People give a LOT of unsolicited advice when they find out you are struggling with disordered eating/unhealthy weight gain. Oh oh oh. If only knowledge could fix the problem! But lasting behavioral change requires lasting heart change—and that, my friends, requires the Savior … and a lot of good old fashioned hard work and self-discipline too.)

If you or someone you love struggles with this topic, I hope you will check out my other blogs about disordered affections. In them, I link to a number of articles and sermons that have really helped me and continue to help me.

God bless you!

Remember! You are not alone—
Lots of us struggle to recover from a lifetime of disordered eating.

Sending my love and care,
Tara B.

I think it is particularly telling that people, even confessing Christians, can be so ugly and harsh about this topic. The tweets I have seen from (thin / “beautiful”) twenty-something Christians who spew venom about “fat people” as though those people were not people at all—but just objects to be ridiculed? The harsh judgment over what people eat and how people eat—with no patience, no instruction, no compassion towards those of us who grew up in homes where the only vegetable we ever saw was frozen corn. At Thanksgiving. (True story.) Where potatoes came as flakes in a box and white bread and bologna was amazingly “healthy” and “wonderful” because at least we had some sort of food in the kitchen (rather than the terror of a small child facing an empty fridge and absent parents).

For some of us? Just learning that something called “whole grains” existed in the world is a GIANT growth in wisdom; more or less learning that there are stores called “Health Food Stores.” (I didn’t know that until I was in college.) And then to actually BUY something in one of those fancy-shmancy-bins of LENTILS-everywhere stores? That is HUGE! More or less to learn how to cook it and serve it to our families. To many of you, this is no big deal. But to some of us, it’s like climbing Mt. Everest. We don’t know how. We are not equipped. The lingo scares us. It all feels so overwhelming. So be patient with us, please! Remember that you have weaknesses too. Think about how you would feel if your hidden, enslaving sins were worn on YOUR outsides like ours are. Be a friend. Be a part of the solution, not another face of ugliness and condemnation in our lives. And we will try to be good friends to you too.

I did not plan to blog on this topic today, but I was spurred on to do so by this a article that Challies linked to. I commend it to you:

Health Food Heresy: When Eating Healthy Becomes Your God

[This is a re-post from 2013]

Never Say These Things to Someone Who is Suffering!

Ed Welch taught me (and convicted me) AGAIN with his recent article over on the CCEF website:

“More Things Not to Say to Those Who are Suffering”

In it, he makes many great points, but let me just tempt you to read it all by sharing just a snippet:

Here is something that I have heard a number of times on the ‘Not Helpful’ list. I have heard it often enough that it deserves to become part of our body of pastoral wisdom: Never say ‘If you need anything, please call me.’

Those who mentioned it didn’t say that the comment was meaningless to them, though it was. They said that it was actually unhelpful. Why?

– If ‘comforters’ knew anything about real hardship, they would know that sufferers usually don’t know what they want or need.

– If ‘comforters’ knew anything about the sufferer, they would know what the sufferer wants or needs.

– If ‘comforters’ really knew the sufferer, they would know that he or she would never make the call. Never.

The comment is the equivalent of ‘ta ta, see you later,’ ‘luv ya, call me sometime,’ or some other mindless goodbye. The speaker is not giving any real thought to the comforter’s needs and circumstances, and the suffering person knows it.

Well said, Dr. Welch!

And an excellent tie back to the (brilliant!) list that PeaceGal Ruth Moran gave us in her article:

How to Help (Really Help!) When a Family is in Crisis

For our little family? As we have gone through this abject suffering? By far the most common response by people who claim to love us has been avoidance to the point of absolute silence.

  • No cards, texts, calls, or visits from the people we thought would have cared about us.
  • No offers of help. No meals. No babysitting or rides for the children from the people we thought were our friends.
  • Nobody checks in. It’s like we were there and then poof! We ceased to exist.

No. It’s not pleasant … but it is so, so, beautifully good in the long run. Now we know! We know what love is and isn’t. We know who are our friends. Who has our backs. Who inconvenience themselves for us, praying for and with us. These people have reached out to us in love and have ministered with such sincerity and informed compassion that our hearts are filled to overflowing with gratitude! (Soup & Teddy Bears & Rides & Cards—grace when we cancel at the last minute; patience when another medical setback keeps me in bed for another month—Sermons & Books & Banana Bread galore! Texts to check in. Texts to share their lives with us.)

Even through our weeping, we have experienced deep joy. Rejected and forgotten by many, it’s true. Drawn closer to our Savior who knows what it’s like to be rejected and disowned by his family and closest friends. We have been gossiped about and even slandered. That’s sad, but it doesn’t define us. We don’t meditate on all of that. Nope! We meditate on God’s provision of His Son, His Word, His Body, and a small number of authentic friends — and their active, intentional love reminds us that we are not alone. We have not been forgotten. We are loved by God and by friends. Our hearts are built up, our pain decreases, and we are starting to breathe deeply again—with worship of God, laughter in sincere friendship, and excitement over where God is leading our family.

I’ll close with just one more paragraph from the Ed Welch article and then encourage you again to click on through and read it for yourself.

What does a real “comforter” do?

“First, they listen and understand the suffering person. They pick up on to-do lists that are growing and impossible. They identify tasks that are especially important. They don’t barge in and do trivial work or serve in ways that leave more disarray. For example, I could imagine that someone would look at my chaotic arrangement of books and attempt to serve me by organizing them in a way that would make a librarian proud—and I wouldn’t be able to find a book for the next year (which actually happened, but it wasn’t because I was suffering. My wife could tell you the story. A small home office renovation project that was supposed to be a surprise, and it was, but . . .).

A good friend can identify what would be truly helpful.

Next, they do it. They get the dog groomed, do the dishes, drop off a meal, cut the grass, baby sit the kids, bring a meal over and eat it together, clean the house, give a ride to small group, drop off a note of encouragement and then another and another, arrange for a haircut, and so on.

Any of these acts of love and service make life easier for the suffering person. That certainly helps. But a meal is never just a meal; maid-service is never merely maid-service. These say to the suffering person, ‘I remember you,’ ‘I think about you often,’ ‘you are not forgotten, you are on my heart,’ ‘I love you.’ That, as they say, is priceless.”

Amen & Amen! And thanks. Dr. Welch.

Your friend,
Tara B.

[A re-post from 2010]

How to help (really help!) when a family is in crisis …

Back before Facebook, people grouped together through ancient things called discussion boards. A number of women and I used to meet online together to discuss topics related to biblical peacemaking, friendship, and redemptive relationships. We called ourselves the “PeaceGals” and one of my favorite friends in life was a founding member–Ruth Moran. Ruth was a brilliant, godly, loving wife, mother, teacher, and friend. She passed away after a valiant battle with cancer, but before she died, she honored us all with a list of things we should all learn to say when someone is in need.

Rather than a generic, “I want to help!” or “Let me know if I can do anything for you!”, maybe you can consider a specific offer the next time a family in facing a medical crisis, unemployment, loss of a loved one, etc.

Here are some specific ideas from dear Ruth. I left her specific comments in the parentheses …

I would like to help in any way I can. May I …

Help with the Daily/Regular Ol’ Stuff of Life:

– Do any housekeeping chores (dishwashing, dusting, cleaning whatever needs cleaned, bathrooms, whatever!)
– Do your grocery shopping
– Do your laundry (at your home or mine)
– Feed your pets and plants
– Fix …………… in your house (“Things seem to break down more when there’s no one to fix it!”)
– Weed and/or plant flowers
– Mow/trim the yard
– Wash/detail your car
– Have the oil changed in your car
– Get your car(s) inspected
– Take your children to the park (babysit anytime—even overnights)
– Take over you carpool duties
– Make school lunches

Help with the Stuff Specifically Related to the Crisis:

– Sit in the hospital waiting room with your family
– Handle updates and field phone calls and communications for you

(‘I think one of the best things people can do is coordinating one or two people—usually a close friend or family member—to be in charge of obtaining updates and then distributing them. We had one for the phone and one for email and I can’t overstate the importance of this help. It kept all the prayer warriors informed without our having to repeat the news unnecessarily. It also guarded us from having to field various questions we may or may not have been able to answer.’)

– Coordinate the church’s mercy ministry aspect (meals, rides, etc.)

(‘One of the most helpful things was done for me was that our Shepherding Elder’s wife coordinated the schedule of meals (she asked about our favorites, allergies, and our treatment schedule) and communicated with the church office about our needs. She even arranged transportation to appointments. She did this all through email—and it was far easier to communicate in this way than to answer several well-meaning phone calls wanting to help. This also helped to have a written record later of who did what so we could appropriately send thank you notes.’)

– Bring you the church bulletin and tell you about the sermon/service/church family
– Gather a cheer basket of movies, books, magazines (many loaned so home doesn’t get cluttered permanently)
– Host a special dinner and prayer time for you

(‘One dear friend gathered our closest friends together for a dinner together where we enjoyed one another and prayed together before my surgery. This may not always be feasible (and wasn’t the third time around) but was a precious gift.’)

Gift Ideas:

– Gas cards

(‘Anything to defray the expenses is helpful. Even with excellent insurance, illnesses and crises create unforeseen expenses and additional financial hardships.’)

– Grocery store cards
– Visa gift cards

(‘These things allow anyone in the home to run these errands for the patient and family without having to worry about money exchange.’)

– Hospital parking vouchers

(‘There are few things as insulting as family members of critically ill patients having to pay daily to park to oversee the care and visit with their loved one.’)

– Hospital cafeteria vouchers
– Soothing music
– Audio Bible
– Ipod with audio books already programmed on it
– Humorous cards and signs

(‘Laughter is great medicine and it’s not possible to overemphasize this aspect. But, please be sensitive to the particular personality and your own relationship with the person.’)

– Guest book for visitors to sign and write notes.

(‘This is good even if patient is sleeping, for visitors to leave notes and encouragement even after they’ve gone. I still read mine.’)

– Pamphlets that share the gospel to give to medical personnel and others

(‘I recommend John Piper’s ‘Quest for Joy—Six Biblical Truths’ and other resources relevant to illness and hope. I had an IV tech nurse come back to me for counseling following my giving her the John Piper brochure. There is no time like a crisis to share the hope of the gospel!’)

– Care bags for waiting rooms—puzzle books/word game, water, snacks, change for phone calls, scripture pamphlets, pen/pencil, notepad
– Scripture signs and encouragement notes for the hospital rooms
– Dry-erase marker board for the hospital room to help keep track of phone numbers, room numbers, the names of nurses and doctors, the next pain medicine time
– A night away for the couple (including childcare too).

(‘One of the wisest recommendations we received initially was to not postpone couple time together. For each of my diagnoses, Tim and I have taken (made!) time to be away alone together. These are precious memories for us both and served to strengthen our bond and our faith in times that were otherwise chaotic. Some folks contributed to an overnight and special dinner for us one time.’)

The Covenantal Life: Appreciating the Beauty of Theology and Community (by Sarah Ivill)


As an attorney and professional mediator, I deeply appreciate resources that help people to strengthen and enjoy community. As a seminary student, I delight in books the elucidate both philosophy and theology, especially covenant theology. But this tour de force from Sarah Ivill is the first book I have endorsed that perfectly illumines the way that “covenant theology leads to community life that is governed by the God of the covenant.”

As you study this resource alone or in groups, I am confident that you will be well grounded in truth, and then equipped to graciously share that truth with others because, “theology is not just something we know; it is also something we do.”

  • Is the community of your church a bit anemic? Read this book.
  • Are you looking for a biblically rich, but accessible book, to review the key tenants of covenant theology? Read this book.
  • And would you like to know how to identify your spiritual gifts so that you can serve your covenant community? Sarah Ivill has provided the just-right book for you!

The Covenantal Life grounds us in the truth of Scripture. The Covenantal Life equips us to keep an eternal perspective. In The Covenantal Life, Sarah Ivill brings scholarship and relationship together in life-giving, encouraging, equipping ways. I heartily recommend this book.

Read a sample chapter here! And then click on over to the PCA Bookstore to purchase your copy today.

(And if your women want to really dig into Bible study after enjoying this rich book, I encourage you to consider all of Sarah Ivill’s works. Her Bible studies are meaty and may be longer than your women are used to. But they are worth it!)

“Brothers and sisters, let us pray!” — My Review and Endorsement of Megan Hill’s “Praying Together”

Praying Together

I love beautiful prose and apt illustrations. When I book teaches me a new word (or two or three!), I know I am in for a treat. But my favorite thing of all about excellent Christian writing is when I forget the author and stop even noticing the beauty and wisdom of the words, because my heart is actively being drawn to meditate on the Triune God as revealed in Holy Scripture. And thus it is with Megan Hill’s, “Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches.”

This is an excellent book on prayer that I endorse and recommend without hesitation.

Unlike some of my other favorite books on prayer—some are richly theological, but a little weak in the practical application; others are phenomenal in diagnosing our real-life struggles regarding prayer and offering “solutions,” but present only the pale veneer of a shell of robust practical theology—Megan strikes a beautiful balance of Scriptural exegesis with relevant illustrations and instructions. She is also extremely encouraging!

Megan organizes Praying Together into three parts: 1) The Foundations of Praying Together (Relationship, Duty, Promise); 2) The Fruits of Praying Together (Love, Discipleship, Revival); and 3) The Practice of Praying Together (Praying with the Church, Partners and Groups, Family and Guests).

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Praying Together:

  • Our relationship with the God who is three-in-one assures us that all three will involve themselves in our praying—making the prayers of a Christian part of a grand, heavenly conversation.
  • A company of praying people is a company of people equally dependent on God. But we also come to prayer with equally good help. The most eloquent giant and the most timid new believer can pray boldly together because Jesus prays for them both.
  • In prayer together, we love one another … Our common experiences are an opportunity for mutual love, and hearing the prayers of sympathetic friends gives us comfort. We take this same comfort from Christ as he prays for us.
  • Praying together is a loving act of Christian discipleship.
  • Thanking God together is an effective guard against ingratitude.
  • Whether I feel like it or not, I pray.
  • The Christian never prays alone. And the Christian never leads others in prayer by himself but always has the promised and sufficient help of the three: the listening Father, the meditating and interceding Son, and the helping Spirit. With this confidence, you can take steps (I’ll suggest three) to better lead others in prayer …
  • If it is good for us to pray in all our human relationships, it is especially sweet to pray regularly with our closest friends.
  • Praying together ought to be an element of the hospitality that God repeatedly commands us to offer … our prayers together refresh the hearts of saints and stand as a testimony to the unconverted.
  • Brothers and sisters, let us pray.

Amen and amen! And thank you, Megan, for this gift to the Body.

With much gratitude,
Tara Barthel, Author of Living the Gospel in Relationships and Co-author of Peacemaking Women and Redeeming Church Conflicts

Megan also includes wonderful study questions and a detailed bibliography, so this is a book that could (and should) definitely be used in group settings.

From Garden to Glory (by Courtney Doctor)

I just finished reading Courtney Doctor’s wonderful Bible study, From Garden to Glory, and I highly recommend it to you, especially if you are eager to introduce your women to an overview of the Bible as one glorious, cohesive story of redemption.

I also encourage you to sign up now for the PCA Discipleship Ministries ONE Conferences in Mississippi, Maryland, Tennessee, and Missouri … Courtney will be teaching us all about Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 – “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Amen & Amen! And thank you for your ministry for the Lord and his people, dear Courtney!

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