Tara’s Blog

The Most Important Thing We Will Give Our Children During These Growing Up Years

I had SUCH a strong inclination to just pull the covers up over my head this morning and HIDE AWAY from all of my duties. It was just one of those Mondays.

But then I put one foot in front of the other and tried to enjoy each task. Starting with an extra long cuddle/visit time with Sophia. There’s just something so sweet about those early morning hours when everyone else is asleep and we can talk nose-to-nose under the covers.

I was also truly blessed and encouraged when a good friend emailed me about something I need to pick up at her home today. Rather than just coordinating times, we ended up having a sweet, real-life exchange about what really matters in life. I thought a portion of our exchange might encourage you too, so here it is:

“Can I stop by a Mountain Mudd and pick you up some sort of chai tea healthy something??? 🙂

Many pockets of chaos are yelling at me, but I keep thinking of what one of our elders often says:

“Clutter is faithful. It will be there for you when you have time to address it.”

Clutter IS faithful! What a good reminder. Disorder is still not my favorite, but life is life. We can only do our best.”

And that’s the message I hope you can preach to yourself today (and every day) re: parenting your children. I know you know this already, so it’s just a reminder … but the most important thing we will give our children during these growing up years is an abiding, overarching sense of our neediness for God’s saving grace and His sufficient, abundant, eternal love for His children because of the incarnation, perfect righteousness, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Latin is great.
French is amazing.
Math is hard but fascinating. Ditto for Chemistry.
Ella’s addicted to logic attributes now, too. So fun!
History is interesting.
School is cool.

But the education that will really prepare our children for life—whether they live 15 years or 105 years—is that God is real, we are sinners, God’s Word is True, Jesus is God, the Holy Spirit really does live in our hearts by faith, and one day, we will go Home to be with God forever—or Jesus will split the sky in two in glory.

In between, today, during the “already but not yet”—we work. We love. We try and succeed. We try and fail. We live life.

But this world is not our home. We live for the things of eternal worth.

So maybe? Given the state of stress and exhaustion and hard things you and your kiddos are facing? Maybe it’s a good day to not have A++’s in academics, music, and sports, but instead to spend a little extra time cuddling, talking, connecting, listening, praying, crying, laughing.

We can take their math lessons into another year if we need to—but we only have this one day to enter into their lives, know their hearts, and share (age appropriately) the blessings and burdens in our own hearts too.

Big hugs to you from the Barthel home!

Your prayerful friend who is cheering you on!
Tara B.

[A re-post from 2013]

Loving Well Even if You Haven’t Been

Every Christmas, Fred surprises me with at least one book. Usually it’s theology, philosophy, or history … but always, it’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

This year, in addition to indulging in his gift of a new book, I am also going to re-read a title from five years ago:

Loving Well Even if You Haven’t Been (by William P. Smith)

I was honored to review and recommend Pastor Smith’s book when it came out in 2012. And as I pray for so many people who are hurting right now because of specific, loveless ways that certain Christians are acting towards them, I highly recommend this book in 2017 too.

Here is the endorsement I wrote for it back in 2012 and I stand by it today:

“Soaked in Scripture and solidly biblical in all of its counsel, this wonderful book by a seasoned pastor and Christian counselor provides practical, Christ-centered guidance for growing authentic, vulnerable, and loving relationships. This is true regardless of our upbringing and regardless of how others treat us today. This is true no matter what our personality type or how weak we naturally are regarding relationships. By exegeting both Scripture and people, Pastor Smith humbly shows us that God is a loving God Who graciously enables us to love one another. I highly recommend this book and I look very forward to studying it in depth and repeatedly in the coming years.” Tara Barthel, author of Living the Gospel in Relationships and coauthor of Peacemaking Women and Redeeming Church Conflicts

Oh! That we would love well even if we haven’t been. Please help us, Jesus.

“Don’t worry, Mom. The pastors will come.”

[As I am starting to gear up for my 2017 events, I thought I would encourage myself by re-reading this sweet reminder of pretty much the kindest thing church leaders have ever done for me as a speaker …]

I just arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania after a long day of travel from Montana. Some minor hiccups along the way (including a sincere PTSD reaction to sitting in the same row of a 757 that I was sitting in back in January when the overhead bin popped open—twice!—and heavy bags dropped on my head both times). But all things considered, it was an uneventful day. Most things went just fine. But one thing was remarkably, beautifully, so precious and good.

It actually started a little scarily for me …

When I picked up a voicemail during my airport sprint in Detroit, I heard a man’s voice introducing himself as the pastor from the church I will be serving this weekend for a women’s retreat. Uh-oh! That is not usually a good sign. My mind raced to thoughts about some big conflict in the women’s ministry or maybe the entire church. Or possibly some tragedy had happened in the church family and the women’s retreat was off?

Then the pastor said, “I’m here with our Session.” (For my non-Presbyterian blog readers, those are the ordained shepherd-overseer church leaders for us.) And then I REALLY thought something was up. Maybe they read my blog from yesterday and thought, “This chick is WAY too unstable! We’re pulling the plug on this retreat!” Or maybe I would be wheels-down into a huge church-related lawsuit or split that really needed a team of Christian mediators, not a women’s retreat speaker.

But no.
My catastrophizing thoughts could not have been more wrong.

Here is a paraphrase of what the pastor actually said:

“Tara? I’m pastor so-and-so and I’m here with the Session and we all just wanted to greet you upon your arrival in Pennsylvania. (And then they went around the room introducing themselves by name and giving me a warm, personal greeting.)

We all wanted you to know that we have just spent an extended time in prayer for you and for our women and the retreat this weekend. We are so grateful that you have come all this way to discuss biblical peacemaking with our women and we are excited for how God is going to be glorified through this event and how our women will be encouraged and refreshed and helped by the insights you will share with them.

We will be praying all weekend. Know that we are standing with you and we are so glad you are here.”

And then they prayed for me again. Right then. On the voicemail.

I almost could not believe it. In all of the years I’ve been doing women’s events, I have never received a call like that. So much love! So much care. I was bowled over and grateful, yet again, for leaders who lead from a place of service.  What a beautiful reflection of Jesus taking the basin and the towel.

It reminded me of something funny Ella said to me last night. She was watching me pack some extra protein and granola bars because this retreat is actually being hosted at a rugged campground (i.e., no wifi!) and since I don’t like to eat big meals right before I teach, and other food is not going to be available through the camp, I like to pack a few provisions so that I can serve well and not inconvenience anyone.

But Ella said:

“Hey Mom! You don’t have to pack those granola bars. Don’t worry! The pastors will come.

Now that was a stumper for me. “The pastors will come?” What is she talking about in her sweet, albeit slightly obscure, four year-old way? Sophie had to interpret for me:

“Mom? Remember how last night you were telling us stories of various events you have served at over the years and how that one, very small women’s retreat in Texas was out in a beautiful, rugged campground and on the Saturday night of the retreat, the church leaders came out to the campground, set the tables, prepared (and cleaned up) all of the dishes, and grilled you all the most delicious steaks you had ever eaten. Yum-yum-nummy-num-num! And you said they wouldn’t let any of the women lift a finger to help clean up because they just wanted to take care of everything and facilitate a relaxed, refreshing time of fellowship, study, and prayer for the women. That’s what Ella is referring to.”

I love it!

The faithful shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
(And who does dishes and leaves encouraging, prayer-filled voicemails from the entire Session too.)

Thank You, Lord, for pastors who watch out over their flocks. Now I’m even MORE excited to be here serving in the beautiful state of Pennsylvania. May God be praised!

Tara B.

[A re-post of a January 2017 re-post of a 2014 article. If you followed that, cool!]

Tiger Mother Moment

I’m assuming that most of you have already read the Wall Street Journal “Tiger Mother” Article. If not, you might want to pop over and give it a glance. This woman says some amazing things and you’ll probably have a strong reaction to much of what she writes. (And if you’re really curious, you can read thousands of comments and responses to it, including In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.)

In light of the millions of words you can already read analyzing the strengths and weaknesses and theologically-errant and behaviorally-questionable aspects of “the tiger mother”, I’m not going to even dip my toe into that water beyond saying that I disagree with much of what she wrote and I agree with some things at a surface level, but I surely did not hear any gospel in her parenting. So. You know. I hope I don’t follow in her path in that regard.

BUT–I did have a total tiger mother experience last night that I thought I’d retell for you just to, hmmmmm, make you question my parenting? No. (So unless you are a real-life friend who really knows me, please don’t assume you know how I parent my children based on this one story.) Have a little chuckle and grin picturing Sophie and me? Maybe. (It does make me smile every time I think of it.) Affirm one aspect of what Amy Chua wrote? Sure. Yeah. I do have to agree with her on this …

So here’s the story: Yesterday was a “beyond my first job as wife and mother” day. I worked on lots of things—my current book manuscript, my new retreat on fear, two of my three teachings for this fall’s Amazing Grace 360, one of my new teachings for next month’s Women’s Leadership Conference, my summer discussion course for the teens and young women in my church, etc. etc. It was a hard, but great, day and since I accomplished so much, I decided to stop work and have family time when Fred and the girls got home around 6:00PM.

One aspect of family time was helping Sophie to learn four new fiddle tunes for an upcoming Ceileidh Fiddlers’ gig. (If you haven’t seen Sophie fiddle yet, you might want to click through to this video from her very first rehearsal with the fiddlers. She was six years old and we had NEVER practiced that song at anything CLOSE to that tempo. When the leader counted it off, I thought, “There is no way she’s going to be able to keep up.” But she did. And the look on her face at 1 minute 38 seconds is hysterical. Of all the things I know in life, I know she really couldn’t believe that she could keep going either.)

So there we were last night, trying to work through this extremely long and extremely hard fiddle tune that bounces from 6/8 to 4/4 and has dotted eighth sixteenth and sixteenth dotted eighth rhythms throughout both time signatures plus tied quarter notes to eighth notes, funky upbeats on repeats, PLUS lots and lots of NOTES too in addition to the crazy rhythms. (Non-musicians, if I’m losing you here, just bear with me. I think you’ll get the gist of my point.)

As we practiced the song, I could tell Soph was just faking it—she has a great ear and can pretty much play anything once she hears it. So she was waiting for me to play it and then playing it back like a little recording. But she had NO idea how to interpret the rhythms. None. But I know that being a good musician means actually knowing how to count, subdivide, and read music and even if a “good ear” comes naturally to a person, reading complex rhythms in changing time signatures takes WORK. Effort. Failure. Trying again. Failing again. Persevering.

And that’s what we were doing. FOR HOURS.

She was tired. I was tired. It was past her bedtime. A part of her did NOT want to keep trying. A part of her was DYING to get it right. We were doing math (fractions). We were drawing pictures and making analogies to baking chocolate chip cookies. (1/2 cup and 1/4 cup are needed for the sugars in the standard Nestle recipe—very helpful for demonstrating what a dotted eighth note and a sixteenth note look like in 4/4.). We were tapping and counting. We broke out the metronome. Once I knew she was close, I refused to count with her or play with her. She HAD to actually do it. Once she got it in 4/4, I jumped her back to 6/8 and her brain went SCREECH. And she had to work hard to get it. Again. Then I’d jump her back to 4/4.

(During this entire time, Fred fed Ella, read to Ella, bathed Ella, read to her some more, gave her a baba and was ready to put her down for the night. That’s how long Soph and I were at the piano wrestling through this hard task.)

It was extremely, extraordinarily exhausting. I could almost see her brain synapses being formed and stretched. And OH! When she ACTUALLY got it? When she could explain it to me (you really only ever know something when you can teach it to someone else), count it out loud AND play it? She. Was Ecstatic.

We went dancing upstairs to get her bathed and the whole time she was twirling and singing her, “I have the best mother in the whole world!” happy song. To which I responded, “Soph, I just wrestled with you for hours, requiring you to actually learn all of that, even though it was super hard. Why would you say I’m the best mother in the world?

Soph just laughed in response and then proceeded to cuddle with Fred and explain in detail all about dotted eighth sixteenth and sixteenth dotted eighth rhythms and the difference between 6/8 and 4/4 and MAN was she just glowing. It was great.

So here is the one aspect of that “tiger mother” article that I do agree with 100%: It’s not easy for us to allow our children to struggle, really struggle. Learning is hard! excellence is hard! But the earlier we can help them to feel that horrible feeling of, “I can’t do this!” and then, prayerfully, purposefully, help them to WORK HARD (really, really hard) and even though they STILL FAIL (because the task is hard and can’t be mastered with minimal effort), we help them to keep working. To come back day after day or week after week or stay at something for an appropriate length of time so that our kids can learn to push back against that, “I can’t do this!” feeling, to listen to counsel and instruction, to fail and try again, to fail some more and try again … to work and work and work and THEN. (Cue the trumpets! Cue the happy dance!) To succeed. To feel that feeling of, “I did it! I did it! I couldn’t do it and then I kept working hard and now I can do it!” THAT is a good thing. A very good thing.

Sophie was rejoicing in the Lord for his help. Sophie was grateful to have a mother who can’t play ANYTHING by ear but who can subdivide and count music better than most. Sophie was tired but happy. And her efforts helped to form her character and the kind of adult she is going to grow up to be … Lord willing, a person who remembers that anything that is really worth doing takes hard work. And when we butt up against something that we CAN’T do, that doesn’t mean that we should just give up and shy away. We may never be an expert at (fill in the blanks) … music, math, chemistry, dance, whatever! But sometimes, we CAN learn something new and hard. But we have to pray and work hard and learn to persevere.

So that was my tiger mother moment. And it really was sweet.

Hope your Saturday is going great!

Sending my love,
Tara B.

[A re-post from 2011]

A true sign of spiritual sickness is a false peace while indulging in sin …

I once heard an excellent sermon that had two main points: “The War Within” and “Living by the Spirit Within.” It was a long sermon, but here are a few of my notes:

– The most frequent question that most pastors hear is, “If I am saved, then why do I continue to sin?! Am I even a Christian?” My pastor always replies, “The fact that you are even asking the question is very strong evidence that, yes, you are a Believer because spiritually dead people don’t struggle.” Unbelievers don’t care if they’ve grieved God. They don’t even recognize the battle. A greater concern, a true sign of spiritual sickness, is a false peace while indulging in sin (i.e., the absence of a battle).

– The war is WITHIN. Yes, the devil tempts us and the world would conform us to its ways. But the true war is within–at the level of our desires. We carry our sinful nature with us wherever we go.

– Christ makes no truce with sin. He came into the world to DESTROY sin and He IS putting to death the sin that remains in you. So where is God saying, “I need to work with you on this?” What keeps you from trusting, obeying, and serving Christ with a whole heart? In our arrogance, we fail to reckon with our flesh. We feel no need of Christ. Danger! Danger! We are all prone to wander.

– Living by the Spirit? Yes! We are a cross-bearing, self-denying people. We keep on crucifying that sinful nature. Listen! We are not crucifying our outward behaviors. We are crucifying our heart desires.

– (Quoting John Brown) “Crucifixion produces death not suddenly, but gradually …” Fix your sin on the cross and determine to keep it there until it expires! Have you struggled with the same sin for 30 years? 40 years? Keep it on the cross. Sin beckons us to take it off the cross because discipline is painful. But the Lord calls you to address and kill your sin. “Lord, search my heart!”

– Most importantly? Remember that if you are led by the Spirit, you are NOT under law. (One of the main characteristics of not living by the Spirit isn’t so much the prodigal SON as the OLDER BROTHER–the performance-based legalist.)

– Does that mean you don’t have to obey God? Of course not! Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” BUT your relationship with God is NOT based on your works. God COVERS US with his love and mercy and grace. Your imperfections are covered by God. For example: “You witnessed to your neighbor? Great! You hit him over the head with the Bible? Well … we’re going to work on that. Come to me. You can come to me freely because you’re not under law!” (i.e., God doesn’t KICK US, he LOVES US.)

– Keeping in step with the Spirit is not some sort of emotional mysticism wherein we listen to hunches and promptings. Quoting JI Packer: “The Spirit works through ordinary means–the preaching of the Word, the sacraments …” So consider how faithful you are to prepare for the Lord’s Day, participate in corporate worship, fervently pray?

– Granted, we can all come up with examples of people who know God’s Word and live ruinous lives. But don’t ever think that you can live a godly life if you don’t know God’s Word. God pierces our hearts with His Word by His Spirit.

Please, God, open my heart! Please pierce my heart and convict me of my sin.

Thank You, Jesus, that you never leave me caught in my sin, helpless, orphaned, or alone. You have given my Your Spirit! I am so grateful.

Amen & Amen?!

And blessings on you as you head into your Monday–

Yours in the battle,
Tara B.

[A re-post from December 1, 2008]

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

[This is a re-post from 2013]

Before You Criticize the Leaders, Besmirch the Fellowship, and Stomp Out of A Church …

As a Christian mediator who works in conflicted churches, it is a normal thing for me to spend hours with people who are disgruntled with their church leadership and members. I’ve listened to furious people and heart-broken people. I’ve taken notes as people shared off of the tops of their heads stories of deep pain and suffering in the church, and I’ve sat, slightly amazed, as church members handed me copies of pages and pages of (dated) notes listing out every single thing wrong with their church.

Thinking about these experiences, and mulling over just how easy it can be for us to only share our criticisms and complaints with our church leaders, I recently wrote my church leaders a letter listing in great detail some of the strengths and blessings I have observed in our church for the fourteen years we have been members.

Is my church perfect? Of course not. Do we have huge areas for improvement? Absolutely. But I am grateful for each member of my church and I owe a particular debt of gratitude to my leaders. So in addition to praying for them, protecting their reputations (especially by encouraging people who are upset with them to go to them and not talk to others about them!), I try to be particularly intentional about thanking them in writing from time to time.

I encourage you to to do the same.

Oh. And if you are SO dissatisfied with your church that you are thinking about leaving? Then please! Oh pretty please! First read this article by Pastor Anyabwile:

Five Things to do Before Leaving Your Church

It is brilliant! It is a MUST read.

The only thing I would have added to his list is this:

Before you write a long list of all of the weaknesses in a church and dump it on the leaders’ heads, ask yourself one honest question: To what extent were you laboring to help to strengthen this church in these areas? The youth group activities were lame? How were you helping to improve them? “This church” doesn’t do enough to serve the hungry and shelter the homeless? Tell me about your hours of volunteering and encouraging others to do the same. Our Easter Brunch just doesn’t measure up? Hmmmmm. I can’t really picture you in an apron running around the fellowship hall. We are unfriendly and cold and no one greets anyone on Sunday morning? Ah. I see. And you’re making that statement from your perch in a pew where you sit, each Sunday morning, with arms crossed, greeting no one?

I will never forget the time in college when Steve Engstrom (a senior) confronted me (a freshman) about my attitude toward one of our Christian fellowship groups. I told him:

“It’s dorky! It’s poorly run! The teaching is shallow. The leaders are weak. There isn’t enough prayer. You don’t care about evangelism enough. All the people involved are uncool. There aren’t enough Bible studies geared toward seekers.”

To which Steve rightly (wisely, lovingly, confrontationally) responded:

“Then don’t stand back and criticize, Tara. GET INVOLVED. Help us to be better. You see areas of weakness—great! Use those insights to help us to grow and improve.” 

I wasn’t convinced. But THEN he said:

“Fine. You don’t want to get involved because we’re so bad about reaching the lost and serving the needy—whom you claim to care so much about—so how about this: will you meet with me once a week to PRAY?”

Oh, man. He got me. Now I had to put my money where my mouth was. All of my criticisms of that organization had to do with my (seemingly) heartfelt passions for the evangelizing the lost and furthering justice issues and strengthening God’s people. The truth was—the MOST IMPORTANT thing I could be doing and should be doing was PRAYING. Was I? Are you? (And before you stomp out of a church with your focus on all of the weaknesses in the church, ask yourself how much you were praying for the church.)

Pastor Anyabwile was spot-on in his counsel about such things. I strongly encourage you to read his article.


[A re-post from 2013]

Stop Planning and Scheming and Just Go Talk to Them

This post by TakeYourVitaminZ reminded me so much of one of our elders:

More Thoughts on “Engaging Culture”

This church leader will see a group of teeangers and just go up to them and talk to them. Ask them about their lives, their goals, how their day is going, etc.

I have tried for years to be more like him in this (and many other!) ways. I’m trying to be more intentional about reaching out to our young people—I especially like giving them rides because a) I get to serve their parents; and b) they will often just start talking and sharing … which blesses my socks off.

Yes, I am culturally really ignorant–but I’m teachable! And I do want to learn how to relate with them and serve them well.

I’ll close by sharing just a snippet with you from the article:

(He writes here in reference to reaching out to some kids in his area … )

“Then I had this radical thought: We should just walk across the street and talk to them. It’s simple. Anyone can do it. It takes no planning, no property, no rent, no decorating, no keys, no insurance, no staff. They are right there in front of us. It just takes someone who loves Jesus and loves their neighbor and a little time.”

Amen & Amen & Blessings to you!

Tara B.

[A re-post from 2010]

Comparisons (Holiday Misery Part 1)

On my walk this morning, I seriously contemplated trying to be a real blogger and start this post with some sort of official, “This is the first part of a six part series on how to not be miserable during the holidays” announcement. But that would mean that I have to scope out an actual plan for these posts and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

So instead of being a super organized with-it blogger, I’m just going to jump in with a few reflections on why, it seems to me, so many of us can be tempted to misery during the holiday season. (And, of course, some encouragements to help us to instead choose contentment and joy.)

1. Comparisons
We live in a world of competition and performance, even (tragically) in the church. No one wants to look ugly, sound stupid, or be a relational flop. Even our (lovely) desires to be full of faith and love can tempt us to pride over how we get our theology right, how much we give in secret, and how simple our godly, Christ-centered celebrations are compared to the (pagan, shallow, consumeristic) traditions of people who “claim to” be Christians. Rather than heart-felt gratitude for God’s provision (Thanksgiving) and for His advent and saving grace (Christmas), holidays can tempt us to prideful comparisons if we are not careful.

In a similar vein, the holidays can also tempt us to ungrateful comparisons too. This is when we look around at all that we do have and rather than returning thanks to God and to the people who bless us tremendously, we whine and complain (and become bitter) over all that we don’t have. You know. The functional, loving, happy families that seem to surround us (in our loneliness, broken relationships, and grief). A Christian spouse. A living child. A church that isn’t splitting. The professional, financial, and ministerial successes that point fingers at our failures, weaknesses, or plateaued careers/lives. Some of us long to be married. Some of us are miserable in our marriages and dream of singleness. Some of us are quite sure that “if we only had …” financial stability; perfectly beautiful bodies, clothes, and homes … “THEN we would be happy.” Others of us long to ditch our corporate suits and try the simple, quiet, relaxed (hah!) life of homemaking and raising small children.

It doesn’t matter how much we have or what blessings our lives contain. If we do not guard our hearts, the holidays will tempt us to compare ourselves with others and focus on what we perceive as the lack. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Remember Philippians 4:11-12 & 3:8-11

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need …”

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Oh, friends. I know that there is much more to be said on this topic—grieving childhood hurts, sorting out convictions regarding debatable things, navigating relational crises in which you only have influence, not power or authority to “fix”/reconcile. But we must start here. Philippians 3 & 4. An eternal perspective that values Christ and “the righteousness from God that depends on faith” more than anything else. 

This is how we turn away from misery at the holidays and every day. This is “the secret” of contentment “in whatever situation” (Philippians 4:11-12). We “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.” Mmmmmm. Herein lies true happiness, regardless of our circumstance.

Amen? Amen!

(And blessings, grace, peace, and joy be yours in abundance as you head into what can be a very busy/stressful season for many people, I know. I hope that this blog entry really is part 1 of a series and that I might provide some tangible, practical encouragement and helps to you. Fred, Sophia, Ella and I actually look forward to the holidays! We love Thanksgiving and advent and Sophie’s birthday and Christmas. But it hasn’t always been that way. It’s taken some concerted effort to figure out what is a good fit for our family—and our holidays look very different from how other people serve and celebrate. But these are wisdom calls and God wants us to ask for wisdom (James 1:5). So let’s pray and reflect and enjoy!)

Your friend,
Tara B.

[Re-post from 2012]

Childhood Memories–Both Good and Bad (Holiday Misery Part 2)

This entry is part 2 of my new blog series on things that tempt us to be miserable during the holidays. I’ll start with a quick recap of what we’ve covered so far and then jump into today’s topic.

1. Comparisons: We live in a world of competition and performance, even (tragically) in the church. No one wants to look ugly, sound stupid, or be a relational flop … It doesn’t matter how much we have or what blessings our lives contain. If we do not guard our hearts, the holidays will tempt us to compare ourselves with others and focus on what we perceive as the lack. But it doesn’t have to be this way … (Click here to read the entire post.)

2. Childhood Memories–Both Good and Bad
Of all of the reasons people give for why they boycott the holidays or dread the holidays, childhood memories have to be right up there in the top ten. For some of us, this means painful childhood memories. For others, it’s the idyllic / romanticized childhood memories that haunt us. But again, we’re adults. In Christ, we are new creations. We don’t have to be ruled by our past hurts or by our present disappointments. We really can be content and even joyful—but it takes a little work to get there.

Let’s start with the painful childhood memories. The bottom-line of what we need to do today so that our present holidays are not soiled and spoiled by the past is that we need to do what my first book (Peacemaking Women) says:

Feel it. Name it. Grieve it. Entrust it to God. And move on.

Do you see how this will take a little effort? We cannot grieve what we have not identified (felt and named). And some of us really don’t want to “go there” and even think about our childhood memories, more or less process them on a deep level. But this is what we are called to do. This is what faith looks and feels like. We don’t run away from the darkness; we are not defined by our pasts. Instead, we bring the light of God’s Word (and the Light of the Word Made Flesh) into our dark places and we apply all of that good theology we study so hard to the real experiences of our real lives.

Listen! God is sufficient. He is not unaware of your pain. He was not absent then and He is not absent now. He did care and He does care—so much so, that He sent His only Son to suffer and die to make it right. There is an end to your tears. If you allow yourself to weep, you will not weep forever. You can grieve as one who has hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13)! You can trust God. And then you can move on.

Maybe “moving on” for you will mean that you take a season of quiet where traditional holiday celebrations simply aren’t a good fit for you because you’re not ready. (For years, I had the traditional Thanksgiving frozen pizza in a sort of quiet demonstration against the stresses of Thanksgivings in my young years. But now we have a simple traditional meal that is genuinely pleasant for me.) Or maybe you will choose to eschew holiday traditions for the rest of your life. That’s great if that’s your choice—the most God-glorifying, loving-of-neighbor, wise choice. But don’t use your childhood as an excuse. Your not a child anymore. You have resources beyond yourself. You don’t have to be defined by your past. Grieve as one who has hope. Entrust it to God. And move on.

(BTW—I found this blog post on grieving and forgiving that you may want to review if this topic is striking any chords with you.)

Let me close with just a few words for those of you who have what may appear to be the opposite problem: your childhood memories are so sweet and safe and lovely that your present circumstances just can’t measure up. Your good childhood memories tempt you to present misery.

Friends, this really isn’t the opposite problem. It’s the same problem, just chronologically varied. Rather than past suffering, you are facing present suffering. It could be profound (your first Christmas without your spouse / with your adult child living on the streets in addiction and untreated mental illness / with no job and no home and no financial security / deployed in a war zone / waiting for your loved one who is deployed in a war zone / facing that condemning one-line-not-pregnant-again-pregnancy-test). It could be simple (no tree  to decorate / no idea how to cook a turkey more or less make stuffing a three green side dishes / Christmas music just doesn’t sound as sweet / your trying hard to lose that unhealthy weight so you’re avoiding your favorite coconut cookies).

Maybe you are tempted to frustration and sadness because your purposeful, heartfelt efforts to be evangelistic and mercy-oriented just never seem to measure up to the ease and beauty of your mom and dad’s comfortable hospitality at the holidays. You try and try, but you just can’t make those gospel-proclaiming, happy memories as well as you’d like.

Here is a great opportunity to remember that we are frail creatures living in a fallen world. We all have strengths and weaknesses; gifts and areas in need of growth in grace. None of us is perfect. None of us is good at everything. That’s OK! We don’t have to be defined by even the good things in our pasts. We can be defined by Christ alone. Christ within us. God delighting over us because He has called us and saved us and made us His own.

Yes, we can grow. I use the glue gun now without any anxiety! (Christmas crafts were, for many years, absolutely paralyzing to me. Little styrofoam balls and gingham scraps and fuzzy feathers that transformed into snowmen and angels and who knows what else? I mean, come on! This is WAY. TOO. HARD. It totally freaked me out. But not any more. I’m still not very good at crafts, but there’s progress.) We can integrate ideas and happy memories into our present holiday celebrations. But we don’t have to live for them. We can enjoy, but we don’t have to be devastated when real life doesn’t live up to the Folger’s Christmas commercial / Currier & Ives script.

Real life is messy and complicated. This is why we need a robust doctrine of suffering and a robust doctrine of God. Then, we can act (with intentionality, love, and faith) rather than react to something from years, if not decades, ago.

Amen & Amen?

I really hope your holidays this year can take a few steps away from past memories—and that you can make new memories; memories that have great hope and great peace.

Praying for you!

With much love,
Tara B.

[A re-post from 2012]

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