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On the drive home from church today, my ten year-old daughter asked me when I was the most scared in my entire life.
I thought for a moment and then I replied that the saddest I had ever been was when our second child died on that fateful Easter afternoon in 2007 and then when my best friend, my mother, passed away in 2012.
But the most scared? Hmmmm. For that I had to dig back to two childhood memories.
The first was when the MCHS (Morris Community High School) principal sent a runner to pull me out of my junior-level physics class because my sister was calling from the University of Chicago, frantic, because my mom had called her and through slurred speech told her that she was committing suicide and she just wanted to say goodbye. My sister and the principal weren’t sure if it was a real threat or just idle words from a mentally-ill addict, so no one was quite sure what to do. I volunteered to drive home (I was sixteen years-old) and see what was going on.
I was shaking with fright as I drove my bright orange Datsun B210 home. My fear increased exponentially when I opened the double glass doors to our apartment complex and I was bowled over by the smell of natural gas. And by the time I turned the key in the door to our actual apartment, and I had to instinctively drop to the ground just to find enough air to breathe, I knew things were B.A.D. (You can hear all of the other details here in the audio recording of my testimony if you are interested.) Yup. Pretty scary.
But not the most scared I have ever been.
When I really thought about it, the strongest memory I have of being the most scared ever had to be when I was just about the same age as my oldest daughter (the one who asked me the question). My parents had finally started official divorce proceedings (after years of separations and trying again and fighting and separations and institutionalizations for my mother and getting back together again only to fight and separate, etc. etc.). Finally, they were done—and before the divorce was even final, my dad was living with another woman. So the one parent I thought loved me (my dad) loved only two people—himself and his live-in girlfriend. I was an inconvenience and a hassle and they just wanted to be alone together—so they kicked me out and made me go and live with my mother who, at the time, was still drinking to excess, not mentally stable, and she really couldn’t stand me at all. My entire childhood, my mother and I had absolutely NO relationship. I do not have one memory of cuddling with her or being held by her as a young child and as I grew older, my memories were of a great deal of rage and rancor from her toward me. So living with her was torture for her, for me, and for my poor sister who was caught in the middle. So it was inevitable that my mom kicked me out too and there I was, back with my father and his (by then) wife. But just for a few months because then they decided that I REALLY was the worst kid ever and they would have absolutely NOTHING to do with me.
And that brings us up to the absolute most terrified I have ever been in my life. I was just a child. I had no resources. But my father dropped me off at some location I did not know and told me to wait there because my mom was going to pick me up but he didn’t want to have to see her. So there I sat, on a curb, with all of my worldly belongings piled around me in little kid bags and garbage bags, watching my father drive away without even looking back. I knew, in that moment, that I really was completely alone in the world. The one adult I thought cared about me just left me and as far as I could tell, it didn’t bother him at all. He couldn’t wait to be rid of me. And what did the future hold for me? An adult whom I knew did not like, more or less love me, was coming to get me because she was forced to do so.
I remember thinking:
“Oh, man. This is really it. I have no home. There really is no place for me in this world. What am I going to do? How am I going to survive this?”
Sophie asked me how I DID survive that? No resources. No advocate. No safe place. Just a kid. How did I make it through? I told her that I wasn’t really sure—but that I remember I played a lot of piano (God’s grace to me way before I knew him!) and I read a lot of books and wrote a lot of really bad poetry in a lot of lame journals. (This made her laugh.) And also that I tried to do well in school and have a few friends and just survive.
But the truth was, it was a childhood of deprivation—deprivation of love, for sure, but also of just basic life things like personal care items (and instructions on how to take care of personal care issues); clean sheets and clean clothes; underwear, bras, socks, and shoes—any time I expressed a need for even just a basic clothing item that fit appropriately, I was told in no uncertain way that I was a burden and I ought to be ashamed of myself for being such an inconvenience because I cost so much money and no one wanted me.
The day I counted out 500 pennies from a jar in my mother’s apartment so that I could buy a $5 Domino’s pizza because there was absolutely no food in the house and (since I was just a child) I had no way to go anywhere and get any food—yeah. That was the day I realized that something was really messed up in our home. But wow! Was I grateful for that hot food. (Poor, poor pizza delivery guy who had to take 500 pennies from a vagabond kid.)
Both Fred and Sophie were a little extra compassionate to me tonight as they both caught another glimpse at the layers of pain, rejection, shaming, neglect, abuse, and outright hatred that I had to bear up under for a long, long time as a child. Those things don’t explain why I’m still such a messed up person today! Childhood traumas are influential but not causative (!). Still. The influence can be profound at times.
How sweet it is to know that God’s grace is always greater still. And there are no wasted tears. Just like every orphan, every foster kid, every neglected and abused kid in a seemingly intact / healthy / “OK” home, the Triune God sees and knows and cares. He comforts. He restores. He saves his children. He saved me! He gave me Himself and and He gave me a family and a home, an inheritance, kept in Heaven by God that can never perish or fail or spoil or fade. One day I will be made completely whole. In the meantime, throughout this journey of life, I am being made more and more whole / sound / at peace because I am wanted and loved and cherished now by the one Person who matters the most.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Who has blessed us in the Heavenly realms with every spiritual blessings in Christ
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight
In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons, in accordance with his pleasure and his will–
to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely gives us in the one he loves!”
Ephesians 1. My theme song. My only hope. My enough.
When I remember these truths, all of my fears flee and I am not afraid.
“What can man do to me?”
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Christ, the Messiah of God.”
[From the archives. A few weeks after my mother died in December of 2012.]
I finally dragged myself out of bed yesterday to tackle some of the dust bunnies (really Golden Retriever bunnies) that have accumulated in our bedroom and when I was swiffering out under our bed, the following note scritched its way off of our hardwood floor:
“More out of it.
Declined a LOT today.
On morphine and ativan for comfort.
Flailing arms–a sign of breathing problems.
Death is imminent.
Deep, deep decline.
Inserted a foley catheter because she can’t get out of bed any more.
Can you come right away?”
Yes. It was the scrap of paper on which I frantically scribbled notes the Monday before my mother died.
The back of the paper has a bunch of flight information—times and costs. And I did fly out the next morning. But it was too late. She died less than an hour before I arrived.
Grief is so strange. You’re going along one day, sweeping for the first time in weeks (gross, I know!), and then your chest is crushed by shaky words on a yellow paper.
I barely remember writing the note. I’m not surprised it ended up on the floor. Pain and adrenaline really do short out our functional memories. When people talk about “just going through the motions”, that is a great description of what it means to keep going, even after a shock.
My sister and I are pretty much just going through the motions lately. I keep trying to give myself permission to be sad. My strong instinct is to tell myself things like, “I’m just so grateful for the time we had with my mom” (and I am); “Who would have thought we would ever be such close friends given our start in life?” (not me!); “It’s good to hurt, that means you have loved and been loved” (true).
But really? It’s Saturday morning and all I want to do is roll over and call my mom and tell her the adorable Sophie and Ella stories from last night and how Fred is whomping me at Words with Friends and how sorry I am her cat is sick.
I miss my friend. I miss my mom. Death just totally stinks. And I’m sick of crying because I always get a bad headache when I cry and I already feel terrible physically. Plus we had a super fun family morning watching old movies—it’s amazing how much Soph and Ella look alike! Especially at this age (3-4).
All of this reminds me of a DesiringGod post from last month. Did you read this?
Amen & Amen! Thank God for the nativity. And the Cross. And most of all for the resurrection and the return of Christ in glory which makes peace with God, peace with others (even mentally ill, sober alcoholic mothers), and peace within possible.
[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.
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!
In addition to the “100% So Far / Always Asked at Every Q&A” question (“What about when the other person is NOT a Christian?”), whenever one of my events does a Q&A time, I am usually asked the question:
“What if the other person REFUSES to forgive me?”
It’s a great question, of course, and one that Ken Sande addresses thoroughly in chapter 6 of The Peacemaker. Here is just an excerpt:
“If you follow the six steps described above, many people will readily say they forgive you. If the person to whom you have confessed does not express forgiveness, however, you may ask, ‘Will you please forgive me?’ This question is a signal that you have done all that you can by way of confession and that the responsibility for the next move has shifted to the other person. This will often help the offended person to make and express the decision to forgive you. (The details of forgiveness will be discussed in chapter 10.)
Be careful, however, not to use this question as a means to pressure someone into forgiving you. Some people can forgive quickly, while others need some time to work through their feelings. My wife is like this. Sometimes, when I have deeply hurt her and later confessed, she needs a while to think and pray. If I press her to say ‘I forgive you’ too quickly, I add to her burdens by introducing feelings of guilt, which can give rise to resentment and bitterness. On the other hand, if I respect her need for some time, she usually comes back to me fairly soon and willingly expresses her forgiveness.
If you sense that the person to whom you confessed is simply not ready to forgive you, it may be helpful to say something like this:
‘I know I have deeply hurt you, and I can understand why you would have a hard time forgiving me. I hope that you will soon be able to forgive me, because I want very much to be reconciled. In the meantime, I will pray for you. In the meantime, I will do my best to repair the damage I caused as quickly as possible and, with God’s help, I will work to overcome my temper. If there is anything else I can do, please let me know.’
Time alone will not always bring forgiveness. Sometimes forgiveness is inhibited because a confession was inadequate. Therefore, when forgiveness is delayed, you may need to go back to the person you wronged and cover some of the elements of confession more thoroughly. For example, you may not have explained adequately how you intend to repair the damage you have done. Or you may have failed to understand and express regret for the way you hurt the other person. If you probe sensitively, you can often discover what is blocking forgiveness and then take care of it.
If forgiveness is still delayed, you have a few options. If the person is a Christian who apparently doesn’t understand what forgiveness means, you may offer a pamphlet or book dealing with forgiveness (see chapter 10). Another possibility would be to encourage the person to talk over the problem with a pastor or a mature Christian friend. If none of these efforts work after a reasonable period of time, you may need to enlist the pastor to help bring about reconciliation. If these avenues are unavailable or ineffective, prayer and the steps outlined in chapter 12 will be your last resort.”
Great advice and a timely reminder to me that I really need to go back and re-read Ken’s book. Again. For like the 100th time. There is just so much to learn and remember when it comes to peacemaking.
But for this post, I now want to switch into the mode of considering three confessions that I made and three responses that I received. The first may be a little hard to hear. I know it still leaves me in that slightly head-shakingly-creepy-and-sad-“Oh my STARS! I can’t believe that just happened!” sort of way. Here is what happened …
Did you know that, every spring, for a certain number of days, Yellowstone National Park is open only to bicyclists? If you can get past the fact that it’s just you and the (hungry!) bears and wolves and bison, it’s quite beautiful and it’s been a fun part of our family’s life-in-Montana-traditions.
One year, when Ella was just a weeee little baby, she and I dropped Fred & Sophie off at the end of the road in Yellowstone (where only bicycles are allowed), and Ella and I headed out of the park to wait for their return. But just before the guard shack, I realized that I had left our National Parks Pass in Fred’s wallet! Not wanting to pay the $25 entrance fee just to go and pick them up in a few hours, I thought I would stop at the guard shack and ask for mercy (“Could you please write down our license plate number? Or would you possibly remember us and our little purple Honda?” etc. etc.)
The thing is, the EXIT side of the guard shack had the window closed. So I waited awhile and when the guard didn’t come, I thought, “Oh. He must not be able to tell them I’m out here.” So I gave our horn the teeniest, tiniest little “beep” as kind of a, “Hi! We’re here. Do you have a moment?” signal.
So after waiting a little longer (not beeping the horn again; I only did it the one time), I drove up and around and re-entered the park to try to talk to the ranger that way. And then I met the ANGRIEST PERSON I have ever met. (Which, when you come from a challenging family of origin like I do; when you’ve spent a lot of time around addicts; when you intervene in conflicted churches and mediate between really, REALLY mad Christians for a living, that is really saying something.)
Our exchange went something like this:
“Do NOT honk your HORN at ME!!!”
(As meek and truly apologetic as I have ever, ever been. I really was sorry to have offended him.) “I am so very, very sorry.”
“DON’T DO IT!!!”
(Truly meek. Didn’t let adrenaline rule. Genuinely sorry.) “I am so very sorry. I apologize. I should never have done that. I did not mean to offend you. It was wrong. Please forgive me. I am SO sorry.”
(And here is the first of two really bad ways to receive someone’s confession …) “I KNOW.”
(Me again …) “Really. I’m SO sorry.”
“I truly apologize.”
Wow. Where do you go with “I KNOW” as a response to an apology? No idea. My brain completely froze. I could think of absolutely no response that would help the situation. So that was pretty much the end of our exchange.
Driving away, of course, THEN the adrenaline started to flow. First anger—because fear turns into anger a LOT for me; but then mostly fear (this was a very angry man yelling at me and no matter what the situation, that is just a frightening thing). Then I was pondering the whole “Was there anything else I could’ve done to help the situation” question.
All of THAT bouncing around my head made me think of another really awkward, mean reception to an apology that happened years earlier …
I had offended a person and I was wrong. Granted, in my “defense”—no defense at all, but just to set the stage—this person had been slandering me, gossiping about me, and being truly horrible to me and about me for YEARS. She was completely unrepentant and has never showed the least bit of regret for her actions and words.
But that didn’t matter one whit. Truly. Once I realized what I had done, I knew there was no “out” for me other than to apologize. Jesus doesn’t say, “Compare your wrongs and her wrongs and if they’re about equal or if yours are worse than hers, THEN get the log out of your own eye …” OR … “If she apologizes too, THEN you have to get the log out of your own eye.” Nope. No loopholes in Matthew 7:5. Jesus said I had to go and confess so I had to go and confess. Publicly. (“Publicly” in that I had to apologize to her in front of some of my family members—none of whom were Christians—because my offense had actually happened at the ol’ Thanksgiving Dinner Table. Rats!)
So there we sat. Extended family gathered. Awkwardly staring at me as I began to admit what I had said and ask her forgiveness. In response to my heart-felt confession, she said something to the effect of:
“Well, GOOD. I’m glad you finally see what a real b**** you are.”
And that was that.
Nothing to be gained by continuing on to help her with her “specks.” I had zero “passport” into her life and even if I did, I would never start a redemptive confrontation conversation in front of a room full of people. So, you know, we all just sort of slowly dispersed and went on with our lives. Not much had changed, well, except one thing—one eternally-important thing: I had the blessings that come from obedience. Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And by keeping his instruction to make that confession, I was demonstrating that I love Jesus. And I only love Jesus because he first loved me (1 John)! So those blessings of obedience were enough—even though there were no temporal “rewards” in this life.
I’ll close with one more story about confession. This one is from yesterday …
As we were scurrying around, trying to get out the door on time to school, I said something to one of my daughters that was 100% inappropriate. It was graceless. It was mean. It was crude. On the scale of motherly Big Fails, this probably tied my other really-really-bad-thing for its horribleness. Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I could feel the adrenaline ZINGING up my back and out my arms and neck rightfully condemning me with the clear knowledge that It. Was. Bad. I almost didn’t have the final word out before I started to beg her forgiveness in the most 5A’s Confession you have EVER heard.
My daughter was hurt, but even she could see the sincerity of my regret, godly sorrow, and genuine repentance. Plus, she is the kind of kid who really does remember the great debt she is forgiven every day (Matthew 18 Parable of the Unmerciful Servant), so she is usually quick to forgive. Our dialogue sounded like this (citations added by me so that you could look them up if you wanted to):
“Oh! Oh no!” through my tears, “I am SO sorry I said those horrible words to you. I am without excuse. It was SO wrong! Will you please forgive me?!“
“Yes. Yes. Of course, Mom. I forgive you.”
“But I’m REALLY sorry. I can’t believe I said that! It was so utterly, completely sin on my part. I’m so sorry! I pray that God will help you to forgive me.”
“Mom. I know you are sorry. Really. Listen: Because God forgives me, I forgive you.”
(An hour or so later, driving errands around town …)
“I know I’ve said I was sorry, but I want you to know how I am still burdened by about what I said! I cringe every time I think about it! I will regret what I said every day for the rest of my life!”
“Mom. Please listen to me. First of all, I don’t even know what you are talking about! (wink! wink!)
But even if I did, I would tell you that you are not being very Christianly in this moment by continuing to beat yourself up over what you did and said. The Bible says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9)—remember? You teach us all the time about God’s justice and how it would be unjust for God to both condemn Jesus on the Cross and condemn you for this sin.
And so. Yes, what you said this morning was bad. But now, as far as the East is from the West, so far is that specific sin removed from you (Psalm 103:12). You were red as scarlet but Jesus has made you white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).
Just like our Heavenly Father treats my sins, I have chosen to remember no more this transgression (Isaiah 43).
So PLEASE, let’s stop talking about it and let’s just move on with our day with a fresh start!”
From the mouths of babes. The kind of love that covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) = pure grace.
Today, I hope that your confessions are received with grace if you have to apologize. Ooooh! Or even better! Maybe we can all make it through the entire day speaking only in edifying ways (Eph. 4:29), rightly worshiping God and loving our neighbor?! So we don’t even HAVE TO apologize. Mmmmmmmmm. Wouldn’t that be so amazingly sweet?
With love from a gratefully forgiven momma,
Number one rule of bicycling in Yellowstone? Always bring bear spray.
Number two rule? Buffalo always have the right of way. YIELD TO THE BUFFALO! 🙂
I first heard the terms “charitable presumption” and “charitable judgment” from Ken Sande, founder of RelationalWisdom360. But I first experienced repeated charitable presumptions and judgments in my relationship with my husband, Fred.
Fred is a man who embodies 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
In his excellent (must read!) article, Charitable Judgments: An Antidote to Judging Others, Ken Sande teaches that charitable judgments are implicit in this teaching on love from the Apostle Paul. Ken writes:
Pay special attention to the last sentence: Paul teaches that love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In other words, love always looks for reasonable ways to trust others, to hope that they are doing what is right, and to interpret their words and actions in a way that protects their reputation and credibility. This is the essence of charitable judgments.
I agree. I also think that learning to be charitable is one of the most powerful and effective ways we have of testifying to the reality of the One True Living Triune God and his gospel message of salvation revealed in Jesus Christ. As we learn to love in a way that presumes the best about others (even people who have hurt us and are currently hurting us), we learn to charitably “cover over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8); to “overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11); to forgive “just as in Christ we have been forgiven” (Colossians 3). This means that our lives begin to be marked by what Pastor Colin Smith describes as The Seven Distinguishing Marks of Genuine Love.
And who doesn’t want to be genuinely loved in the world?
The reason I am thinking about this topic so much this morning is because, for the millionth+ time in our near-twenty year marriage, my husband was charitable towards me. The entire exchange took less than one minute, but I can’t stop thinking about it. The weight of the glory of God revealed in this brief conversation made me gasp internally at the time and I’ve been reflecting on it for hours since then. This is what happened:
As he unloaded the dishwasher, set out the breakfast dishes for the children, and made his own lunch (all things he has done thousands of times and all things that I used to condemn myself over because “a good Christian wife” would be doing those things), Fred made me a cup of tea.
I haven’t slept more than two consecutive hours in three days. (I have a lifelong struggle with insomnia.) I am on day four of a terrible, chesty cold that makes it impossible to speak above a whisper or breathe without minutes of spasming coughing. And a near-paralyzing migraine hurt me so badly almost all night and early this morning, that this morning I seriously didn’t know if I could keep my own children safe for a day at home, more or less do anything redemptive and fun with them. (I’m just such a pathetic, tired, weak woman at times like this—I really am not good for anything productive.)
So sitting at our kitchen table, when Fred took two minutes and made me the most wonderful cup of tea I think I have ever had, I said to him, “I have longed for a cup of tea for two days. How ridiculous am I that I haven’t just gotten out of bed and made myself a cup of tea in two entire days?”
To which Fred replied (instinctively), “How much that reflects, Tara, just how terrible you have been feeling.”
What a kind word. What a charitable, merciful, gracious presumption. What a simple example of a husband loving his wife; a friend loving a friend; a brother loving a sister; a Christian loving others in such a way as to reflect God’s love toward his children.
What do I mean? Well. The truth is that God bears with us over and over again. He never tires of forgiving us. At the times we are most prone to being overly harsh with ourselves, he is fatherly and shepherdly in his gentle care of us. (BTW—If you, like me, have struggled to believe this, I urge you to read Ed Welch’s Preface to his amazing book, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest. It is simply one of the most succinct and memorable examples of the difference between a judicial warning (which has a threatening overtone) and parental encouragement (which aims to comfort) that I have ever read. As he has done so many times, in just one paragraph, Dr. Welch has changed my entire life by improving my understanding of the character of God revealed in the teaching of Scripture.)
So this morning? In twelve words, twelve charitable words, Fred beat back any temptations I had to berate myself for being “lazy” and “bad” and a “failure” as a wife and mother. Fred gave me permission to be the weak woman I am. (I never thought I would be so weak as a Christian woman!) And he poured courage into my heart to trust in the steadfast love of God and the steadfast love of my best friend and husband.
Oh, how I want to be a woman who is charitable—not just just to the people who are kind to me. (Isn’t it always easy to think the best about our best friends? to love those who love us?) But oh! to be like our Heavenly Father who is “kind to the ungrateful and evil” (Luke 6:27-36)? The people who reject us. Judge us. Attack us. Not even value us enough to notice us or care about us. Oh, how I long to move beyond the obvious, easy “love” of “even sinners who love those who love them”? But to be kind to ungrateful and evil people (Luke 6:35).
My stars! Have you ever tried for five minutes (more or less seven times or seven times seventy times!) to be kind to an ungrateful and evil person (Luke 6:35)? To actually, really, specifically do good to people who hate you and pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28)?
Who would do that? Why would anyone ever even try to do that? To think the best about people until you have facts that prove otherwise? To be patient and forbearing with sinners, even when you have to confront them? (Ken’s article goes into specific, detailed teachings about how being there are limits to charitable judgments and that being charitable is not equivalent to being naive or unwilling to confront or even rebuke.) To do the hard work of understanding the nuances and complexities of real relationship? Why oh why would we ever do this? Charity.
To use Jonathan Edwards’ description:
Charity: All the graces of Christianity connected.
I pray that you experience charity today! I pray that we are all charitable today, too.
From one of my favorite books … C. Plantinga’s, Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be–A Breviary of Sin:
“None of our lives is an accident.
We have been called into existence, expected, awaited, equipped, and assigned.
We have been called to undertake the stewardship of a good creation, to create sturdy and buoyant families that pulse with the glad give-and-take of the generations.
By the sins of attack, we vandalize shalom.
By the sins of flight we abandon it.
We ‘hate the light and do not come to the light’ (John 3:20).
Don’t forget the resolve of God.
God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back.
Human sin is stubborn but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way.”
Banking on the resolve of God–
“When hope fades, cynicism is often waiting in the wings. And this is indeed one of the great challenges of our time. Skepticism (there is nothing good and I know it) and cynicism (I can’t trust anybody or anything and I know this) seem reasonable choices. But is this a necessary outcome or orientation for us? I think not …
The Scriptures open up for us a view of the world that is very different. There is a God. This God is the creator, and He is personal, loving, willful, and particular. We see that despite being a good creation, a disruption and disorder has occurred and the drama of redemption unfolds. But the central character here is God! It is what God does, whom God appoints, and what God decides that makes the difference. Now please don’t go rushing to theological dictionaries or well-entrenched beliefs to determine “whose” side I’m on in terms of God’s purpose and human will. I’ll tell you. I believe in both.
I have seen too much, experienced too much, read too much, and pondered too much to believe that my choices are determined, socially conditioned, or illusory. I believe they are real. However, I have also seen too much, experienced too much, read too much, and pondered too much to believe that they are, as Lewis would say, “the whole show.”
History is not a fatalist’s game. Humans do act, and often with serious and sad outcomes. The good news is that we are not alone! Writing to the Romans, the apostle Paul reminded them that hope is real because it is anchored in one who is able to carry it, sustain it, and fulfill it (Romans 8:24-25; 28-30). History is moving to an end, and the Bible offers a good end.
Thus, the difference between optimism (short term and easily overcome) and hope (eternal and anchored) is where they are rooted. One leans on human effort; the other rests in God and God’s promises.” (excerpted from a 2009 RZIM’ “Slice of Infinity”)
The other day, a certain friend “just mentioned” to Fred and me how another woman had said some pretty unkind things about us.
(There’s nothing like “sharing” information about someone that makes everyone involved look bad, is there? This friend was attacking us in a sort of passive way; the other woman was allegedly speaking ill of us to others; and now we were tempted to not think so highly of the other woman either. UGH! Gossip is insidious!)
ANYWAY … since our friend alleged that this other woman was telling people that we had “devastated” (crushed / offended / hurt) her, we knew we were into the realm of Matthew 5:23-24 (“Therefore, if you are leaving your gift in front of the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you. Leave your gift in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.”)
Fred was SO gracious and godly as he (gently & lovingly & respectfully) explained that it was not appropriate for us to talk about the woman (or the offense or the situation) outside of her presence and that we would do our best to speak directly with her and try to work through whatever happened.
Still, Person A tried to press on … she was quite insistent on showing us (what this other person had said about) our many wrongs, pointing out our failures, explaining what terrible people we are.
Again, Fred–SO mercifully and lovingly–gently stopped her and explained that the only way that we could work through this offense would be to speak with this woman (that we had offended) directly.
A) To find out if we had offended her;
B) To confess and seek her forgiveness (as appropriate); and
C) For us all to experience the wonderful joy of living out God’s call on our lives (Col. 3) by forgiving one another.
(Oh, and if you’re wondering where I was in this situation, I think my brain completely fried-out in a fritz of, “I can’t believe this!” as my sanctification was set WAY BACK and I had to rest pretty much completely on the godliness of my husband. Hmmmmmm …. nice response by a professional Christian mediator, eh? I hope to do better next time.)
All that to say, as I later reflected on this entire exchange, I was awash in so many teaching points. (Primarily the kindness and patience of Fred shown to this person who was attacking us. Again.)
I was also mindful of my sins and failures regarding both of these people (“Confronting Us Person A” and “The Woman We Had Allegedly Devastated”). I know that I fail over and over again in my effort to edify them and share God’s grace with them.
Lastly (for this blog at least), it struck me again just how true it is that we should NEVER trust a gossip. Not only is gossip a sign of spiritual immaturity, it truly is a destructive force that pits brother against brother and destroys the unity of the Body.
(And we know that the name “Slanderer” is translated 34 times in the Bible as a title for Satan! That alone should have us shaking in our Keds.)
It is simply a truism that if someone is gossiping TO you (about someone else), you can be 100% sure that they are gossiping ABOUT you when you leave.
And how does THAT minister God’s grace in its various forms? Or build one another up according to their needs in Christ Jesus? (Ah, those pesky Ephesians 4 verses!)
How I pray that I will never gossip.
That my speech would be more like the speech of so many women in my church–SO careful. Gentle. Edifying. Loving. Wise.
That God will give me great grace towards people who attack me and I will learn to respond with gentle, God-centered mercy and abiding love.
Well. With that, I would wish you a happy Monday. (My notes for this blog article came from some random Monday in 2006 because I try hard to change random facts and dates so that I don’t inadvertently talk about real-life friends in real-life situations when I try to understand better biblical truth by applying its principles to fact patterns.)
May your weekend hit that sweet spot of diligence, hard work, and rest without guilt.
Thinking about New Year’s Resolutions? Please do NOT read this article by Ed Welch: Self-Control – The Battle Against “One More”
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, then you know that I am a huge Ed Welch fan. I think he is one of the most important and wise contemporary authors of our day. I have recommended at my events and personally sold thousands of his books. So why would I encourage you not to read this article by him if you are thinking about making New Year’s resolutions?
The answer is simple: it is too accurate. Too Scriptural. Too insightful. Too spot-on re: why the vast number of us make resolutions, but then fail to change:
- Our reckless indulgences, excesses, and greed all reveal hearts of wrong worship (idolatry). Regardless of our confessional theology (what we claim to believe), our practical theology (how we actually live) is clear: We want what we want when we want it.
- We like sin. C’mon, friends! This is an easy one. If we didn’t enjoy our excesses (at least at first), we wouldn’t do our excesses. But oh! There is some enticing, ensorcelling pleasure associated with the disordered affections we are trying to order/tame. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t need our little “resolutions”! We would just wake up one morning (usually a Monday for most of us, right?) and change.
- The more we indulge, the less pleasure we experience. God loves us too much to allow us to be satisfied with anything or anyone other than himself! And so he graciously allows us to descend into misery, pain, and even disgust and crippling shame regarding our sin—so that we might repent (remember truth!), believe (epignosis, not just gnosis), and change (change is the norm for the Believer). Our misery is is a sign of God’s covenant-keeping care!
- Our Three Enemies (Satan, the World, our Flesh) love to keep us in bondage. Our problem may have physical characteristics—especially those of us who struggle with overindulgence in mind-altering substances such as alcohol and/or drugs. But even so, our primary problem is spiritual.
And that, my friends, is why I do not want you to read Ed Welch’s article. Or Kris Lundgaard’s book (The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin). Or C. Plantinga’s breviary on sin, Owen’s Mortification of Sin. And for goodness’ sake, don’t listen to Keller on Sin as Slavery.
If you do, you may find yourself tracking right through my new retreat on disordered affections (which is based on a study I have held repeatedly at my local church because I need it so badly!):
Week 1: Admitting how out of control (depressed, anxious, desperate, belligerent) we feel and wanting to change (on one level), but not really wanting to change (because we want to “protect our private cache” of sin). Feeling so stuck and so discouraged by our failures in the past (self-reproach, confession, resolution, failure—REPEAT!), that we really don’t really believe it’s even possible to change. So we keep sinning in order to relieve the distress caused by our sinning. We are caught. Trapped. In bondage.
Week 2: Deceived into believing that disobeying God and keeping God on the periphery of our lives will somehow bring us happiness and freedom, we develop a destructive tolerance to sin because the amount we needed yesterday just doesn’t satisfy today. We become liars. Bigtime justifiers. Defensively able to prove at any time why we don’t have a problem, even though our relationships and private lives are descending more and more into isolation, deception, and misery. Our experience of our relationship with God is practically non-existent. We are living as functional idolators and thus, we love the darkness.
Week 3: We admit that the problem is not the thing (the addictive substance); the problem is us … our hearts. When we are overindulging and giving into our wrong worship and greed, we are loving ourselves more than anything or anyone else in the world. What hope is there for us?! Chalmers calls it “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Melissa Kruger beautifully describes it as contentment in a covetous world. But I love the language of Powlison the best: we need innocent pleasures.
Oh, friends! So many of us have forgotten what real pleasure tastes like. We are in terrible bondage to distraction because we have not learned how to face and address our pain—we live life just trying to dull our pain through things that leave a “residue, an oily stain; contain a quality of obsession, guilt, anxiety, and disappointment.” But we can change. We can learn how to feel our feelings again! We can grieve, wail, and mourn—and not be afraid that our weeping will have no end.
If we allow our hearts to split open and pour out, we will find at the deepest part of our loneliness and pain, not a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:14) … but instead, we will find Jesus. Our Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), who knows our pain (and knows a pain we will never know!), cares deeply for us, and who makes a way for us to “with confidence draw near the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Our right worship of Jesus is the foundation for our turning away from our guilty, exhausting, stained “pleasures” and instead, discovering anew the innocent, real pleasures of life that truly comfort, nourish, and help us find rest for our souls.
Oh, man. This blog post is already wayyyyy too long, so I’ll just let you click through to week 4 and week 5 if you are so inclined. And I’ll begin to conclude by quoting my second favorite contemporary author (tied with Ed Welch, whom I obviously really DO hope you will read and read and read)—Kevin DeYoung—in his excellent book, The Hole in Our Holiness:
“Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or moral exertion. We are so eager not to confuse indicatives (what God has done) and imperatives (what we should do) that we get leery of letting biblical commands lead uncomfortably to conviction of sin. We’re scared of words like diligence, effort and duty.”
“The reality is that holiness is plain hard work, and we’re often lazy. We like our sins, and dying to them is painful. Almost everything is easier than growing in godliness.”
How true! Growing in godliness is hard. But for the Christian, it is also guaranteed (Romans 8:29).
So get in the battle (Ephesians 6)! As you rest (Psalm 62:5). Make war to put to death (Colossians 3) that which has already been defeated (Romans 6). Work hard! But remember that it’s not you who works hard, but God (1 Corinthians 15:10).
And always, always, always, remember the true character, the true heart, the GLORY of the One True God (from Exodus 34:6-7):
God is “the Lord, the Lord; the compassionate and gracious God.
Slow to anger, God abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness.
God maintains love for thousands and forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin …”
We may tire of forgiving people, but God never tires of forgiving his covenant children. We may get sick of showing mercy to people who don’t deserve it (the very definition of mercy, right?), but God never tires of showing mercy.
I’ll give Ed Welch the last word, since I used his name in the title of this blog to emphasize the opposite of what I really hope (his works are excellent and among the few books that I re-read often!):
“Your struggle is a common one, but we have a God Who delights in showering an abundance of mercy on those who ask for mercy. Those who ask for mercy receive an abundance of mercy.”
So go ahead. Ask for mercy and help. Again. (And again and again.) Don’t be afraid! Your Heavenly Father loves you and he will never give up on you.
With so much love and so many prayers—
If you’re more of an auditory learner, so my zillion links contained in this post feel overwhelming (rather than encouraging), I hope you will disregard all 1,300 words of this too-long post and simply listen to this one sermon:
Yes, yes, yes! A thousands times, yes.
My most-requested retreat is currently my “Disordered Affections” retreat. You can learn more about it here:
*** INITIAL POST FROM NOVEMBER 14 *** ASKING FOR PRAYERS FOR UPGRADES SO WE COULD BRING GIFTS ***
In exactly one week, my twelve year-old daughter and I will be flying on the first flight of our journey to Uganda. If all goes well, our routing will take us from Billings, Montana to Salt Lake City, Detroit, Amsterdam, Rwanda, and into Entebbe.
I am writing today to ask you to PLEASE consider praying for us to be upgraded on just ONE flight. Now. I fully recognize that I may sound like an entitled jerk and a terrible missionary to ask for such a thing. And maybe I am—but please allow me to at least try to convnince you that there is actually a righteous reason for my request …
No. We are not asking for an upgrade for the 11+ hour flight with the fancy lie-flat beds. Or the 8.5 hour flight that comes AFTER we have already been in airports and on airplanes for over 36 hours. Again. Nope. No way.
We are praying for an upgrade on our shortest flight (BIL-SLC, around 1 hr) because if that clears, we get to take an extra 100 lbs of gifts to Uganda!! Peacemaking/Relational Wisdom resources, medical supplies, feminine care products, school supplies, and soccer balls for the 180+ children who are expected to attend the women’s conference (at which Sophie and I are speaking) with their mothers … and more!
The rules for our airline are that each passenger gets two 50-lb checked bags, so Sophie and I are planning to live out of our carryons and use our entire checked luggage allowance for gifts for Uganda. If we clear even ONE upgrade, our checked baggage allowance jumps to THREE. How great would that be?! An extra 100 lbs of gifts!
If you are so inclined, would you please join us in praying for this strange prayer request for an upgrade? Thanks to your astoundingly generous gifts, our dining room overfloweth with goodies that need to be packed in the next few days. It would help us so much to have that extra “wiggle room” and space of 100 lbs and two more boxes/bags. If the Lord wills!
Thank you thank you thank you!
Much, much love—
If you’d like to pray for other things related to our time serving in Uganda, here is a quick overview of our schedule:
- Monday, Nov 14: Depart at 5:50AM — arriving Entebbe Tuesday evening around 11:00PM + 3 hour drive to village
- Wed-Thur-Fri: Both Sophie and Tara meet with the women in their homes to visit, read the Bible, and pray together
- Saturday, Nov 19: Tara meets with the men of the community to discuss biblical peacemaking and other issues related to the women’s conference topics
- Sunday, Nov 20: Sophie and Tara teach at the women’s conference
- Monday, Nov 21: Sophie and Tara participate in a dedication service for the new Life and Peace Children’s Hospital
- Midnight, Monday — depart Entebbe, arriving Billings (Lord willing!) Tuesday evening, November 22
If you have no idea what any of this is talking about, you can read more about our trip on our GoFundMe pages:
God answered your prayers with a “YES!” and we were able to bring NINE suitcases and boxes stuffed with gifts for the village of Kibisi, Uganda. Thank you so, so very much!!
You can read all about our service project in Uganda on this page of my website, and you can even see photos and videos of the boxes and suitcases filled with gifts and being shared with the Ugandans here.
Thanks to YOU, the women leaders in Uganda are going to be able to DOUBLE the number of young ladies in their computer / tech classes. In just a few short weeks, we have already raised funds for the three most immediately at-risk girls TO GET TO STAY IN SCHOOL (!!) and we are prayerfully working hard to try to find the $30/month (or the $50/month) to keep the other at-risk elementary and secondary girls in school—safe and tucked away from their only other potential futures: the child-bride “marriages” to alcoholic, abusive, polygamous men who will abandon them and their children to destitution.
If you have a few spare moments and you would like to share your advice with us re: how we should apply for grants, private family foundation funding, NGOs, any honorable source of funding!!, we would be so grateful for your counsel. Or may you are ready to take the leap and fund a girl’s education at $30/month! Please just click on the “Getting Involved” tab or drop us a line: tara “at” tarabarthel “dot” “com.”
THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! WE ARE ON OUR KNEES IN GRATITUDE AND WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH!!