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Well. It’s the time again. Let’s talk about where your children are most likely to be sexually abused.
Today I read an article from a pediatrician citing church youth group as the second most common place that her patients are sexually abused. (And she sees 1-2 children per week who have been sexually abused!!)
This makes me sick. This makes me angry. And this make me long to try to encourage you all, once again, to (please oh please!) stop pretending that children are not at risk in your church.
I have been writing on this topic for years. I have been encouraging you, pleading with you, to become better informed by reading excellent, excellent resources such as:
- Safeguarding Against Abuse in the Church
- Seven Questions You Should Ask About Your Church Abuse Prevention Policies
- GRACE: Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment
- Helping Churches to Deal with Child Abuse
- Safe Side Super Chick DVD
I talk with pre-teens about p*rn, littles about Safe Side grownups and Kinda-Know’s and Don’t-Knows (because the term “stranger” is 100% irrelevant to this topic), and I even went public about my 2014 sexual assault (in an airport returning from a PCA speaking event in the Midwest) — which is not, as you might imagine, an easy thing to do. But I did it because it tied specifically to this issue of protecting children.
Even now, 2+ years into trauma counseling and biblical counseling and pastoral care related to the assault; with the criminal investigation over and civil matter settled; after thinking quite, quite often about deleting that post because I wondered (probably appropriately) if it was TMI for a public context, I stand by that post because I truly believe that many of us are unwittingly putting children in danger.
Please. Read the actual words of a sexual predator who targeted churches. Look at the actual statistics for how often (millions!) of children in Christian homes and Christian churches are sexually abused. Ask yourself hard questions about whether your church is really doing everything it can to educate its members and protect its sheep.
And then pray. Get educated. Prepare a respectful argument/appeal. And then do everything you can to help as many people as you can. Your efforts will not be wasted. I guarantee it! Because if each one of us helped to protect even just one child, that is enough.
Sending you my care,
I’ve had many long conversations with children about the differences between life in a fallen world as a fallen human being and intentional sin.
These discussions often come up after a chld has been given an instruction or correction, and he or she over-reacts with very strong emotions that often manifest themselves as anger. They can try to hold it in and stuff it down, but we both know it’s there.
Thankfully, I’ve been blessed by such wonderful books as Uprooting Anger, The Heart of Anger, and Don’t Make Me Count to Three, so I knew that her angry responses were just the presenting issues—the proverbial tip of the iceberg as it were.
The real issue (as always) was a heart issue. And the only hope we ever have for heart issues must begin and end with the gospel.
My conversations often go something like this …
1. We used the example (hypothetical) of walking down the sidewalk, tripping, and hurting someone else.
– In the first example, I was walking carefully and paying attention—but I still tripped and hurt someon’e leg badly. How should I respond? Should I apologize and try to help her feel better? Yes. Should I beat myself up and say, “I’m such a horrible person!”, and have the rest of our day ruined by my mistake? No. I should give myself grace because, although I feel very sad that I hurt Sophie, it was completely unintentional. It was simply life in a fallen world. A mistake. And grace covers not only our sins but our mistakes too.
– In the next example, I was carrying a bunch of boxes while I walked down the sidewalk and Fred had just given me some wise counsel to be careful and possibly consider not carrying so many boxes all at once because I could trip and hurt myself or hurt someone else. He hadn’t commanded me, but he did instruct me and if I had been wise and listened to him, I could have avoided hurting the person. But I didn’t.
In that situation, my culpability is higher because I made an intentionally foolish decision and as a result, I accidentally hurt her. It was still an accident, sure. But I could have avoided it if I had listened to counsel. So I need to ask her to forgive me and strive to grow in wisdom by learning from my mistake.
– But in the final example, I was driving my car 70 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone. I knew the law and I intentionally disobeyed it. And then I caused an accident that hurt someone.
Whoa! Now we’re in an entirely different realm, aren’t we? Because I sinned. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. I need to confess to God and to others. I am called to repent and change.
(Then we had a little side lesson on the doctrine of sin—especially what “lack of conformity” means. It involved playdoh and a bouncy ball and how the playdoh CONFORMED to the bouncy ball, etc.)
2. And what is the first step of repenting? Kids usually respond: “Feeling bad about your sin.” Nope.
The first part of repenting is not feeling bad about your sin. The first step of repentance is to remember. What do we remember? Who GOD is and who WE are in Christ.
This is always quite a telling point in our conversation because when I say, “We must remember who we REALLY are. Who are we? How would you complete this sentence: ‘I am …'”? Kids often pause. But they get there … “A sinner.” Um. Yes. But Oh! How I do NOT want that to be the first thing you think. So I said, “Yes, you are a sinner. But MORE importantly, what are you? You are LOVED. Chosen. Holy. Dearly, dearly loved.”
3. This led into an entire conversation about just HOW MUCH she is loved, especially when she is sinning. That when she is caught in sin, God’s love for her and my love for her do not change, waver, or stop. In fact, our love compels us to draw even CLOSER to her, to help her, to rescue her because we love her so much.
The example I used for this was picturing both of us walking at a park with a little toddler. I ask the child what she would do if the toddler ignored my instruction to stay away from the high playground equipment and suddenly found her little toddler self WAY up high on the very, very edge of the play area. Would she say, “You are a TERRIBLE little girl! You should be ashamed of yourself. Mrs. Barthel said not to do that and you did it anyway and now you could be REALLY hurt. You are SO bad! You’d better start being good and THEN I’ll love you again.”
The child said, “Of course not! I would RUN to her and snatch her back from the edge and comfort her and hold her. But, yes, when I knew she was safe, I would tell her not to do that again. And I would take her to you because she probably would need a painful consequence so she would really learn her lesson and be safe in the future.”
“Would you stop loving her when she was bad?” I asked.
“Would you want the toddler to spend the rest of our day at the park hiding her face, crying, and saying what a terrible little girl she is?” I wondered.
“Of course not!”
“It’s the same thing for YOU,” I explained. “When you are caught in sin, you are putting yourself in DANGER. And since it’s my duty to help keep you safe and train you to see that the way of the sinner is HARD, but there are blessings in obedience, I do discipline and instruct you. But I do so BECAUSE I love you. It is my love that COMPELS me to rescue you. I don’t stop loving you, step back, and wait for you to get your act together. I run after you, just like you ran after the toddler.
Then we read some Scriptures that affirm all of these truths and we pray together.
Remember! There is grace for our personalities, our frailties, weaknesses, mistakes—and yes, for our sin too. We can be forgiven because God is a forgiving, gracious God.
Blessings on your day!
— Tara B.
I have a friend who is, well, just a solid gold gift of wonderfulness. She is! Even Fred said to me last night, “People have no idea what a gift our church has in (well, let’s call her) Mary.” (“Mary” would be quite embarrassed if she read her own name in this blog.)
Mary is one of those wise, gentle, funny, insightful, smart, godly, Christ-centered, careful-thinkers and careful-speakers that MAN! We really need in our churches.
Mary is also very quiet, single, works an incredibly important and intense job, and doesn’t get too involved in “stuff” at the church. (Even though she is devoted to the church and serves and supports in many hidden ways.)
Anyway … earlier this week we had a fun (and intense and hard in some ways—b/c of stuff going on in our mutual lives that we were sharing about and praying about) lunch together and I said something like this to her:
“Mary? We need you. You are a Titus 2 older woman and we need more of you.”
You see, we’ve been talking for a long time about how God has been pressing on her to possibly make some major changes in her life to be more available to serve in the church. And during this meal, I was so convicted yet again that absolutely ANYTHING she would get involved in would be BETTER simply for her prayerful, wise, steady, kind, faithful presence.
(She really is solid gold.)
Anyway—I was thinking about this friend when I read Kevin DeYoung’s list on “How to Be a Difference Maker in Your Church” over at PureChurch so I thought I’d share not only the list, but my little back-story too:
• Find a good local church.
• Get involved.
• Become a member.
• Stay there as long as you can.
• Put away thoughts of a revolution for a while.
• Join the plodding visionaries.
• Go to church this Sunday and worship in Spirit and truth.
• Be patient with your leaders.
• Rejoice when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed.
• Bear with those who hurt you.
• Give people the benefit of the doubt.
• Say ‘hi’ to the teenager that no one notices.
• Welcome the old ladies with the blue hair and the young men with tattoos.
• Volunteer for the nursery.
• Attend the congregational meeting.
• Bring your fried chicken to the potluck like everybody else.
• Invite a friend.
• Take a new couple out for coffee.
• Give to the Christmas offering.
• Sing like you mean it.
• Be thankful someone vacuumed the carpet for you.
• Enjoy the Sundays that ‘click.’
• Pray extra hard on the Sundays that don’t.
• And in all of this, do not despise the days and weeks and years of small things (Zechariah 4:8–10).
Off into my day now—-
Hope yours is a blessed one.
Clinging to Christ (Who, thankfully, has me firmly in His grip),
I recently received an email from a friend who was asking for advice regarding a broken relationship in her life. (LONG story that I won’t retell, but she’s trying to figure out how/if to try to re-establish ties with a woman who has caused a lot of conflict in the past.)
I’ve changed the names (of course!) and all identifying information, but I thought that even without the whole “back story / explanation”, my response might help/encourage a few of you, so I’ll copy it below.
Hope your week is off to a blessed start!
Re: your questions on your (very sad!) situation, I’m not sure I’m the best person to help you. Usually our church leaders and close friends/family have much greater wisdom to share with us. However, I do want you to know that I care, so here are just a few thoughts—please take them with a grain of salt and seek counsel on anything I share, OK?
To begin … I’m just so very, very sorry that this situation has occurred and has brought so much sadness to so many lives. Sin, unbelief, our humanness, fallenness, Satan, the world, the Old Man … life is just incredibly hard! And relationships (as I know you know) can be particularly hard that way.
So please know that I am sorry for your suffering and the suffering of everyone involved! I wish that I could help to comfort you all in that.
Regarding your specific questions on the situation (just brainstorming here) …
1. It sounds like (from what you’ve described), this is a very common situation—in missionary agencies, churches, families, etc. Everyone wants to submit as long as they agree, but who wants to submit when they disagree? (I.e., does God REALLY work out His will through authority? Do our leaders REALLY have the right to be wrong?) ALSO … it is very, very common for someone (usually a woman) to have major relational problems for YEARS and have no one (absolutely no one) help her. It’s so sad! Because I’d imagine that the woman you described has great gifts! But a history of conflict/broken relationships … well … hello pot, it’s me kettle. Of course I can relate and sympathize and I’m just so sorry for the entire situation. It seems to me that it really does take biblical, redemptive, accountable, ecclesiastical authority, redemptive church discipline, community to help us grow in grace. And most organizations / churches / families simply don’t operate this way—so how can we grow and actually DEAL with things?
2. What should your attitude be toward her? Same as toward every single person in your life, I would imagine: ‘Oh, look. A wretched, horrible sinner—just like me. Good thing God is such a gracious and forgiving God!! Now … how can I encourage HER to run to the Cross and remember the gospel and cling to CHRIST—just as I need desperate help to do the same???’ Does that mean you just pick up the friendship where it ended before? Well, no, I can’t imagine that because it SEEMS (again—I’m only hearing one side of the story and I take everything anyone ever tells me with a huge grain of salt!) … that she needs rescue in a particular area (just as you do and I do—but maybe in other areas). So what does redemptive relationship look like? Hmmmmmmmmm …. I don’t know for sure, but I could imagine that it might include, well: honesty (about what happened in the past and what is currently going on—if they truly are completely unwilling to even talk about it with you, that’s a huge red flag to me and I would be extremely cautious; that indicates a potential hard-heart and unteachable/proud spirit); truth (with charitable presumptions!); grace grace grace … and always wisdom from Heaven. (I.e., let’s say that this woman absolutely REFUSES to submit to ANY authority. Let’s say she is consistently destructive, a gossip, a slanderer … what is the most loving thing for this neighbor of yours? Who is authority over her who can help her? What is the most God-glorifying thing to do?)
3. I’m not sure how to respond to your ‘on the forgiveness spectrum’ question—because I don’t really understand how/if she actually sinned against you. Did she offend you? Sin against you? Has she sought your forgiveness? How about you toward her? Why do you feel betrayed by her? Have you discussed this with her? You say she has broken trust and that hasn’t been restored—well, my friend, that doesn’t sound like there is ‘forgiveness’ and ‘reconciliation’ and ‘restoration of relationship.’ And I know you know that YOU can’t make any of those things happen. If she is unwilling to talk with you, get help, submit, seek counsel, repent, grow, confess, change … there is little you can do. And of course, it seems to me that there is no way for genuine friendship, trust, and restored relationship to happen. That doesn’t mean that you judge her, disdain her, think yourself more highly than her (NO WAY!!!) … but real relationship just doesn’t happen without conversation/humility/genuine care, etc.
4. I would encourage you to read How People Change (by Lane & Tripp) and pray specifically for wisdom as to how the Lord may or may not be calling you to minister the gospel in her life. I know you know this: but you are not the Holy Spirit. AND you are not the Church. AND you are not her husband or her ordained church leaders OR her organizational leaders either. So how much can / should you really even try to help her? How teachable is she? Is this a pearls before swine situation? Is she a fool who refuses to listen to any counsel? Or is there an opportunity here to serve and be involved? Difficult people change in COMMUNITY. It takes a Church to help those of us who are really messed up! (And I mean ME! 🙂 ) One ‘friend’ is not the answer. BUT … one friend might be an important piece. It really is a wisdom issue, dear, dear Tonya. And I don’t know the answer.
5. Lastly, and I think most importantly … setting aside all of the stuff about HER, I would encourage YOU to seek counsel, Tonya, from wise and loving friends/church leaders who love you enough to help you see the truth. Whatever this woman has done, is doing, and will do … I am absolutely 100% sure that YOU have much to learn about the Lord, yourself, your relationships, your heart, your areas of strength and weakness, your areas of faith and unbelief, hidden sins, wonderful delightful glorious beauty in you … and focusing on the LORD and YOUR HEART regarding this situation will only be toward your betterment and your greater conformity to Christ. Honestly—there is so much room for growth in grace in YOU that has absolutely nothing to do with HER—that I encourage you to pray and focus on THAT. Oh, and you know what? As you glory in GOD and more accurately see your own heart? It is a sure bet that your heart will be more gracious and merciful to her—even if she never repents!—because you will be reveling in how much you deserve WRATH but how much God forgives YOU every single day.
OK—I totally have to run now. (Sophia and I have been on the road for two weeks helping family and I am just slammed.)
Sorry this is brief and quick and unedited … I should’ve re-read it and fixed its many errors. I do hope it is even a TINY bit edifying!!
Tonya, you are loved.
It’s going to be OK.
God is with you.
God is for His children!!
Hang in there—OK?
And get counsel from people with ‘boots on the ground’ right there with you. Let them hold you and wipe your tears and rebuke you and counsel you!
Much, much love,
[From the archives …]
I had to go back to Sophia this week to apologize and clarify something …
In our “Safe Side Super Chick” and “Right Touch” discussions, we have often talked about why, as a general family rule, we don’t “do” sleepovers. It is a high-risk situation for children and if we don’t know, really know, and trust, really trust, the family, then we just don’t do it. It doesn’t matter that they are members of our church with whom we have only ever had positive interactions. It doesn’t matter if we think they’re wonderful, kind, fabulous people who by all appearances seem to be the sort of people who would never hurt a child.
If we don’t know the family, then we would never entrust the care of our children to them for an overnight and our childcare limits for any situation are pretty much the same, maybe a teenier tinier bit more lenient. (For example, we have had daytime teenage babysitters whom we don’t know very well, but we have known them since they were 3 and we know their family well.) We don’t leave our children in childcare when we are traveling and visiting other churches. Hell would pretty much have to freeze over before we would leave our children in some sort of public daycare (drop off) situation.
So anyway … I said something to Sophia this week that was wrong. We were talking about such things and I said:
“Sophia? When you are in someone’s home for an overnight it’s because Daddy and I believe with all our hearts that those parents would never hurt you. We believe you could go to them at any time with any question or trouble and they would help you. We truly believe that they would step in front of a bullet for you and give up their own lives before they allowed any harm to come to you. That’s the level of trust we have in them.”
And then we listed out some of friends that we feel this way about.
It was a good conversation and I continue to be humbled and amazed that my daughter opens her heart to me on very intimate topics and shares really insightful questions with me. But by the next day, I was strongly convicted that I had to clarify what I said to her because the truth is: most of the most heinous, wicked, horrific child sexual abuse and abuse in general happens in the context of a VERY trusting relationship. Thus, I clarified what I said to be this:
“Sophia? May I please edit what I said to you yesterday?” (She understands the concept of editing because of her writing class.) And she said, “Sure.” So I continued …
When I said we believe with all our hearts that these trusted friends would never harm you, that was wrong and I need to apologize and ask you to forgive me.” (“Of course mom.”) The truth is, we believe it strongly. We are as confident as we can be that you are in a safe situation. We are 99.999999999% sure. But. If even a dear friend ever hurt you, do you feel confident and comfortable to come to Daddy and me and tell us and KNOW that we will ALWAYS BELIEVE YOU?
I loved her response. She’s such a deep kid. She said something to the effect of, “That’s a good questions, Mom.” And then we sat in quiet for a few minutes while she thought about it. And then she said, “I think it would be hard to tell you and know that you would believe me because I could hardly believe it myself.” I said that made a lot of sense.
We talked about it some more and said we would talk some more in the future and then we ended the conversation by my encouraging her that, just as when she (occasionally) sleepwalks, she ALWAYS sleepwalks right into my arms or my side of the bed (so something deep, deep inside of her heart, her subconsciousness, KNOWS that when she is in need, she can ALWAYS come to her Momma and she will be kept safe) … my goal as we continue to talk about such things is that her conscious mind, her beliefs, her “when she is awake Sophie” will likewise know with that same level of confidence and assurance that she can always walk right into my arms and I will always be there for her. Believing her. Protecting her. Delighting in her. Loving her.
I have to scoot now (time is very tight this week), but here is a post with a BUNCH of great links if you’re interested in reading more about these topics (and I hope you are):
Praising God that Jesus is our Rescuer!
And for the privilege of being a mother.
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.