As we prepare for the 2013 Peacemaker Conference September 26-29 in Columbus, Ohio and focus on the topic “Remarkably Different” (see Romans 12:1-2), we have asked some of our speakers, instructors, and staff to share their thoughts on the conference and theme. We hope these posts will go beyond basic information about the conference and allow you to see the heart behind it. Below is the first of this series, featuring keynote speaker Tara Barthel. As you read it, ask the Lord to reveal how you can be “remarkably different” for His glory.
(And please note: the “Smokin Hot Deal“, where you can purchase a conference registration and receive 50% off any Pre-Conference Training, ends February 1).
by Tara Barthel
Just over a month ago, my mother died in my sister’s arms. I was only minutes away—but my multiple flights from Montana just couldn’t connect to Michigan in time.
Our story—a mother dying, her daughters rushing to her bedside—may not seem that remarkably different. But what if I told you that my mother lived for decades as an undiagnosed suicidal bipolar woman who was self-medicating with Scotch? That my sister and I endured countless hours of neglect and even what would appropriately be described as abuse as a result of my mother’s mental challenges, addictions, sinful heart, and unwise decisions?
Would you find it remarkable if I were to tell you that every single day this past month, I have missed my mother and ached with grief for my mother—even though, for many years, she stole money from me, told lies about me, and slurred horrible things to me:
“I hate you, Tara! You are the worst thing that has ever happened to me! I wasted my life caring for you. You’re a demon sent from hell to torment me. I wish you had never been born!”
How in the world do you move from that level of emotional abuse to an intimate, real, love-soaked relationship? There is only one way:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1–2
When God saved me as a teenager, He adopted me into His family and this meant placing me under the umbrella of care, counsel, and protection of my local church. When I was sixteen years old and I had to pull my mother’s head out of a gas oven during her suicide attempt, it was friends in the church who gave me a home—both figuratively and literally. My church leaders advised me with the love of a shepherd caring for his baby sheep. And my fellow church members never allowed me to turn my back on my mother, even when it would have been so much easier to do so.
I was taught not only to read and memorize Romans 12:1-2, but to live it out:
I honored my mother and even loved my mother not because she deserved it and not because it made me feel good—but as an act of worship of God, in view of His amazing mercy. God loved me when I was yet His enemy (Romans 5:10); Jesus clearly says that we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) … so in my personal situation, my worst enemy happened to be my mother? Well. Who am I to quibble with God’s sovereign choice of placing me in my mother’s womb? He understands my suffering. He has always been with me. He works all things together for His glory and my good. And so, I love my mother and I bless my mother and I pray for my mother because I have been loved, blessed, and prayed for by God Himself. This is my spiritual act of worship.
Do you know what the pattern of this world is? It’s the same as how pagans and tax collectors treat people (Matthew 5:43-48): love the people who love you. Big deal! That is the easiest thing in the world to do. Be nice to the people who are nice to you? Honor parents who deserve it? Trust people who have never let you down? How do any of those actions require faith and dependence on God alone? Where is the suffering? When do you ever pick up your cross and follow Jesus? But now: you are called to love the unlovable; forgive the unforgivable; move toward that broken, scared, selfish, lonely person, rather than running away from her. This is only possible because we have been supernaturally transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are no longer who we once were. We have been made new. We see how broken, scared, selfish and lonely we would forever be—apart from Christ. And so we relate to the most messed-up, neediest person in our lives—not from a place of superiority or “other-ness.” But we can honestly say, “I am just like you. Your weaknesses don’t even come close to measuring up to my weaknesses. We both need the Savior! Let us run to Him.”
And so, after my mother died only a few weeks ago, I still think about her all the time. I go to call her ten times a day—especially when my young children do something particularly funny that I know she would enjoy. But I have absolutely no regrets regarding the reconciled state of our relationship. It was not easy to build a relationship with her. (I blog often on what wisdom and love look like when you’re talking about relationships with practicing addicts or people with destructive mental illnesses.) It was not easy to forgive her or to begin to view her with compassion and care. It was also not easy to face up to my own failings in our relationship and seek her forgiveness too. But I am so grateful that the Lord and His people helped me to do so.
My mother was a wonderful woman. (You can read my eulogy for her here.) And I would have missed out on a treasure in life if I had walked away from her as a young adult because relationship with her was too messy and hard, exhausting and embarrassing, heart-wrenchingly painful. Oh, how I thank God that our relationship ended up being “remarkably different” from what you would normally expect. This is one of the greatest evidences of God’s grace in my life that I have ever had. I pray the same for you—for all of your seemingly hopelessly broken relationships. God’s grace really is sufficient! In our weakness, He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9).
To quote my Redeeming Church Conflicts coauthor, Dave Edling:
“We can carry the hope of being remarkably different because His available grace is uniquely remarkable.”
Amen & Amen! (And looking very forward to meeting you in person in Ohio this September!)
Your sister in Christ,
 Before she passed, my mother gave me express permission to tell our story publicly and I have done so at women’s retreats, on the Peacemaking Church Women’s Study video series, and in my books as well. And please note that in addition to these life challenges, my mother was also a poet, an artist, and one of the most generous people I have ever known. It’s just hard to keep things short for a blog post …
 You can listen to a recording of my testimony (and many other topics) for free on my website.