Bo Giertz writes that when it comes to prayer, Jesus said “we should be persistent and not give up. We should compare ourselves with the man who, in the middle of the night needed to borrow some bread, and knocked on his neighbor’s door. God isn’t like the neighbor. He doesn’t mind being inconvenienced, but it’s a part of His fatherly way of rearing and teaching His children that He allows us to wait. Maybe He does it just so we learn to pray by being forced to think about what we pray for and being compelled to repeat what we have said in an effort to examine the contents. We have to be sure that what we pray for really comes from the heart. Then, we have God’s promise that He opens the door for us and that He hears us. We might not get just what we prayed for, but it will always be a good gift and just what we need most. Jesus doesn’t say that God gives us what we hoped for, but that He gives the Holy Spirit to those who pray to Him. He gives us the Holy Spirit when we pray persistently and faithfully and come to God with all our needs. The Spirit influences us and transforms us. Sometimes we stop praying about something because we understand that it wasn’t God’s will. Sometimes we discover that we’ve already received something that is better. Sometimes, as we pray, we see a completely different way of looking at what worried us. Or maybe God helps us in some other way–but He always helps us.” (To Live with Christ, 347-8)
Archive for the ‘Infertility’ Category
Advent is a season in the church year that is easily dismissed. It’s a time of waiting. We, in the church, also use these days before Christmas to prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Christ-child. Our sinful hearts, minds, and bodies need to be turned from our sinfulness and turned to God for His grace and mercy.
I don’t know why children haven’t been borne to me. After years of marriage, I’m ready to bear a child. I’ve prepared myself mentally and physically. Still no baby. In my self-pity I gripe to God for not giving me what I want, specifically the gift of a baby. After years of waiting and no specific diagnosis, that gift may never come come from my womb. What a hard, sad truth to accept.
And so I continue to wait. The Church reminds me to repent and turn from my sinfulness. My ways are not God’s ways. The Church reminds me that I wait for Jesus. So – does that mean that Christ’s arrival will make my body fruitful? No. The fruit of Mary’s womb is Jesus, and He makes me whole. I’ll not be whole in the physical sense here on earth. Rather, Jesus makes me whole through His death and resurrection. My body will always be sinful, thus, my body will not be perfect. However, God uses His means of grace to unite me with Jesus. He alone is perfect.
Being barren, I may never be finished waiting for a child. That longing may never go away. However, I no longer have to wait for Jesus to come. He came 2000 years ago and redeemed me. I wait, instead, for His triumphant return to take me to Himself in heaven.
What’s the point?
We have no child to delight in the colors and smells; no child to clap and cheer when the lights get plugged into the wall; no child to feel the toes of the stockings hanging from the third and fourth stocking holders we purchased years ago when first we “planned” for a family; no child to beg to light and extinguish the Advent candles every night; no child to wake up each morning and run to the Advent calendar to remove another window.
But, I have a husband, and he loves coming home to twinkling lights and cinnamon smells; I have a church full of selfless, hard-working elders and directors and administrators who might enjoy stepping through my door for a party or two; I have nieces and nephews and young family friends who might come over to share a cup of Advent cheer.
So, I unroll the lights and the garland and all that sparkles and shines. I pull out the spinning tree and the Advent wreath and the candles.
And I set out our nativity and ponder and rejoice, for I, the barren woman, have every reason to celebrate this holy season. My Hope and Comfort and Peace and Life and Salvation and Child is come to me.
Question Submitted: I can’t praise your book highly enough, but I’m not always sure about how/when to give it to people. Sometimes, people are not in a place where they’re ready to talk about barrenness, or they may feel that others giving them resources is intrusive. It’s such a sensitive topic. Do you have any suggestions for how/when to give a copy of He Remembers the Barren to others?
I know what you mean. He Remembers the Barren is not exactly the kind of gift you want to wrap up and put under the tree for your loved one. Who wants to open a package and find this inside instead of something from Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Or who wants to pull a book with this cover out of a stocking in front of family and friends? Let’s all say it together: awkward.
Yet, I still think He Remembers the Barren is a good gift worthy of giving, because it reminds all of us that God’s love and favor is not dependent on our becoming mothers but, instead, on Jesus becoming our sin on the cross so that He might give us His blessed righteousness. In Christ, we are freed from the burden of sin and the curse of death that comes with our wretched barrenness; in Christ, we are made worthy of God’s love and favor; in Christ, we have true hope whether we are mothers or not.
So, please consider giving your loved one a copy of He Remembers the Barren, but use some of your James Bond-esque stealth in the giving. Here are some suggested tactics (Q and M approved, of course):
- Read the book yourself, so that you know what your loved one is going through and can better love her through her grief and suffering.
- Give the book to your loved one’s parents, siblings, pastor, etc. for the same reasons.
- Make sure your church library has a copy of the book on hand as well as your local public library.
- Write a note to go with the book (i.e. “This book is not a label or a judgment. It is a great big hug from me to you. I read it, and it helped me know that God remembers me even when I suffer. I thought it might help you, too. I love you.”)
- Give her the book in private and at a time when she does not need to be around people for awhile. You can mail it to her home, or you can hand it to her wrapped and tell her to wait until she is alone to open it.
- If you two already have a history of openly discussing her barrenness, then give it to her in person when it is just the two of you. And tell her what she means to you.
- Give her the book without any expectations on your own part, and saturate the giving in prayer.
- Once you give it to her, don’t bring it up. Wait for her to talk about it or not talk about it.
- Don’t be offended if she doesn’t read it for awhile. Depending on what phase of the grief cycle she is currently experiencing, she may want nothing to do with it at first. She might even be embarrassed or offended. Still, won’t it be nice that the book will be there for her when she is ready for it?
I have had people turn shades of green at the mere mention of my book. The thought of reading something about the very thing they loathe makes them sick to their stomachs, because their present grief is too poignant. Such is the way of suffering, so I don’t force the book on them. Still, I try to give it to them, because I think the book really does offer comfort and empathy and relief amidst the pain of suffering.
Thank you for caring enough for your loved one to do what is hard. She is blessed to have you in her life.
I was holding a high plank, staring at the black, cork floor as my my sweat made a shiny puddle under my nose. My arms were shaking.
“C’mon, Katie,” the instructor knelt in front of me. “You’ve got this.”
I had just fatigued my shoulders doing renegade rows and double kettle bell push presses, and now, after completing a pushup, I was supposed to walk my hands backwards until I stood bent over my own feet, then walk my hands back out into a high plank and do another pushup. Over and over again. This was only the fifth one in the first set, and I was already about to fall flat on my face. There was no way I could do three sets.
“You can do this.”
I felt a familiar panic overcome me, a desperation of spirit that comes with the Law, with the knowledge of the limits of my own, fallen, diseased flesh. I had felt it before. I had felt it as my doctor filled out a request for diagnostic mammograms four years ago; as my menses started a week late when I was sure I was pregnant; as I rocked back and forth on the floor during a pain episode related to endometriosis; as I put on the hospital gown before my surgery; as I leaned dizzily against the gym wall while I was on Lupron.
My flesh always fails.
The puddle under my nose went blurry as hot tears mixed with my sweat. I gave in to my panic and leaned back on my heels, too embarrassed to look the instructor in the eye. My face was already red and shiny from my workout, so it took a second for her to see the tears.
She leaned back on her own heels. “What’s going on?”
“I just feel so weak.”
I don’t remember what she said in response. I know she was encouraging, and I am sure whatever she said was true. It’s just that there was so much I wasn’t telling her. The pain of endometriosis. The fear of it coming back. Every day of my childless life being a reminder of my failing flesh.
My tears weren’t really about a few measly pushups. My tears were about the grief of this creation groaning in response to sin. My sin. And it overwhelms me sometimes.
In those moments, there is only one thing to do: turn in faith to Him who has mercy on sinners.
“Christ, save me. Christ, forgive me. Christ, come quickly.”
Then, wait in hope for the LORD to deliver me from my failing flesh on the Last Day.
And, while I’m waiting, I might as well try to do another pushup.
Question Submitted: I have a friend who is struggling with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The way she has been acting, I feel that she might be upset about her condition, not knowing what to do, who to talk to, how to navigate the doctors.
How can I encourage my friend without causing her pain or frustrating her by reminding her of her PCOS? I want to help her, not be a hindrance, and most importantly I want to be sensitive, as this is a very private matter for her and her husband. In what she has said to me, I think she wants someone to talk to, someone to ask about her.
If you could give any advice as to how I can encourage her, or any other things I should keep in mind about PCOS, that would be most helpful.
Two things are certain: 1) your friend is blessed to have someone as attentive, thoughtful, and caring in her life as you, and 2) as soon as I give specific advice on how to care for your friend with PCOS, someone will write to me to tell me that my advice is not specifically true for them.
Therefore, respecting the fact that every woman is different and has different needs, I think I can best serve you by explaining how I would care for your friend if I were in your shoes.
First, let me start by telling you what I would not do:
1. I would not offer her medical advice or armchair-diagnose her condition, for I am not her doctor. She has plenty of professionals in her life running diagnostics and writing prescriptions, and all of them are more qualified to be doing so than me.
2. I would not send her links to PCOS blogs or offer her magazine articles on the newest vitamin supplements for evening out hormone levels. If she wants to know about such things, she will take the time to look into these matters herself or ask me directly for help. If she has chosen not to fill her reading queue with CNN’s latest groundbreaking discovery on ovarian cysts, then I can help protect her privacy by letting things be.
3. I would not try explaining to her why she has not yet gotten pregnant, for I do not know such things, only God does.
4. I would not bother telling her that everything will get better tomorrow, for God has not promised her that – and she will either call my bluff or despair when my false promise doesn’t come true.
Here is what I would do:
1. I would pray for her, that God would guard and protect her against the evil one and that He would preserve and sustain her faith in Him through her suffering. I would also ask God, should it be according to His will, to take this cup from her.
2. I would call her or go over to her house and say, “How are you doing today?” Then, I would listen. For a long time. And ask her even more questions just so that I can listen to her even longer. (There is a big difference between my asking questions simply to satisfy my selfish desire for answers and my asking questions to allow my friend to unload her heavy burden. I am talking about the latter.)
3. I would let awkward pauses be awkward and accept the suffering God has given me in being the friend of someone who suffers from a chronic illness and who asks unanswerable questions. I would pray for her during those pauses. I might even cry if I am so moved.
4. I would get her a Kleenex when she needs one.
5. I would be sure to tell her that I love her and admire her just the way she is today and that no amount of PCOS or anything else can change that.
6. I would let her teach me what she needs. I would ask her questions like, “How can I help you? How can I be a better friend to you? What hurts you the most in all of this? What brings you comfort when you are sad? What is your favorite hymn? How can I pray for you?” Then, I would try to remember her answers and use them accordingly.
7. If she is struggling with ethical decisions surrounding her treatment plan, I would encourage her and her husband to go talk with their pastor.
8. I would protect her privacy and defend her reputation in public.
9. I would not let the quality of our friendship be determined by her actions but by my own. She may be depressed, and I can forgive much in Christ.
10. I would try to do all of the above over and over again.
Now, about PCOS.
My own doctor described PCOS as a wide umbrella under which many infertility symptoms can fall, and all of those symptoms are usually related to a hormonal imbalance which interferes with ovulation and produces multiple ovarian cysts. Women with PCOS often suffer from one or more of the following symptoms.
As with most subcategories of infertility, PCOS is often chronic and, therefore, requires patience and endurance as doctors work to find treatment plans which best manage a patient’s particular symptoms.
Thank you for bearing with your friend in love.
As I count my blessings this year, there’s one more reason for me to be thankful. My salvation does not depend on my ability to bear a child. No, my salvation has already been won. Jesus Christ secured my salvation by His death and resurrection. Thanks be to God!
A little over a year ago, I was on a plane to Philly.
A mother with a 10-month-old boarded the plane, and she barely made eye contact with the seated passengers as she made her way down the aisle. I couldn’t blame her, really. People in this world hate children, let alone children on a plane; so, when she got to my row of seats, I scooted over and patted the seat next to me.
“Lucy’s a really good baby,” the woman assured, setting her bag down under the aisle seat and balancing Lucy on her hip. “I’ll feed her once we get going, and she’ll sleep the whole way.”
There was just one problem, and I heard it as soon as the plane took off. Lucy had a cough. It was a deep, heavy cough like thousands of rocks tumbling down a mountainside. Or cubes of ice hitting the sides of a stainless steel tumbler.
Lucy whimpered in pain as the plane rose in elevation, so the woman snuggled her daughter close and offered her mother’s milk. Lucy took the comfort and soon fell asleep.
For about ten minutes.
And then Lucy woke with a painful cry. Her ears couldn’t pop with all of that congestion. Poor, baby.
The mother stayed calm and tried to coax Lucy into feeding, again. Lucy obliged, and this routine went on for about an hour until Lucy’s ears hurt too badly for comfort, even from Mommy. Shrill, baby cries alternating with croaking coughs came from our humble row, and people began to turn around in their seats with pointed looks of disapproval.
Then, the suggestions started coming.
“She needs her ears to pop,” one post-menopausal woman with dark-rimmed glasses was helpful to point out.
Another individual took the time to pause by our row and silently assess the situation with judgmental eyes before continuing on to her own seat.
“She should chew something,” one man suggested.
The mother bore it all with quiet endurance, but I noticed that her hands were starting to shake.
“You’re doing great,” I leaned over and said. “You’re doing everything you can do. Some things can’t be helped.”
Lucy let out another banshee wail to punctuate my sentiment.
“This is the plane ride from hell,” the mother admitted.
And then came my usual barren conundrum. To help or not to help, that is always the question. I didn’t want to say or do something that would in some way undermine this mother’s gifts and authority, but I also didn’t want her to suffer alone. And she looked oh-so-alone.
At that moment, a single tear slid out of the mother’s right eye. That settled it.
“You must be hot and tired. How about I take Lucy for a few minutes? We can walk up and down the aisle and see the sights.”
The mother turned to me with eyes hollow with exhaustion. She relinquished one, single nod of her head.
I picked up Lucy – who didn’t hesitate to protest – and headed for the front of the plane. Lucy was not super happy about the situation, but I didn’t care. She could cry all she wanted. We were going to give Mommy a break, like it or not. Really, I don’t think the other people on the plane minded, either. Most of them gave us looks of sympathy or patted Lucy’s back with kindness. “Poor, baby,” they would say. Others simply put in their earbuds and looked the other way.
As Lucy and I made our third trip down the aisle, I caught a glimpse of Mommy sitting with her head back against the seat, eyes closed. Only her hand moved every once in awhile to wipe away the tears running down her cheeks. When Lucy and I slipped back into our seats, Mommy tried to feed Lucy, again. Then, finally – finally! - Lucy slept without a peep for the last ten minutes of the flight.
As the mother and Lucy got up to leave the plane after landing, the mother turned to me one last time. “Katie. Schuermann, right? Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sherman, IL?”
I nodded my head yes, astonished she had remembered so much from our little snippets of conversation through baby shrieks and coughs and cries.
One week after I got home from Philly, my husband brought me a package which had been shipped to our church with my name on it. The note in the package read:
Katie- “The nicest lady sat next to me on my return flight and saved me from having a nervous breakdown because of Lucy’s screaming.” That’s what I say when people ask me about my STL trip – you were the highlight! Thank you for your kindness and generosity. Here’s some of those puzzles I was talking about (plus a bonus game book) – hopefully on your next flight you will be seated next to a silent person! Enjoy! Thanks – Jacy (Lucy too!)
No doubt about it, I’d sit by you and Lucy all over again, Jacy. Thank you for letting a barren woman be a mother, even for just a few minutes.
A blessed Thanksgiving to mothers everywhere, especially those flying with their babies this week!
Have you ever noticed the parallels between Hannah and Elizabeth in the Bible?
Hannah was barren, but the LORD remembered her. She conceived and bore a son who was set apart to be a prophet. Her miracle-son, Samuel, would anoint David, the king and savior of Old Testament Israel.
Elizabeth was barren, but the LORD remembered her. She also conceived and bore a son who was set apart to be a prophet. Her miracle-son, John, would baptize Jesus, the new David – the King and Savior of the world.
It comforts me to see God working through death to bring forth life. Not even the worldly curse of barrenness could keep our omnipotent God from keeping His promise to make straight the path of righteousness – the path which points straight to Jesus and His saving work for us on the cross. I am baptized into that same Jesus, and nothing – not even the death in my own, barren womb – can stop Him from keeping His promise to raise me on the Last Day.
I am certain that doctors who recommend women with endometriosis abstain from beef are not actually referring to burgers.
I am also certain that naturopaths who recommend women with endometriosis abstain from dairy are not actually referring to feta cheese.
And I am most certain that nutritionists who recommend women with endometriosis abstain from sugar are not actually referring to the sugar in dark chocolate.
This I do swear to be the the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me to a bag of chocolate chips.