7b9a1d97a9799e28a8114d1d32b8aedeThe author of this honorable mention selection from our Lenten writing contest has requested to remain anonymous.

We hope you are encouraged by this truth: the LORD shows up.

“I waited patiently for the LORD.”

Patiently.  A laughable description, and an adverb rarely used about even my best actions. My constant state of edginess suggested maybe a slight edit would make the verse a more accurate reflection of my life.

“I waited for the LORD.”

After all, the writer of Psalm 40 ascribes patience to the waiting, but the author of Psalm 130 seems more realistic when he leaves out that detail. So why should I, a 21st-century frazzled working mother and no Hebrew poet, impose the higher standard of patience? Waiting itself should be sufficient. Yet, even after removing the pesky willingness to endure, something about the phrase still rang untrue. More begged to be deleted.

“I, LORD.”

And there it was – the fully edited, honest version of how I lived my life. Not patiently, not even waiting. I had simply become my own god and, as such, lorded my thoughts and desires over everyone around me.

Waiting for the Lord to fill those wants seemed like an utter waste of time. My recurring antiphon was something more akin to “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” so I sought control of the blessings I would receive. As lord and master of my life, I could arrange the aspects of my career to best fit what I enjoyed doing by referring to those things as gifts from my Creator. I could convince and cajole the people in my congregation to worship, give, budget, and plan in the ways that I determined best for the Kingdom of God. I could badger and ridicule my husband and children into being people that I was proud to call my own flesh and blood. I could manipulate, gossip, rant, and belittle, all for the greater good, of course. So I did, with a mighty refrain of “God’s will be done.”

Imagine my shock when the blessings I was sure would be mine did not occur. God’s will had not been done.

Or so it seemed. It turns out that I had misplace a capital letter ‘g’.  My will, as my own god, remained unfulfilled and my desired blessings were largely unrealized. But the will of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – had been done perfectly.

Uncomfortably for me, part of His will was to bless me through my own self-inflicted suffering.

He allowed me, like Jacob of the Old Testament, to be a complete heel, grasping desperately at my brothers and sisters in Christ in order to yank them below me so that I received positions of honor. To win the favor of those I respected, I stirred up an appealing concoction of my best attributes in hopes of persuading them that I was worthy of their returned admiration. I covered my sins with false acts and words of piety, thinking I would fool not only those around me, but my Father. I was flailing about in disbelief. 

As I struggled in the darkness against a mire of my own making, I failed to realize I wasn’t the only one there. God was with me. He was the One who wrestled me into that place. He never removed His Word from me. Day in and day out it was spoken in my presence. 

Attendance to preaching and the reading of the Scriptures is inked into my daily schedule as a church worker. Even so, I failed to hold fast to Christ. Instead, I fell prey to Satan’s oldest trick, the one he used to tempt both Eve and Jesus. I listened to God’s word with alterations and deletions. At best, I simply let my mind wander during daily Matins, staff devotions, family prayers, and the Divine Service. At worst, I used the time to fixate on the faults of those standing in the same holy space hearing and speaking the Gospel. I revised God’s Word to include only that which validated my own truth. 

God would not, however, let my edits stand. There is more to the first verse of Psalm 40. It continues, “He inclined to me and heard my cry.” As I blubbered over the loss of selfish blessings, the Holy Spirit worked on my defeated heart to reveal that God had been inclined to me all along – inclined upon the cross for the forgiveness of each and every one of the sins I had committed against Him and those whom I should love.

So I returned to the first half of the verse and waited patiently for the Lord. He showed up about eleven minutes late in the vessel of my apologetic and overbooked pastor. I held fast to the promise that the Lord would not despise my broken and contrite heart and spoke aloud the painful truth of my sins. My pastor laid his hands upon my head and spoke aloud an even greater truth: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”


Happy Grandmother’s Day!

Have you considered the facts?

  • Your uterus is not performing at her peak these days.
  • Your doctors draw your blood regularly and order further medical tests.
  • Your pillbox has both an AM and PM dispenser.
  • You spend your evenings volunteering at church and around town because you have the time.
  • The majority of the Christmas gifts you wrap end up under other families’ trees.
  • You pull up pictures and videos on your phone of other adults’ children to show at parties.
  • You thrill when a small hand makes a sticky print on your clean window or spills apple juice on your polished floor.
  • You rejoice when a child asks you to read her the same book five times in a row.
  • Children tell you their secrets and ask you to display their colored artwork on your refrigerator.
  • Parents generously bring their children over to your house to visit at their best hours and then take them home for their worst hours.
  • You travel all across the nation just to sit on a bleacher and watch amateur sports.
  • You wash the dishes and wipe down kitchen counters for weary mothers.
  • You offer them your shoulder to cry on and hope they will allow you to mother them this late in life.
  • You watch parents struggle in raising their children and hold your tongue.
  • You pray for all of them day and night.
  • You grieve your own empty nest.

Have you considered the fact that you skipped motherhood altogether in this life and jumped straight into the role of grandma?

It’s not what you wanted, I know, but you have to admit: the joys are deep, the work abundant, and the sleep better than most. It is good to be you.

And for this reason, may I wish you the happiest of Grandmother’s Days tomorrow and every day?


What Did I Do?

It is our honor to share with you, in no particular order, three honorable mentions selected from the bounty of our Lenten writing contest submissions. We simply could not let these treasures go unread.

This first selection written by Katie Fischer features a line that I wish I had written myself. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one it is.

iu-3 2“What did I do to deserve this, Lord?”

Even at the time I knew it was my doubts and unbelieving sinful nature that gave me those words to say, but I was sad and angry and I didn’t care. I had been praying for years for my husband’s faith and yet on that day he was still off, joining another denomination. Finalizing the break in our Communion fellowship. 

I had pleaded my cause in prayer for so long I felt I had nothing to pray that day – only despair.

Unheard, unloved, a woman thrust into a position I never wanted to be in. My number one requirement for marriage was a man who could be my spiritual head, to lead our family in the faith, and who would train our children in the words of the catechism. And yet here I was: unequally yoked and having to take up the headship not intended for me.

I knew the world was broken by sin and we are supposed to do the best with what we have, but I didn’t want that for me. I had prayed for unity of confession within our family countless times, a good gift to desire, and it was like my prayers had fallen on deaf ears. 

The years kept passing. I couldn’t change the situation, but I also wouldn’t accept it. In waves the frustrations would resurface to bring a full renewal of the grief.

Usually when my children practice their choir music I don’t purposefully listen in. Not that it’s bad, much to the contrary, I know I’m going to be steeped in it for the next month or two and can take my time to enjoy it. But one day I heard their little voices working on the antiphon, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give to you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

I immediately tuned in. I’d heard the verse before. It usually hurt because the desire of my heart received a “no” day after day, year after year. Whether it was due to the recent sermon or the Bible study, I can’t remember which, but that day was different. Instead of hearing it as a rule to follow to get my reward, it was a promise. If my delight is in the Lord He will be my desire and I know He Himself – His mercy and forgiveness flowing from His death on the cross – is what He has promised to give me.

It may not be Law, but it was convicting all the same. I, a poor miserable sinner, was not delighting in the Lord. The desires I prayed for were not for the certain promises given in my baptism. I wanted to twist God’s ear to what I decided was most important. I had made an idol and a god out of having a Lutheran husband, thought of it as necessary to my faith, and was still clinging to that idol even after it had been torn away. I had been focusing on the hearts of others and neglecting my own.

When I cried out He had heard; when I prayed He had answered. It was not the answer I expected (or thought I needed) so I turned away and was blind to it. The circumstances that I wanted bent to my own will didn’t change, but through the preaching of the Word my prayers were changed. A good gift can still be an idol, and by keeping my eyes on the one gift I didn’t have I even robbed joy from the good I did have: a loving husband who works hard for his family. There is much more peace in praying for what God has promised than in pleading to keep an idol of my own building. 

That verse, Psalm 37:4, is written on the front page of my hymnal as a reminder, for I certainly need plenty of reminders to lead me back to repentance. For in His mercy He hears and washes me anew every day, even before I cry out for it.

By Katie Fischer

The Death I Deserved

iuCongratulations to our Lenten writing contest runner-up, Megan Davis, whose poignant artistry in applying Psalm 40 to her own life remains unparalleled!

In the dark, I silently cried out to any god who might listen, “Let me succeed at this.” I snuggled my teddy bear close to me and quickly fell into a deep sleep. It was not until the next afternoon I realized that I had failed yet again. I had failed my family. I had failed my friends. I had failed too many classes to get a diploma. I had failed my gods. And now I had even failed to die. 

“My iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.”

Why had the death I deserved not been granted to me? All the things I had done, all the things I had left undone still needed paid for. I had tried to pay for it in my own blood, but there had never been enough.

And so days passed on. The debt still had to be paid, how could I pay it? Scenarios flashed through my mind, each one quickly answered with how they would also fail.

One morning, a thought suddenly split open my mind like a single brilliant flash of lightning crossing a dark sky: “It’s not up to you if you live or die. It’s up to God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just like Mr. Redding taught you softmore year.” This new thought poured through my body. That God? The real God? Not up to me? 

“Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!”

Suddenly a little bit lighter, I walked up to my room. I sat on my bed and pondered what this meant. I still deserved to die, but it wasn’t my responsibility. I cried, “Please Lord, send a bus hurtling my direction,” but began to make some plans just in case I had to live. 

“You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!”

Thus I went to community college, made up the credits to get my diploma, and began work on an Associates. I applied myself to therapy. I got a job. Months later, in a writing class I met a kind and intelligent young man. We fell in love, and he asked me to marry him. Immediately, I started imagining our wedding. Would it be on the beach, or maybe the mountain? I asked my fiancé where he thought we should have the wedding. Suddenly looking a bit bashful he replied, “Well I always thought I would get married in my church.”

“You go to church?”

I had been in churches a handful of times as a girl and to the liturgies of my Catholic high school, but I wanted to know about the faith that had helped form my soon-to-be husband. He was Lutheran, and his church’s liturgy was very similar to those of my school days. The hymns and preaching were deep and interesting. So when the pastor offered new member classes, I was eager to learn more but had no intention of becoming a member or even being baptized.

Twelve weeks of classes took about six months to get through. I loved the deep respect and logic the Lutherans gave to the Bible and appreciated their well-thought-out doctrine.

Then one day, I discovered that I believed it. 

So I asked to be baptized.

Nearly two-and-a-half years after that dark night, I stood in the light of morning in front of an eight-sided wooden font. Guided from an old red hymnal, I declared my faith and my desire to be baptized. 

“I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;”

The sign of the cross was made over my head and chest declaring Christ’s death for me. I bent over the font, and water was dribbled over my head in His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The death that I knew I deserved was finally given to me, the debt was paid in full. 

“He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.”

I stood up. The weight I had carried so long was gone. And in its place was something new. For He gave me what I had not dreamt to ask for. He gave me life. He gave me His resurrection. 

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.”

By Megan Davis

“He Will Return” – Contest Winner

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!returnofchristicon

On this blessed Easter Day, it is our pleasure to share with you the winning submission to our Lenten writing contest.

We asked all of you to reflect on the prompt, “I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1), and your responses were overwhelmingly rich in wisdom and that special brand of perspective that comes from personal experience. You gave us much to ponder and contemplate this holy season, and we are so grateful for the opportunity to learn from all of you.

When it came down to the actual judging, it took two rounds of sorting and ranking for us to narrow down the entirety of the submissions to a final five. “This is hard!” was a constant refrain from those doing the reading and sorting. Thank you to everyone who participated and made the judging so difficult.

It is our joy to share with you our five favorite submissions over the next several weeks, starting with our contest winner, Emily Olson. Congratulations, Emily, on winning a museum-quality giclée print of artist Edward Riojas’ cover art for the second edition of He Remembers the Barren, and thank you for reminding all of us that, whatever our station in life, we are all waiting for the same, certain thing: Christ’s returning to us.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

I am not a patient woman.

I am impatient in my daily vocations. I drum my fingers on the steering wheel at stoplights. My frustration rises when my children ploddingly put on their shoes before school. I shift from one foot to another when my son prattles on about superhero plots and I need to make some calls. My temper grows short when dinner isn’t coming together quickly enough for my taste. I frustratedly text my husband “ETA?” when he’s two minutes past his expected arrival home.

And my impatience seeps past the everyday struggles to keep schedules and order. The relentless passage of time presses upon my flesh and my heart. I want our financial goals met now. I want sick and despondent friends and relatives healed and soothed immediately. I want to know my marriage will last and thrive for many decades and our children will grow to faithful and joyful adulthood. I want to know that I matter and those that I love matter. I want to know that we are not forgotten. Too often, this means I reach for my gleaming phone, impatient for another hit of dopamine, desiring connectivity amidst the gaping hole of mortality that hovers over us all.* Too often, this means I am angry and irritable, eating my bread anxiously and toiling miserably, fallibly trying to make this world and us and me matter.

So I sit in the pew, cognizant of the nervous flit of my thoughts, the selfish grasping of my desires, and the ultimate hardness of my heart. I am like Jonah, huddled in the back of a boat, trying in vain to hide from God.  I am like the citizens of Babel, mucking about in the mud of my own internal universe, enthralled at my own dirty and miniscule tower. I am like Pharaoh, obstinate and brittle, trapped in my pride. I do not deserve Christ. Yet here I am, unworthy and hopeless. I am seeking the only salvation possible.

Jesus comes to me.

“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).

The pastor speaks His forgiveness.

“In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The faith granted at my baptism hears the name of the triune God and listens.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”

The Word enters my frail ears and kindles my weak faith.

“And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost’” (Luke 15:4-6).

Jesus enables my quivering voice, and I sing, my heart breaking. Jesus has done what I never could.

“Yes, Father, yes, most willingly
I’ll bear what You command Me.
My will conforms to Your decree,
I’ll do what You have asked Me.”
O wondrous Love, what have You done!
The Father offers up His Son,
Desiring our salvation.
O Love, how strong You are to save!
You lay the One into the grave
Who built the earth’s foundation. (LSB 438:3)

I stand and file out into the aisle, and I step, haltingly, toward the altar.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand. (LSB 621:1)

Jesus comes right to my mouth, my tainted, impatient, sinful mouth. His scarred body touches my tongue, and I swallow. His blood spilled for the world splashes down my throat. I am cleansed and forgiven, again. I am restored and made new.

From the moment water and the Word combined to make me God’s child, He has relentlessly pursued me. Hopeless and impatient me falls away and falls apart again and again. And over and over, Christ inclines His loving ear to me and hears my desperate cry (Psalm 40:1). I know that the One thing needful will never leave me nor forsake me (Luke 10:42, Hebrews 13:5). Christ has promised, and He is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). He never fails. Amidst all of life’s incompletes and suffering, He remains, the Eternal Rock.

In the Word and in the Sacrament, I am immediately, and right now, with Christ.

I am not a patient woman. But Christ is patient and persistent, forgiving and loving. He will return to me again. I believe this. And so I wait.

By Emily Olson

* Idea acknowledgment to Peter Kreeft, quoted in 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke (p.46).

Submissions: Received.

Dear contest participants:

Your submissions have been received and distributed to the judges. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom with us. We will treat them with the greatest care and respect.

God willing, look for the winning post here on Easter Sunday.

God’s blessings to all of you this Lenten-tide,

Your humble judges

Contest Details

Andy Bates and Sarah Gulseth of KFUO Radio’s “The Coffee Hour” chatted with us last week about our Lenten writing contest.

Listen here for details on what we’re looking for in your submission on the prompt, “I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

Remember, this contest is for anyone who breathes, has chromosomes, and reads the Bible.

Submit your entries to katie@katieschuermann.com by noon on March 25th to be considered for the grand prize: a museum-quality giclée print (14.7″ x 18″) of artist Edward Riojas’ cover art for the second edition of He Remembers the Barren.

Happy pondering and writing!

BARREN giclee image