“Porous Boundaries”

In his article “Why the Church Needs the Infertile Couple” (Christianity Today, May 2017), Matthew Lee Anderson openly addresses the well-meaning but oft-misplaced correlation the Church makes between the barren and adoption:

“Within the church, the pressure to have children is compounded by the rapidly expanding adoption movement. The correlation of infertility and God’s calling to adopt is sometimes left implied, but is more frequently overt and direct. But as writer Kevin White has observed, there is no more good that needs doing in this world than each of us are commanded to accomplish. The general exhortation to love one’s neighbor may sometimes require a couple to adopt, but sometimes it may not; infertility does not on its own make adoption obligatory. In fact, infertile couples might be uniquely at risk of treating adopted children as a means of fulfilling their own frustrated desires for a biological child, reducing them to an instrument of the parents’ happiness. It is tempting to view adoption as a path toward alleviating our own suffering and emptiness, rather than an expression of charity toward the child. In its ideal form, the call to adopt expands the horizons of a couple’s imaginations for their lives. Yet in its institutionalized expression, it risks reducing adoption to an obligation upon the infertile, which would undermine its gratuitous character.

Which is not to say that those who choose medical intervention or adoption are selfish. By no means! But like any good, they can tempt toward idolatry, transforming human life and God’s graciousness from a gift to an earned reward for years of hard work and pain. 

The church might want to resist the pressure for marriages to have children through any means possible, and hold on instead to infertility as a unique and irreplaceable witness within its inner life. It is easy to look at such sadness and think that if we can avoid it, we are best off doing so. But the church might lose something crucial if there are no childless marriages in our midst. That we can make children through IVF does not entail that we should. But widespread acceptance of IVF means that we risk forgetting both the struggles of permanent barrenness and its unique virtues. The special vocation of the infertile means recalling the church to goods that our technologically sophisticated world has forgotten and obscured.”

Anderson goes on to explain that barren marriages give testimony to the true Source of life:

“One aspect of the vocation of the infertile is that the frustrated willingness to bear children reminds the church that our children are gifts from Providence. The glad assumption of sorrow and laments – a paradoxical, but necessary form of life – by those who are barren testifies within the church (and beyond) that the power to make new life comes from God and not from ourselves. Children are not made; they are given. Man and woman throw themselves upon the grace of fate in trying to bring a child into the world. The emergence of new human life is a miracle, as the infertile well know.”

Yes, we do.

Anderson also explains that the “porous boundaries” of the barren’s paternal and maternal love “take their form beyond the walls of the family” and “allow for strangers and neighbors to receive gifts they would not know otherwise.”

“[I]nfertile couples help expand the scope of familial love. Like adoptive couples, their ongoing hope bears witness to the church that the most basic character of parenthood is not biological. But unlike adoptive couples, the infertile must extend their marital and parental love outside the family itself. Maternal and paternal love are not given only to mothers and fathers, biological or otherwise. They are the mature form of married love, and thus are available to any couple, fertile or not. The glory of the union of man and woman can be given to others through non-biological, non-procreative means.”

Even as we wait on the Lord for children of our own, sisters, let us not neglect our God-given “porous boundaries.”


Anderson, Matthew Lee. “Why the Church Needs the Infertile Couple.Christianity Today. May 2017: 49-52.

Dear Mothers

Do you know what I like to hear?

I like to hear the sound of your children crying and fussing in church. It’s not that I want you to be having a hard time in the pew. It’s that I am so thankful you are in the pew, period. Your children may be throwing an unholy fit on Sunday morning, but you are doing holy work in parenting and teaching and disciplining your children. Keep coming, even though they cry. Keep heeding Christ’s call to “let the little children come to Me,” and know that you are not alone. I may be childless, but I am praying for you and rooting for you and, yes, admiring you.

Do you know what I like to see?

I like to see your children in restaurants and libraries and concert halls and museums. I don’t mind when they knock over their milk glass or take too long in the bathroom stall or read too loudly in the fiction aisle or clap inappropriately in the middle of the Et in Terra Pax movement of Bach’s B Minor Mass or giggle at a Picasso. How else will they be able to learn and understand and appreciate and interpret the arts if they are never exposed to them? You are serving all of us when you take your children to these sanctuaries of beauty, and it is magic watching you apply measured instruction to the curious eyes, noses, tongues, hands, and hearts of your children. If I can be of any help, please ask.

Do you know what I like to hope?

I like to hope that I will someday be given the chance to mother children like you. But as I wait on the Lord, I am comforted by the sight and sound of your children. They remind me that your vocation, though blessed, is nothing for me to covet. You have your own challenges and sorrows and burdens to carry each day, and my empty hands have been made to help you.

I am so thankful that God has given us to each other.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Love,

Katie

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Mayday

No tree wants to be barren, especially in the height of spring.

And when the sun rises on the second Sunday of May, the barren tree closes her eyes against the dreaded dawn. There is no hiding her leafless limbs in this public light. Her bare bark stands out in stark, dark contrast to the other verdant trees in the forest. No blossom crowns her head this Mother’s Day, no fruit snuggles against her naked breast. She has but one, lone Shoot growing from her sterile stump.

“I can bear no fruit,” she laments to the sunrise.

“I AM bearing all of the fruit you need in this life,” answers the Shoot, sprouting leaves of salvation, truth, and love. “I AM the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me bears much fruit. By this my Father is glorified.”

“But my children are dead,” she cries.

The Shoot stretches its arms wide to shade her gaping womb. “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

“I am alone,” she mourns.

“I AM with you. And so are they.”

The tree opens her eyes to see a robin returning from a morning scavenge, feeding her babies nesting on a forgotten limb.

“But these are not my children.”

“They are yours to serve,” explains the Shoot. “They depend on you for support. I give them to you to shelter and protect. Love them as yourself.”

The barren tree – through no strength of her own – stands tall, lest the baby birds should fall.


Artist Edward Riojas has captured the poignant reality of barrenness in his exquisite cover artwork for He Remembers the Barren, Second Edition.

This moving painting is now available for purchasing. Do you have someone in your life who might appreciate a giclée print of it this Mother’s Day?

He Remembers the Barren, Second Edition

Coming this May…

Eight years have passed since I first began writing He Remembers the Barren, and the time is ripe for a second edition. I am thrilled to announce that Emmanuel Press will be publishing this revised, expanded edition.

Why bother with a second edition? I have grown in my knowledge and understanding of the topic of barrenness, both through personal experience and study, and I would like my confession of the theology of the cross in the book to proclaim more clearly how our heavenly Father disciplines us, His dear children, through the gift of suffering in this life. I also feel compelled to better and further address the topic of adoption and the ethical issues surrounding in vitro fertilization and other such procedures utilized in the field of infertility medicine.

Much of the original book’s content will remain the same, though I am making revisions – some minimal and some more significant – to every chapter. I am also composing new chapters as well as an appendix of shorter questions-and-answers addressing concerns frequently expressed by those wishing to have children and the loved ones who wish to serve them. The second edition will also contain discussion questions written by Rebecca Mayes, making it more accessible for use in group study.

One more thing: acclaimed artist Edward Riojas is painting the cover for the second edition. While the poignant, raw emotion evoked by the first cover will forever be my first love, the artwork designed for the second edition is exquisitely tender and beautiful and honest and hopeful and Christological and perfect. It is a better match for the book’s content, and I fully approve of their marriage. You are going to love it.

Look for He Remembers the Barren, Second Edition to be released in May.

Just Tell Me It’s a Good Vocation

Crucifix on a WallThank you to Tiffany Silverberg for reminding us that no day is barren in which our neighbor is loved and served.

We live in a society that drips guilt into our lives everyday. Just take a peek into any of your favorite Instagram accounts and you’ll see inspirational quote after quote urging you to be great. To live in the moment. To seize the day. To make the most of every little thing. All these comparatives and superlatives turn us inward and reflect back a distorted view of ourselves and our purpose here on earth.

As we move through life, we pick up new crosses, yet all the while, the world taps our shoulders, asking impossible things. When we are young and single, we are commanded to use our time to find ourselves and the world, in one big adventure. To see and absorb and live as much as we can. When we marry, we are told to enjoy our romantic universe and pour ourselves into our careers. We are supposed to tear down walls and break ceilings and do great things. If we are blessed with children, we are called to it all. We are supposed to keep Pinterest perfect homes, raise Instagramably adorable children that would make the Royal family jealous, and stack LinkedIn worthy accomplishment upon accomplishment.

Take heart, dear sister, for this isn’t our call. Some of us may have Wikipedia entries schoolchildren will Google, while most of us will not. We are called to humbleness, gentleness, and love for our neighbor. For most of us, that looks like humility and the mundane. It may look like studying, rather than adventuring. It may look like folding socks and scrubbing cloth diapers. It may look like waiting and hoping. It may look ordinary, but that’s the point. God uses the ordinary. He calls us to it. (See any number of wonderful resources on Vocation.)

The world whispers the wrong question into our ever absorbent minds and hearts. We soon replace “How is this helping my neighbor?” with “How is this impacting the world for good?” We turn love for neighbor into love for a goal, a mission, a purpose.

And to what end? When is it big and audacious enough? When are we leaving a deep enough impact? When are we changing enough of the world?

Dear sisters, on our hard days, the days that seem endless and painfully mundane, let’s refrain from reactively sharing all the world’s poisonous platitudes. It’s easy enough to find a favorite quote on social media and urge your sister toward greatness and world-shaking purpose. But we don’t need another man-made law. We need the Gospel. We need to be reminded that Christ covers our mind-numbing tasks with His precious blood and sanctifies our everyday, ordinary vocation. So please, don’t tell me to seize the day or do great things. Just remind me that the task before me is a good vocation, in Christ alone.


Tiffany Silverberg is a wife, a momma through the gift of adoption, and a freelance writer as the needs of her neighbors allow, all by His grace as a child of God.

All of the children

I wasn’t even there when it happened.

Board elections of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) had finally wrapped up for the day, so I was walking back from the convention floor to the press room, tallies in hand, intent on finishing my story for the Reporter within the hour.

It was then that my husband texted me:

They’re trying to move [Resolution] 3-04 to the floor.

I stopped in the empty convention center hallway and stared at my phone. What? Floor Committee 3 wasn’t even on the agenda for that day. And honestly, after two straight hours of recording election results, my brain couldn’t even recall what Resolution 3-04 was.

IVF. Voting now on the motion. No discussion. Gonna pass.

It suddenly hit me what was happening.

This was the resolution, the one that had been five years in the making; the one Rebecca Mayes and I had talked about with pastors at roundtable after roundtable; the one the sainted +Maggie Karner+ and I had discussed as being so necessary that LCMS Life Ministry ended up hosting two Infertility Ethics Symposiums at our Synod’s seminaries; the one Stephanie Neugebauer and the Sanctity of Human Life Committee had made a priority for the good of the church.

This was the resolution that asked our Synod president to assign a task force to study issues relating to procreation, fertility, and care for the unborn. This was the resolution that asked our church to study these matters and, God willing, to speak on them.

My husband had warned me earlier that, with the amount of business in need of being covered at this year’s convention, it most likely wouldn’t make it to the convention floor, but some blessed soul – Chris from Texas, I later learned – took it upon himself to make a motion from the floor outside of the orders of the day.

I quickened my pace to get to the press room. The convention was being live-streamed there. If I hurried, I just might make it in time.

“What’s happening?” I asked, turning around the corner and dropping my bag at my table.

Several reporters looked up at me with blank faces, fully engrossed in the stories they were currently writing on other convention business. No one had been watching the live stream.

IVF task force 95.75% adopted. Thanks be to God!

It was such a quiet, unassuming moment in time. I stared at my phone in disbelief, and then I looked up at the large television screen standing against the far wall. The convention chair was calmly moving the assembly on to the next order of business as if mountains had not just been moved. No cheers were thrown into the air by delegates, no applause rippled across the convention floor. The moment passed just as quickly and discreetly as it had come, and my senses simply weren’t fast enough in the chase.

I looked around at the other reporters, all diligently working, and I did what any other barren woman would do. I stepped out into the hall and cried as quietly as I could. I cried for all of the children frozen in liquid nitrogen; I cried for all of the children abandoned in fertility clinics; I cried for all of the children aborted; I cried for all of the children waiting to be loved, respected, and parented.

And I cried in thanksgiving that my church body is going to pay attention to them.

The LORD of all life be praised!

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A True Servant’s Heart

heartThank you to Jane Jensen, the second of our two submissions tied for third place, for reminding us that it is never a bad thing to have the ingredients for a chocolate cake pre-measured and ready to go.

The most important thing I learned from my mother is to be prepared. Our home was always tidy but there was cleaning to do before the weekends in case someone dropped in for a visit. Monday was wash day; Saturday nights our clothes were laid out for Sunday services. Shoes were polished, my offering for Sunday School was tied in a hankie and safely inserted in the pocket of my dress or coat. The Bible memory verse was recited to her and I’d better not embarrass her by flubbing up or forgetting.

Our clocks were all five to seven minutes fast so she could sit down and have a cup of coffee before going out the door. And heaven forbid if someone dawdled. She would not be late. My mother never drove so Dad drove us everywhere. “If that bell is ringing, don’t think I’ll walk into that church!” This was said in a no nonsense tone and we knew. If you had an appointment at 9:00 and you got there at 9:00 you were late because you had not gotten yourself prepared for what was to come such as questions for the doctor, or by walking in last you drew attention to yourself, another big no-no.

But Mom had a true servant’s heart. She gathered our favorite things to eat throughout the year for our big family Thanksgiving meal. Her grandsons loved black olives, there would be two cans. My brothers were hearty eaters so a big ham was purchased ahead of time, and the freezer held chickens ready to be fried and sometimes a turkey. At Thanksgiving she started making all her various cookies which were sealed in coffee cans and kept in the cold back porch until Christmas, unless her eight grandsons found them first!

I can still see on the counter a large glass jar that held the correct measurements of flour, sugar, cocoa and baking soda. These were for a cake so that all she had to do was add the eggs and other wet ingredients. When the phone rang that company was coming, quick as a whistle she had a cake in the oven and the coffee pot was always hot.

Mom always thought of others and was often the first or second to bring a meal or cake to someone who had experienced a death. She would think ahead to what we wanted for Christmas gifts or birthdays and made us feel special. When I turned 18 she had the place, food and decorations all in mind before I asked. All I had to do was write the invitations.

She lived well into her 80s, nineteen of those years without Dad. She knew where he was and where she was going, trusting in our Lord and Savior, Jesus. She was well prepared.

Jane Jensen