Month: July 2011

The Gift of Compassion

Just a couple days after my miscarriage in 2009, a dear friend sent me a small package containing a handwritten note and a prism hanging on a string. This is a women who cares for a full house and has plenty of excuses for not reaching out to every person in need, but somehow she managed to promptly find and send me a beautiful gift and a message that I will treasure for years. She wrote:

Dear Rebecca,

My heart is broken for you. We have all been robbed, and no one more than you, Ben and Caleb. How strange to think there could be a bosom even more perfect for your baby than your own.

Someday, when our tears have been wiped away and all is made new, we will see a brilliant and beautiful person who could only be the child of Benjamin and Rebecca, and we will finally hold and know and marvel at your baby. Until then, here is something that could never approximate that beauty and brilliance. We are all poor icons of what is real. So I hope that even what feeble light it can refract for you will bring you joy.

I pray that the Lord would allow me to somehow be there for others at just the right time with just the right words, as this dear friend was able to be there for me. If there’s nothing else that we learn from this journey of barrenness, let us at least learn true compassion and empathy.

Words to Memorize

Other than the Lord’s Prayer, I can think of no better prayer for the barren woman to have engraved in her heart than the collect for the fifth Sunday after Trinity. I have pledged to memorize it myself this week so that it might be quickly recalled during those moments of heartache. It beautifully refocuses our desires to that which will never disappoint us.

O God, You have prepared for those who love You good things that surpass all understanding. Pour into our hearts such love toward You that we, loving You above all things, may obtain Your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A Father’s Grief for His Barren Daughter

Barrenness affects everyone in our families, possibly no one more than our parents. In our barrenness, they, too, are barren. My father lovingly penned this, and he gave me permission to post it for all the other dads out there who may be grieving for their barren daughters. He wants you to know that you are not alone.

“Father of the Tried” by Bob Roley

I have just been sitting here looking at the picture on the cover of the book He Remembers the Barren. Such a haunting picture that seems to cut clean to your soul. How much pain must be associated with barrenness and the loneliness that follows? How can you console someone with such grief as depicted in that picture?

Since I am a man of 60+ years with married children and grandchildren, you would think that I would not find this such a haunting subject. I come from a large family with many brothers and sisters, and my mom comes from a large family. As a result, I have several aunts, uncles, and cousins. I remember growing up and realizing that several of my cousins were adopted, but, being young and living in an era when no one really talked about that kind of stuff, I had no idea why. I am now much more knowledgeable about problems of infertility and what kind of an impact they have had on my aunts, sisters, nieces, and, yes, my daughters. I am also very aware that those medical issues may have been passed down through my mother’s side of the family.

So, why am I haunted by my daughter’s book and the picture on the front of it? My daughters, who have been the pride of my life and for whom I would gladly die, are now faced with this pain. Even those with children suffer along with the ones who can’t have children. We have had so many years of fun times, family outings, adventures, and just the joy of being together, and we still do. So, why must such near-perfect times be strained by such pain? Is this all my fault?

I am no theologian, no great Lutheran thinker, not even a good Christian, but I do know this: Sin is the problem, and God has taken care of that for me. I keep remembering the part in C.S. Lewis’s book, Till We Have Faces, where the main character wants to ask God all these questions, and, when she finally gets to stand before God, all she can do is look at His face and realize that before Him there are no questions.

I look forward to the day I get to stand before God as one of His children and realize there are no more questions.

The Tentatio of Family Plans

Understatement of the world: Life is hard.

We’re constantly warring against the devil, our sinful flesh and non-Christian views.  And we lose most of the time. No. . .apart from Christ, every time.

So is it any wonder why barren Christian couples worry and despair? Or those who’ve miscarried, delivered stillborns, or await seemingly endless months and years to adopt?  Life is hard. And with no guarantees of receiving children, longsuffering, it seems, becomes a part of who we are.

“Wait.” you might posit, “What about the good times of life? The feelings and states of contentment, peace and well-being?”  And you’d be good to ask that.  After all, even though we suffer, God is gracious to bestow on us these gifts, too.  However, our ability to recognize God’s many gifts might not be in the way we’d expect.

Luther points out that the devil and his enemies draw us ever closer to God. You read that correctly. . .the devil AND his enemies. He called it tentatio, or, spiritual affliction, trial, and temptation, which actually aids to drive us away from our selves and to God’s promises alone.

In Luther’s personal struggles against the Roman Catholic Church he stated his gratitude for his enemies: “For I myself…must be very thankful to my papists for pummeling, pressing, and terrifying me; that is, for making me a fairly good theologian, for otherwise I would not have become one…”(Doberstein, 288).

Today, those who would question us couples on our family size, or causes for why you and your spouse might be in the state you’re in is not a far cry from what Luther is talking about here.  These outside pressures and our own thoughts seem to constantly attack us; that is, until we realize that the blessing of children is simply not in our hands. And, by these very assaults, right theology begins to take shape.

Luther goes on to say that even the devil is of much use to our souls’ well-being:

The devil is used by God against his own evil purpose. “As soon as a person meditates and is occupied with God’s Word; as soon as God’s Word begins to take root in and grow in him, the devil harries him with much conflict, bitter contradiction, and blatant opposition. But these assaults (Anfechtungen) prove to be spiritually counterproductive, for by driving him to the end of his tether, they teach him ‘to seek and love God’s Word’ as the source of all his strength and being. In such a situation of temptation, he experiences for himself the power and truth of God’s Word. Temptation turns the student of God’s Word into a real theologian, because it exercises and reinforces his faith in Christ. He experiences the power of God’s Word in his own weakness. Paradoxically, he sees the presence of God and his grace most fully displayed under its apparent negation in adversity and trouble. Because he bears the word of Christ in himself, he must also bear the cross for it. But, as he bears his own cross, he gets to know himself and Christ whose glory was revealed by his death on the cross.” (Kleinig, “The Kindled Heart”, 147).

It should be no surprise that in weakness we find strength.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ demonstrated that on the cross for our salvation.  As Christ not only claims our souls but OUR BODIES in baptism, we are new creations that bear witness to the redemption of the world. Especially and EVEN as we suffer.  Barreness, miscarraige, stillbirth, adoption difficulties become our crosses. But they are also our blessings that drive us straight to Jesus.

What consolation we have! That no matter what afflictions we endure, the Holy Spirit is tirelessly drawing us unto Christ through God’s Word and our baptisms, which proclaim “NO” to death,the devil, and our sins and “YES” to forgiveness, life eternal and salvation through Jesus.

Moreso, how much closer a God can we have when we partake of Him each Lord’s Day in His Supper?  The very body and blood of Christ given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins and strengthening of our faith?  This truly is the peace that passes all understanding.

Life IS hard. And this side of heaven, it will not relent.  Nevertheless, as we trudge this weary trail together, God is making us theologians of His cross, so that we might be consoled to life everlasting; whereby in our death, tentatio will die, every tear will be wiped away, and we will live with Him in everlasting peace and blessedness.  Thanks be to the ever living, Triune God!

Works Cited:

Kleinig, John. “The Kindled Heart” Lutheran Theological Journal (August-November 1 9 86), 142- 154.

Notes on “Pastoral Formation: Oratio, Meditation, Tentatio,” by Professor John T. Pless found here: http://alts.edu/Assets/PASTORAL%20FORMATION%20-%20Oratio%20%20Meditatio%20%20Tentatio%20(with%20lecture%20notes%20added).pdf

For further reading, click Resources tab on this site.

How Long, O Lord?

Do you remember, when as a child, you kept waiting for Christmas to come?  Perhaps you counted down to the last day of school.  You counted every day and knew when the last bell would ring, welcoming the start of summer break.  Sometimes the wait seemed extremely lengthy, but you knew there was an end in sight.  When couples discover they are going to have a baby, the countdown calendar is on.

It sure would be nice if the adoption process worked that way, too.  The sad truth is that it doesn’t.  When you pursue the adoption path, you are getting on a long ride.  You have no idea if the wait will be short or long.  You have no idea whether or not you will ever receive a child.  Thus, you wait.  And you wait.  And you wait some more.

The same is true of the married couple wanting to have a baby.  There is no guarantee of a baby.  However, they wait and hope and pray.

What’s a person to do during this exceedingly long stage?  Do I wallow in self-pity?  Do I become angry at the girls who have babies all the time and don’t even want them?  Do I lock myself away from all new moms?  Do I wonder when I will get to have something good happen to me? 

The long wait (since January 2006) has helped me to see God provides all good things to me ALREADY.  I have been born into a Christian family that knew that I needed my sinful thoughts removed in the gift of holy baptism.  I am married to a loving husband, who carries the load of barrenness with me.  I have been blessed with friends who walk this difficult road and share tears with me.  When God made me His child, He gave me abundant blessings right then and there.  I didn’t have to mark the days off on a calendar, waiting for God’s blessings to come to me.  I received them at my baptism.

God has created the world and all within it.  He cares for the sparrow and knows the very hairs on our heads.  He knows all things about me, and loves me anyway!  He cares for me, and He cares for you, my dear friend in Christ.  He loves you!

And so I can talk about barrenness and not feel like I’m less of a person than the unwed teenage mom or the family that already has their quiver full and another one the way.  God has given me so many good things.  On my knees, with tears in my eyes, I realized that God has taken care of me in multiple ways.  Whether or not I am able to mother another child – that doesn’t matter.  I am valuable in God’s eyes. If God should see fit to grow my family, then I am blessed even more abundantly.  If God deigns that my family is complete in its current form, then I am blessed abundantly.  I have God’s goodness ALREADY.

Mother of Eight

I prayed to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to make me a mother, and, in His mercy, He has granted my request.

Just last week, in preparation for parenthood, my husband and I turned in our zippy Honda Fit for a twelve-passenger van. We stocked up on Juicy Juice boxes, cereal bars, and Cheese-Its. We gathered blue, pink, and polka-dotted fleece blankets to keep our kids warm at night and tended to all of the health insurance forms and waivers required of every family.

Then, on the morning of July 9th (before the sun had even cleared the Eastern horizon) we became the happy parents of eight sleepy, groggy youth from our congregation. We loaded them into the van, waved at all of the people gathered in the church parking lot to celebrate the occasion, and turned north towards the Coram Deo Higher Things Youth Conference in Bloomington, IL.

Throughout the next seven days, my husband and I experienced parenting adventures to our hearts’ content: managing frequent potty breaks, setting curfews, making sure everyone ate enough fruits and veggies, teaching how to respect each others’ personal boundaries, encouraging the shy and taming the bold, removing splinters, running last-minute errands, talking about God’s faithfulness to all of us in Jesus, taking the Body and Blood of the Lord together, sharing in each others’ dreams and desires, and seeing the world. We were a proper “Pastor and Kate Plus Eight” (or, “Pastor and Katie Plus Eightie,” as the youth preferred to call us).

The best part? Our nightly devotions. As we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together and recited the Apostles’ Creed as one, I marveled at the faith of my children. What a delight to confess the same faith in the Triune God! What a comfort to be one in the body of Christ!

On the night of the last devotion of our trip, I found myself looking around through tears of joy at each precious soul. I am a mother in the Church. I get to participate in the upbringing of the young people in my congregation. I get to pray for them, encourage them, admonish them, teach them, commune with them, sing with them, and remind them of the grace they have been given in their baptism. I even get to take them on youth trips and be their “mom” for a week.

Thank you, God, for answering my prayer.

In the Courts of the Lord’s House

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Ps. 84:1-2

There is no better place to go when you are at the breaking point, no place more suited to address your emotional wounds and your breaking heart, than the House of the Lord. I don’t just mean the building itself, of course, but the Divine Service that is held there weekly by the man who is in the stead of Christ and commanded by Him to administer to you the medicine you need. The cleansing, healing, and nourishing effects of what happens each Sunday to those gathered in the Lord’s House are supernatural and, though invisible to the naked eye, completely transforming to the soul.

In They Will See His Face (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2002), Richard C. Eyer highlights seven parts of the liturgy that speak to the frailty of our human existence and are particularly meaningful for the barren woman. The consistent and dependable flow of liturgical worship weaves Scripture throughout and includes all the promises that seem to be forgotten throughout the week. Our souls, so weak and weary from the crosses we carry and so easily distracted by worldly pursuits, have the opportunity to refocus on Him who is the true source of all help, comfort and joy—Jesus Christ.

At the beginning of the service we have the opportunity to confess those sins that always accompany the soul that feels deprived of something. There’s discontent, jealousy, impatience, even idolatry at times. Guided by the words written in our hymnals we admit that, “We have not loved You with our whole heart,” and we plead with the Lord to, “Forgive us, renew us and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your holy name.” That’s right, the sinner remembers, through Christ’s renewal and His guidance, I can find delight in His will, whatever that may turn out to be.

Having confessed our sins and then receiving absolution from our pastor, we seek to enter into God’s presence with what Eyer refers to as the “password,” the Invocation, where we speak the name that was spoken to us on the day of our baptisms, when we were brought into God’s family: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of Holy Spirit. “It is there,” says Eyer, “in the presence of God and lifted out of ourselves by God, that we find healing for all our anxieties, worries, and fears. And if we are willing, they can all be left behind so that we may return to our homes in peace” (p. 35). In God’s presence, under the shadow of His name, there is no need for those anxieties, worries, or fears. They are washed away once again.

The experience of barrenness can be so isolating and can cause one to feel separated from others who might not understand the depths of your pain. A harmful gap can occur between you and those around you who have experienced such effortless fertility. It is in the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ, coming into the presence of God and joining together throughout the service in prayer and song that this gap is bridged and our focus becomes united. “Loneliness cries out for the solitude that comes from a maturing faith. Solitude is found in fellowship with God and the worshiping community, where we are fed the Gospel in Word and Sacraments by God Himself” (p. 46).

Depression is also one of many responses to barrenness, and Eyer helps us see how vital it is that those dealing with depression listen carefully to the Word that is read during the service. “The Old Testament, the Epistle, and the Gospel assure us that in the midst of our difficulties, disappointments, and depression, God is there to do what we cannot. … The importance of hearing the Word of God in times of depression, as well as any other, is that it provides a vision of what is objectively true regardless of how we feel at the moment. We need to hear the Word of hope even if we don’t feel it at the moment. God’s Word to the believer is always a Word of hope” (pg. 70). As opposed to what some well-meaning matron of the congregation might tell you, this “hope” that we trust in is not the hope of conceiving—it’s so much bigger than that. It is the hope that the One already conceived long ago by the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ, will make all things new for us after we breathe our last breath on this earth. No more tears, no more longing, no more wishing for something that is not ours—only the acquisition of that heavenly reward which we do not deserve.

I encourage you to read Eyer’s book and learn more about “The Peace of the Lord and the Healing of Grief,” “The Prayers of the Church and Healing of our Sickness,” and “The Creed and the Healing of our Intellect.” So much more comfort and encouragement awaits the barren woman in these pages. She who understands what is truly offered in the Divine Service will cherish the relief that it brings and will be better able to acknowledge Christ as the only One who fully satisfies our wounded hearts and makes us whole again.

I come, oh Savior, to Thy table

For weak and weary is my soul.

Thou Bread of Life alone art able

To satisfy and make me whole.

Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood

Be for my soul the highest good.

                Lutheran Service Book #618

A Baby in My Tummy

“Do you have a baby in your tummy?”

Almost every child in my life has asked me this question at some time or another. Most recently, my four-year-old niece turned around on my lap one afternoon, wrinkled her nose up at me, and asked, “Where are your children?”

It never offends me when children ask me this. Honestly, it kind of comforts me. They get it. They understand that something is askew. They can sense that I, a grown-up, married woman, should have kids. It is almost as if their inquisitive eyes (or, my niece’s nose for that matter) are saying, “What’s up with that?”

I believe an honest question deserves an honest answer.

I shrugged at my niece. “God has not given me any children. I pray that He will, but He knows what is best for me and Uncle Michael.”

My niece thought about it for a moment, nodded her head, and turned back to her previous activity. Of course. No drama. No pity. It is what it is.

I think we can learn a lot from children.