Author: Katie Schuermann

I believe the Holy Scriptures to be the inerrant Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and fulfilled in Christ Jesus, our risen Lord and Savior. Therefore, I have faith that children are exactly what God tells us they are in His Word: a heritage to receive from Him. Children are not a prize for me to earn, a commodity for me to demand, nor an idol for me to worship. They are a gift which my Heavenly Father only has the privilege to bestow and to withhold. If God makes me a mother, then I can receive His good gift of a child with all joy and confidence in His love for me. If God does not make me a mother, then I can still know with all joy and confidence that God loves me completely in His perfect gift of the Child Jesus whose sacrifice on the cross atoned for my sin and reconciled me to my Heavenly Father. I am God’s own child, purchased and won by the blood of Jesus, and God promises in His Word that He will work all things - even my barrenness - for my eternal good. For this reason, I can in faith confess that my barrenness is a blessing.

God with Us

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My mom does something really nice. She sits on the edge of the world with me, both literally and figuratively.

She, who is uncomfortable in high places, hikes to the cliff of my choice — usually the nearest, rough-hewn, dangerous place to which perpetual grief has pushed me — and shares my rock.

Those moments are un-rushed. We don’t talk much. We sit and look and listen and be. I sometimes meet a sob at the end of every breath, but other times my lungs are too busy handling the clean fragrance of juniper berries to bother with anything else.

But Barrenness, my tethered companion, is on that rock, too, and my mom knows it. She wisely never tries to push it over the ledge, for she knows it would take me with it. No, she let’s us both remain, and she stays with us for as long as we want to sit there.

My dad does something really nice, too. He sits with me until the pain goes away.

One summer afternoon my insides throbbed and twisted and turned with the force of a hurricane, and I sat doubled over in pain for hours. My dad led me out onto the front step — there was more privacy outside than in that day — and weathered every minute of the storm by my side. He never said a word but offered me his arm to squeeze through the violent gusts. He was my lighthouse and my harbor, a silent, unmoving, hopeful presence amidst the raging tempest.

My parents serve as masks of God to me in my suffering. They sit with me and wait with me and bear with me, preaching to me with their presence that God, indeed, sits with me and waits with me and bears with me in my suffering, too. They are icons of God’s promise never to leave me nor forsake me, beautiful illustrations of Emmanuel, “God with us.”

I try to remember this whenever I am given the opportunity to sit with someone else in her suffering.

Unto Us

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Two years ago, my husband gave me this icon for my birthday. At the time, I thought it a sweet gift but highly unseasonal. I’m a summer baby, after all, and it would be a full four months before Christmas came around again.

Still, I displayed the gift on our dining room buffet all through autumn, and I am so glad I did. Because one blustery day, I glanced up from my supper plate and saw the icon with eyes afresh. I looked past the star of wonder and the Christmas red and the Marian blue and saw only the words,

Unto Us a Child Is Born.

I couldn’t swallow my food for the lump in my throat.

I have read those words a hundred times and not just on the icon. All my Baptized life, I have known Isaiah‘s prophecy, and I am blessed to believe it. But not always have I known the prophecy as a barren woman.

Unto us.

Not just unto Mary and Joseph and Bethlehem and Israel, but unto us — me and my husband. A Child is born unto us, the barren couple.

The thing we’ve never known — the happy news we’ve never been able to trumpet to our family and friends — has been ours to share all along: Unto us a child is born! It’s a boy, and His name is Jesus. And He is born unto you, as well.

I now proudly display our happy birth announcement all year round.

Sing for Joy

I have been reading David Petersen’s God With Us this Advent. His sermon for the Thursday of Advent 2 is based off of Luke 1:68-79, the song Zechariah sang after his post-menopausal wife gave birth to a son and named him John. Pastor Petersen writes this about the event:

“That old priest, Zechariah, saw in the old lady’s arms his son, a miracle born out of time, circumcised into the promise made to Abraham. He had no expectation to ever play with his grandchildren or see his son grow into adulthood, but he sang for joy nonetheless. Zechariah was passing on, was no longer needed at the temple. His son came ushering in the end of the temple and the Levitical priesthood. So Zechariah sang for joy not because he had a baby when he was old but because he had a Messiah and the temple service was fulfilled and old age and death were not the end.” (God With Us, 35)

You may have no expectation of ever playing with your grandchildren. You may be passing on and no longer needed.

But you have a Messiah.

Old age and barrenness are not the end.

Zechariah’s hope is your hope.

Sing for joy.

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Born for You

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My routine is identical every year.

I watch the last child leave the church — the first Christmas Eve service rehearsal officially in the books — then I drive home, unlock the front door, set my purse and music down on the front entryway bench, walk to the living room, lower myself onto the couch, and cry.

I usually cry for the entire afternoon.

It’s not that I am unhappy. It is that I am sad-happy.

So many hugs. So many songs. So many curious queries. So many eager entreaties for personal attention. So many little heads turned toward mine for affirmation. So many children, and none of them mine and all of them mine.

My barren heart overdoses on the sweet stimulation, and it comes out as salt water on my pillow. Grief is strange that way. It’s triggered by happiness. To be loved stirs up memories of loves lost. So many children, but none of them from my home. None of them in my home.

This year, the tears started long before any of us left the church.

“Christ the child was born for you!” the children sang into my face. The words entered my ear but landed in my heart. “Christ the child was born for you!”

The final chord faded, and the children — my children — stared openly at my red cheeks, my wet eyes. One of them giggled nervously.

“It’s okay,” I reassured, wiping at the river. I tried to think of anything but the present moment. It wasn’t time to commit to the annual cry. Not just yet. I took a deep breath. “Do you realize what you just sang to me? Those words are so comforting. Jesus was born for me! He is born for you! Thank you for comforting me with your song.”

The children simply watched, mystified.

“I will try not to cry when you sing on Christmas Eve,” I winked, still wiping, “but I might. This song comforts me, and I sometimes cry when I am happy.”

One boy scrunched up his nose. “People cry when they’re happy?”

“Adults do,” I said. “At least, some of them.”

“Why?”

No one was giggling anymore. Everyone was listening.

“I think,” I started, “it’s because adults have known a bit of sadness in their life, so when they hear something comforting, it relieves them of their sadness. Crying is a way of relieving sadness. It is a way of being happy.”

It could be explained better, I think, but the children took my answer in stride. They usually do.

We sang some more songs. We practiced some more notes. Before the children left, some of them waited in line at the piano to tell me some of their wishes, to confide in me some of their hopes, to cry onto my shoulder some of their own sadnesses, and to hug my heart close to theirs.

Such sweet stimulation. Such sad-happiness.

I cried the rest of the day.

 

Speak of the Dead

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It is risky business speaking of our dead children. We risk crying in public. We risk the discomfort of others. We risk crowds scattering before us like dust before an electric fan, everyone afraid of “catching what we’ve got.” We risk dirt flying in our faces as others furiously spade the earth to cover the ugly remains of our dead.

Perhaps, worst of all, we risk indifference. Oh, the painful silence of our dead children being acknowledged in public only to be ignored!

It is easier to hold our dead safely and quietly in our hearts where no one can offend or abuse them. But the truth is that our children did not stay in our wombs, and they do not now live in our hearts. They left our bodies to return to dust. They went before us in death, and we follow them into the grave.

This is why we speak of our dead children: because they lived and died and, we trust, live again in Christ. Our dead children are remembered and loved not only by us but by God who Himself lived and died and rose again that we all might live forever with Him in the flesh.

Thank you, Kristen, Audrey, Adrienne, and Melanie, for speaking aloud of your children that we might be comforted.

You can listen to their words here.

Second Edition

Have you had a chance to read He Remembers the Barren, yet?

If not, catch up on what’s new in the revised and extended second edition by listening to these recent interviews on Worldwide KFUO’s Faith ‘n’ Family show:

 

All Barren Women

I usually identify most with the shepherds in the story of Jesus’ birth, but this quote from Luther, brought to my attention by the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes – husband to our Rebecca – bonds us in our barrenness to Mary:

“Although the boy [Isaac] was born from man and woman, he was born in such a way that he was born from God’s promise. Thus Paul calls him the boy of promise [Gal. 4:23], not of the flesh, because his mother was barren; but by the power of God she became fruitful. Hence all the barren women in Scripture are a figure of the virginity of Mary.”*

Yet another arrow pointing straight to Christ Jesus – the Author of Life, the Prince of Peace, and the Promise Fulfilled. How comforting!

Let it be to us according to Your Word, Lord.

* Martin Luther, sermon for Easter Tuesday afternoon (April 3, 1526), WA 20:353 (LW 56, forthcoming).

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“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