Author: Melissa DeGroot

Compassion With Conviction

In what could be considered a mental exercise in futility, a personal question has been nagging me: How is the suffering of barrenness akin to the grief of losing a loved one?

I suppose it’s an unfair question since there are many nuances to each affliction, and everyone handles suffering and grief differently. But I’ll take a stab at it since I have been carrying both crosses — the death of my mother most recently, and secondary infertility seven years after my son’s birth — for awhile now. For those who know back-to-back trials like a well-worn shoe, this is my feeble attempt at processing it out loud.

As Christians who are given the life-giving Word which forgives, renews, and strengthens, far be it from us to despair when tragedy strikes or we endure years of longsuffering. Right?

Eesh. What an anvil of condemnation since, if we’re honest, we do despair. We also grieve and suffer along with any other human being on earth because of the Old Adam and Eve in us.

So when it comes to death and barrenness, it is natural that any and all feelings surface. And it is sadly normal that temptations to sin arise as we hold dear what relationship we had to our departed loved one and perhaps what relationships never will be, desperately looking into things where there are no promises. Both command soul-piercing attention, because there is a very real separation, divide (a hiddenness) between people who existed in this world and those who never may.

Such suffering beckons us to look at separation and spiritual hiddenness (and perhaps the anxiety and distress that naturally follow) through a Biblical lens. We know we are connected to all the saints in Christ, but far be it for us to deliver lofty comforts with verses such as “Be anxious about nothing” without compassion. We do well to allow God to put His Word together for us through His faithful under-shepherds, our family, and friends in Christ who can and do walk alongside us in our suffering.

Luther’s pastoral letters to several friends who suffered terrible losses are tender and convicting. He always starts by realizing the natural expression of grief, especially when it is so new. He recognizes and empathizes with the agonies. Luther then moves from his own empathy to confessing God’s inscrutable kindness in Christ’s ability to identify with our suffering, loss, grief, and loneliness by overcoming it all in His crucifixion. He concludes his letters with understanding our limitations and proclaiming that God gives us all that we need — namely faith — to sojourn this side of heaven.

How should we conduct ourselves in such a situation? God has so ordered and limited our life here that we may learn and exercise the knowledge of His very good will so that we may test and discover whether we love and esteem His will more than ourselves and everything that He had given us to have and love on earth. And although the inscrutable goodness of the divine will is hidden (as is God himself) from the old Adam as something so great and profound that man finds no pleasure in it, but only grief and lamentation, we nevertheless have His holy and sure Word which reveals to us this hidden will of His and gladdens the heart of the believer.”1

So much to parse out here, but “finding no pleasure in God’s hidden will” stands out the most to me as such an honest testament in the midst of suffering. And still God delivers us. All to say that Luther as pastor is a beautiful example of all the faithful pastors, the family, and friends we have in our own midst now who empathize, gently encourage, and comfort us at the right times. It has certainly been what my family and I have experienced in coping with our own crosses. Thanks be to God.

How is barrenness akin to the loss of a loved one? Both can cause us to isolate or scatter from the fellowship of believers that God creates for our benefit. Then again, both afflictions can and do also bring us together because God knows we need each other. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away from us, yes, but He never leaves or forsakes us — though His presence is hidden under means. And sending faithful, compassionate Christians is one of the ways He abides. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

God grant us all the tender mercies we are promised through His Word so that we might grieve without shame, while confessing the hope that is within us in Christ. God give us the strength to accept our afflictions and serve one another in love. Amen.

  1. To John Reineck, April 18, 1536: Letters, 69-70 (WA Br 7.399-400).


John 1:14

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

The Word.

As I sat listening to my favorite (and most handsome) pastor preach one morning, I was struck with the enormity of how John renders the Gospel in that one verse above.

Have you ever thought about how we use words? Language influences what and how we think and do things. Like, why do I like to work out? Because I was told it was good for me, and watched other female athletes talk and walk the walk of fitness as I grew up. I admired (and wanted to be like) them. While fitness is a nice and maybe worthy endeavor, my pastor* reminded us how the world’s words, tainted by sin, are full of half-truths, some are blatant lies and most are just plain selfish. Health and wealth is never the ultimate prize in this world. Yet we hurt and slander our neighbors, those closest to us, because we believe the world’s false promises of a better life with these achievements, so we try to get ahead and preserve ourselves. Yet even that, self-preservation, is a farce. Apart from Christ, we are not preserved. In fact, we should just strike that word from the dictionary as non-existent. Like autonomy and individualism. Erm, I digress . . .

Further, these godless words tear families apart. They construct golden calves where they need not be. No children? Not enough children? If we just take care of this medically… We buy into cultural and selfish desires of our own making, and justify them with words that have nothing to do with God. We’re going to a fertility specialist. After three kids, I’m done. I was meant to have this size (whatever it is) family. And whether we get our ways or not, we like to live in our own little worlds that avoid a connection to the Truth that’s outside of ourselves. We become our own little gods. But that gets old, lonely and scary quick since, well, we’re not God.

But . . .there’s good news.

Even in the midst of our folly, Jesus, the living Word, pierces through and yet mends our forked tongues and minds. He places on us the perfect Word, enacted and strengthened by the Holy Spirit through preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper by pastors, so that we might hear, touch, taste and repeat this Word to ourselves and neighbors. That anyone ever receives faith at all is because of it. And we live in this Word baptismally, through service to others, daily, and as God has rightly called us in our various vocations.

By God’s grace this Word enables us to repent, be served heaps of forgiveness so that we may humbly serve and reconcile to our loved ones… since we are sure to have caused them offense, knowingly or not. Apart from Christ, our words and works stink. They do nothing for anyone’s eternal well-being. But THEE Word and His work does. By becoming flesh, dying and rising again, this Word saves and brings us eternal life. Moreover, we get to receive and confess this very Word weekly in Divine Service with our one true family in Christ. Thanks be to the Word Incarnate!

*If the reader didn’t catch on, my pastor is my husband.  No scandals outside of Christ crucified here, folks.

Barren . . .with Children?

Whoozeewatsit? Barren with children?

Well…yes. Stay with me.

When I sadly and too often see parents prioritize sports over Sunday School, sleepovers instead of sermons, poke fun of or complain about their pastors in front of their kids, or send their children to confirmation yet never darken the church’s door themselves, I have to wonder where the real LIFE of that family is. How can they keep their spiritual hearts beating when they aren’t receiving–or are blatantly denying–any quality spiritual food? One might say they are fast approaching a barren spiritual life, since where there is no Jesus, there is no spirituality or life. And that can’t be good for anyone, nevermind their children.

But readers, please don’t take this as a motivational speech, scared straight talk or condemnation (from me). We are all condemed who are born into sin. Yet Jesus is on the heels (the eyes, ears and knees, etc.) of the baptized; convicting and beckoning us all to Him, so that we might repent and confess Christ crucified for us, and be forgiven.

And when that conviction and peace comes, how can anyone stop it from overflowing from their own hearts and minds and onto our little ones? It simply can’t not (yup, I love double negatives). It can’t not compel a mother and father to bring their child into the sanctuary. It can’t not move parents to baptize their infants. It can’t not motivate them to discipline their young to listen to the Sermon, participate in the liturgy, and receive Christ in His body and blood. It can’t not… for where His Word is proclaimed and Sacraments administered, there too is Jesus, with all the promises and benefits therein to sustain his Church into eternity.

That is our true life, devoid of barrenness, and what faithful albeit sinful parents believe, teach and confess for their God-given little miracles. Our children need nothing more…and will certainly suffer with anything less.

I pray this post also encourages the childless who also faithfully gather around the altar, pulpit and font to know God’s wisdom in the face of their afflictions. But barrenness in this context points to the ultimate ail in all of existence… separation from Jesus, the one true, Fruitful Mulitiplier of His Church. The fruitfullness comes both in numbers and in faith, sometimes one more than the other, but it always comes, because He promises it will, in order that we might know Him and where He is. In Him we’re whole– both here and in heaven–because of Christ crucified and risen for us, not because of how many proverbial arrows we’ve been endowed with or not.

Let us confess joyfully this full life that we share, and pray that all are compelled by the Holy Spirit to bring their families right to where Jesus, our life and salvation, is.

nosh on this

 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food in due season.
 You open your hand;
    you satisfy the desire of every living thing. Psalm 145:15-16

Food serves manifold purposes, doesn’t it? As a health enthusiast I often ponder the efficacy (or lack thereof) of the food we eat. As common sense would have it, this is what I’ve come up with: Real food nourishes, sustains, it delights us and brings people, most especially our families, together.

Awhile back, host Kristi Leckband wrote a beautiful post found here. In a nutshell, she recounts how her family dynamics around the dinner table were more sullen and silent at times of sorrow over dashed adoption efforts. And now, the dinner conversation jags lively and joyful as they delight in their new daughter adopted from China.

From this post I began to think about the dinner table. It’s compelling how gathering around it with family in either joy and sorrow is so necessary. It strengthens us in that unit. While the food is often the impetus for the gathering, the dinner table can be the weigh station where rest, conversational refreshment and, perhaps, just silent presence is needed.

This certainly has spiritual implications within our church families, too. What about that first Maundy Thursday? Jesus and his disciples are gathered in the upper room. This was one of many occasions in which they’d dined together. While the bible doesn’t say, I’m not so sure laughter, unless it was nervous or out of ignorance, set the tone that particular night. No. That night was focused on just being in each other’s presence and with their Master. In fact, Jesus is doing most of the talking and doing. In spite of the feelings and thoughts around the room about the impending event, food is the one of the reasons they gather. But Jesus is nourishing his disciples on a new spiritual plane; uniting them to Him through bread and wine, reminding them they are forgiven through what He is about to do on the cross.

This must have been a terrifying “church family night.” But they were reminded of who they were in relation to Christ and each other. They gathered around that table to receive food, physical and spiritual, to nourish, sustain and bring them together.

Think back to your childhoods. Hopefully yours are filled with comforting and joyous memories. Did our families turn us away from the table if we had a heavy or anxious heart? Did they require us to have a contrived zeal to be there? No. Simply being born or adopted into our families granted us a seat. Sure, we might have had to munch on pureed veggies, small and soft foods until our bellies could digest the more solid stuff on the table. We also (for the most part) learned manners there, too. This private order of service is all part of what it means to grow into our families.

So too, our Lord’s Table does not turn away heavy hearts or require pietistic zeal. Simply being God’s child grants us a seat. Yes, there may be a time in which the Word and baptism are the primary sustenances until a proper examination of communion is confessed. But this is all part of the gifts of learning what it means to grow in God’s church. Jesus knew the right time to teach and administer this holy meal to his disciples, just as we with our pastors are examined in order that we may come to the Lord’s table to receive Christ’s body and blood at the right time, too.

Food conjures up so many thoughts in our minds …the things we crave, what makes us feel good and how we share it with others. How interesting that God uses food and is the food for the strengthening of our faith. This faith craves and confesses Christ crucified for our sins. It desires to be united to Him and to share it with others. And with the substances we see before us: a pastor, the Word, bread and wine, Jesus is the Host, Servant and Meal of this fine dining reality. Blessed Maundy Thursday as we remember our Lord’s death until He comes.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8

Equitable Creatures?

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:26

I recently took a tour of a new fitness facility that just opened in our area. This place is the bees knees of Exercise-dom, with everything you can think of from a juice bar, spin classroom, group fitness area, basketball court, pool, sauna, and all manner of state of the art equipment.

The draw for me? The child care room.

So when I greeted my tour guide with toddler in tow, that’s immediately what I asked to see. She swiftly guided me to the Kid’s Club Zone, and upon further inspection, my son and I approved.   The tour continued throughout the complex where I Ooo’d and Aaah’d a bit, and basically waited to hear what a pretty penny this place would cost.

Finally, the guide turned sales rep on me and sat me down to go over the membership fees.  As I listened, my son squirmed and managed to wriggle away, but only within arm’s length beside me. Nevertheless, my attention was diverted. The sales rep sensed it and tried to endear herself.

“Not to worry, I’ve got my eye on him, too!”

“Okay, thank you,” I said.

The conversation carried on and was about to conclude when I turned around to see my son straying a little further off.

“Oh, they are quick, aren’t they?” She said. “You’ve just got one, I’ve got three . . .three four-legged children.”

I grinned…out of both politeness and surprise. What else could I do? She just equated her dogs to children. And she also seemed to place value on the numerical amount in relation to my only having one …child.

Now, I don’t begrudge this lady. She was trying to be nice and relatable while doing her job. Only, certain (sarcastically serious) things come to mind upon further reflection of this common worldview:


1. I know! Just give a barren couple a dog! It’s the same, right?

2. Or three…they’ll certainly forget about their suffering …with more dogs.

3. Dogs are people, too. (Um, why do people say that about non-people?)

Anyway, apologies in advance to all you animal lovers out there. I have a dog. I like him fine. And I know that they can seem like children. (Especially the housebreaking and destroying things part.) But you hopefully get what I mean. Pets certainly can and do bring comfort and pleasure, but they are not people. Dominion over animals in Genesis 1:26 defines that they have a different value, both to us and to God.

And it is worth delving into a bit deeper for a minute. As so often articulated here, children are a gift from God. And while animals are certainly gifts for our use, too, Jesus did not die on the cross to save Fido from his sins.  Animals have not been inspired to be reconciled to God like we. Otherwise we’d see caribou, tigers and giraffe baptizing each other on safari. (“On the left we have the King of the Jungle immersing Simba into the family of God…”)  Oh boy, I’ve been watching too much Disney and Pixar.

But essentially that sales rep was viewing my son as such…as equitably as her pets. And that’s wrong.

So, go ahead. Go Dog Whisperer on your canine and put him on the treadmill. Train him to do all sorts of tricks. Snuggle and even pray that God keeps Fluffy healthy and safe. Just please, oh please, do not put animals on the same plane as humanity. Rest assured humans, and only humans have souls which are uniquely created in God’s image as creatures to be in communion with Him. And we are given a unique responsibility to carry out those distinctions in how we treat each of God’s creatures, human and animal separately.

But, heck, what do I know?  Who’d like to be so bold as to try to advise a barren or secondary infertile couple that a pet will be an equitable stand-in or replacement for a child (biological, foster, adoptive or otherwise)? Let me know how that goes!

In the meantime, you’ll find me working out (mommy-sans pet owner-stress) in the gym.

Spacing Out

It’s begun.

Church members have been inquiring, and my husband’s recently been talking more about increasing the proverbial arrows in the quiver.  Moreover, I am anxious, too.

My son is 16 months old. Hardly a long space for some, while eons for others. (The Duggers don’t count.)  So the question that remains in all our minds, is when (if ever) will we have another child?

Such anticipation is quickly supplanted with reality. Who knows when? God knows.

It’s such a gut check. The mystery and miracle of life so profound, where not knowing or being guaranteed another child only further reminds me of the beauty of God’s promises. Mainly the promise that eternal life in Jesus is far greater than building any kingdoms here on earth.

And because of this, I must decrease, so He may increase. Yet even while I family “plan” and wonder, Jesus still died and rose for me.