Author: Melissa DeGroot

Collect

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Collect of the Week: 

Let us pray…

O Almighty God, You are Greatest, both in heaven and on earth.  And yet, through your Son’s death on the cross, you made yourself low, and last, in order to save us. Guide our pastors–the men you’ve sent to shepherd Your Church–as they faithfully preach Your Word and administer Your Sacraments in the stead of Christ.  In this, send Your Spirit to turn our hearts away from our selfish family desires and to fix them on your eternal gifts.  Forgive and renew us. Lead us to Your means of grace and service to our neighbor daily, as You promised You would. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Fertility Guilt

Sometimes I feel guilty when I’m around barren couples. I have a healthy eight-month-old who I simply adore, and yet I find myself holding back that joy when I’m in the presence of the childless.

The truth is, three years ago I wondered if I might be barren, too. When I first met Katie, author of He Remembers The Barren, we both didn’t have any children. And we were both honest with each other about how that affected us. I was 29 at the time and two years into marriage. Not too old, but, by many physicians’ standards, losing ground fertility-wise.

Perhaps this is an affect of feminism (It couldn’t possibly be my personality, ha!), but in that season of my life I built up emotionally stoic walls to safeguard against self-pity. And I entrenched myself in my work. Sure, my husband and I wanted children, but if it wasn’t going to happen, then I focused on what was in front of me. After all, I was a deaconess. I had God’s Word in my back pocket (literally), and knew where to go to receive everything I truly needed, rather than wanted.

Then I suffered a miscarriage in 2009. Even though it was very early on (five weeks) and we trust God’s promises for that little one, it shook me only further to think that I might never hold a child of our own. So when I became pregnant again a year later, I kept that stiff upper lip. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Yet as each trimester passed successfully, the magnitude of motherhood began to sink in.

And then joy of all joys, Knox was born. As if making up for nine months (and perhaps years) of emotional avoidance, my whole being and demeanor bursted like a broken dam, as I embodied what I imagined Mary might have felt when she voiced the Magnificat. My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

To say I was overjoyed to hold this little person would be a vast understatement. Even now, my cup runneth over as I look at him.

So when I think about how to address this miracle and blessing with other women who cannot conceive, I hesitate. I mean, I don’t want to come off as insensitive to their thoughts and feelings while gushing about my own. But as dear Katie has encouraged and reminded me, it is important to express what a gift our children are to whomever we come into contact.

I am also reminded that the baptismal liturgy urges all Christians to support these little ones in the faith, to nurture and teach them what God says, and ultimately receive His gifts of Word and Sacrament together. This is the barren soul’s invitation to serve in a very important way, as Sponsor and/or fellow Christian.

So please, dear barren sister and brother, forgive those of us who hold back from discussing their children with you. Be patient with them as they get to know you. My guess is that this takes time–for both parties–to eventually feel comfortable speaking freely. Let us pray that God grants us healthy and open lines of communication, rooted in Christ’s love, to bless us all in our given vocations. This so we may rejoice together in His many, many gifts. In Jesus name, Amen.

Gone So Soon


Death is a grievous disruption of the eternal life God has always  intended for His creation. So inarguably, the death of children most heinously depicts a world gone wrong. The robbery from raising and nurturing our little ones due to their untimely deaths (via miscarriage, stillbirth or otherwise) leaves parents seemingly mocked by Satan with this barrenness.

Just ask my sister-in-law, Sara.

Young and hopeful, Sara and her husband, David, began their marriage on May 25, 2002 like most Christian families; enjoying the gift of each other and looking forward to the days ahead where God might grant them children. And grant them He did. 

In January 2005, Sara discovered she was pregnant. Excitement naturally abounded in their family, but sadly, a few short weeks in, she suffered a miscarriage. They named this baby Emma.

The following year, Sara became pregnant again. However, the miscarriage occurred even earlier than the first. They named that baby Lily.

Less than a year later, Sara conceived in December 2006. She’d made it past the first trimester much to her relief. However, the nightmarish pattern once more descended, and the baby miscarried shortly thereafter. They named this child Joshua.

Sadness, confusion and helplessness understandably overshadowed Sara and David.

After three miscarriages in less than three years, Sara sought the advice of other doctors. Then one physician, Dr. Storey, discovered Sara was borderline Protein C deficient. This means blood clots a little too much, which causes insufficient circulation to what her system considers “unnecessary” parts of her body—including her uterus. Also, Dr. Storey told her she likely has Luteal Phase Defect; which means her body does not produce enough progesterone during the first trimester to force the body to stay pregnant.

When Sara conceived again for the fourth time in 2008, they were cautiously hopeful as her doctor prepared a specific treatment plan. Sara followed strict orders of minimal-to-no exercise, a baby aspirin to thin out her blood, and progesterone during the first trimester. She ever-so-anxiously nurtured their fourth child en-utero, and Hannah Lynn was born happy and healthy nine months later on December 13, 2008.

Finally, a child was born! Relieved and joyful, Sara and David were ever thankful to finally hold one of their children in their arms. So, when Sara conceived for the fifth time a mere 13 months later, back to Dr. Storey she went to care for this baby, too.

The first and second trimesters went very well. Adhering to the doctor’s orders, their fifth child–a boy they named Carter–was growing steadily and healthily. However, things took a turn for the unimaginable in her 35th week.

A baby shower on August 27, 2009 (Five weeks before the due date) lent itself to mixed emotions. Sara had had a doctor’s appointment three days earlier that affirmed Carter was fine, and yet, she hadn’t felt him move much at all that day. Sara went through the motions of the celebration, but was very preoccupied. The following morning, she called the doctor to schedule another visit. She didn’t even tell David, thinking her fears were getting the best of her. Unfortunately, it was one of  their darkest days that would follow several more. The visit confirmed that tragically, Carter Alan’s heart was no longer beating. Later that same day, they induced labor and beheld his perfect, still little body in the early morning hours of August 29, 2009.  Doctors discovered that the umbilical cord had become wrapped and tangled around his legs, which had cut off all blood and oxygen supply.

Even in the midst of such heartache and grief, Sara conceived a few months later, and they were blessed with a sixth child, Abigail Faith, born happy and healthy in September 2010.

Suffice it to say, the trauma of Carter’s death is, among all of their losses, a distinct grief still observed. Going through a pregnancy nearly full-term (where, in many cases, babies survive with medical care after week 28), enduring the labor pains and recovery, and dreading the reality that they would only be able to hold the shell—a perfect shell—of the son they once had, has been the source of much sorrow to this day. 

*****

Luther suffered the loss of a child–a daughter, Magdalena, when she was only twelve years old. What is so striking in his writings proceeding her death is his immediate, unshakeable confidence (“I rejoice that she is living with her Father in sweet sleep until that Day.1”), and pangs of melancholy that he remained here on earth. (“ ...the world’s contempt and hatred for the Word of Grace makes me disgusted with life and seeing anything in this horrible Sodom.2”).

Incidentally, Sara and David seem to have responded in kind. Sara shared with me two passages of Scripture that have comforted them since Carter’s death.

People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.Luke 18: 15-17

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5: 3-5

What bittersweet joy the unshakeable confidence God has given Sara and David in the midst of such tragedies. It is truly a gift borne solely out of God’s Word–namely the Word-made-flesh, Jesus; who has called all believers out of darkness and into his marvelous light. It is Jesus who gives us faith. It is Jesus who gives us hope.  And.it is Jesus who beckons the little children –yes, Emma, Lily, Joshua and Carter–unto him into eternity. Just as God told Jeremiah He knew him before he was formed in the womb, (Jer. 1:5) so too, God knows all of His children! 

God remembers the Janes family and continueally abides with them as He does all His people, through His means of grace.  Trudging this weary, earthly trail together, God gives us the strength to carry on to our blessed ends and to bear each other’s burdens (Luke 5:6). If readers would like to contact Sara, she has offered her email address: wyjanes@gmail.com.

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.

God Gives Babies Faith

The following poem, originally written for children, articulates how we receive faith. Also, it hopes to answer questions that parents who’ve lost their little ones  might be pondering.  For my barren sisters, you are an integral means by which God uses to bring the faith to the Church. Scripture highlights and supports each stanza, and the explanation at the end attempts to fill in any gaps. By God’s grace, may this poem edify and encourage us in the comfort of the Gospel.   – Melissa DeGroot

 

 Before the world was made,

God had us all in mind.

Even before we strayed

A union was designed.

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love.” Ephesians 1:4

Some think faith is hard

to have at certain stages

But God tells us the truth

Jesus ignores ages.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:15-16

As babies grow in wombs,

Miracles have begun.

Our Father creates life,

So we might know His Son.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13

All babies (and we) need Jesus,

Since sin has entered all.

Though babes look cute and sweet.

We’re all part of the Fall.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Romans 3:23-24

Good news! There’s forgiveness

Even when in the womb.

So as God’s Word is spoken

There’s rescue from sin’s gloom!

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139: 14

And babies can have faith,

when they are very small.

They need not yet be born,

Or to be very tall!

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke 1:41

Since babies need protection,

God makes his presence known.

His angels always guarding.

They’re never left alone.

Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 18:10

God also gives them parents,

To bring them to the Word

So when they are at home or Church,

The voice of God is heard!

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

God also teaches parents

Bring children to the font.”

So they may be baptized.

More gifts, who doesn’t want?

Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[1] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Matt. 28:20

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” Galatians 3:26-27

His gifts are never ending

In the world and Church

Just because they’re babies

God won’t leave them in the lurch.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.” Psalm 139: 1-2

How little ones believe?

What a miracle, too!

The Holy Spirit brings them Peace

To know the cross is true!

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” Matthew 11:25

As you can see, babies are

quite precious in God’s eyes.

They need not know how to speak,

He loves them in their cries.

but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14

God seeks the babies out,

This is just what He does.

He creates faith in them

And loves them, just because.

You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.” Psalm 139:5-6

For Parents/Caregivers-Faithful Christians

God is certainly at work in, with and under children, even before they are brought to the baptismal font. When a baby is conceived, we recognize that God the Father is the Creator of this life. The blessing and power of God’s Word is that He shapes the faith in all of us, no matter how old we are.

God’s Word does instruct us to be baptized, no matter what age, in order that we may point to yet another gift and promise that our loving God provides…namely the certainty of Christ clothing us in His righteousness unto eternity. But it is not necessary for faith-for those who may worry about the faith of children in miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death. As Christians, we look to God’s promises in these instances, namely that His Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11) and His angels are guiding and directing all little ones to receive faith in Jesus (Matt. 18:10). While baptism gives us the certainty of eternal life, Christian parents can always declare the hope of the resurrection for children who die before them if baptism is not present. This is always our comfort; in what God does in and through His Word, not what we or our babies do.

We understand some parents may not be Christian. Also, some children may just have one parent, or none at all. God is certainly watching over all of these things. Parents are a gift and we pray children are given intimate and faithful instruction in God’s Word by them. However, faith in Christ can and does certainly come apart from parents through other means; pastors, guardians, teachers, friends…Whomever God sees fit to use for the sake of the Gospel in these young lives. My barren sisters, this means you. You are an integral means  called by God to love and cherish the Church, for mutual comfort and support in Christ. 

May this story be a comfort to all who question how faith comes to us and little ones. God Himself, by Himself and His means, makes Christians of people. He is faithfully after the helpless, lost, weak and suffering. This, of course, includes everyone… and especially babies.

Praise and thanks be to God!