Author: Rebecca Mayes

Wrestling With God, Against God

Sad Teenage GirlI remember hearing a sermon preached years ago that made such an impression on me that I have thought of it many times over the years and wished that I still had a copy of it. I believe it was called, “Wrestling With God, Against God,” with the corresponding lesson being Genesis 32 when Jacob wrestled with God incarnate. The message stayed with me because it was something I had never heard vocalized before, though I had felt it: sometimes in life we find ourselves in situations where God seems to be against us. No matter what we do we just can’t get a break. It’s as if we, like Jacob, were battling with a force who we thought wanted the best for us, but who won’t let us by to get to the destination that we seek. We are angry that we can’t proceed, we’re exhausted by the fight, and we are confused about who this contender really is: our friend or our foe?

My friend Sara, who lost her one-year-old daughter last May, has seemed a pillar of strength through these many years of dealing with serious health issues for two of her children. She has written beautiful posts that encourage and uplift her readers, even through her tragedies. She knows what Scripture has to say about God’s love and compassion. She can repeat it well to her readers. But in her recent post she confesses:

Round moons, and all the tulips in Holland couldn’t change the fact that this life of pain and sorrow was threatening to swallow me.  From where I sat, in the throes of depression, the truths I’d believed, rehearsed, written and proclaimed couldn’t gain traction.

Sara is wrestling with God, against God. Even she, who was and is a model to so many who are experiencing their own trials, has arrived at that point.

Jesus’ own cousin, the one of whom He said, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist,” (Matt. 11:1), sent word through his disciples from his prison cell to find out from Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). Some commentaries say that John did this only to prove a point to his disciples; he never doubted Jesus’ mission. After all, he’d been at Jesus’ Baptism when the heavens had opened and the Father Himself had spoken. But some pastors I’ve talked to don’t buy this. John was in prison, suffering, and Jesus, his own relative who had proved to have power from on high, was apparently doing nothing. Is it possible that John, great as he was, reached a point where he, too, was wrestling with God, against God?

You can get to that point and still be a Christian. You can shake your fists and yell and feel forsaken and beaten down and still be “with God.” Because He isn’t going anywhere. In our frustration we can beg God to let us by and yet simultaneously we beg Him not to leave us. When your heart doesn’t feel the joy that was meant to accompany all of God’s promises to you in His Word, He doesn’t turn His back on you. When you demand answers for why this is happening to you, He may not give them to you, but He won’t plug His ears either. Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller made an excellent point in his Issues, Etc. radio interview following the shootings in Aurora, CO (paraphrasing): “Jesus doesn’t always give us the answers—but He always gives us Himself.” He gives us Himself sacramentally, when He is literally poured out for us into the chalice from which we drink. He gives us Himself through the absolution spoken by our pastors, “I forgive you all yours sins…” He gives us Himself through our fellow Christians, who reach out to us in love and concern.

Sometimes you just reach the bottom. All your efforts to feel better have failed. The hope is gone. And yet the Hope is not gone. Jesus is at the bottom, too. How you feel about His promises or the plans He may have for your life do not in any way change the validity of those promises, the efficacy of His Words, or His real and ever-present love for you. It’s easy to tell you to take comfort, to have faith, to “hold on.” It’s easy to tell you what to do or what to feel. But when you’re at the bottom, sometimes you can’t do or feel anything. And it’s OK to be honest with God about this.

Lord, I can’t wrestle anymore. I have nothing left. Dear Jesus, please carry me. Please give me the gifts You promise, even if I can’t receive them joyfully yet. Even if I don’t feel comforted. Keep giving me Yourself so that I may not drown in my sorrows in the bottom of this pit, but float to the top on all that You have poured out for me. Stay with me, even when I despair. Amen.

A Bit of Overdue Recognition

Sabre of BoldnessThis evening, at the annual Gottesdienst party that took place as part of symposia week at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., our very own Katie Schuermann received the Sabre of Boldness award. She is the first woman and first layperson to ever win the award. Here is the reason she was nominated:

Mrs. Schuermann is author of the book He Remembers the Barren, and had spoken to groups of women burdened like her with the affliction of barrenness. In the course of these meetings she soon found herself hearing from women who had turned to in vitro fertilization as a last resort to ease their pain. In spite of the sensitive nature of the matter, she felt constrained to tell the truth in love about the unacceptability of in vitro fertilization. For us who know that life begins at conception, there is really no ethical alternative than to reject in vitro fertilization, in whose process fertilized embryos are always discarded. For her to have the courage to say so in such circumstances, and to speak up for life, for which she has endured much grief and rejection, is commendable.

The award was presented by the Rev. Chaplain Jonathan Shaw and the Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt, editors of Gottesdienst: The Journal of the Lutheran Liturgy.

Congratulations Katie!! I’m sure your readers would like to give you a standing ovation to further honor your work. Thank you for all you do!

The Downton Abbey Dilemma

Downton AbbeyI’m a Downton Abbey addict. I don’t really watch prime time television at all, you see, except that someone turned me onto this PBS Masterpiece series from Great Britain a few years ago and I just love, love, love it. But there wasn’t really ever a good reason to blog about this passion on a site about barrenness–until now.

This past week’s episode included a scene where Lady Mary is discussing how to change the home’s old nursery into a sitting room for herself and her new husband Matthew. Matthew, who heard that Lady Mary had been to see the doctor recently, gently touches his wife’s arm and, with a twinkle in his eye, wants to know when they should possibly be thinking about using the nursery as a nursery (as if she had some kind of control over this in 1920). Lady Mary nervously shrugs off his comment and casually replies, “Oh, there will be time enough for that later.” In true Downton Abbey form, this brief exchange foreshadows a new storyline that will inevitably take more shape in upcoming episodes. The audience is left to ponder these two questions: 1) Is Lady Mary embarrassed that she is not yet pregnant after being married for several months now? or 2) Is Lady Mary not particularly interested in having children and knows that this attitude will not sit well with her husband?

The dilemma that I face is that I may never know the answers. This is a difficult pill for an addict to swallow.

Why can’t I just tune in next week and the week after to find out? No, my TV is not broken, nor do I have any social responsibilities scheduled for Sunday nights. It’s because the producers of the show have decided to reintroduce the fact that one of the servants is gay, and his sexuality (which was implied but rather brushed over at the beginning of the series) is now going to be featured as a storyline. In watching some interviews with the cast on YouTube I discovered a little more about what’s to come, seeing as how there is a new and rather attractive footman who’s joined the show who has caught the eye of more than just the housemaids. There won’t just be talk anymore about homosexuality. There will be scenes. Downton Abbey is about to join the rest of prime time’s sleazy line-up.

The thing that gets me is that one of the main reasons I adored the show was because it takes place during an era where honor, integrity, and morality were thought of highly. Of course it wouldn’t be modern television if some of the characters didn’t fall from grace, but these indiscretions were not shown, and there was regret and embarrassment after the fact. There was confession and forgiveness demonstrated within the family. I found that refreshing. So refreshing, in fact, that the disgust over the upcoming storyline is not enough to make me truly want to wash my hands of the whole program. I keep pondering the other storylines and it kills me when I think about not being able to follow them. This is what addiction means.

I’m finding that these kinds of dilemmas are becoming more common for the modern Christian, and because there is so much good wrapped up with a little bit of filth, we often feel it’s ridiculous to make such a fuss. Take for instance a mother of an only son who loves him so dearly and wants so desperately to keep peace within her family that she bites her tongue when he announces that he is living with his girlfriend. It’s not what she would have wanted and she knows it’s not right, but he’s such a good son and a responsible young man, etc. They’ll probably get married anyway.  Or what about the father whose daughter has suffered for so long with barrenness that he sees no point in asking too many questions when she announces that she is pregnant following an IVF procedure. He wouldn’t have recommended this procedure, but she hadn’t asked for his advice and the procedure is over so why bring it up? Afterall, a child is on the way!

Living the Christian life is hard. Having an active conscience is stressful. It makes you unpopular and you often feel like you’re missing out on the fun. Don’t think I haven’t tried to find ways around this problem. It’s very possible that Downton Abbey may not focus on the gay servant next week. I don’t know when this is going to happen. I might be able to get a few more episodes in. I could find a friend whose conscience is not so burdened and ask for the summaries after each episode to make sure I know what’s going on. Or I could find the summaries online somewhere, I’m sure.

Such are the musings of an addict.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions (addictions??) of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:14-19 ESV

Wow. I’ve been “ransomed from the futile ways” of my forefathers “with the precious blood of Christ.” This is vivid imagery. And speaking of imagery, I know that, just as I ponder all the possible outcomes of the innocent storylines of Downton, if I keep watching this show I will be thinking about all the storylines, and those scenes that are inevitably coming will be imprinted on my mind. Do I want to be thinking about these things?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 ESV

If I find out that the offending storyline ends at some point soon, I may make my way back to the Abbey. I know there is a season 4 coming up. Perhaps there’s still hope. In the meantime, I’ll have more time to read on Sunday evenings I guess. Oh, but how I will miss them all!

True Sisterhood is Pew Sisterhood: A Review of Katie’s Newest Book

204152The term “sisterhood” conjures up images of sororities, family gatherings, or that classic song from the movie White Christmas (“…there were never such devoted sisters”). Throughout a woman’s life she meets other females like her, women who are “in the same boat” at the time and can relate to what she’s going through in life. This blog is a prime example of a place where sisterhood is fostered and common experiences shared. Our readers feel a connection with one another and a sense of belonging.

This is a good thing, of course, but it’s important to realize the pitfalls of exclusive sisterhood. Katie Schuermann’s newest book, Pew Sisters, is a wake-up call to all of us who may be tempted to think only of the crosses that we bear and forget the battles that other women around us may be waging. Pew Sisters, which is arranged as a small group women’s Bible study, dives into the lives of twelve real women who experienced emotional, physical and spiritual trials in their pasts and were guided through these valleys by the loving hand of their Savior. This book is a reminder not only to open our eyes to those around us, but most importantly to fix our eyes “on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).

Pew Sisters exposes the secrets of the women you see each week in your own congregation. What often lies behind the practiced smiles and the “Oh, I’m fine” responses to your flippant “How are you?” are hardships. Katie so delicately reveals these hardships from the lives of women she has personally known at different times in her life. These women, who have so courageously allowed their stories to be told, do not hold back their faults or cover over poor decisions they may have made. Because of their honesty, Pew Sisters does not shy away from showing both saint and sinner. This realistic perspective helps the reader better identify with the woman who is highlighted in each session by bringing to the surface those sins and struggles that are common to so many of us—worry, regret, weariness, guilt, anger, doubt, despair—and documenting those specific ways in which the woman was comforted, found peace, or was encouraged. Sometimes the help came through her spouse, friend, or pastor, but it always came from the mercy and grace of Christ Jesus, revealed to her from His Holy Word.

This help comes to us, too, as we follow along with the study questions at the end of each story and eagerly turn to the study guide in the back to find out how Katie’s own pastors answered each question. The reader is not left to wonder if she is interpreting God’s Word correctly; she is coached by the professionals, those who have been trained and called to teach her what they have learned from years of study. This is an amazing addition to the Bible study: to be able to hear how two different theologians reflect upon those really tough questions about suffering and pain, forgiveness and hope.

What Pew Sisters will do for you, as a barren woman, is engage you in the very healthy practice of getting outside yourself and identifying with the sorrows of others. Maybe you’ve never been through a divorce, like Marianne, or dealt with the serious illness of a child, like Anna, or been diagnosed with cancer, like Christine. But you know some of the emotions they’ve experienced, and as a fellow member of the Body of Christ you have a connection with them—a sisterhood, if you will— that qualifies you to reach out in love. Katie even includes suggestions for how you can show this love to them in the “Moment in the Pew” sections that go along with each story.

It’s true that sharing in the suffering of another inevitably brings you both closer together. But Pew Sisters‘ intent is not to show the bond that exists between women who suffer in various ways. Rather it highlights the familial bond formed between us by our Baptisms and adoptions as daughters of our heavenly Father. This unity should motivate us to treasure each of those sisters in Christ who sit in front of, behind, or next to us on Sunday mornings. It should drive us to our knees in repentance for not caring for or about them, and in thanksgiving for those whom our Lord has sent to care for and about us.

My Prayer for You

Baby Jesus (2)This blessing was spoken last night during our Christmas Eve service. It is also my prayer for you, our dear readers, and my fellow hosts. May you all be filled to the full this coming year.

May He who by His incarnation gathered things earthly and heavenly into one, fill us with such joy that comes with the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. And the blessing of God Almighty–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–be upon you and remain with you always.

Merry Christmas!

No “L”

Several years ago I made an after-Christmas sale purchase that had been on my wish list for some time. It was a set of mantel stocking hangers in the form of a word, with a hanger beneath each letter. There were two sets left, one that said “PEACE,” and one that said “NOEL.” We only had three stockings to hang, so I thought “PEACE” was overkill. Since we knew we would try and have/adopt another child, I went with “NOEL” and tucked away the set for the following year. What a pleasant surprise it was to open our Christmas rubbermade containers eleven months later and remember that we finally had a lovely way of displaying our handmade (thank you mother-in-law!) stockings. But after a few days of admiring the display I realized we had a big problem.

The irony was profound. Every time I looked at our fireplace the bold letters shouted at me that there was, in fact, no “L.” The “L” was empty. It was empty the next year, too. And the next. What seemed at first like the perfect decoration turned into a painful reminder of what I thought was missing in our home.

Several years ago I started a Christmas journal in which I annually document important events from the previous year, Christmas wishes for the family, and updates on what was going on in our lives . Here are some excerpts that demonstrate what that “L” stood for in my mind during that time:

2009: I’m trying not to think about how far along I would be now, had the miscarriage not occurred in May. Several friends are due in January. It hurts, but I know God has another plan.

2010: We have a potential adoption coming up in March or April…wondering if it will actually happen… It’s all so exciting–we just pray that we’re able to bring this little boy home as planned. (See “A Change of Heart – Part 1“, “A Change of Hear t- Part 2“, and “A Change of Heart – Part 3” for more on this story.)

2011: No baby yet. Everything that has seemed like a remote possibility has fallen through. Sometimes it seems like it will never happen. I try not to think about it and just keep busy.

My wise husband, who only just recently found out that my fireplace mantel had been haunting me for several years, has pointed out that the pain inflicted by the one-letter-too-long mantel set was self-imposed. Why had I not spent the money earlier when there was more to choose from and just purchase “JOY”? After all, did our family of three not bring us great happiness? Did our cups (and stockings!) not overflow with just one child? Focusing on what I thought was missing was my own choice. Even though we had hopes and plans to adopt, our family may very well have been complete at three. “JOY” may have been the perfect word for us. He’s so right.

As it turned out, the Lord did eventually grant us another child. Last month I received an email from my dear mother-in-law regarding this baby: “Shall I make a stocking for J or did you have something else in mind?” she asked. Another stocking? I had completely forgotten about the “L”! The thought of draping a newly sewn, bright red stocking on the final hanger of the mantel set brought tears to my eyes. Although the court finalization for the adoption won’t occur until January, for me the seal that makes J truly part of this family is the ceremony of hanging that stocking. The word is complete.

It’s true that I should never have bought that set. We were not promised another child. Though we did not deserve him, God in His grace granted our request and gifted us J. The “L” no longer stands for longing, but rather reminds me of another Son, sent to an undeserving people as a gift, to hang his blood red body on a tree. I am reminded that the true meaning of “NOEL” is  “Christmas”. The Child who was promised has come so that I might have “L”ife.

Even though the hangers are full, I pray that in some way–though we have no idea how–God would eventually put us in the position to need “PEACE” in our family at Christmas time, too. Is this evidence of discontent again? Greed even? I don’t think so. Just a realization that the more “L”ove we experience, the more we seem to have to give away. But on the advice of my husband, I’m not buying any more stocking hangers until we really need them.

A Little Pun

Have crazy hormone treatments turned you into a roasted beet?

Do your eyes turn bloodshot when the gravity of your circumstances brings you to tears?

Are you red with embarrassment when you have to explain the vocation you currently hold?

Are your surgical scars still rosy?

Are your sins of envy, despair, and self-centeredness covered with the blood of Jesus?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you can consider yourself one of…

                              The Red Barren

Stop Fretting

For those of you out there who are still trying to figure out what God’s will is for you as a barren woman/couple so that you can carry it out, here is yet another reminder of what that phrase really means:

“Now that is the will of God which Christ both did and taught. Humility in conversation; steadfastness in faith; modesty in words; justice in deeds; mercifulness in works; discipline in morals; to be unable to do a wrong, and to be able to bear a wrong when done; to keep peace with the brethren; to love God with all one’s heart; to love Him in that He is a Father; to fear Him in that He is God; to prefer nothing whatever to Christ, because He did not prefer anything to us; to adhere inseparably to His love; to stand by His cross bravely and faithfully; when there is any contest on behalf of His name and honor, to exhibit in discourse that constancy wherewith we make confession; in torture, that confidence wherewith we do battle; in death, that patience whereby we are crowned; — this is to desire to be fellow-heirs with Christ; this is to do the commandment of God; this is to fulfill the will of the father.”               Cyprian (ANF 5:451).

You see, it’s not about whether to adopt or try and fix the reproductive system. It’s not about whether to do foster care. It’s not about domestic versus international. This is all adiophora (things neither forbidden nor commanded). Do what makes sense to you, what you’re financially and physically capable of and what is ethical. God’s will has to do with what Jesus did, perfectly, in our place, because we are incapable of fulfilling it.

“Thy will be done…”

Rest assured that it was. It still is. And it will continue to be.

So stop fretting and just make that decision.