Adoption

All of the children

I wasn’t even there when it happened.

Board elections of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) had finally wrapped up for the day, so I was walking back from the convention floor to the press room, tallies in hand, intent on finishing my story for the Reporter within the hour.

It was then that my husband texted me:

They’re trying to move [Resolution] 3-04 to the floor.

I stopped in the empty convention center hallway and stared at my phone. What? Floor Committee 3 wasn’t even on the agenda for that day. And honestly, after two straight hours of recording election results, my brain couldn’t even recall what Resolution 3-04 was.

IVF. Voting now on the motion. No discussion. Gonna pass.

It suddenly hit me what was happening.

This was the resolution, the one that had been five years in the making; the one Rebecca Mayes and I had talked about with pastors at roundtable after roundtable; the one the sainted +Maggie Karner+ and I had discussed as being so necessary that LCMS Life Ministry ended up hosting two Infertility Ethics Symposiums at our Synod’s seminaries; the one Stephanie Neugebauer and the Sanctity of Human Life Committee had made a priority for the good of the church.

This was the resolution that asked our Synod president to assign a task force to study issues relating to procreation, fertility, and care for the unborn. This was the resolution that asked our church to study these matters and, God willing, to speak on them.

My husband had warned me earlier that, with the amount of business in need of being covered at this year’s convention, it most likely wouldn’t make it to the convention floor, but some blessed soul – Chris from Texas, I later learned – took it upon himself to make a motion from the floor outside of the orders of the day.

I quickened my pace to get to the press room. The convention was being live-streamed there. If I hurried, I just might make it in time.

“What’s happening?” I asked, turning around the corner and dropping my bag at my table.

Several reporters looked up at me with blank faces, fully engrossed in the stories they were currently writing on other convention business. No one had been watching the live stream.

IVF task force 95.75% adopted. Thanks be to God!

It was such a quiet, unassuming moment in time. I stared at my phone in disbelief, and then I looked up at the large television screen standing against the far wall. The convention chair was calmly moving the assembly on to the next order of business as if mountains had not just been moved. No cheers were thrown into the air by delegates, no applause rippled across the convention floor. The moment passed just as quickly and discreetly as it had come, and my senses simply weren’t fast enough in the chase.

I looked around at the other reporters, all diligently working, and I did what any other barren woman would do. I stepped out into the hall and cried as quietly as I could. I cried for all of the children frozen in liquid nitrogen; I cried for all of the children abandoned in fertility clinics; I cried for all of the children aborted; I cried for all of the children waiting to be loved, respected, and parented.

And I cried in thanksgiving that my church body is going to pay attention to them.

The LORD of all life be praised!

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Infertility Ethics Symposium

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On November 7th, Christians gathered from across the country at Concordia Theological Seminary to discuss the cross of barrenness, adoption, pastoral care for the barren, and issues of ethical contention surrounding assisted reproductive technologies.

Presentations given at the symposium included:

  • “The Cross of Barrenness” by Katie Schuermann
  • “In Vitro Fertilization” by Dr. Donna Harrison
  • “Adoption: What Are Children to Us?” by Rev. Philip Zielinski
  • “The Ethics of Snowflake Adoption” by Rev. Scott Stiegemeyer*
  • “Pastoral Care for Those Experiencing Infertility” by Rev. Michael Salemink

Thank you to LCMS Life Ministry for sponsoring this free event and for supporting the church in its ongoing conversation about infertility ethics.

If you would like to hear any of the presentations listed above, you can access the audio files here.

* The authors of this blog are not in full agreement with conclusions made in this presentation regarding embryo adoption’s relationship to the sanctity of marriage and the IVF industry. We are prayerfully considering writing more on this topic in the future.

The Way It Goes Sometimes

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We took our nine-year-old niece out for supper the other night.

“Do you want to be a mom?” she asked from the backseat of the car.

“Oh, yes, but God has not given us the gift of children.”

“You can adopt, then.”

“We’ve tried, but it hasn’t worked out in such a way as to make us parents.”

“Huh?” Her adorable, Asian brow furrowed in my rearview mirror. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that we’ve tried to adopt children, but it just doesn’t work out for everybody. God has not given us the gift of children through adoption.”

“But- ” she chewed on this bit of news for a moment. It wasn’t the first time we’d talked about it, but it was the first time we’d talked about it alone. “I thought that you can just…I mean, isn’t it…? Don’t you just…? Oh. I guess I don’t know how it works.”

I found her admission of consternation to be refreshing – even comforting – especially coming from someone who was herself adopted.

For I often feel that way about adoption myself.

The Hoary Head*

The day was overcast, cold, and windy. I fumbled with the transferring of groceries from my Aldi cart to the empty bags in the back of the van. My two-year old sat in the cart, playfully kicking me with his legs as I did my work, adding to the annoyance of the morning. Forgot to wear gloves, didn’t bring enough bags, forgot to unload all the junk from the back of the van so I’d have room for groceries, child won’t stop whining….

Apparently I didn’t do a very good job of hiding my aggravation.

I heard the rattle of cart wheels behind me and then noticed the rattling stop as they reached my location. I waited for a minute or so and then glanced over my shoulder. There stood an elderly man in a thin coat and jeans, a patient smile parting the deep creases on his face. He held out a quarter and asked if he could take my cart for me. His face held my gaze for some time as I marveled at his resemblance to my own grandfather, who had left this world years ago. He was smaller in stature and his face was much gentler, but the similarity was enough to tug at my heart. With a cart already in his hand, it was obvious he was just relieving me from having to return my own.

“Oh–thank you,” I smiled back. “I’ll try and hurry.” I fumbled even more, feeling his silent presence at my back and knowing that he was just as cold as my son and I were.

I finished the unloading and closed the door. In a feeble attempt at being witty I wheeled the cart around towards the man and said with a smile, “Did you want the kid, too, or just the cart?”

Without missing a beat and without the slightest change in his kindly expression he responded: “If my wife were still with me we’d probably take you up on that. We never had any of our own. She had five misses and the doctor told us we shouldn’t try for any more.”

Somehow in the midst of him sharing his story the child was removed, the cart and money exchanged, and then I uttered a weak but sincere “Thank you” before he shuffled off, still smiling. I don’t remember giving him any other response. I felt speechless.

As I drove out of the parking lot, the tears came. Tears of embarrassment for sticking my foot in my mouth. Tears of gratitude for the whiny boy in the backseat. Tears of guilt as I recognized, yet again, how often this gift is taken for granted. Tears of sorrow for loved ones with an empty back seat. But mostly, tears of awe at being in the presence of such kindness, such an awareness of other’s struggles, and such thoughtfulness from someone who had lost so much. Even in what may be the last decade of his life, he was looking for ways to serve, to give out of what some might see as emptiness. But he didn’t look empty to me at all. I have a strong hunch that Someone was keeping him full.

* “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” Proverbs 16:31, KJV

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Not All Mothers

I recently received this note from a sister in Christ. It brought me great comfort in my barrenness:

In our household we have come to love the story of Ruth. [My husband] teaches it on a cycle to the youth of our church. One of his main points is that it is as much Naomi’s story as Ruth’s and Boaz’, for it is the story of the Promise of the Seed and Naomi’s Redeemer. 

In the last chapter, when Boaz’ and Ruth’s son is born, the village women remark that Ruth was as good as ten sons to Naomi. This is true, isn’t it? Through this child comes the continuation of what will be the Davidic line resulting in David’s King. How wondrous! And yet Ruth is not Naomi’s daughter and blood relation. Instead, upon having seen and tasted her mother-in-law’s faith in her home country, Ruth is a daughter by confession. “Your people will be my people; your God, my God.”

Not all mothers give birth to their daughters.

Naomi, Ruth and Obed 1876-7 by Thomas Matthews Rooke 1842-1942

Gift Language in Action

IMG_4866 copyYesterday’s Sunday school lesson was about Abraham’s visitors from heaven, and this conversation went down in my 4th-5th grade class:

Me: God gave Abraham and Sarah the gift of a child, even in their old age. You may have noticed that Pastor and I have not been given the gift of children. Is God going to give us a child?

Tall Girl: Yes!

Reflective Boy: Well…

Me: Think of it this way, why did God give Abraham and Sarah the gift of a child?

Insightful Boy: Because He promised them a child.

Me: Exactly! God gave Abraham and Sarah the gift of Isaac, because God was fulfilling a promise that He made. Has God promised Pastor and me in His Word that He will give us the gift of a child?

(silence; Petite Girl’s mouth hangs open in careful thought)

Tall Girl: Yes, because even if you don’t have a child, you will adopt a baby and get a child that way. That’s how it works.

Me: Adopted children are gifts from God, too. Pastor and I want to adopt children, but God has not given us children that way, either. Neither has He promised us in His Word that He will do so. We are different from Abraham and Sarah that way. But do you want to hear the good news? Whether or not God gives Pastor, me, or you the gift of children someday, we are already blessed. Do you know why? Because when God kept His promise to Abraham and Sarah, He was also keeping His promise to us. Think about it. Isaac was born and then another child in the next generation and then another child in the next generation and on and on until Who was born?

Insightful Boy: Jesus.

Me: Exactly. In keeping His promise to give Abraham and Sarah a child, God was keeping His promise to give all of us the Child Jesus to save us from our sins. That’s why Pastor and I and you can rejoice even if we are never given the gift of another child.

Just a Couple of Monkeys

I have a confession to make.

(WARNING: my personal, despicable depravity is about to be on full display.)

I am sometimes comforted to hear that God doesn’t just withhold the gift of children from me but also from others.

(Ugh. I know. I apologize for my wretchedness, and I’m hanging my head in utter, red-faced shame.)

It’s just so nice to receive a bit of empathetic correspondence from a sister in Christ and learn that I am not the only childless monkey in the cage being studied and analyzed by curious pedestrians as the exotic species that I am. Thank you, Beth, for hanging out with me and swinging on some ropes for awhile:

I was given your book, He Remember the Barren, and found great comfort in it. My husband and I have been married 16 years, have three children in heaven and none in our home to raise despite years of trying to have biological and adoptive children.  

I just listened to your June interview with Rev. Wilken and laughed in commiseration when you mentioned that women go through a mid-life crisis a little early. I agree that we face our ultimate barrenness a bit early but in the past few months, since we have closed our adoption file, I’ve been thinking of my mid-life crisis in the sense of “empty nest syndrome.” I am facing a few years earlier than most the question of “What’s next?” What does God have planned for me in this next part of life as I grieve the end of dreams of motherhood and embrace a home filled with two. He is beginning to answer those questions but as always His plan unfolds over time and I must trust, obey, and keep listening.  

Amen, and may God bless and keep you, Beth, in this empty-nesting season of life. xo

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Not What You Expect

MP900382859Barrenness is and always will be a bad thing. It is evidence of sin in the world, a dysfunction of God’s good creation, a deviation from how He created things to be.

However, I am blessed to suffer from barrenness.

Really, I am, for I used to think I could get pregnant whenever and however I wanted. In my barrenness, I have been properly chastened and disciplined, for now I know the truth that I can do no such thing apart from God’s blesséd giving.

I am blessed to suffer from childlessness.

Really, I am, for I used to believe the world’s promise that my own desire to be an adoptive mother and my own good works of planning, saving, seeking, advocating, training, earning, praying, and hoop-jumping would grant me success in adopting a child. In my childlessness, I have been properly chastened and disciplined, for now I know the truth – the whole truth – that God really is the Giver of the gift of all children.

Now, in my lowly estate, I can boldly confess this Biblical truth to all of you:

But for God’s wise, blesséd giving, none of us would be parents of conceived or adopted children, and we are wise to trust His prudent allocation. For, He promises to be wise in our stead and for our sake.

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD.”

It Didn’t Work Out

I’m not a huge fan of this phrase.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with it. I just don’t think it fully confesses the whole truth when it comes to adoption.

So whenever people ask me about the status of our current adoption situation, I prefer to say:

“It didn’t work out in such a way as to make us parents.”

Because it did actually work out.

Just not the way we wanted.

Thanks be to God that, even though He has not given us the gift of children, He gives us the gift of Faith which trusts in His working all things for good in the lives of His children. Even the children we don’t get to parent. Even us.

What joy and peace can be found in Christ Jesus!

Father Watching His Infant Sleep