Grief

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:

 

“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.

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

Coming this May…

Eight years have passed since I first began writing He Remembers the Barren, and the time is ripe for a second edition. I am thrilled to announce that Emmanuel Press will be publishing this revised, expanded edition.

Why bother with a second edition? I have grown in my knowledge and understanding of the topic of barrenness, both through personal experience and study, and I would like my confession of the theology of the cross in the book to proclaim more clearly how our heavenly Father disciplines us, His dear children, through the gift of suffering in this life. I also feel compelled to better and further address the topic of adoption and the ethical issues surrounding in vitro fertilization and other such procedures utilized in the field of infertility medicine.

Much of the original book’s content will remain the same, though I am making revisions – some minimal and some more significant – to every chapter. I am also composing new chapters as well as an appendix of shorter questions-and-answers addressing concerns frequently expressed by those wishing to have children and the loved ones who wish to serve them. The second edition will also contain discussion questions written by Rebecca Mayes, making it more accessible for use in group study.

One more thing: acclaimed artist Edward Riojas is painting the cover for the second edition. While the poignant, raw emotion evoked by the first cover will forever be my first love, the artwork designed for the second edition is exquisitely tender and beautiful and honest and hopeful and Christological and perfect. It is a better match for the book’s content, and I fully approve of their marriage. You are going to love it.

Look for He Remembers the Barren, Second Edition to be released in May.

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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Bearing the Pain

pain

A co-worker sent me the link below. It’s an eye-opening account of what it’s like to live with chronic pain. I would imagine many readers of this blog will be able to relate to Christine Miserandino’s descriptions. Perhaps it’s not physical pain you carry with you each day – perhaps it’s emotional or psychological. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, if it occurs each day, or for certain seasons of your life, you know what it means to wear the “I’m doing fine” mask, and it makes you weary and feeling closed off from the rest of the “healthy” world. See Christine’s unique analogy here: ButYouDon’tLookSick.com.

Allow me to put things into perspective, though.

First, from Romans 8:18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

And second, from the Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 423:

Jesus, refuge of the weary,

Blest Redeemer whom we love,

Fountain in life’s desert dreary,

Savior from the world above:

Often have Your eyes, offended,

Gazed upon the sinner’s fall;

Yet upon the cross extended,

You have borne the pain of all.

So Much Death

My heart can barely hold the grief.

It leaks out of my eyes as I bow my head in church. I’ve learned to pray with my eyes open, so that the tears drop straight to the floor and not onto my cheeks and clothes in tell-tale streaks.

It shudders from my lungs in seismic waves as Pastor reads the Gospel lesson. I’ve learned to hold my breath until my chest burns, camel-clutching my wayward diaphragm into submission.

It squeezes out of my larynx in pathetic whimpers as I sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I’ve learned not to program “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the Sunday school children lest they witness more sorrow in Advent than their parents want to explain on the drive home.

But my eyes, my lungs, my larynx – all rebels, every one. They get the better of me every Advent, because I know of more children dead than born.

So much death! How can I bear it?

And, as happens every year, I look to the image of my Lord as a tiny baby in the manger, and I remember, “So much life!”

I cannot bear it, so Jesus bears it for me. He is born to conquer death for my sake and for yours. He gives us life everlasting, and He gives it abundantly.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

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