How to Care for the Barren

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

Infertility Ethics Symposium in Review

Here are a few intriguing quotes from last Saturday’s Infertility Ethics Symposium.

(mea culpa: I took notes the old-fashioned way – by hand – during the symposium, so please forgive any unintended inaccuracy in my quotes.)

 

From Rev. William Cwirla’s “Be Fruitful and Multiply: Fertility Ethics Viewed in the Light of Creation and Redemption”:

“We have never said no when it comes to the gift of children, and God has never said yes.”

“Jesus heals a myriad of diseases in His ministry, but He never healed a barren couple.”

“Anything that shapes our identity apart from Christ is idolatry.”

“We are stewards and we are priests of God’s creation.”

“Vocation is not the location of our identity but the location of our service.”

 

From Rev. Dr. James I. Lamb’s “IVF: from Created to Creator”:

“I believe the place we start as theologians in a discussion of IVF is the incarnation of our Lord…We go to a fallopian tube in the virgin Mary.”

“We have a Savior who was an embryo once.”

“God wants every person, every embryo, to be splashed by the waters of Baptism.”

 

From Rev. Christopher S. Esget’s “Pastoral Care for Those Experiencing Infertility and Miscarriages”:

“Barrenness is not just a diagnosis. It is an ongoing reality.”

“We must be sensitive to the unintentionally excluded.”

“We must preach contentment in the vocations we have, not in the ones we wish we had.”

 

From Rev. Dr. Robert W. Weise’s “Embryo Adoption: Helping or Hurting My Neighbor?”:

“The one-flesh union is the blessing that God gives the union of husband and wife. We have it physically and spiritually.”

“Surrogacy is a substitute. This is a disconnect in the marital union.”

“Embryo adoption is troubling, because it involves surrogacy…and the death of embryos.”

 

Interested in knowing more about what was said by our six presenters at the symposium? Look for a downloadable document of the presentations on LCMS’s website sometime within the next few months.

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.

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

 

Symposium Schedule

What do IVF, embryo adoption, and miscarriage all have in common?

They’re topics which will be addressed at the Infertility Ethics Symposium at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis on Saturday, November 8th. Please, do everything you can to make sure your pastor can attend.

Here is an itinerary of the day’s events as well as descriptions of the papers which will be presented.

You can find out more information about the symposium as well as how to reserve your pastor’s spot by visiting LCMS Life Ministry’s website.

It’s time for the Church to speak on these things.

2014_Infertility_Symposium_Poster

I Remember You

16003520-medical-recordIt had been years since my last ultrasound, but I was talking with the ultrasound technician at my doctor’s appointment. She and I were chatting about our families and how things were going for each of us. After a bit, she said, “I remember you, Kristi.”

Stunned by her comment, I asked, “Why would you remember me?”

With certainty, she replied, “Well, there are quite a few women who come here with their third, fourth, or fifth pregnancy. Their ultrasounds are fine, so I don’t really remember them. Your situation was unique and also sorrowful. I prayed for you.”

And there I was comforted. While that wasn’t the reason I wanted to be remembered, I was still grateful. “Thank you for your prayers. I am thankful that God has given me so many blessings.”

We went on to talk about God’s good plan for His children. While we do not understand God’s timing, we trust that He will only do what is best for us.

Pregnancy News

Belly of pregnant woman with pink bowIt is always good news when someone is pregnant. It’s just not always easy news.

For my barren sisters, it’s good to remember that God’s giving of the gift of children is good, right, and salutary. Children really are a blessing, a heritage, and a good fruit of the one-flesh union of marriage, even when they are not given to us. Sometimes, the best-kept secret in all of this is that we GET to join in on the celebration of someone else’s pregnancy, because it’s really the way things are supposed to be. It’s okay to rejoice at something going right in this life and at the devil being thwarted.

For all of you kind, compassionate mothers who are trying to figure out a way to tell the good-but-not-always-easy news of your pregnancy to your suffering barren sisters, here is something which might help.

This Just in…

Woman Praying in ChurchThere was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children because she never elevated her cervix after intercourse.

Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of theLord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb through the estrogenic, BPA-laced plastics in which she stored her food.[a] And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb because of too much exercise, specifically running. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat corn-fed beef. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose to meditate and visualize her mother-destiny. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your deserving servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart, “I will be a mother, I will be a mother, I will be a mother! I claim my mother-destiny, right now!”; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit and body. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink nor anything dairy, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation over my undeserved barrenness.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes because of my fervent prayers.” Then the woman went her way and ate a vegan diet supplemented with Omega 3’s, calcium citrate, and probiotics, and her face was no longer sad.

19 They rose early in the morning, began the adoption process, and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah and relaxed. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife who made sure to take two teaspoons of cough syrup before intercourse, and the Lord remembered her because of her good deeds and pious prayer life20 And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord and earned him by my great faith.”[b] 1 Samuel 1:1-20 (ESV)

I confess: I added all of those red words myself.

You may not realize it, but whenever you tell a barren woman she will get pregnant by doing x, y, and z, you are adding a bunch of red words to the Word of God, too. You are promising something our Lord has not promised.

Here’s the truth: Hannah was barren, but the LORD remembered her out of mercy for us all. He opened this undeserving barren woman’s womb so that she would conceive and bear a son who would anoint David, the king and savior of Old Testament Israel, and effectively point us straight to Jesus, the King and Savior of the world!

And no red words were required in the working of this miracle.