Marriage

Jewelry Box

iurHe snuck up to my table when no one else was there.

“I know a bit of what you talk about.”

He paused, so I waited. I wasn’t quite certain what part of my presentation had resounded with him, and I didn’t want to assume.

“My only daughter was stillborn.”

Ah.

Something happens in my cheeks whenever someone tells me this. I don’t know what it looks like from the outside, but from the inside, it feels as if my skin releases from my muscles, as if my cheeks — in dutiful obedience to the speaker’s command — move into proper riverbed formation to direct the flow of any incoming tears.

“What was — is — your daughter’s name?”

“Sarah. She was born in 19 _ _.”

My breath caught in my throat. We looked at each other, and I debated whether or not to say it. What if I made things worse?

“That’s the year I was born. I am the age of your Sarah.”

He smiled and wiped a lone tear from one of his own riverbeds.

Then he told me stories. Stories about his work, about the many miscarriages his wife suffered after Sarah, about the way the children in his church would come up and start talking to him — “It hasn’t all been bad,” he assured. — about his love of working with wood, about how he made his wife’s casket when she died.

“She was the jewel of my life,” he said, “so I made a jewelry box to hold her.”

I don’t know how that gentleman felt when he eventually walked away from me, but I felt thankful that Sarah had — has — a father such as him to remember her and miss her and love her still.

 

He Restores My Soul

Emmanuel Press and I have been working hard on a little project the last few months. It brings me great pleasure to share with you — Finally! — that we are collaborating with a host of experienced female writers to bring you a new book, He Restores My Soul, set to release in October of 2018.

He Restores My Soul is primarily a book of empathy and encouragement for the cross-bearing Christian woman. Utilizing the timeless, rich comfort permeating Psalm 23, each chapter applies the theology of the cross to a particular kind of suffering, pointing the reader to a firm faith in God’s promises and a resounding joy in His mysterious work of conforming us “to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).

Various topics addressed within the pages of He Restores My Soul include living the Christian faith in the public arena, carrying a child in the womb who is not expected to live, mothering while working, regretting an abortion, struggling against same-sex attraction, caring for aging parents, children leaving the faith, living with mental illness, suffering from depression and chronic diseases, and raising children apart from one’s own upbringing.

Who are the other writers, you ask? Follow Emmanuel Press and me on Facebook in the months ahead to learn more.


About Emmanuel Press

Established by Rev. Michael and Janet Frese in 2004, Emmanuel Press is a publishing house dedicated to producing works essential to confessional Lutheran theology, including theological books, liturgical and catechetical resources, and ecclesiastical greeting cards. Emmanuel Press brings together treasures of Christian literature, exceptional artwork, and a clear confession of faith. Learn more at www.emmanuelpress.us or contact directly at emmanuelpress@gmail.com.

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Unto Us

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Two years ago, my husband gave me this icon for my birthday. At the time, I thought it a sweet gift but highly unseasonal. I’m a summer baby, after all, and it would be a full four months before Christmas came around again.

Still, I displayed the gift on our dining room buffet all through autumn, and I am so glad I did. Because one blustery day, I glanced up from my supper plate and saw the icon with eyes afresh. I looked past the star of wonder and the Christmas red and the Marian blue and saw only the words,

Unto Us a Child Is Born.

I couldn’t swallow my food for the lump in my throat.

I have read those words a hundred times and not just on the icon. All my Baptized life, I have known Isaiah‘s prophecy, and I am blessed to believe it. But not always have I known the prophecy as a barren woman.

Unto us.

Not just unto Mary and Joseph and Bethlehem and Israel, but unto us — me and my husband. A Child is born unto us, the barren couple.

The thing we’ve never known — the happy news we’ve never been able to trumpet to our family and friends — has been ours to share all along: Unto us a child is born! It’s a boy, and His name is Jesus. And He is born unto you, as well.

I now proudly display our happy birth announcement all year round.

Yes. No. Wait.

“Does God answer prayers? Does He really? I’ve been praying for many years for a child, and it’s taking FOREVER. I’m trusting you, God, and I’m ready for children. Please, Lord, if it be Your will.”img_8280

Dear sister in Christ, I’ve been there. For many-a-year I prayed and prayed that God would give children to my husband and me. In my sin-sick mind, I just knew that His answer would be YES…immediately. That was not to be the case. With the help of some medication to boost the proper hormones, our daughter was born. Thanks be to God! He had given a YES to our prayers.

A couple of years later we hoped to add to our little family again. This was not to be the case, though. After multiple appointments, my doctor suggested IVF. I was firmly against the procedure. That seemed like a strong NO to our prayer. It took some time for my husband and me to pursue adoption. There was so much to consider: change in family structure, the wait-time, the finances for adoption, the mental adjustments for everybody. After much prayer, we decided to try the adoption process, even though there were no guarantees.

The paperwork was huge, but we pressed on. We were told that the entire process for adopting a child from China would last 13-14 months. Hooray! We could wait that amount of time. Perhaps this was another YES to prayers. The process would take much longer than 14 months. The months stretched to years, many years. Could this be a WAIT from God? During the interim, we were given permission to try a domestic adoption as well. This seemed agreeable to us. After completing even more paperwork, our profile was circulated among pregnant moms. Nobody seemed interested in us. Was this to be another NO to our prayers? Our two-year commitment to that program expired, and we did not renew our file. Still we waited.

After seven long years of praying and mourning, God answered our prayers with a YES. On this day, five years ago, we received our referral for our second daughter! Prayers of thanksgiving and tears abounded!

We were informed that we would be traveling a few short months later. Due to several hiccups, our trip to receive our little girl occurred more like five months later. It turned out to be a time of more waiting. God used this time to prepare ourselves, our families, and our church family for the joys that were to come.

Dear sister, I share these things with you, not to teach you that God will answer your prayers in the way that you want. Rather, I want you to know that God answers your prayers in the way that He deems best. Our desires do not always line up with God’s plans for us, and we desperately would like to be the ones who run the show. Not so. God knows our needs and provides in the best ways possible. He really does.

During our family prayer time this morning, we sang the hymn “What God Ordains Is Always Good.” The words are comforting and encouraging. I commend them to you this day.

What God ordains is always good:
His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed In every need
Knows well how He will shield me;
To Him, then, I will yield me.

Lutheran Service Book 760:1

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:

 

The One Flesh Union

He puts the wedding ring on herWhenever discussing points of ethical contention surrounding the complex subject of assisted reproductive technology, there is usually one fundamental question in need of answering in the church: What exactly is the one flesh union of marriage?

Thank you to Dr. Gifford A. Grobien, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the D. Min. Program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN, for graciously thinking through this question and composing an answer for the benefit of our ongoing discussion of infertility medicine:

The instituting text for marriage is Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The English “flesh” translates well the Hebrew bāśār, meaning the material tissue of a creature. It is the organic, biological elements of a person. The Hebrew něp̄ěš refers to a complete creature, not just its flesh, but its flesh and life. For animals (e.g. Genesis 1:20) this includes its breath; for human persons this includes the soul or self. Něp̄ěš is not used in Genesis 2:23-25.

Thus marriage is characterized fundamentally not as a personal union, but as a fleshly union. This union is an organic, biological union of bodies. Marriage is, firstly, the becoming “one flesh,” not becoming one creature or person. Marriage is a union of flesh or bodies. Marriage is not identical to coitus, but coitus is constitutive of marriage.* When Jesus is questioned about divorce, he reminds his questioners about the nature of marriage as union of flesh, quoting Genesis 2:24 (Matthew 19:3-6; Mark 10:2-12). What, then, is this becoming one flesh? How is it different from becoming united in other ways?

Girgis, George, and Anderson (2010) explain that the union of flesh is not just bodily intimacy, in which body parts of one person surround or intermingle with the body parts of another person. Rather, a body serves natural life. The parts of a body coordinate to achieve biological purpose. For two people to have fleshly, or biological, union, “their bodies must be coordinated for some biological purpose of the whole” (p. 254). Nearly all biological, or fleshly, acts can be accomplished by one independent body—for example respiration, circulation, and digestion. Indeed, fleshly union with respect to any of these bodily acts is impossible. Only in coitus do two bodies act for one biological function.

Coitus enacts a unique fleshly existence and accompanying purpose of procreation. Alone, the reproductive system of one person cannot reproduce. Coitus brings together two bodies in a fleshly union to make possible the singular biological act of procreation.

Any bodily touching that is not coitus—even other touching of a sexual nature—is not true bodily union but only juxtaposition or contiguousness, even if this juxtaposition happens to occur inside a person’s body. One might argue that non-coital sexual relations nourish and expresses intimacy and emotional union. Yet such a union would be just that: one of emotion, the will, or the mind. It is still not a union of the flesh, by which two bodies act together as one body or one flesh, seeking a fleshly—that is, organic or biological—purpose.

The union of flesh in marriage, then, consists of coitus. To emphasize this does not, on the other hand, deny that marriage is also a union of minds, wills, and passions. Marriage by design includes all of these. Coitus is not the only element of marriage. Rather, coitus is one of the fundamental, unique elements of marriage.

Nor is emphasizing coitus to reduce marriage to mating, as though human persons were mere animals. Although, on the above criteria, many animals also engage in a union of flesh when they mate, this does not exclude other characteristics from the fleshly union of man and woman: characteristics which qualify human marriage differently from the mating of animals.

The fleshly union of man and woman is fundamentally a bodily union, but it also includes the union of other human qualities such as the will, the emotions, and the mind. Taking the above understanding of union in general to mean the coordination of two or more elements for a common purpose, in sexual relations a man and woman would also properly coordinate their wills, emotions, and minds. Indeed, their souls are coordinated and caught up with one another in the purposes of deepening and nourishing their relationship, of enjoying one another, and of conceiving, bearing, and raising a child. The relational bond is as much a part of the fleshly union as the biological union. To insist upon the biological or organic union as fundamental to marriage does not in any way marginalize the other ways that a husband and wife are united in marriage.

St. Paul explains this in Ephesians 5: “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (28-30). For human beings, fleshly union is more than mating; is it to treat one’s spouse with love, nourishment, and warmth or comfort. These are the human qualities that go along with fleshly union.

Nor does the fundamental character of fleshly union in marriage in any way diminish or annul the marriages of infertile couples. The union of flesh refers to the act of coitus. In coitus, man and woman come together as one organically. Should this act not later result in conception says nothing about the act of union itself. “[W]hether a couple achieves bodily union depends on facts about what is happening between their bodies,” not other factors regarding the effectiveness of the reproductive system (Girgis, George, and Anderson, 266).

Finally, it is, in fact, only through fleshly union that two people can be completely united. People of all sorts may be united emotionally, according to their wills, or according to their minds. Coworkers united to find the solution to a research question or to a mechanical problem in an automobile have a kind of union in intellect. Friends are united in common activities according to their wills and often according to their emotions. Bodily union, however, occurs only between two who engage in a union of the flesh. Thus, the only relationship that allows the full union of persons—bodily, emotionally, according to the will, and according to the mind—is the relationship which includes fleshly union, that is, marriage. Thus, again, St. Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 express the character of this union: a union of flesh, of love, of care, of growth and nourishment (28-30).

Marriage may be instituted as a union of flesh, a union of bāśār. As a union of human flesh, however, it rightly becomes a union of něp̄ěš, of life. The union of flesh, the ground of marriage, properly stimulates true love for one another, leading to a true union of lives, of both bodies and souls.

*In this essay, coitus means specifically male-female genital sexual relations, not any other kind of use of sexual organs, even that which may occur between a man and a woman.

Girgis, S., R.P. George, and R.T. Anderson. 2010. “What is Marriage?” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. 34 (1): 245-288.