Marriage

A Season to Share

Christmas Picture of Mother and DaughterRachel Pollock reminds us in her reflection on “My Suffering Is a Blessing” that we all endure suffering and enjoy blessings throughout the year, and we in the body of Christ can be there to share in all of them.

I had to update addresses before I could send Christmas cards this year. There were joyous updates. I added names of friends that got married, had babies, or finalized adoptions. It seemed there were more sad updates. Some of the names I had to remove because:

  • they had divorced or died. The worst was when an entire entry had to be removed because both spouses had died.
  • a father had committed suicide, and this affects his wife/children/grandchildren daily.
  • a child had lost the battle with leukemia.
  • A spouse had died when he seemed way too young to die.
  • they have dementia, and a letter would confuse them.

When I wrote the addresses on the envelopes I reflected on some of the suffering:  

  • those who are single and would like to be married.
  • many couples that are barren or have not been blessed with a sibling for their only child.
  • many families that have experienced a miscarriage.
  • those who the doctor recommends no more pregnancies for the mother’s health.
  • those families that have so many children that being pregnant one more time feels like a burden for them.
  • those with cancer or Parkinson’s or depression. 
  • those that are unemployed or not in a job they really want.
  • families that live very far from extended family.
  • a family with a seriously ill child.

It is even more difficult to write a Christmas letter with updates about our family. What a downer it would be to put in the letter that we have had six miscarriages. I would love to add in our letter that our youngest is actually younger than our four-year-old.

There are some obvious blessings to reflect on as I update the addresses:

  • mother that is counting the days that she is still pregnant after many miscarriages, and it seems that she will get to rock and hold a little girl in a few months.
  • families that are healing after the death of a loved one or a divorce.
  • families that were able to adopt a child.
  • a family that rejoices because their child is healthy after major surgery.

Our family has many blessings, too. We have many friends and family all over the world to whom we send Christmas cards. My husband is healthy after a major surgery two years ago. We have three healthy sons. Both sets of our parents are alive and still married to each other. We added a brother-in-law to our family last year. We were able to move closer to one side of the family and able to buy a house beyond what we expected. My husband has a good job. We are part of a wonderful church family.

Yet, there are more blessings, still. Each day I thank and praise God that He safely brought me to another day to live out my baptismal life in Christ. We should not despair even when thinking of all the suffering of our family and friends. Whatever happens in our lives, we are God’s children and God will work it for our eternal good. God will provide and care for our every need. My address list will always have suffering on it because we live in a sinful world. Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the devil. We press on towards the goal of eternal life in heaven. Because of all the suffering on earth, we long for heaven even more.

“Be near me, Lord Jesus: I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,

And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.”

LSB 364:3

 

Rachel Pollock

Open Hands

MP900321168Come with me to the other side of the fence for a moment and sit with a sister in Christ whose daily life looks markedly different from your own.

Aubri reminds us in her reflection on “My Suffering Is a Blessing”  that children are a blessing because God says they are, period. For, more often than we’d like to admit, the suffering that comes with mothering makes us feel anything but blessed.

Being the mother of five children, ages four and under can make it easy to feel more burdened than blessed and call my struggles, suffering. The endless work with little to show for it, the emotional strain of teething infants, defiant toddlers and helpless preschoolers wears on me; enduring fussy, fighting children and wondering if they’ll ever become kind, rational people; being needed by everyone, all the time and the worrying that I’m doing everything wrong.

Somedays I’m embarrassed by all the mess, noise and chaos that comes with a lot of children. The wreck of a porch strewn with tricycles, containers of dirt, old strollers and half-naked children screaming at each other; or opening the door to our van, loose diapers, sippy cups and crayons falling out onto the street and a load of fussy children tumbling out behind all that. My pride is damaged and humbled, knowing many people look at us and think, “I’m glad that’s not me” or “Don’t they know better?” I become so afraid of being “those people with all the wild, dirty kids.” It’s hard to fight the shame for what is all over my family; weakness, sin, failure all on display everywhere we go.

I fear being judged for living the only way I feel is right and godly. For embracing children and God’s authority over all of life and being thought a fool. I reluctantly confess that my own flesh feels like a fool! How many times have I pitied myself and been frustrated by those who look at us with a freak-show curiosity, resenting that we can’t even share the joy of an expected child without discouragement and comments of “concern” from loved ones who don’t understand our beliefs.

But my public cross is light compared to what I bear in private, in my heart where the sin of fear sits firm for days. I’ve had five babies in five years. I could have five more in the next five years. Pregnancy after pregnancy. I’m weary and worn down. Lord, how much more will you give me? How can you ask me to mother these babes well when I’m so tired, so scared and so angry over the sacrifices I have to make all day long?

In the trenches of motherhood it’s hard to feel blessed but that is true regardless of how I feel. I am blessed because God says I am. By His grace I can confidently confess that and give thanks.

I have to hold my hands open to God’s blessing of children because it’s right, not because I always want to. It’s foolishness to think I control life. God says that children are His gifts. He gives and He withholds as He wills. I can only live by faith and rest in what God has ordained. That is not easy—but what we are all called to do.

By God’s grace, despite my worries, I rejoice when I’m found to be with child again. I’m amazed that He would open my womb and our family to another life. I am blessed five times now with a front row seat of watching God’s greatest creations as they grow. I thank God for the moments I can relish my blessings, letting the mess of the day wash off of me; for the moments like none other when one of my precious children grins at me, puts their head on my shoulder or says something remarkable. I know that these moments are just for me. God is good. And He always provides grace and strength to make it through today.

Aubri H.

The Sarah Syndrome

God promised childless Abraham that He would provide him an heir, a son of his own, and that Abraham’s offspring would number as many as the stars in the heaven. Abraham believed the promise of the LORD, and God counted it to him as righteousness.

Sarah, on the other hand, struggled to believe the promise.

She looked at her eighty-plus-year-old husband and her own, barren womb and saw only impossibility. How could God provide an heir through their cockamamie, one-flesh union? No, if they were going to have offspring that numbered as many as the stars in the heaven, they were going to need to take matters into their own hands. They were going to need to find a solution outside of their marriage union – outside of God’s promise.

But, what to do? IVF was not an option then. There were no fertility specialists to whom she could submit her husband’s semen for analysis. Plastic hadn’t been invented, yet, let alone those syringe-y thingies that could shoot Abraham’s seed closer to the target. There were no sperm banks she could consult for finding a tall, dark, and handsome brain surgeon to father her children. Nope, surrogacy was the best answer she could devise, so Sarah gave Hagar, her Egyptian slave, to her husband for impregnating.

And, he did.

The result? Marital trouble, broken relationships, agony, chaos, suffering, grief, and Ishmael, a wild donkey of a man who would beget a whole people born into slavery.

That’s what happens when we believe in the work of our own hands rather than in the promises of God. We create more slavery – slavery to sin, slavery to self, slavery to idols, slavery to the consequences of our actions, and, in Sarah’s case, literally more slaves.

I think we all suffer from Sarah Syndrome to some degree. When we grow restless in our barrenness, when we wait on the LORD for deliverance from our affliction, that is when the symptoms begin to show. The anxiety. The coveting. The self-entitlement. The spouse-loathing. The disbelief. We start visiting doctors who advocate for practices that break commandments of the LORD. We succumb to the advice of the roaring women around us and try to be fruitful and multiply outside of the one-flesh union God designed for procreation. We start looking around for some Hagars to give us the children we want and think we deserve.

And then, like Sarah, we despair when the work of our hands comes to fruition. For, we the baptized know deep down inside that God will give us a child if it be according to His will – not from a petri dish, not from a surrogate, not from the work of our own hands, but from the mysterious, one-flesh union God designed from the beginning of time or from the gift of adoption He so perfectly demonstrates for us in His Word. If God does not give us the gift of children through these blessed means, then we can be assured that it is for the best. He is working our childlessness for our good, and we can confidently rest in God’s guarantee of that goodness as He proclaims it in Scripture. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the the name of the Lord.”

Maybe you have already acted out on your Sarah Syndrome and feel ashamed. In Christ, sister, be at peace and take joy in this good news:

In spite of all of Sarah’s disbelief, in spite of her meddling, in spite of her laughing and lying, God still kept His promise to her and to Abraham. God visited Sarah years later, long after her menses had ceased, and she finally conceived and bore Isaac, a son and heir from whose family line would eventually come Jesus, the Savior of the world.

In keeping His promise to Sarah, God was actually keeping His promise to save you; and, in believing this promise, God counts it to you as righteousness.

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Not a blessed, one-flesh union in the bunch.

“Different, Not Less”

Temple GrandinIn the movie Temple Grandin, Temple is a brilliant young woman, coping with the stigma of autism. She does so in a time when autism was misunderstood. However, Temple is blessed with a loving family, who support her efforts for higher education and understanding by the world around her. At one point in the movie, Temple’s mother wants to enroll her in a boarding high school. Some of the faculty members are apprehensive to accept her. Eventually, Temple’s mother tells one of the teachers that she wants people to know that her daughter is “different, not less.” That quote struck a chord with me.

I am different but not less than the mother whose womb has carried children multiple times. I am different but not less than the mother who takes her beloved brood with her to the grocery store. I am different but not less than the family who drives a 15-passenger van so that their family can ride together.

My world is different than yours but not less. Please don’t think of me as your “barren friend” only. Yes, my world is different than yours, but it is not less. The Lord does not look down on me because my womb is closed. He loves me. He does not treat me any differently than the rest of the world. I am condemned of all my sins, the same as my neighbor. In fact, God’s only Son Jesus died for me, just as He did for the sins of the entire world. I am forgiven of all of my sins, the same as my neighbor.

My name is Kristi Leckband, and I am barren. I am different, not less.

Second Annual Writing Contest

Christmas lightsDear Women, Men, Married, Single, Barren, and Blessed:

We’ve got another writing contest brewing.

Last year, we asked you to reflect on the topic “Advent and Barrenness.” This year, we would like you to submit posts on the topic “My Suffering Is a Blessing.” The winning post, chosen by our panel of hosts, will receive a free copy of He Remembers the Barren as well as a surprise. (That’s right. A surprise.) The top three finalists will also see their posts featured on our website.

Simply compose your post of 600 words or less in an email and send it to katie@katieschuermann.com by December 25th. The winner will be announced on Epiphany (January 6th).

Please be sure to include your name and shipping address in the email.

Sincerely,

Your HRTB Hosts

Words of Grief and Hope

cross markerSpecial thanks to the Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn for granting permission to reprint this post from his website “Lutheran Logomaniac.” Pastor Peperkorn is a husband, a father, and a pastor. He shares his grief and his confidence in the promise of the resurrection on the Last Day.

“Nadia After Eight”

Each year the day after Thanksgiving begins a period for me where a whole bunch of anniversaries begin. The first is the death of our unborn daughter, Nadia. After that comes the death of our unborn son, Emmanuel. Then it is the death of my mother. Finally is the time when I went on disability for clinical depression.

In many ways my grief is less raw than it once was. It is less primal and fear inducing. My grief now has taken on another character. That character is grief as guilt.

I remember when Nadia died eight years ago. No one knows what to do with a miscarriage. Is it a big deal or not? How do people react to such a thing? And because no one knows what to do, that generally means that most people do nothing. We had a lot of family staying with us when Nadia died, and sure enough, they really did nothing.

I remember being angry at them, so very angry. WE LOST A BABY! Why don’t you care?

Eight years later, I can see that my anger at them was really not directed so much at them as it was at God. They were simply an easier target. When someone dies, above all you want someone to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Fix it, somehow. The least you can do is die with them. But it doesn’t work that way. Someone dies, and everything else just lingers on. Eventually things return to normal, whatever that means. But that smoldering anger remains.

The fact is that God did do something about Nadia’s death. He sent His Son into another womb, helpless and in complete and utter need. And He lived that life of no consequence, just like everyone else’s life. You wouldn’t know Him by looking at Him. And so it is that He died. He died for all of the Nadias out there. He died for all the children born and unborn who are enslaved by this grip of death. He died for the grieving and lingering. He died for them and for me. And you.

I’m not angry at God anymore. Not about that, at least. Ok, not as much. But the grief remains. I cling to this grief, believing that by holding onto this grief (and anger) I can somehow maintain the rightness of my cause. Surely God will do something about this. Surely He will call her from the dead. Surely we will feast together at the Last Day. Surely God will dry our tears. Surely…

Zion hears the watchmen singing,

And all her heart with joy is springing;

She wakes, she rises from her gloom.

For her Lord comes down all-glorious,

The strong in grace, in truth victorious;

Her star is ris’n, her light is come.

Now come, Thou Blessèd One,

Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,

Hail! Hosanna!

We enter all

The wedding hall

To eat the Supper at Thy call.

(LSB 516:2)

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.

Interview on “Morning Show”

Thank you to radio station WJAG and Susan Risinger for interviewing Jerome and Kristi (site host) and Joanna for the “Morning Show.” Susan asked the Leckband family about their upcoming trip to China to adopt their little girl. You can listen to the interview, which will air about 7:45am on Friday morning.

Click here for a direct link to the radio station. Then click on “Listen Live.”

After the interview airs, it will go into the Resources section of our website.