Men

What about Miscarriages?

 

Rev. Peter Eckardt – husband to Allison, father to +Jordan+, and Associate Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Alexandria, Virginia – recently wrote a letter of comfort and support to his congregation about the tender subject of miscarriage. We are most thankful to him for allowing us to share this letter with all of you.

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What about Miscarriages?

What do you do when you experience a miscarriage? This is a question that no expectant couple wants to address and yet desperately needs the answers to as soon as tragedy strikes.

IMG_1454Allison and I were expecting our first child. We were excited, nervous, terrified, and overjoyed all at the same time. We were reading books and pamphlets, downloading pregnancy-tracking apps, and talking to numerous mothers and fathers—all to prepare us for the rest of the pregnancy, for birth, and for everything that was to follow. We were learning more and more about our baby’s development. At 8 weeks gestation, we had already heard and seen the baby’s heartbeat via ultrasound—how special that was! But at 10 weeks and 6 days, we were completely unprepared for the miscarriage that happened in the middle of the night.

QUESTIONS

‪In the hours and days following the miscarriage that Allison and I experienced a month ago, several questions flooded our minds, and we had little idea of what the “right thing to do” was. We were able to preserve the remains of our baby, but now what? Can we, should we, bury our child? How would we go about doing that? Can we have a funeral service at the church for our unbaptized infant? Is that sort of thing done? What comfort do we have, if any, that our baby is in heaven? Should we name him or her?

Those of you who have experienced a miscarriage may have your own set of questions you’d like to add to this list. I will not attempt to answer all miscarriage-related questions in this letter—and, indeed, not all of them have a clear, right or wrong answer—but I’d like to at least begin the conversation with a few points.

HOPE
GOD’S POWER IS BOUNDLESS

‪If you have had a miscarriage, I want you to know that there are many promises of peace and hope for you and for your departed little one. You need not fear that, because your child was not able to be baptized, he or she is therefore unable to be included in God’s kingdom. Though God indeed attaches his promises of grace and forgiveness to His holy sacraments, He does not limit His power to these sacraments. Unbaptized, the thief on the cross comes to faith in his final hour and is told by our Lord the he will be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43). God is the maker of heaven and earth; He can do all things.

GOD HEARS OUR PRAYERS

Moreover, we know that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man [i.e., a Christian!] avails much (James 5:16). Our Lord tells us to ask and it will be given to us (Matt. 7:7) and that whatever we ask in His name, He will give us (John 14:13). Likewise, God says in Psalm 50, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15). And even if we have not prayed as we ought, the Spirit offers prayers for us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26-27). The Lutheran Service Book Agenda, which has a rite of “Burial for a Stillborn Child or Unbaptized Child,” states: “While alive and in the womb, this child was brought and commended to Christ in our prayers. We should not doubt that these prayers have been heard, for we have God’s own kind and comforting promises that such prayers in the name of Jesus Christ are heard by Him” (132).

IMG_7208 copyMartin Luther wrote a letter of comfort for women who have had a miscarriage, and in it he also emphasizes the power of Christian prayer: “One should not despise a Christian person as if he were a Turk, a pagan, or a godless person. He is precious in God’s sight and his prayer is powerful and great, for he has been sanctified by Christ’s blood and anointed with the Spirit of God. Whatever he sincerely prays for, especially in the unexpressed yearning of his heart, becomes a great, unbearable cry in God’s ears, God must listen, as he did to Moses, Exodus 14 [:15], ‘Why do you cry to me?’ even though Moses couldn’t whisper, so great was his anxiety and trembling in the terrible troubles that beset him.” (Read entire letter here.)

THE HOLY SPIRIT CAN WORK THROUGH THE WOMB

‪As Scripture teaches, we believe that infants can receive the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith without yet being able to rationally hear and understand the words of Scripture. The infant John the Baptist leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when he heard the sound of Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:39-45). This was surely the work of the Holy Spirit, for He is able to create faith even through the womb. It is indeed true that “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).

JESUS LOVES LITTLE ONES

‪Consider also how our Lord Jesus shows compassion toward the littlest of children, praising their faith. In one instance, Jesus sets a little child in the midst of his disciples and says, “Unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. . . . See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. . . . It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:3, 10, 11). In another instance, “they were bringing even infants to [Jesus] that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God'” (Luke 18:15-17). There is no question that Jesus has a special, tender regard for the little ones.

GOD KNOWS US FROM CONCEPTION

‪Psalm 139 speaks beautifully of God’s intimate knowledge and care of his children, even from their conception in the womb:

“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . .
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
(Ps. 139:13-16)

WE SHALL GO TO THEM

‪Finally, a passage I find particularly poignant and comforting is the account of the death of King David’s first child in 2 Samuel 12:15-23. David’s son is afflicted by God upon birth and dies after seven days (significant because his circumcision—the Old Testament equivalent to the sacrament of Baptism—would have been on the eighth day). During that time, David beseeches the Lord to be merciful and to spare his son from death. But when the child dies, he stops mourning, worships the Lord, and says, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” With these words David appears to be expressing hope in the resurrection and in a blessed reunion with his son in heaven.

With all of this in mind, answers to some of the previously-mentioned questions start to become clearer. Yes, you may have comfort that your unbaptized child who died an untimely death has been brought to the arms of Jesus in paradise and awaits the resurrection. Yes, you may ask your pastor for a funeral service in the church. And yes, you may give your miscarried children a Christian burial.

BURIAL

There is no single right way to bury your miscarried baby, nor is it even possible in many cases, depending on the situation. Sometimes, the remains are not able to be preserved, parents do not know that they can preserve them, or they unknowingly dispose of them. If the miscarriage happens at a hospital, for instance, the couple may have to insist that they be given the remains for the purpose of burial. Otherwise, the remains may simply be disposed of by the hospital as a matter of protocol. For Christian parents who did not or were not able to keep the remains of their child for burial, there is no need to be burdened with guilt or regret. Take heart, and know that our good and gracious Lord holds your child in His arms regardless of the state of your baby’s bodily remains and that He can and will resurrect your child on the Last Day even without a burial site. Our God is abounding in steadfast love, forgiveness, and mercy to both you and your little ones.

‪For those who are able, however, it is a good and commendable thing to keep the remains of a miscarried baby and to seek an appropriate avenue for Christian burial. Ask your pastor for guidance, as each situation may be unique. Though the world around us pays little attention to miscarriages and often expects mothers and fathers to simply move on or to get over the miscarriage quickly, we Christians have an opportunity to boldly confess that a baby who dies by miscarriage—and who may only be a few centimeters long and a few weeks old—is just as much a human life created by God as you or I. Whenever a miscarriage happens, we ought to acknowledge both the very real life of the child that has ended, and the very real loss that the parents are undergoing. And as Christians, we must not forget to confess our hope in Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, whose good and gracious will is always better than ours. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

‪Allison and I decided to have our baby Jordan buried in Richmond, VA, at Mt. Calvary Cemetery. This particular cemetery donates land specifically for the burial of miscarried babies. Burial services are also provided through the goodwill and cooperation of the The Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Bliley Funeral home, and Richmond area hospitals. They conduct burials of miscarried infants about once month, reverently interring several miscarried children together in a single plot of land. Tiny white caskets are used with the names of the babies placed on each. Allison and I were in Richmond this past Wednesday for our baby Jordan’s burial. We are extremely grateful for this gracious program and have talked about how nice it would be if more such programs were available for Christian families.

‪There is much more to say on this entire topic, and I plan to do so another time in order to comfort and assist those who have been and will be affected by miscarriage. It is, unfortunately, a common tragedy among us, but its frequency does not make it any less sorrowful.

‪”The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).

‪In closing I’d like to offer this prayer from the LSB Agenda for all who have lost children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, through miscarriage:

Heavenly Father, Your Son bore all our griefs and carried all our sorrows. Strengthen the faith of these grieving parents and all who bear this heavy burden. Help them to rely on Your boundless mercy and to trust that their little one, who has been gathered into Your loving arms, will rise on the Last Day; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

‪Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Eckardt

 

Trust in the Lord

jacob-wrestling copyI was sitting in the hot seat at KFUO, listening to my husband respond to the radio show host’s question of what it means to deal with barrenness as a man, when I heard him say this:

“This cross [of barrenness] is one of the ways the Lord is teaching us to trust more fully in Him and in His will. He wants us to trust Him on this even when we have not received this particular gift that He gives.”

The wrestling angel released his death grip on my conscience, my hip went back into its socket, and I saw again the Lord’s blessing on my childless marriage. We get to trust in the Lord. Our barrenness is a gift, an opportunity to trust in God further, to trust in Him still, to trust in Him regardless, for He promises to work all things for our good. A wave of comfort washed over me like an anointing, its soothing rivulets of warm, sweet-smelling oil streaming down my neck and my spine.

It is not a new concept, this trusting in the Lord, but I still need to hear it over and over again that my baptized heart might believe and be comforted.

Luther writes about it this way in his Large Catechism (I:2-3):

“A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.”

Lord, help me ever to set my heart on and put my trust in You, not in motherhood. For Jesus’ sake, amen.

Warfare against the Enemy

P1060754The enemy was swift, a stealth narthex ninja pervading the unsuspecting Sunday crowd. In silence, he tracked his foe below eye level like the invisible eleventh plague.

I heard a cry, the grievous moan of a fallen warrior, and I spun around on my black-sandaled heal to find my pastor wounded, crumpled on the gray tile floor in a pool of his own, thick blood.

His leg was missing.

“Noooo!” I howled, lurching for the scene, but the enemy was too quick, too skilled, too bent upon his prey. He raised his saber high and abruptly, mercilessly went for the kill.

I won’t soon forget the violent sight of my limbless pastor bleeding on the floor, nor the sound of the nearby churchy witnesses gasping and hiding their faces behind shaking hands.

But not all hope was lost.

The enemy, in his reckless drive towards victory, had committed one fatal mistake. He had paused in his final strike, and I, as a result, had caught a glimpse of his red-and-black weapon. It was not just any saber. It was a rolled up edition of The Lutheran Witness.

In that moment, I did what any self-respecting Lutheran woman would do. I reached for the shield of choice, the only one which could deflect the blows of such a force. I reached for the large-print edition of The Portals of Prayer and held on for dear life.

“Aaaaahhhhh!!!” The enemy cried, rushing towards me like a mad bull towards a quivering red cape, but I held strong.

“Fzzzzzzzzz,” the electric forcefield of my Portals of Prayer pulsed, deflecting blow after blow from my three-foot-high foe.

There is an end to this story, one which defies all laws of physics and copyright. The enemy’s parents soon intervened, corralling boyish violence towards the family van, and, according to the promises we the Baptized hold dear, the pastor did indeed miraculously resurrect in time for Sunday lunch.

The moral of this story?

Well, I can make no promises as to whether or not the Portals of Prayer always succeeds in overcoming The Lutheran Witness in force and power nor as to whether or not the size of the font matters in the end, but I can say this:

A childless pastor and his wife sure know how to have fun with Little Lutherans after church.

 

Isaac Pleaded

In my selfishness, I forget that my husband bears the cross of barrenness, too. I forget that my empty womb is a cross that he also shares.

Isaac also experienced the same cross. He and his wife Rebekah did not have any children. His father Abraham had been told that he would be the father of nations. Isaac knew that this meant his family would need to have descendants. Thus, Isaac took his concern to the Lord. As a loving spouse, he pleaded to God for his wife because they were barren.

Genesis 25:19-21

New King James Version (NKJV)

19 This is the genealogy of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac. 20 Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. 21 Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

God heard Jacob’s prayer. Only by His grace and mercy, God granted twins to Rebekah and Jacob.

May we be so bold as to always take our concerns to our Father in heaven. May we also thank God for our spouses, who share the cross of barrenness with us.

An Example to Follow

Saint_Joseph_with_the_Infant_Jesus_by_Guido_Reni,_c_1635Thank you to Pastor Michael Diener for showing us the example Joseph gives to men today in being a faithful husband and father by trusting in God.

“WWJD – What Would Joseph Do?” 

Joseph provides men with a wonderful example of seeing and trusting in God’s grace through the eyes of faith. In Matthew 2:13-15, Joseph gives men today an example to follow in the vocations of husband and father – an example of faithfulness and trust in God. “Now when they had departed, behold, and angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him’. And he rose and took the child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’”

When the angel of the Lord informed Joseph of God’s plan to save the holy family from wicked King Herod, he did so without all the details. The angel only gave God’s promise to guide him. Joseph didn’t question God’s plan. He didn’t take time to ask why. He didn’t offer God a better alternative that would fit nicely into his own plans. He trusted God. Joseph was asked to be faithful. And by faith, Joseph was led to see God’s plan unfold. God gave Joseph the means to be faithful in taking care of his wife and child which certainly led to his being faithful in his vocations as father and husband throughout his life.

God gives fathers today means to be faithful as well – the means of grace. God’s Word and Sacraments provide the faith that furnishes guidance, comfort and strength; pointing them to the cross where sin is forgiven and to the empty tomb where there is rejoicing in the promise of eternal life. Where men fail – God’s grace restores. When the daily grind leads men to worry and become stressed out – God’s grace gives comfort and strength in the midst of struggles. In other words, God gives everything men need to be faithful husbands and fathers.

Men are called to be faithful just as Joseph was – faithful husbands to their wives and faithful fathers to their children. Even though men may not see blueprint of God’s plan laid out for them, they are given something better – God Himself in His Word, in the promises of Baptism and the nourishment of Christ’s body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.

As men fulfill their God-given roll as spiritual heads of the household, they are wise to look at Joseph’s example. By remaining faithful to God, as Joseph was, men are remaining faithful to their wives and children. There is no greater gift a man can give to his wife and children than to point them to God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. And more than just pointing their wives and children to God’s Word and Sacrament, men are to be an example of faithfulness by leading their families by the hand, as Joseph did, to God’s Word daily and in receiving the Lord’s Supper regularly. In doing so they are strengthening themselves, their families, and the church.

God’s Word does not give much information about Joseph, not even a word from Joseph himself, but it does give men an example to follow in their vocations as husbands and fathers. Sometimes a good example is worth more than a thousand words. To be a Godly husband and father a man ought to ask himself “What would Joseph do?”

Pastor Michael Diener

“Joseph’s Worthiness (and My Own)”

mentor1-1Thank you to Kelly Stout for reminding us of all that comes with being chosen as an adoptive parent.

“Joseph’s Worthiness (and My Own)”

I carry around a strange sort of guilt – one that only those blessed by adoption can probably understand. Why in the world did God and my son’s birthmother choose me? Oh, it is loaded with guilt. When I fail as a mother, I fail my child, I fail God, and I fail my child’s birthmother. I don’t talk about it often, because it makes people uncomfortable. My reality of feeling guilty for being chosen when others have been waiting weighs on me. I see my friends struggling to conceive, I see my friends waiting with great anticipation to be chosen as adoptive parents, and I see myself failing so often in my vocation.

We don’t know very much about Joseph’s emotions as being chosen as an adoptive father. We all know Mary asked, “Why me?” Given my own guilt about the vocation of caring for a son entrusted to me through adoption, I can only imagine that Joseph felt unworthy. “The Son of God? You want me to be responsible for raising the Son of WHO? Why have I been chosen when all those other men are so much better than me?” At least, that is how I feel at times. “Those other women would probably do a better job than me…” When, in fact, that guilt is very far from the truth. 

In teaching our toddler son about his infant adoption, we tell him, “Your birthmother loves you so much that she asked God to help her choose a mommy and daddy for you. And you know who He chose for you? Us, your Mommy and Daddy!” When I say those words, I am not only teaching my son about God’s love for him, I am also reminding myself God did indeed choose us. We were given this child, not because we deserve him, not because we are better than anyone else, but because before he was conceived God knew him and knew all the days numbered for him even before there were any of them. He gave us the vocation of father and mother. He entrusted this little babe to us. He will provide us with the wisdom and strength needed to raise him in the way of the Lord. 

When Joseph looked around, saw his own sin and failure, and wondered, “God, why was I given this Gift when others were not,” I hope he was reminded that those others, all others indeed, were given the same Gift. The Gift bore our guilt on a cross, died, and rose again, so that with Joseph, we need not question our worthiness in our vocations. Our worthiness is declared through Him.

Kelly Stout

The Nourisher of Our Lord

IMG_1443Thank you to Pastor Ryan McDermott for reminding us that we, like Joseph, are sometimes called to take on the legal and ethical responsibility of caring for children that are not our own.

“WWJD: What Would Joseph Do?”

It occurs to me that, as a husband, a father, and a pastor, I fulfill many of the same roles as St. Joseph. And yet, at the same time, my roles are nothing like his. I cannot imagine the situation of living with and taking to wife the Mother of God, let alone raising God Incarnate as my son.

St. Joseph is known as the Nutritor Domini, the Nourisher of our Lord. He was responsible for protecting and providing for the physical well-being of Jesus from the time of the Annunciation onward. This child was not his, and yet Joseph took on the legal and ethical burden. This is not unlike the vocation of a pastor toward his congregation. My people are not, strictly speaking, my people – they are the people of God, the children of our heavenly Father. And yet, they are mine because they are entrusted to me by that same Father. It is my charge to bring to birth, bathe, feed, teach, and nourish them in the faith, just as Joseph was charged with the same duties for our Lord Christ. I hold them as a trust from the Lord, to deal with them according to His command.

As a father, I am in much the same position. My children are my own – biologically, legally, and ethically speaking. And yet they are not mine. Although they come from my flesh, they are the children of God entrusted to me for only a lifetime. It is my vocation to bring them to birth, feed, bathe, clothe, house, and raise them in the fear of the Lord. They are a gift, a trust from the Lord. They are His, and finally I must surrender my will, my hopes and fears, my desires and wishes for them, and I must let His will be done for and to and through them.

To be married to the Mother of God is something I cannot fathom. I have no words to talk about that because it is truly extraordinary. However, I know the love that flows between a husband and wife. And I know the sacrifices and difficulties, as well as the triumphs and unspeakable joys, that happen in a marriage. There is something to be said about Rome’s idea that a priest is wedded to the Church. St. Paul speaks of the marriage relationship as a living icon of the relationship between Christ and His Church. It is my duty and privilege to stand before my wife and before my congregation as their Defender against evil. It is my vocation to provide them with all that they need to support their daily life. It is my privilege to speak to them, both privately and publicly, the Word of the Lord to forgive their sins and strengthen their faith. It is my duty to stand in the gap, between them and the evil forces of this world, to beat back the darkness with the Light of the World.

Lord God, our heavenly Father, thank you for the example of St. Joseph, the Guardian of our Lord and the Protector of the Church. Strengthen all faithful men to be guardians of Your people and defenders of the Faith as You have given to us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pastor Ryan McDermott