Suffering

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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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.

*  *  *  *  *

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

 

Plainspoken

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“Want to come inside for a visit?” Elva asked.

I was there for milk and eggs only. I hadn’t expected to be invited inside the main house, and I was suddenly embarrassed by my grubby barn garb – stocking cap, work jeans, muddy boots – but the hospitable man seemed to read my mind.

“Seems the best place for a chat is out of the rain.”

I couldn’t argue with that. I followed Elva into the square house and was immediately welcomed by the warm smile and handshake of his wife, Alta. Something yeasty and cinnamon-y was also welcoming me from their oven.

“So you’re a writer of books?”

I looked into Elva’s blue eyes. They were kind and curious and ready to smile. Now that he had taken off his black hat, I could see that his ruddy hair perfectly matched his beard in shade and texture.

“Yes.” I never know what else to say in these circumstances.

“What are they about?”

“Oh, well.” I cleared my throat and tried to think how best to describe in just a few sentences what took thousands upon thousands of sentences to actually publish. “My husband and I have not been blessed with children, so my first book is about barrenness.”

They didn’t flinch. I took a breath and continued. “I like writing about God’s abundant love and mercy to us in Christ Jesus. It comforts me to know that God’s care for us is proven in the gift of His own Son, not in the gift of children of my own.”

Neither of them seemed to be bothered by serious talk.

“Would you like to see my books?” Elva gestured an invitation toward the four shelves of books tucked neatly in the corner of the room.

“Turn on the lamp, so she can see,” Alta instructed.

I tried not to stare too obviously as Elva picked up a nearby lighter. The gas lamp above my head buzzed and popped with immediate light. The thought occurred to me that I was just a couple of hours away from my own home but worlds away from my daily life. I skimmed the titles. The Holy Bible. That one I expected. What I didn’t expect was The Walk West: A Walk Across America 2.

“Oh, I know that book,” I said. It is an autobiographical account of one man’s experiences walking across America with his wife. It’s prequel is a retelling of the experiences of that same man walking across America by himself. “My mom read it aloud to me when I was in elementary school. Do you like it?”

“Yes,” Elva’s brow furrowed, “but I learned that the author and his wife are no longer together. That kind of ruined it for me.”

A soulful, convicted man. I took a risk.

“This is a personal question, and, please,” I walked back to my chair across the room, too nervous to look either of my hosts in the eye, “don’t answer if I am being inappropriate, but are there any,” I swallowed, “barren couples in your community?”

Alta glanced at her husband’s face. “Yes. One of my closest friends, in fact. Well, they did end up having one child, but…”

“But none after that?”

Alta nodded.

“Is it hard not to have children in your community?” I colored at the sound of my own question. It registered as dumb in my own barren ears. “I mean, I would think it would be hard not to have more help with the work around the house…”

Oh, dear. I was getting dumber by the second.

Elva generously saved me. “We usually generate only the amount of work we can do ourselves. And we help each other.”

I nodded, embarrassed. “So the barren in your community have support.” I said it more to myself than to anyone else.

“Yes,” Alta nodded. “In fact, several- ”

There are several Amish barren! I was surprised and somewhat comforted.

” -get together for circle time in our area to visit and…”

Alta looked at her husband, again. I could tell she didn’t know how to describe what she had never taken part in.

“And encourage each other?” I offered.

She nodded, again.

I smiled. I couldn’t help it. Even in this strange world of gas lamps and horse-drawn buggies, I was not alone in my suffering.

I felt quite encouraged, myself.

 

That You May Taste and Prove

Why do you suffer? Because God does not – and will not – forsake you.

“When faith begins, God does not forsake it; He lays the holy cross on our backs to strengthen us and to make faith powerful in us. The holy Gospel is a powerful Word. Therefore it cannot do its work without trials, and only he who tastes it is aware that it has such power.

Where suffering and the cross are found, there the Gospel can show and exercise its power. It is a Word of life. Therefore it must exercise all its power in death. In the absence of dying and death it can do nothing, and no one can become aware that it has such power and is stronger than sin and death. Therefore the apostle says ‘to prove you’; that is God inflicts no glowing fire or heat – cross and suffering, which make you burn – on you for any other purpose than ‘to prove you,’ whether you also cling to His Word. This is is recorded in Wisd. of Sol. 10:12 of Jacob: “God sent him an arduous contest, so that he might know that godliness is more powerful than anything.”

God lays a cross on all believers in order that they may taste and prove the power of God – the power which they have taken hold of through faith.”

– Martin Luther (Treasury of Daily Prayer, Writing for December 2nd)

Simon-of-Cyrene

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.

Just a Couple of Monkeys

I have a confession to make.

(WARNING: my personal, despicable depravity is about to be on full display.)

I am sometimes comforted to hear that God doesn’t just withhold the gift of children from me but also from others.

(Ugh. I know. I apologize for my wretchedness, and I’m hanging my head in utter, red-faced shame.)

It’s just so nice to receive a bit of empathetic correspondence from a sister in Christ and learn that I am not the only childless monkey in the cage being studied and analyzed by curious pedestrians as the exotic species that I am. Thank you, Beth, for hanging out with me and swinging on some ropes for awhile:

I was given your book, He Remember the Barren, and found great comfort in it. My husband and I have been married 16 years, have three children in heaven and none in our home to raise despite years of trying to have biological and adoptive children.  

I just listened to your June interview with Rev. Wilken and laughed in commiseration when you mentioned that women go through a mid-life crisis a little early. I agree that we face our ultimate barrenness a bit early but in the past few months, since we have closed our adoption file, I’ve been thinking of my mid-life crisis in the sense of “empty nest syndrome.” I am facing a few years earlier than most the question of “What’s next?” What does God have planned for me in this next part of life as I grieve the end of dreams of motherhood and embrace a home filled with two. He is beginning to answer those questions but as always His plan unfolds over time and I must trust, obey, and keep listening.  

Amen, and may God bless and keep you, Beth, in this empty-nesting season of life. xo

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