Crucifix and hand sanitizer

Here We Stand: Lutheran Words on COVID-19

Hello, fellow mortals. Our lives have changed drastically in the last week with the coronavirus pandemic spreading to the US. Between fear, hand washing guidelines, social distancing, school closings, quarantine, and more—toilet paper shortage, anyone?—I think we all need some thoughtful, sane, and specifically Lutheran words to allay (and even lighten) our collective panic. So without further ado, here are some Lutheran words, grouped by category, to help us as we live with COVID-19.

1. Practical Help for Churches — Lyman Stone on Witness in the Plague: A Simple Tip Sheet for Churches to Manage Infectious Diseases Like COVID-19

Many churches in the US, Lutheran included, have cancelled services due to COVID-19 concerns. Others are grappling with how to possibly hold services in the midst of a pandemic. This resources is for the grapplers, as well as for the churches who will eventually reopen their doors with new considerations to this new, virus-sensitive world we’re entering.

Lyman Stone is an economist and demographic analyst. He’s also currently an LCMS missionary in Hong Kong with his wife, Ruth, and their infant daughter. At the beginning of March, as Hong Kong was already dealing with the threat of the coronavirus, he wrote what he called “a tip sheet for how churches can prepare for and respond to a COVID outbreak in their community” and posted it on Twitter. Rod Dreher, an Orthodox writer, linked the tip sheet over at The American Conservative, too. Full of practical, common-sense guidelines, and even some humor, the tip sheet can help all of us–pastors, elders, concerned laity–think about COVID in regards to our churches. A week ago, Stone also wrote how Christianity has been handling pandemics for 2,000 years and how churches must be a refuge in a time of fear. These are good reminders for our churches, and for us, in these uncertain times.

2. Spiritual Comfort for Concerned Lutherans — Rev. Brian Flamme on A Christian Attitude in Times of Widespread Sickness and Rumor of Death

Rev. Brian Flamme of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Roswell, New Mexico, wrote this brief article to console and encourage Lutherans and other Christians in the face of COVID. “When sickness and death test the foundation of Christian trust in God’s mercy, the the Scriptures teach a four-fold attitude of faith, prayer, compassion, and mercy,” Pastor Flamme wrote, citing many Scriptures for each category and pointing us back to our greatest comfort: the Word. “As rumors of the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, the anxiety gripping the hearts of our neighbors can threaten to overcome our own. Rather than submitting ourselves to extreme measures for the sake of emergency, we should examine our hearts, be instructed by God’s Word, and fulfill our obligations to one another in love.” In the midst of a wilderness that is scary, this is comforting. Amen, Pastor.

3. Blast from the Deadly Past — Martin Luther on Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague

The Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, killed between 75 and 200 million people in the 1500s. Something like 80% of people who contracted the disease died within eight days. In terms of infection rate, horrific suffering, and extremely high death rates, our COVID seems positively tame in comparison. Nevertheless, our feelings and fears right now echo those of our forebears, and Luther’s letter, written when the plague approached Wittenberg in 1527, is highly relevant (it’s linked here at the Lutheran Reporter and LCMS blog). Luther’s short answer on whether you should run or lose your head? Um, no. “[We] admonish and plead with you in Christ’s name to help us with your prayers to God so that we may do battle with word and precept against the real and spiritual pestilence of Satan in his wickedness with which he now poisons and defiles the world.” If Luther could say this in the face of the Bubonic Plague, we should listen.

A recent service at Redeemer, Fort Wayne, posted on the Redeemer Facebook page.

4. Church When You’re at Home — Streamed Services from Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Matins at Kramer Chapel through Issues, Etc. and Daily Chapel podcasts from KFUO Radio

What to do when you can’t go to church? Most Lutherans have to spend at least some time at home missing church in this best of times, and now this quandary has only intensified with government recommendations on how many people can gather together publicly, along with those straight-up church closures mentioned above. For years, when I or my kids have been sick and had to miss church, I’ve tuned in to the YouTube channel of Redeemer Lutheran. My husband and I attended there years ago when he studied at Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne, and it’s a beautiful, confessional congregation. You can access years of services and even subscribe to the channel.

For those who would like to listen but not necessarily watch services, I also like the audio-streamed Matins services from Kramer Chapel at CTS-FW that Issues, Etc. shares (a resource all on its own I highly recommend, and one Rev. David Peterson from Redeemer speaks and teaches on frequently). Another good podcast for services are the Daily Chapel archives from the LCMS International Center broadcast by KFUO Radio. Many individual congregations are also putting services on YouTube or somehow making the Word accessible from home, and if that’s the case for you and your home congregation, please use those resources. But if you’d like to supplement them, or you don’t have local congregation online options, these are good online family altar resources.

5. Teaching at Home during School Closure — Rev. Andy Richard on Intermissio Coronae and Joy Pullmann on a 6-Step Quick-Start for Sudden Homeschoolers

We’ve had a good, if somewhat rough, start to our sudden homeschooling gig here this week (we’re on Day 2). Since we’ve done it in the past, it doesn’t seem quite as intimidating as it does to parents who are diving in. But we’re also rusty–I last homeschooled in 2016–so extra resources always help.

Rev. Andy Richard, the headmaster of Mount Hope Lutheran School, the classical Lutheran school where our kids attend, has been amazing at providing a daily newsletter, the Intermissio Coronae (that’s “Crown Break” in Latin, fairly obviously named) that includes beautiful artwork, a devotion from Steadfast Lutherans (which you can also link directly here), a musical selection, a poem, a proposition from Alcuin (old and hard riddles), and more. They’re already a highlight to our day–we like to read and share them at mealtimes. The Intermission Coronae issues for this week can be read here (March 17), here (March 18), here (March 19), and here (March 20). You can also subscribe to receive them in email form.

Another good Lutheran guide for sudden homeschooling is from Joy Pullmann, a Lutheran writer, wife, and mom. Her article for The Federalist contains some practical, reasonable how-tos for teaching and learning with your kids. While challenging, your emergency homeschooling can actually be fun, and these resources can help!

Photo by Elly Fairytale from Pexels

6. Family Bonding during Quarantine — Holly Scheer on How to Keep Yourself and the Kids Happy Through Quarantine

Everyone has to adjust to being home, together, all day, in a culture where that’s just not common. It could be a recipe for stress and frustration, but Holly Scheer, also for The Federalist, taps into our hyper-lawn-mower-parenting angst and gives us some calm. “I know this is strange, that the idea of schools shutting down feels bizarre, and having the faces of your children looking to you, expecting answers, highlights that those kids expect you to have an instant plan. You can do this. Jump into this unexpected homeschooling and you and the children will be okay, and may even deeply enjoy this time together.” I know we’ve discovered this in our home so far. Some structure is good, and so is some flexibility. We’ve now got the time to cherish our home life. That’s actually a blessing.

Coronavirus support ribbon with toilet paper
From a friend’s Facebook page. Thanks, Jeff!

7. Humor in the Unknown — Rev. Hans Fiene on Interviewing the Coronavirus

The old adage says that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, and there’s some truth to that. We’re all anxious, treading into unknown waters for who knows how long, and this can make us crazy if we have no reprieve. God’s Word is the best reprieve, for sure. But God also gives us humor. Rev. Hans Fiene, a parish pastor and creator of Lutheran Satire, gives us some COVID-19 funnies with his, ahem, interview with the coronavirus. Fiene asks some hard-hitting questions and gets honest answers from the virus.

FIENE: In his address to the nation last Wednesday night, President Trump urged us not to politicize you. But the next day, he and Joe Biden were attacking each other over the crisis. What do you think? As you’re becoming a bigger problem, should people put aside partisan squabbling?

VIRUS: No, people should definitely fight over me.

FIENE: In what way?

VIRUS: Preferably hand-to-hand combat. With spitting.

We’re all in this together–the good, the bad, and the ugly. So we might as well pray and laugh. Stay well, friends.

I kind of feel nailed right now, even though I’m laughing.

What are some good Lutheran words on COVID-19 that you’ve found? Please leave them in the comments, with links, if possible!

Connecting with Lutherans: Decluttering and Remembering the One Thing Needful with Laura Henry

A Good Wilderness seeks to help Lutherans and others cultivate community and learn how to live in lonely places. One of the ways we can do this is by hearing from faithful Lutherans who share life experiences, write and publish, pursue hobbies, or own businesses that can give us all insights and encouragement. You can find interviews with some of these people here at “Over My Neighbor’s Fence.”   

We’re at the end of January, and maybe your decluttering resolutions are at a standstill–or never really got started. If so, you are in the right place, and I’ve got someone for you to meet!

Laura Henry is a wife, mother, and decluttering guru. And to be honest, she’s an acquaintance of mine who I now consider a friend! Laura works with clients to help them clean out and clean up their homes—and she loves sharing her wisdom and encouragement with others. We communicated recently about her personal experiences, how she began helping others declutter, what she’s learned, and how to practice realistic and loving Lutheran hospitality. You’ll also see “Laura’s Lines” here—some particular gems in this awesome interview that highlight her insights. The following is a lightly edited version of our conversation.

Hi, Laura! Please tell us about yourself—your family, what church you attend, your vocations.

Sure thing! My husband John and I have four children: Johnny (10), Luke (8), Silas (6), and Molly (4). Just a few weeks ago, we moved from Indiana to rural Fairmont, Minnesota, where my husband serves as Pastor to a dual parish—Zion in Fairmont and St. James in Northrop. I graduated with a degree in English in 2008, but I’ve spent the majority of the last ten years at home with our children.

The Henry Family. From left: Johnny, John, Molly, Laura, Luke, and Silas. Photo credit: Laura Henry.

While being a mother is still my primary vocation, as my children have grown and begun attending school and preschool, I’ve found time in my life to pursue what has become a great passion of mine: decluttering and helping people gain control of their homes. My hobbies include doing all sorts of puzzles, jigsaw, crossword, etcetera. Basically, I love putting things in order!

Having just moved a family of six nearly 500 miles in the middle of January, I don’t feel particularly qualified at the moment to talk about organization. There are still boxes to be unpacked, my walls are bare, and to be honest, we had way more stuff than I thought we did!

Actually, I think it makes you the perfect person to talk to! You’re totally living a real-life organizational slog. 

Ha! Well, I can’t imagine how much more overwhelming of a project a big move like that would have been had I not gone through some major downsizing over the last years. Things just seem to multiply like rabbits!

So tell us how you got into decluttering. Did you have experiences that prompted it in your own life?

Believe it or not, I have not always been into living with less or decluttering—actually, quite the opposite. I spent a lot of time during young adulthood acquiring, storing, and collecting a wide variety of items. I never turned down anything that someone wanted to give me, and I rarely drove past a rummage sale without stopping and taking home something I found interesting. There was a long period in my young adulthood where I was very preoccupied with things. I wanted desperately to have everything in my house “just right,” and I spent a lot of time and money trying to achieve that.

The pendulum really began to swing in the other direction for me in 2013. That spring, my husband graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne and received his first Divine Call as a Pastor to a small, urban church in northwest Indiana. At that point, we were a family of four, but we had a full-length moving truck and two carloads full of stuff that we moved into an extremely large parsonage that was already fully furnished. It was insane! I remember thinking before unloading our moving truck, “Where is all our stuff going to go?”

I think this is a common experience, at least the realization in a move of exactly how much superfluous stuff our families can have! How did you manage all the stuff?

To make a long story short, the previous tenants had left a large amount of their possessions behind when they moved. The parsonage had also been vacant for quite awhile, and much of the space had been used as storage for decades’ worth of things no longer used at the church next door.

The exterior of the Henry’s parsonage in Indiana; some interior clutter; some of the many dumpsters they filled. Photo montage credit: Laura Henry.

Wow. That sounds overwhelming!

It was at the beginning. I spent the next three years slowly and carefully wading my way through clearing out the three stories, a basement, and a garage belonging to that massive, beautiful, historic parsonage.

Laura writes: “The old altar, font, and paintings were buried in the parsonage basement. They were able to be given to an artist, but I don’t know their ultimate fate.” Photo montage credit: Laura Henry.

Through the course of decluttering, we discovered the presence of some very serious health and safety risks to us. For instance, when we were in the middle of the process, the bathroom ceiling collapsed and revealed a major mold issue. So that was all stripped down to the studs, and even most of the studs were replaced.

Before and after pictures of the bathroom. Photo credit: Laura Henry.

At that point, our children’s health had been affected, and we needed to move out temporarily while those issues could be remediated. We actually ended up moving out twice over the course of six years. By the end of the process, I believe we had over two moving truck loads and I lost track of how many dumpsters of stuff removed from the house.

Before and after pictures of the kitchen. Photo credit: Laura Henry.

Due to the health concerns, not much could be saved or repurposed, and we lost most of our personal belongings, in addition to everything else that was left in the house by other parties.

That sounds like a nightmare! And you not only had to deal with all the physical problems and loss but with the mental and emotional ones that probably came along with it.

Yes. Those years were some of the most challenging of my life, and the stress from our living environment many times felt like it dominated our lives. While it was a challenge that I hadn’t asked for, nor fully understood walking into, it was truly one of the best things to ever happen to me. We witnessed an outpouring of love and mercy from other Christians and friends and even strangers. We got to see God’s people, and our church family, come together to try to rectify the situation.

The finished parsonage living room. Professional contractors did much of the rebuilding after the cleanout. Photo credit: Laura Henry.

I do wish I had more pictures of the “decluttering.” And I did not do the construction/remodeling, though I did pick the designs and paint colors. We had a good construction crew.

Outside help is crucial for some projects, right?

Absolutely! And as they say, hindsight is 20/20. The whole process ignited in me a purpose and passion for helping others who feel paralyzed and overwhelmed by their living conditions to take back control and find joy and peace in their homes. It was so empowering to be able to take a situation so utterly chaotic and work at it piece-by-piece to regain control. By the grace of God, we came out of that situation stronger as a family and as a church, not to mention the blessings in restoring a beautiful historic parsonage to its former glory.

Laura’s Lines

on Blessings in the Mess:

While [our extremely cluttered and dangerous parsonage] was a challenge that I hadn’t asked for, nor fully understood walking into, it was truly one of the best things to ever happen to me. We witnessed an outpouring of love and mercy from other Christians and friends and even strangers. We got to see God’s people, and our church family, come together … By the grace of God, we came out of that situation stronger as a family and as a church, not to mention the blessings in restoring a beautiful historic parsonage to its former glory.

What an inspirational story, Laura. I’m so glad you can see the blessings that resulted from such a literal mess.

I can definitely see the personal benefits now (and remember, this took years for me and us to get through!). And then the whole experience awakened a passion in me that I’ve never felt before. I get so much joy and energy out of walking beside my clients as they take back the control of their homes. I have really started to branch out and do work mostly via word of mouth references in the last two years. It’s been a complete joy and learning experience.

And you’re the perfect person to do this kind of work! You really get the challenges, the sweat, the tears, and the blessings! What’s something you’ve learned from helping others do what you had to do in your own home?

The experience changed me in many ways, but one of the greatest lessons I learned is not to judge a situation. It is what it is. How we got here is in the past, and how we are going to move towards a better future starts now with letting go of judgment, blame, shame, or embarrassment about “how bad it is.” Definitely, there is a time and a place for reflection and habit-changing to prevent falling back into old patterns, but to change and move forward, letting go of judgment and blame and working together is the first step.

Oftentimes in life, and in pursuit of a Christian life, we are asked to take responsibility for things that aren’t our fault. It’s the fault versus responsibility debate. I see that quite often with my clients. Many feel helpless and overwhelmed by their surroundings, and often, it wasn’t their sole fault that it got that bad. But them asking me into their personal lives and letting down their guard to ask for help is accepting responsibility for creating a life that better serves them and their loved ones. That’s a big deal!

I certainly stumbled through some intense and negative emotions through our journey. But letting go of the mental baggage allowed me to truly embrace all the lessons and be there as a support for others going through their own varying degrees of cleaning up.

And this leads into the next question: how do you understand the importance of order, or cleanliness, or minimalism—whatever words you want to use—in light of being a Lutheran?

This is a great question and one I think about a lot! Obviously, “tidying up” has been quite the trendy thing to do thanks to the meteoric rise of books like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

I loved that book, but it definitely wasn’t Lutheran in its spiritual perspective.

No, definitely not! Minimalism has become a bit of a lightning rod, with some even having a visceral reaction against it. As Lutherans, we do tend to recoil from anything that may present as legalistic or giving us expectations for how to live outside of what Christ has commanded. I get it! And I agree. Being overly concerned with minimalistic living is the other side of the coin of being materialistic and seeking out after wealth. I really emphasize that to my clients. Decluttering is not the means to end for a picture perfect home. It’s a process through which you can discover the balance of possessions in your home that leads to contentment and peace and manageability. This end result will look different for everyone, and truly, for very, very few it will look like anything that resembles a home design photo shoot or Pinterest board.

Laura’s Lines on Decluttering:

Decluttering is not the means to end for a picture-perfect home. It’s a process through which you can discover the balance of possessions in your home that leads to contentment and peace and manageability.

One of Laura’s jobs for a client. Photo montage credit: Laura Henry.

It seems like every week there are studies and articles popping up declaring the benefits of less clutter and how kids and adults thrive with fewer, and less stimulating, toys. Life is chaotic enough and we all are constantly under assault with comparisons to people who seemingly have it together.

Well, I think most of know that media is deceptive, but it still doesn’t stop the pervasiveness of “you aren’t doing enough.” So, while I do believe pretty much everyone would reap benefits from owning less, I don’t believe in guilting or shaming over it. Having major illness or surgery, having a baby, losing a loved one, or just not feeling like going through stuff are all signs to relax and let the nagging voice go that you missed the bus on tidying up. It’s ok. Minimizing can be a very long, exhausting process, so if you aren’t in the right frame of mind, then just don’t worry about it at the moment. The time will come. It does take preparation and the right frame of mind. So plant the seed and dwell on it. If and when the time is right, you’ll be ready. The mess will still be there.

Laura’s finally-at-long-last empty basement. Photo credit: Laura Henry.

Laura’s Lines on Timing:

Minimizing can be a very long, exhausting process, so if you aren’t in the right frame of mind, then just don’t worry about it at the moment. The time will come. It does take preparation and the right frame of mind. So plant the seed and dwell on it. If and when the time is right, you’ll be ready. The mess will still be there.

I love this. I think so often we get hung up on made-up timelines. Like, what, are we still in school with a cleaning deadline for third period next Tuesday? Deadlines can be helpful, but they can also be overwhelming. I appreciate that you acknowledge very common obstacles to the process of minimizing.

There are so many obstacles! But they can, truly, be overcome.

And as Lutherans, we’re trying to find a balance between what God says is good—like order—and our sinful proclivities—including loving wealth and stuff to being lazy to being pietists over what our homes look like. We try not to be legalists or Gnostics; that is, we understand and, I hope, cherish rather than hate the material gifts God gives us to us. But in appreciating our stuff, we don’t want to idolize it or mistake our stewardship of those gifts as meriting our salvation. This is a balance I feel like I swing back and forth on constantly, both trying to understand it rightly as a Christian, and also just doing the actual balancing in my own household.

Absolutely. I’ve been on the more neurotic end of the spectrum with being obsessed with having as little as possible and having everything in its perfect place. I’ve also been in depressive states where I’m behind on everything in my house from laundry to dishes and not a thing is where it belongs. Both are miserable places to be! I’m more relaxed now. I listen to my body and rest when I need to; I ask for help when I need to and pay attention to what needs to be paid attention to. Sometimes that is simply surviving life with four young kids! I don’t let myself feel guilty for that! I just feel it and know that eventually I will feel up to getting things in order again.

Over the years, I’ve come to see more clearly than ever the importance of boundaries. It’s so easy to become overcommitted and overscheduled. When my home life feels out of control, I often need to look no further than my schedule.

A garage clean-out and cleanup for a client. Photo montage credit: Laura Henry.

Nothing is more important than having time as a family, time to go to church together, time to prayer and study God’s Word together and sing hymns. We all need time to read as a family and eat dinner together. When the schedule is so crazy that those things aren’t even happening, how can I expect to have my home in order or have chores done? I’ve found it to be true for myself that keeping strong personal boundaries, being extremely careful about taking on external commitments, and learning how to say a confident “No” has been at the absolute core of being able to maintain a more orderly home. When I hear myself repeatedly saying “I’m so busy,” I know it’s time to stop and look at what can be delegated, rearranged, or dropped altogether from the schedule.

Laura’s Lines on Personal Boundaries:

I’ve found it to be true for myself that keeping strong personal boundaries, being extremely careful about taking on external commitments, and learning how to say a confident “No!” has been at the absolute core of being able to maintain a more orderly home.

Laura, you are pointing out something that I’ve been realizing this new year! With four kids at school and lots of extracurricular running around, two littles at home, and a very busy husband, I literally have started to schedule Home Days—days where I know I can just be home and catch up with cleaning, laundry, budgeting and finance, and keeping order. That means I have to say no to stuff, or only schedule certain things. My sanity, and the lives of my husband and children, depend upon the order we have at home. Saying “no” is absolutely key to that.

And it doesn’t just have to do with managing time. Saying no includes saying no to the question, “Do you want Great Aunt Sylvia’s china?” No! It’s okay to say no. It truly is. Many of my clients have houses full of guilt. They’ve accepted things because they don’t want to reject family heirlooms or the remnants of a deceased relative’s belongings. Sometimes they’ve gone to direct sales parties and bought things they don’t want or need in efforts to support their friends.

But there are so many genuine ways to love and support our family and friends that don’t involve us buying or accepting unwanted things that cause us stress and maybe even resentment. I also have developed those boundaries with myself. I’m only human. I get the same dopamine hit as any other woman when I walk into Target.

Ha ha! That’s totally true! It’s funny and not funny at the same time!

It’s the joke that’s on us! Understanding that the process of decluttering and minimizing starts with stopping the influx into our homes has been a big light bulb for me. If you are committing to living with less, you have to know that it does involve behavior changes. So stopping the impulse shopping is a big one! A very helpful question that I ask people is, “Where do you see this fitting into your vision of your ideal home?” If you don’t see a spot for it, put it back. I also really find the prompt, “Would you buy this a month from now?” Usually people would say, “No.” It’s just an impulse, and it will pass!

I rework that same question when going through the decluttering process. If people are really struggling with whether to keep an item asking, “If I didn’t own this today, would I go out and buy it?” The answer is oftentimes no, and knowing that frees the person to let it go.

Strategizes for evaluating what stays and goes are so helpful! What else should we consider when we look at our stuff?

Some other common obstacles for getting rid of items are our fears of them going into a landfill. There’s also the sunken cost factor. That means people see only the money they spent on the item and not whether it brings meaning to their lives currently. To get rid of it feels wasteful or like a loss. I work with people on reframing their mindset from reactive to proactive. To truly change, we need to focus on contentment. The money was spent when the item was purchased. The waste was created when it was manufactured. Holding onto these things to prevent the waste that was already created is faulty logic. The answer to too much isn’t too little; it’s enough. And most of us will find that we possess enough. We can let go of the security blanket of excess, and in turn, we gain contentment.

Laura’s Lines on Fighting Guilt

and Finding Contentment:

Instead of letting people live under guilt], I work with [them] on reframing their mindset from reactive to proactive. To truly change, we need to focus on contentment. … The answer to too much isn’t too little; it’s enough. And most of us will find that we possess enough. We can let go of the security blanket of excess, and in turn, we gain contentment.

One of my favorite parts of my job is getting the things that others are discarding into the hands of people who really need and can use it. There are typically dozens of organizations in most counties that will take donations to either give directly or resell to those in need. This can ease the nagging feeling of waste by letting items go. Someone else can use those things, and they can use them now!

Tell us about a particular project that meant a lot to you, and how you go about getting started with a client in the process of decluttering.

A special one was a whole house overhaul I did. (I don’t share names or identifying information to protect my clients’ privacy.) It was the woman’s childhood home, and she had never lived anywhere else. She was in her mid-50s when I helped her out.

A client’s before and after pictures. Photo credit: Laura Henry.

Once we were all finished, this client told me she was able to bake Christmas cookies with her niece and nephew in her kitchen for the first time ever. That’s what it’s all about!

That is so special and inspiring! So have most of your projects involved certain rooms or areas? Or have most been whole house jobs?

Most of my jobs start as one specific area and turn into whole house decluttering!   

I do a lot of garages, basements, attics—those are more obvious clutter and catch-all areas. Oftentimes, people catch the fever and want to keep going. I’ve done two jobs where the clients started right off the bat knowing they wanted to do the entire house. In other instances, we started small with a specific area to get a feel for the process, but as often as not it led into other spaces. It’s very liberating and even addicting when you get in the zone.

That makes total sense! When have you known that someone “catches the fever”? Is it a comment? Just a general “now I can see what it can be and I don’t want to stop” vibe?

I think decluttering is a totally overwhelming prospect for many people. They don’t know where to start. But once we get through a smaller area like a closet, pantry, or garage, for instance, they “catch the fever”—and that is just a saying I used in the moment. By that I mean clients get excited about the progress, and it begins to snowball. The more they get done, the easier it is to for them to take on bigger projects. So we can start with one closet, and before you know it, we are doing an 800-square-foot attic. You have start small sometimes to see what you can manage and how good it feels. And starting small also helps you to realize that it’s not that hard! Once your mind starts working in decision mode and gets into that mode of letting go, it gets much easier. By far, the hardest part is starting!

Laura’s Lines on Starting Small:

You have start small sometimes to see what you can manage and how good it feels. And starting small also helps you to realize that it’s not that hard! Once your mind starts working in decision mode and gets into that mode of letting go, it gets much easier. By far, the hardest part is starting!

That’s what I tell people all the time: starting is the hardest! Anyone can do this, but everyone can benefit from a neutral third party who is clear and can do the work part, like bagging, hauling, moving, or reorganizing what is left while the client focuses solely on making the decisions. It also helps to have a neutral party ask questions, like some I mentioned before, if someone is having a really hard time deciding about whether to keep an item.

I love your emphasis on decisions. That’s really what it is, whether it’s a small or big project, or even the daily grind. I joke sometimes that I just need someone else to make decisions! But I think pacing is key, like in long distance sports. One thousand decisions is just too much. But ten decisions? That’s much more doable. Breaking things to do, and maybe most tasks, into small pieces is so key, and it sounds like that’s what you help people do.

Yes. I try to keep people focused in the moment. Instead of thinking about how out-of-control the entire household is, let’s look at this one closet. That saying is true: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Don’t focus on the end goal. Just try to stay focused on the baby steps. Most people are shocked at how quickly they can get through everything. But often the fear of how long it will take and how hard the decisions are stops people from even starting. So just set a tiny goal of one small area and be amazed at how well you can do! Let the momentum of the small wins carry you forward.

I love this! It’s so much more doable to concentrate on little things first, then keep going.

That’s my advice to people. And get a friend or family member or professional to help. A third party and neutral opinion can help diffuse the emotion and decision fatigue. I have yet to walk into a home where it’s anywhere near as bad as the people who live there think it is. Anything can be tackled. It just takes the right attitude and support.

And now I’m thinking: do you think there is a difference between the overwhelmed person who doesn’t know where to start and the basically organized person who feels flattened by the sheer work involved in “keeping up”? Aren’t they both kind of in the same boat?

Yes, I do think overwhelm is at the root of both types of people. I’d classify myself as the latter some days. Maintaining a household with kids or pets or both is just hard work. Trying to keep up with everything is just plain exhausting. In my case, it definitely feels more manageable without the chaos of excess clutter. But the bottom line is that it’s still hard, and it requires mental and physical effort.

And teaching kids these skills is an investment of time and demonstration as well. I’m hopeful that it’s an investment that pays off, but it’s still a daily part of parenting that is draining! No way around that!

That connects to my next question! In recent years, writers like Anthony Esolen and Rod Dreher have advocated for the good—and, indeed, the need—for Christians to be deliberate and conscientious about edifying each other through shared catechesis, confession, worship, and community to help weather social and familial fragmentation. What does cleaning out and cleaning up have to do with this? And how would you like to see Lutherans build physical and spiritual places to help and encourage each other? I’m thinking of how families can practice hospitality without thinking our homes have to be HGTV-ready, but also to truly provide our neighbors with welcoming spaces. This is especially hard when you’ve got young children at home!

I think it’s so easy to overthink hospitality. Staying out of judgement, for ourselves and others, is a great place to start. People struggle with isolation and loneliness now more than ever. I support letting go of ideals in favor of opening our homes and offering hospitality. Guilt and shame are just not part of my process. I love to work with people who want support and are ready to walk through the process of decluttering. I do not believe in pressuring, shaming, or judging anyone for what their home looks like. That is the antithesis of Christian hospitality and generosity. It’s honestly a great honor to have friends who I can invite over when my house is a pit, and vice versa! The people I feel closest to in the world are the ones who have seen my kid’s bathroom in between cleanings and still love me!

Ha! I am totally with you there! It’s an awesome feeling to just have people over, no matter how long it’s been since, say, the floors were deep-cleaned.

Right! We don’t get hung up on benchmarks. Honestly, though, going through the process of decluttering can be a game changer for being more hospitable. The average home has over 300,000 possessions. Everything you own owns a tiny bit of you, your time, and your energy to maintain and store. That is a lot of responsibility that can be let go of to make way for more edifying things. Less stuff equals less cleaning, less organizing, and less to worry about getting out of the way for company. One big thing I do with my clients is ask them what they picture when they imagine their ideal home. It’s different for everyone, but it never involves piles of stuff and overflowing closets!

Home should be a sanctuary, so we start from what we imagine to be a relaxing, hospitable environment, and then work backward from that picture. It’s so much easier to quickly pull things together for an impromptu get-together when everything has a place and there is significantly less of everything.

Just one kind of hospitality: A friend dropping by with extra sugar cookies for a bunch of kids to decorate on a Saturday afternoon.

Laura’s Lines on Hospitality

and How Decluttering Can Help Us Welcome Others:

I do not believe in pressuring, shaming, or judging anyone for what their home looks like. That is the antithesis of Christian hospitality and generosity. …

Honestly, going through the process of decluttering can be a game changer for being more hospitable. The average home has over 300,000 possessions. Everything you own owns a tiny bit of you, your time, and your energy to maintain and store. Less stuff equals less cleaning, less organizing, and less to worry about getting out of the way for company.

Home should be a sanctuary, so we start from what we imagine to be a relaxing, hospitable environment, and then work backward from that picture. It’s so much easier to quickly pull things together for an impromptu get-together when everything has a place and there is significantly less of everything.

Welcoming starts with opening the door.

Your emphasis on the ideal home and the just plain ease of maintenance is critical, I think, to hospitality. And it’s more enjoyable for everyone who lives in the house, too, including kids!

I find my kids truly enjoy having their friends over, too. A lot of people criticize kids for being glued to their electronics, but when my ten-year-old had his classmates over for a goodbye party, not a single one was on his or her phone or playing video games. They played ghost hunters and hide-and-seek and other imaginative games in the basement that was pretty much completely empty! I was worried before they came that they’d have nothing to do. I almost went out and bought some extra toys or a video game. I’m totally glad I didn’t, because less is more for kids, too. When they are given space for imagination, there is no shortage of it!

I have friends that truly inspire me that host people for dinner almost every week. That is something I aspire to, but I’m not there yet. Hospitality is a gift I truly admire. I’ve been invited to dinner at some fine Lutherans’ home where there was lively, edifying conversation, prayer, hymn singing, and poetry recitations. It was a dream! One of my personal goals for 2020 as we adjust to living in a new community and getting to know our new church families is doing just that. Having people over to share a meal, talk, laugh, sing, and pray together: these are admirable pastimes. The importance of Christian community in an increasingly isolated world can’t be overstated.

I like how you point out the good in hospitality—the time together, the talking, singing hymns, even the kids being imaginative together—and notice that none of it references whether the décor is new or matching, or whether the house has been dusted recently, or anything like that. I’ve learned in having people over that just having something to offer—water, tea, the ever-popular coffee; and food from crackers and peanut butter to smoked elk—and having an open place to meet together is all you need. Seriously, people just want to hang out and share. And usually, they’re not starving when they show up. So if you only have water to offer, that’s fine. Only crackers, that’s fine. This does not have to be super fancy. In fact, it’s usually more enjoyable when it’s not! And having goals to reach out is good, too. I hope you can host new friends this year!

Me, too! And remember: a hospitable home doesn’t mean it’s spotless. Perfectionism has got to go, the same as judgment!

Absolutely! So my last questions: what have been some challenges that you’ve encountered as you’ve established or grown your business that have been learning opportunities for you? What are some goals that you have for your business?

The greatest challenges that I’ve experienced in my business are adapting the process to each individual. People are so different. Their circumstances, emotional processing, physical capabilities to help, and functional capabilities to make complicated decisions are on a wide spectrum. It’s helped me grow in empathy and learn that this business is not just about moving things out of people’s houses. It’s often working through grief, overwhelm, and complicated emotions, and yes, lots of laughter and fun mixed in as well! An underlying message that I try to remind myself and my clients all the time through the process is that God provides. He provides strength to do hard things, forgiveness when we make mistakes, and He provides for our daily needs. We take deep breaths, thank God for His goodness, and move on making progress!

My biggest goal is to get my own website up and running. I have many folders of photos of some really rewarding projects I’ve worked on that I’d love to share with the world. I also want to assemble a resource guide to help walk people through the process of decluttering from a balanced, Lutheran perspective.

Up until now, I’ve worked very selectively taking jobs by word of mouth only, but my youngest will begin attending school in the fall, so God willing, my business will be able to grow. I will definitely update once those things are put in place.

I am so excited for you, Laura, as you settle into a new home and hopefully continue to tackle helping others clean out and clean up. Thanks so much for your time and your wonderful insights! We look forward to hearing from you again and will pray that God opens doors for you.

Thank you, too! At the end of the day, there is truly one thing needful, and that is Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins offered for us through His death and resurrection. What an awesome opportunity to use our vocations and platforms to share that good news!

Laura’s Lines

on the One Thing Needful:

At the end of the day, there is truly one thing needful, and that is Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins offered for us through His death and resurrection. What an awesome opportunity to use our vocations and platforms to share that good news!

Each One and Only Face

We’ve passed another March for Life, another hopeful milestone in the woefully long, dark, despicable history and practice that is abortion in America. I’m left thinking about fear, and choices, and money, and the priceless uniqueness that is every human being.

First, the money. Rhett Butler put it brutally but accurately in Gone With The Wind, when he explained that when civilizations die, there’s “fast money in the crack-up.” No one can see the abortion industry in our country without seeing the vast money-making behemoth that is Planned Parenthood. It is our modern-day Confederate speculator, exploiting the desperate to build untold wealth, culpable and guilty of the death of innocents, while cultural destruction goes on all around.

But it’s not quite fair to highlight the pecuniary focus of Planned Parenthood without noticing all of the other organizations that turn a profit off of abortion. There are pharmaceutical companies that make abortifacient drugs and contraceptives. Then there are all the clinics and schools–oh, the schools!–that parrot the mantra of sexual “freedom” without responsibility. Responsibility, most notably, to any human being that might result from all the “liberating” trysts that individuals are “entitled” to. Just like our entertainment industry trumpets, “real” life is about career–oh, the schools!–and travel and fun! And to miss this self-indulgent life, or to jeopardize the illusion of its appeal it by having to deal with pregnancy, child-bearing and child-rearing, is unutterably terrifying to many in our culture.

Fear and money go together. Christians know that life and stability and dreams lie not in financial transactions or material comfort, but boy, even we fall prey to the allure of dough’s promise when we get stressed. It’s like that tongue-in-cheek old phrase: “Money isn’t everything, but it sure does help.” And we see children as burdens, as ciphoners of our treasure, as unbearable weights on our personal autonomy, or at the very least as killers of our ability to survive a harsh world. Yes, we can turn even helpless, microscopically or less-than-ruler-sized small children into killers–of our dreams, of our relationships, of our idolized futures. We have so feared that abominable fate, the idea that what we have desired might be thwarted by a child, and we grasp at the promises of money that will free us from that horror.

Here’s a prime example. This montage of me-first messaging for the contraceptive Beyaz unironically intones, “You know what you want today. But you never know what you might want tomorrow.” And what do the smiling models “want”? They want to shop–for grad school, for travel, for all kinds of modern goals. But they all skip over the stork. Their wants are invariably presented as neat and tidy market options. Babies aren’t in these girls’ presents, or even their futures (remember the opening line? I guess babies don’t even make the “I didn’t know I wanted that” list for Tomorrow.) They’re the one priceless gift actively–and in the case of hormonal contraceptives–specifically, even vehemently, avoided.

Even more, it is a strange, infinitely sad time we live in that so many of our leadership class discuss openly and even proudly shout their own abortions. Only a people that has denied God and is still shackled with shocking, unavoidable decay can embrace Death as though it is a friend and a savior. Death becomes the only meaning and the only answer when fear hits.

And when Death is the answer, life itself is flat and uninspiring. The revelatory images of prenatal ultrasounds, among many other examples of humanity, must be rejected and ignored. How can we possibly look at a wholly unique face, one that cannot be replicated, and deny her worth?

Caitlin Flanagan recognizes this. In “The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate,” she writes:

A picture of a 12-week fetus is a Rorschach test. Some people say that such an image doesn’t trouble them, that the fetus suggests the possibility of a developed baby but is far too removed from one to give them pause. I envy them. When I see that image, I have the opposite reaction. I think: Here is one of us; here is a baby. She has fingers and toes by now, eyelids and ears. She can hiccup—that tiny, chest-quaking motion that all parents know. Most fearfully, she is starting to get a distinct profile, her one and only face emerging. Each of these 12-week fetuses bears its own particular code: this one bound to be good at music; that one destined for a life of impatience, of tap, tap, tapping his pencil on the desk, waiting for recess.

Such a beautiful recognition of irreplaceable humanity, this. And yet Flanagan, in trying to show the true and crippling fear that motivates many women to abort, fails to remember the truth of each baby, the distinct profile of each one and only face. In her article, she stays in that gray area of fear instead of telling the truth: that we cannot let fears dictate our choices, especially our power to kill our own children.

I wish Flanagan and those like her would read pieces like this one by my friend Aubri, who writes in “Did God Really Say Children are a Blessing?”: “It’s hard not to want to make decisions based on the whims of my feelings, based on whether or not I think children are worth it or whether or not I can prove to anyone that my life as a mother to many children is good. 

The fact is God says children are worth it and that they are good gifts” (emphasis Aubri’s). Fear is real, as Aubri knows. But it is not the end, and it does not dictate what is good.

Screenshot of photo by Jeff Malet of the Daily Signal.

I was so heartened to see all of these signs at the 2020 March for Life. The ones of people who could have been aborted, but whose mothers backed out at the last minute, saving their lives. The ones, like the one above, that remind us that fear can’t drive us to destroy each other. The ones of honest and brave post-abortive moms and dads. The ones that testify to the pricelessness of life. All of the people whose faces we can see and appreciate as unique.

I have been so blessed to see my children grow, both via ultrasound and in the flesh. I love the picture above, of our oldest living child, kicking his foot up at just the right time to be captured in an ultrasound photo. He was 22 weeks old when that picture was taken. And now, at nearly twelve years old, he continues to surprise us. He, and each of our sons and daughters, have their own faces and bodies and souls, just as every person does. The ones that are still with us here sing and tap their pencils. They change every day, even a little. They are themselves, and they are miracles. We should see all children and people this way, and we must remember this as our days pass by. We must remember this to love each other as Christ has loved us.

Eighth Day Blood

We’re two weeks into this, the new year of our Lord 2020, and already the newness is fading. We creatures of immediacy who love the New, craving its veneer of possibilities, feel the shine becoming tarnished, our resolutions and hopes and dreams–at best, some of them, at worst, all of them–even now beginning to elude us. With 352 days left before the next New Year, 2020 is passing by, waiting for none of us.

I am reminded of this as I reflect upon our recent experiences on Casper Mountain. I have written before about the allure of cross-country skiing, being surrounded by the beauty of Casper Mountain adorned with blankets upon blankets of snow, and the humiliating, exhilarating experience of learning to ski. We are still learning here, now with five children in the highly-popular Mangus lessons, a five-week Sunday afternoon course of intensive lessons put on by the Casper Nordic Club. This is the third January we’ve participated, and while skiing itself, the trails, and the entire preparatory rigamarole of the gear is beginning to feel familiar and more comfortable, we are still a long way from proficiency.

People say it’s the pursuit and not the destination that matters, and at least in terms of skiing, the cliche holds true. A critical mass of Olsons are transitioning to skate skiing, the “zippy younger brother” of classic Nordic skiing, and suffice it to say that, yes, it’s hard. I’m in an adult skate skiing class right now, with students ranging in age from perhaps late 20s to late 50s or early 60s. We are at different life stages, from young child raisers to retirees, but we are all old enough to have experienced life and hardship. When we’re sucking wind after climbing long hills, we can groan about soreness and laugh together. The camaraderie is an ancillary benefit of the lessons.

Unlike our counterparts in the kids’ skate skiing class, we adults are not striving for an eventual spot on a school team, let alone junior nationals. As Rick, one of our patient instructors explains, “Our goal as [skate-skiing] adults is just to keep moving, to keep going.” There’s a kind of satisfaction and confidence that comes from this goal, actually. Even a few years ago, such an ambition would have struck me as weak, a sell-out to loftier aims. But I cherish that goal now. It means we are here, and we are still breathing and moving. And we are together.

It occurred to me this year that January 1, what our secular world knows as New Year’s Day, is also and always the eighth day of Christmas. On the eighth day of Christmas, Jesus was circumcised in a rite dating back to God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17. This covenant, a painful, bloody, physical mark, continued generation after generation, over hundreds and thousands of years. As the note in Genesis 17:10 in the Lutheran Study Bible explains, “By removal of the foreskin, males received a visible sign of God’s promise to send a Savior, born of the woman (Galatians 4:4-5). No Hebrew male could live a day without being reminded of the promise God had made long before, and every conjugal act between a husband and wife would illustrate the hope that God was working to restore creation and redeem all people.”

Aside from the inevitable squeamishness the above likely causes, it also explains the very routine visit to the temple Joseph, the guardian and adoptive father of Jesus, and Mary, His mother, make with Him eight days after His birth. One brief verse, Luke 2:21, squeezed after the well-known nativity account and visit of the shepherds tell us:

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Several Christian churches mark the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, an appropriate celebration of this first formal fulfillment of the Law in Jesus’ life on earth. It is no accident that Jesus, whose name means “He Shall Save His People From Their Sins,” was both formally given His name and circumcised into the covenant of God. The note on verse ten in Genesis also explains, “Finally, the shedding of blood pointed toward our final redemption by the shedding of Christ’s blood.”

What does all of this have to do with skate skiing? We know that when babies are injured, they cry, and we instinctively recoil. These small, helpless creatures should not be hurt–we know this in our bones. And yet any injury, any cut, any drop of blood they experience is merely a foretaste of the pain and suffering these little ones will inevitably experience. The first drops of blood portend the rest that will follow. This, I think, is partly why we hate to see newborns hurt.

Yet we know the hurts and the blood will come and are coming. In our heart of hearts, we know pain is coming, for all of us. The evanescence of the New Year glow, the excitement of new goals and activities and friends will diminish.

And it is also why some of us attempt new things like skiing, not because we are sadistic monsters out for self-harm, but because we know this is our lot. We will experience pain. We do not intentionally seek it out, but neither do we fearfully hide from it–if it means we learn something valuable and edifying, more small signs that our mortality is not the only end ahead of us. We must learn, during our life of shadows, to trust that Christ really has us, that He really meant what He said and what He says, that He has done it, that it is finished.

We need the blood. Not of ourselves, for that would be nothing to God. The best we can hope for, then, is in another’s blood. It is in One who put Himself into our mortal state and wasn’t content even there. As one pastor preached,

The Lord God, who needed no law, was not content to become flesh and blood.  He went beyond that and subordinated himself to the law, shedding his blood in obedience to the law, so that the whole world that was condemned by the law would be set free.  Jesus’ name tells us who he is: the Lord.  Jesus’ name tells us what he does: he saves sinners by taking their place under the law.  He is our substitute.  He alone met the requirements of Sinai.  He fulfilled man’s part of God’s covenant with Israel.  He alone could do it and he alone did it.

We do not crave suffering. And yet Christians endure it, knowing what is to come. We come together for skiing and falls, for companionship and empathy. We come together to receive Christ’s body and yes, His blood for us. Just as the eighth day of Christ’s life on earth marked out His path of redemption for us, we also step out each new day, looking in faith to the eighth day of the New Creation. The new fades, yes. But the New that will never end is ahead of us. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Happy New Year.

Five Ways Christians Can Rightly Struggle with the Cross of Infertility

How should Christians struggle with the invisible cross of infertility?

This is not a question any of us want to address. Infertility can be an incredibly difficult cross to bear, for us personally and for those we love.

What is infertility? The general definition refers to the inability of child-bearing age couples to conceive or carry a child after twelve months of regular, non-contraceptive sex. Unfortunately, many people, including our brothers and sisters in Christ, bear this pain. According to the CDC, around 18% of child-bearing age women struggle with infertility, and men struggle with infertility, too. The most telling symptom of infertility is in absence: no pregnancy or no child.

This week–April 21-27–is National Infertility Awareness Week, one of the countless remembrance weeks marked on our stuffed secular calendars. While there’s plenty of commentary on infertility for the non-religious, Christians should approach this particular cross with care and caution.

I’ve written here before about our experiences with infertility, from our miscarriage and years of infertility, as well as our more recent molar pregnancy. We obviously share some experiences with those who currently suffer from infertility. After long thinking, I’ve come up with five ways Christians can rightly struggle with the cross of infertility.

First, we should reject infertility as trial.

Conceiving and bearing a child is not a human right, and infertility is not a trial to be overcome. This is not popular to say. Infertility is becoming a politicized condition in our culture, in that many people see it as only a problematic barrier to a right–the right to a child, the right to parent–with few or no perceived necessary limits to that right. To many, if people desire children, they therefore “deserve” them, and nothing should check that desire. It’s not surprising that non-believers, therefore, would engage in a plethora of ethically problematic practices like freezing eggs and egg banking, sperm donation, surrogacy, and the multiple kinds of artificial reproductive technology (ART) that out of necessity break the one-man, one-woman procreative act intended for marriage. When children are a right, they also become possessions–possessions that can be created, manipulated, or terminated, almost without limit here in the United States. This is an awful reality of believing that children, rather than being gifts from the Lord (Psalm 127:3), are property, and thus subject to the greed and savagery of markets.

Unfortunately, many Christians who suffer from infertility, and Christians who love the infertile, have also fallen into this kind of thinking. Teen moms bear children out of wedlock, a live-in couple “accidentally” gets pregnant, celebrities undergo IVF and pay surrogate mothers to carry their babies, and Christian couples pray fervently for children that God does not give them. As soon as we encounter such situations, our sinful minds automatically play a comparison game, deeming some cases “fair” and others “unfair,” even grossly so. Too often, such comparison thinking transforms the cross of infertility into a trial. If we just plan more, eat better, pay extra, undergo more procedures, and strain mightily in a thousand different ways, then we’ll rid ourselves and loved ones of the unwanted burden of infertility and gain the blessing of children. This is a lie.

Because the desire for children is good, Christians have mistakenly deemed any methods to conceive or bear children as good, too. But this is making a good into a god, a cross into a trial.

“You shall have no other gods before Me,” God told Moses and His people in the wilderness (Exodus 20:3). He didn’t just mean pagan statues of gold or other images. He meant any material or emotional possession that commanded our hearts and our time, energy, and affection. The desire for children can, and does, become an idol, and infertility can become a trial. This can lead us away from God.

Second, we should embrace infertility as a cross.

Katie Schuermann is the author of He Remembers the Barren (affiliated link), a beautiful Christian treatise on infertility. In her blog of the same name, Katie writes in “Glory Vs. Cross”:

A theologian of glory calls barrenness a trial to be overcome, a burden which can be revoked by some great act of faith on our part, a curse that can be lifted by true love’s kiss. (Works Cited: My Own Wishes and Desires: A TreatiseThe Complete Works of Joel Osteen, and The Wisdom of the Disney Princesses).

A theologian of the cross calls barrenness a terrible brokenness of the flesh which results from Sin in the world, a cross to be endured joyfully in light of Christ’s promise to make all things new on The Last Day, a suffering given to us by God who loves us and molds us and disciplines us and shapes us and points us straight to Christ’s own suffering on the cross for our own salvation and comfort. (Works Cited: God’s Word as revealed in The Book of Romans).

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). The truth is that none of us deserve anything good, but God gives us all kinds of goods anyway. He gave us life when we did nothing to merit it. He sustains us in countless ways, even while all of us sin (Romans 3:23). We deserve only death, but Christ has given Himself to us to take even that away. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Christ is our free gift. He gives us all we need, and while we live and wait for our resurrection in Him, we will suffer. Crosses are not just about pain and grief, though; they point us to the Cross-Bearer, Christ Himself. We might not understand why He gives us particular crosses, but we know with certainty that absolutely nothing, including infertility, can separate us from Christ’s love. He knows exactly what we bear because He bore it Himself–all the grief, all the loneliness, all the hurt and pain. And He loves us with an everlasting love.

Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
   we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-40, English Standard Version.

Embracing infertility as a cross doesn’t mean we or our loved ones have to hide our grief or pretend to be happy. But we can, and should, take comfort in our cross, that Christ knew emptiness and loneliness on Calvary, and He keeps and sustains us throughout our struggles.

Third, the cross of infertility can prompt a variety of feelings, and that’s okay.

The most vocal sufferers of infertility tend to be those who desire and pursue parenthood passionately and often vociferously, as noted above.
But many people who suffer from infertility experience ambivalence about their infertility, and others who are infertile live out their particular condition quietly, sometimes pursuing medical help, but sometimes not. Sometimes they cry openly and tearfully about not being parents. Often, they don’t. Usually, they live day to day as most of us do who have unfulfilled good desires: pushing through, both impatiently and patiently, with changing feelings and attitudes toward those desires. One book, He Remembers the Barren (affiliated link) and He Remembers the Barren: God Remembers You in Jesus, the blog for the book that covers many topics related to infertility and Christianity, particularly Lutheranism. Three other Lutheran women who have experienced infertility contribute to the blog, too. I highly recommend both the book and the blog to any Christian.

  • Katie and Scott Sanders, at Beautiful Pieces of Us: Support for Parents with Leftover Frozen Embryos, share their story of embracing life through their experience with IVF and giving their unborn, frozen children a chance at life. Their blog is one of the few places I have found that addresses the heart-wrenching quandary of Christians who have undergone IVF and now struggle to live out their responsibilities to both their born and unborn children.

All of these writers point to Christ, and they can help us understand and articulate the difficult cross that is infertility and the hope we and loved ones can find in Him.

Fifth, we should pray.

All Christians should pray for the infertile in our pews. We should pray for peace for them, for Christ to continually remind them that He will never leave them. We should pray that infertile couples carefully consider their choices, learning about the huge financial market that is the infertility industry, weighing what their most ethical, God-pleasing options are and if and when to decide to pursue medical treatment. We should pray that we might help share their grief and struggle, that they bear with fortitude and patience the cross that they bear. We should pray that the cross of infertility, while a marker of time on this sinful earth, and the internal and external scars it leaves of our wandering in this wilderness, can be understood as signs pointing us to Christ. Infertility does not last forever, but Christ does.

Christians do well to remember that God does not give the same gifts to everyone, even good gifts like marriage and children. That knowledge can temper the pressure on all of us, infertile and fertile alike, to see all those suffering from infertility as losers or as desperate, no-holds-barred seekers. God loves all people, not because we loved Him, or because we are parents or not, but because He gave us Christ, His Son, to bear our sins (1 John 4:10). We should pray that all of us remember that blessed truth.

On Dust and Time in Churches: Notre Dame and Holy Week

Thou hast a house on high erect 

Framed by that mighty Architect,

With glory richly furnished, 

Stands permanent though this be fled.

“Verses upon the Burning of our House, 10 July 1666” by Anne Bradstreet.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has burned this Holy Week. The world watched the flickering heat lick and then consume the roof of the eight-hundred-year-old church, then, horrified, witnessed the spire falling. In our secular, postmodern world, why did the sight of flames devouring an old building, particularly a church, move so many? What are we to learn from this?


A view of Notre Dame from the rear, with the Eiffel Tower framed between the two towers. Photo by Colin Schmitt from Pexels.

The historic value of Notre Dame, of course, explains part of our grief. Anyone who cherishes the study of the past and the relics, holy or otherwise, that mark it knows the incalculable worth of a Gothic structure like Notre Dame. Though the cathedral will be rebuilt, no amount of money, however philanthropically gifted, and no amount of architectural purity can replace what has been lost. Preservationists across the globe will be further disheartened to learn that part of the rebuilding will include a design contest rather than a reconstruction of what previously stood. I shudder to think of the result.

But Christians grieve over the loss of Notre Dame for more than its historical design and consequence. More than one commentator has noted the symbolic significance of the burning cathedral, from “The End of Christendom” to “Hope in the Ruins” (to mention just two takes). Those of us who notice the increased secularization of our culture, and the emptying and closing of our churches, know that the fire represents what has been happening to many churches, only the burn and smoke and destruction has more often been slow and subtle than fast and noticeable.

Thibault Camus/AP Photo in Business Insider.

Stratford Caldecott, in his lovely and timeless book Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education (Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education""” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener” aria-label=”affiliate link (opens in a new tab)”>affiliate link), writes that

The transcendence of time by eternity, and by Christ as the incarnation of eternity in time, is suggested by the stability and durability of the church. An effective church building is a manifestation of tradition, and tradition is more than just the dead accumulation of custom; it is a living organism that overcomes time and death by a process of continual regeneration and gradual creative development. The church building, if it achieves permanence simply by resisting change and being preserved over centuries, might be no more than a museum or monument. But if it is built to last and is sustained from within by a community of worshippers then its permanence becomes a true reflection of eternity.

Pages 101-102.

Photo by Ashley Elena from Pexels.

Caldecott rightly emphasizes the importance of devout worshippers. Too many of our churches have become merely museums and monuments (or even condos or bars or nightclubs), empty of people confessing Christ. The living organism of a community of faithful believers gathering around His Word and Sacrament has long been tepid or absent at too many Christian churches, even great, old ones like Notre Dame. This is why even Lutherans like me are sad at the news this week. Burning churches bespeak of both lost holy places and lost souls.

Joshua Gibbs noted this ecumenical mourning of Notre Dame in the Circe Institute “The Cedar Room” blog this week. “The loss of Notre Dame, or huge portions of it, stings even the Protestant and Orthodox Christian because cathedrals are physical manifestations that worship is one of the human things,” he wrote. “Cathedrals are silent arguments and wordless syllogisms which make it easier to believe. … Yes, Christianity will go on. No, no one died. Nonetheless, a very old and very good thing which testified to the power of piety and the sanity of beauty has been irreparably marred.” We cannot take for granted either our faith or the witness of our faith through physical materials of wood and stone when we see smoldering ruins, ash and dust that remind of us of Earth’s mortality and our own.

Which brings me to Holy Week. We began this Lent with Ash Wednesday, our somber reflection with King Solomon that from dust we are formed, and to dust we shall return (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). This week we remember how our incarnate Lord, God made flesh, gave and gives His body and blood to us, and how He suffered crucifixion before He died. As we think about the burning of Notre Dame, let us also meditate upon its “Gothic floorplan [which] echoed the form of Christ’s human body on the Cross, and the distance between heaven and earth… in vertical elongation” (Caldecott 104). We must go to our own churches to hear and receive the Truth embodied in Christ, that though time will inevitably take its toll on us, moving us inexorably to the dust, we know that earthly death is not our end because it was not His end. An Architect and His mortal yet immortal Son remain our permanent hope.

Friday Feeding: Minestrone for Many

Note to readers: I love looking up recipes online when I’m cooking. But it annoys me to scroll through a bunch of commentary, videos, ads, and random detritus to get to an actual recipe. So I’m going to reverse all that when I share recipes. Instead, I’m going to post them first. That way, if you’re like me and short on time and patience, you can go ahead and use it. If you’ve got more time and a desire to read my rambling love note to a particularly delicious food, then you can just scroll on down past the recipe. 🙂

As a family of eight, we have mostly adjusted to the fact that we are that family. That family with the giant van with a million kids spilling out of it (usually some with our genes and some without. Hey, it’s basically like a party bus). That family with the laundry that never, ever ends. That family with all the noise, noise, noise, noise from all the boys, toys, and joys of screeching energetic kids (including the girls). And finally, that family that goes through so. much. food.

I’ve learned that there are perks to cooking huge portions for basically every meal. First, if you’re going to chop a bunch of vegetables, you might as well chop a little more, which will double the servings and maximize your efforts. Second, it’s easy to invite over extra people to eat because–hey!–there’s a ton of food, and that’s one big hurdle down for hosting. And who doesn’t love some hot soup and freshly baked bread on a snowy evening (hey, we’re in Wyoming, where it snows until at least May)? That’s right–nobody we know!

This is all a long way of saying that if you want to have enough soup for ten people and still be able to freeze an ice-cream bucket amount of leftovers, then this is your recipe!

I started making minestrone soup at around 11:00 in the morning, intending to let it simmer most of the afternoon. But I realized after tripling it that the leftovers would be abundant, even for our family. So at 3:00 in the afternoon, I asked Jon if we could invite some friends over. Being the great man that he is, and not having any particular responsibilities that night in the kitchen, he said yes. I texted my friend, she consulted her husband, they rounded up the kids, and around 5:30 they were at our house.

My kitchen company while I made the soup. Don’t you love the sock rainbow?

I love soup. Like really, really love it. I’ll try not to repeat myself here as to why I love it so much, but suffice it to say that it’s cheap, hearty, delicious, and hot. Four awesome reasons to eat it!

I have a few criteria when I make soup for my family and others.

First, the soup must taste great. As a wedding gift, a dear church lady and her daughter gave me the Taste of Home‘s Contest Winning Annual Recipes 2004 (affiliate link). I’d received some other Taste of Home cookbooks as a newlywed, but this one is by far my favorite. After fifteen years, I can honestly say that it is worth far more to me than the-less-than-$7 you can buy it for from Amazon. Why? Because it’s got some recipes in it that have never failed me, including soup recipes!

In the absence of my mother and other amazing, experienced cooks I knew, Taste of Home gave me home-run recipes when I really didn’t know what I was doing in the kitchen. My mother-in-law got me a subscription to the TOH magazine about ten years ago, and my recipe box still holds cut-outs from those issues. Even fifteen years later, that cookbook, those magazine remnants, and Taste of Home website continue to provide me and mine with the kind of heart-warming food that makes you think of, well, home and love and all good things having to do with belonging. High cuisine it is not, but if I’ve learned anything from both cooking and hosting, it’s that most people don’t want super fancy when they eat. They want big portions and good taste. Which is a long way of saying that many of my good soup foundations, including my minestrone, a variation of one I found at TOH, are indebted to lots of other cooks.

Innumerable grease spots, food stains, and random deposits mark this well-beloved book.

Second, the soup must stand on its own–meaning it’s got to be more meat than broth. I learned early on in my marriage that Jon didn’t really like soup. But when I pressed him on why, his answer made sense: he liked the substance over the broth, and many soups he’d had were, well, weak on the substance. He’s a man who doesn’t tend to like food that’s, well, watery. So I collected soup recipes that were hearty, or my husband wasn’t happy. With a bunch of cooked chicken, this soup already stood a good chance of winning his favor (emphasis on “bunch” over “chicken.” The man likes mostly red meat. What can I say?)

To quickly make some chicken breasts, I often the Pioneer Woman’s hack that she shared for her chicken tortilla soup. Basically, you spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray, throw some cut-up chicken breasts on it, sprinkle it with some seasonings like salt (I like to use Lowry’s), garlic powder, Italian seasoning or rosemary (my personal choice)–whatever your preference is! Then bake them in a 375 degree oven for about fifteen minutes. Like the PW, I make a ton–even more than my minestrone recipe calls for!–so I have leftover baked chicken breast for salads, toppings for pasta, and more.

Mmmmm. Chicken.

I love red meat, too–I mean, we live in Wyoming, so our freezer has not only beef, but elk and bison and venison, and probably some other kinds of meat I’m forgetting right now. But chicken can be used for so many things and made ahead for more than one meal! And for recipes like this soup, I end up with extra cooked poultry. It’s a win-win.

Third, the soup must include at least a few–if not many–vegetables. I’m a mom, so I’m fairly conscientious about providing my kids with healthy options (cookies are not a food group, though they’d argue otherwise). My kids are used to meals with veggies, and one-pot soups like this with lots of veggies mean it’s almost impossible for them to eat without swallowing some healthy goodness. Most of them don’t like the zucchini, but that’s okay. They’ll still get tomatoes, and peas, and green beans, and….you get the picture.

Carrots. Lots of carrots.

So that’s it for good soup. Good taste, lots of meat and fillings, particularly vegetables, and we’ve got a hearty, crowd-pleasing meal. And, of course, this minestrone scores in all three categories. It’s simple and filling and there’s lots of it. So yes, we’ve already eaten the ice cream bucket of leftovers, too.

Mmmmm. Minestrone!

After baking the chicken, chopping the veggies, throwing in the spices, and letting it all simmer together for a few hours, I made some quick French bread to go with the soup. That’s another recipe for another time–you can look forward to that one!–but it’s an easy side that pairs well with soup. Plus, the smell of home-baked bread always wins over guests. Or maybe that’s just me.

YUM!

I didn’t have time between picking up the kids from school and doing the homework tango to make a dessert to share with our friends, but wouldn’t you know, they didn’t care. We just enjoyed eating bowl after bowl and catching up on work doings, summer plans, and kid foibles (okay, sins. Kids are sinners! Hey, we’re Lutherans and call sin what it is).

So if you, like us, are experiencing the last, furious vestiges of winter weather this early spring, make this delicious minestrone soup. Better yet, make it and invite over some neighbors in need of hot food and caring company. It doesn’t get much better than full stomachs and full hearts.

Why We Welcome Babies

How can you say there are too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.

Mother Teresa
Wildflowers on Casper Mountain.

Spring has sprung, and with it will soon come flowers. And flowers make me think of children–mainly, the children God has given to Jon and I.

Next week our baby turns two. We’re shocked about this the way most parents are, that time has turned our helpless, fragile newborn into a thriving, talking, moving toddler. We love her so much. And I find myself wondering a little, too. A few months ago, we expected to soon hold another sweet baby. But another child was not in God’s divine plan for us in 2019. So this is the first time one of our children will turn two and we do not have another baby in utero or a newborn in arms.

That fact all by itself usually provokes a shocked response from people: “Wow.” And it is truly amazing. How blessed I have been by God to have the privilege of bearing, birthing, breastfeeding, and bundling up six babies, and all of them in less than ten years. It’s been a blur at times, that’s absolutely certain–there are periods in there that I don’t quite remember. But these years have also been overwhelmingly good. Jon and I are so grateful for what we have. Our family garden, so to speak, has abundantly multiplied and grown, and like good farmers, we thank the only One who has the ability to create and sustain life. We are merely receivers of His great generosity.

Our kids lined up, cell signal style, in 2017.

With our larger-than-normal family, we get questions sometimes. “Did you always want a big family?” “How do you do it?” and the niggling one that most people wonder: “Are you open to more children?” At least, that’s the tactful way questioners put it. Others phrase it as our cultural is wont to, in terms of choices and personal desires: “Do you want any more children?”

We can answer this with a short response, and we usually do. We say something like, “We’re open to as many as God wants to give us.” Another version we’ve shared is “We’ve left that in God’s hands.” Both of these answers imply our heartfelt feelings, hopefully, that we do, in fact, love children, both our own and the idea of more.

Our answer, and our life, is weird to most people. That’s why we get questions to begin with. Our culture doesn’t understand our family or our perspective on children, because our culture idolizes control and autonomy and definitely–definitely–human ways to avoid children at almost any cost.

Because of this, our short answer isn’t really enough to explain to people where we’re coming from in terms of children. If we had time, we’d sit down and chat for a few hours about God’s gift of fertility. That’s not possible in a grocery store checkout line, but it is possible on a blog! So if you’re curious and want to know the extended version of why we’ve welcomed children so readily into our family, read ahead.

Yellow flowers on Casper Mountain.

The Typical Marriage Start

Jon and I have been blessed with nearly fifteen years of marriage. In the last ten, we have become one of “those” families—one that people smile at in parks, gawk at in stores, and probably run away from in airports and other confined spaces.

But in the first few years, we looked like many young married Americans. We didn’t have kids.

This wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned growing up. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted a big family. The play “Cheaper By the Dozen” and a number of books influenced my thinking, as did my loving, supportive parents who cared for me and my two siblings and made a wonderful home for us. I am also sure that God gave me a natural and good desire for a Godly husband and children during numerous babysitting jobs and summer camp counseling. Before Jon and I met, he, too, hoped God would give him a Godly wife and children—though he didn’t quite visualize a half-dozen children in his future. But on one of our first dates, when I mentioned I’d like six sons, he said, “That’s enough for a basketball team and a sixth man.” And he meant that in a good way! Suffice it to say that I was relieved that I hadn’t scared him off.

But in 2004, Jon and I were influenced by cultural norms, even among many Christians, regarding birth control. In particular, I was pretty sure we weren’t “ready” right away for children. I thought that we needed time to “get used to one another.” I was sure I needed to work at least a little bit to use my expensive undergraduate education and help out with the bills. I was confident of any number of popular ideas about early marriage that circulate, most of which involve materialistic acquisition and experiences, like saving up for a house and all the trappings and traveling. Mostly, I was sure that I should use birth control at least in the beginning of our marriage. I didn’t feel extremely dogmatic about it, but I definitely felt like it was something we should do–because that’s just what people did. And it just made so much sense, given all of my preconceptions going into marriage. Jon agreed with me in this. My gynecologist encouraged me, of course, and the example of countless friends and relatives silently supported it.

So just before we got married, I got a prescription for a birth control patch that I would stick on my skin and change once a month (I never remembered to take vitamins every day, so I figured the patch was my best bet). I immediately started using it.

In those first few months after our wedding, Jon and I didn’t really think much at all about God when it came to preventing conception. Despite both of us being raised in Lutheran churches our entire lives, we had no clear understanding of how God intended marriage, including our marriage, to be blessed by children. We had swallowed the cultural norm, hook, line, and sinker, that while children are great, responsible, educated, married people always plan for them, and they usually don’t have more than two or three, maybe four at the maximum. Those days of thinking of a basketball team and a spare seemed naive and heedless.

But after about six months, I was ready to stop using contraception, and Jon was supportive. I didn’t like the mood swings or the feelings I had when I used it. I didn’t like the discoloration on my skin and the tight stick of the patch. I also think both of us had pricked consciences. We felt like something was missing from our marriage, and I think we’d realized that most of our rationale involving contraception revolved around fear rather than trust—hardly the way to build a Godly marriage. I wish we’d had a thorough theological conversation about it, but we didn’t–not until later. Instead, we simply realized that we wanted to be open to children instead of trying to prevent them. So I stopped using contraception. And a month or so later, I took a pregnancy test, and it was positive.

A Brief Life

Those of you who are parents can understand the joy we felt at learning that new life was growing inside of me. We were thrilled. We were also kind of terrified. I began to feel exhausted and nauseated right away, and while questions about our ability to parent and provide for our child began cropping up in our minds, we were extremely thankful for our child. We told our parents and some close friends, and I bought a little book with flowers on it to record questions I had for my first prenatal appointment.

The only physical reminder I have that our first baby existed. I have used this notebook for prenatal visit notes for all of our children.

Just a few weeks later, we got a chance to really consider how precious God’s gifts are. I began bleeding, and after several doctor visits, ultrasounds, and a hospital run, we were told a blood clot was pressuring our baby’s placenta. Shortly after that, I began cramping intensely, and we knew. On April 26, 2005, our daughter died.

What could we do? Nothing. We could do nothing. Jon felt helpless. I felt like a murderer. Doctors told me that sometimes the mother’s body attacks an in utero child as something foreign. That was bad enough to hear, but some of what I learned also pointed to my recent use of the patch as a likely reason why the blood clot appeared. But regardless of the “why,” we were both overwhelmed with grief, loss, and guilt. We had been so glib, assuming we were in charge and taking life for granted. Both Jon and I, like Peter, could only plead, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

God in Christ gave us comfort during that time. When I was miscarrying in the emergency room, a gentle nurse leaned over me to check my heart rate. A gold necklace around her neck slipped from beneath her uniform and swung just before my face. On it was a crucifix. Seeing that was a lifeline for me. I knew God was with me, despite my pain and anguish, and that He fully understood physical suffering and loss.

Our wonderful pastor arrived soon after that and prayed with us. A few days later, he held a private memorial service for us at church for our child and read Martin Luther’s “Comfort for Women Who Have Had a Miscarriage.” Both Jon and I were deeply gratified to be reminded that our child had received Christ through me when I had received His body and blood in the Sacrament. God had formed our child, and He had taken care of her. Someday, we will see her again.

The Waiting and Hoping

Months passed. We learned to grieve alone and grieve together. Jon’s seminary studies caused us to move several times, and we prayerfully weighed big decisions involving schooling and housing. And we waited. Several years went by. We no longer used birth control, but God chose to close my womb. I didn’t recognize it at the time, probably willfully, but we were experiencing infertility. Thankfully, our desire for children gave us opportunities to learn.

Those years of wondering and waiting, praying for children, taught us many things about God and His goodness. They were hard. Doctors told us everything was normal, and so we did not pursue any special medical treatment. Every month I wondered if this month, we would be pregnant again. And every month that we weren’t, God will still reassure us of His eternal love and mercy. “Be content with what you have,” His Word reminded us. “I will never leave you nor forsake you… Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” No matter what happened, we knew this was the Truth that would sustain us.

God blessed me with greater insight during that time. I learned not to judge so quickly when I saw married women without children.  I learned to be more patient and trusting of God’s will for me, for my husband, and for our marriage. I especially learned that my worth is not bound to my ability to conceive or bear children. My worth is bound in the blood of Christ, who died for all of my sins. “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).

God opens His hand and showers us with blessings.

Answering the Question–and Trusting in God’s Provision

So how exactly did our views on family change?

By the time our oldest son arrived in 2008, both Jon and I were so thankful to more deeply understand that he, and every child, is a gift. As the years passed, and God added to our family, we learned through long nights and busy days that He knew exactly what He was doing, even when we didn’t–and we usually didn’t, and we still don’t. By now, we have learned countless more lessons in understanding and receiving children as a gift. God knew, in our case, that we needed to suffer before we began to grasp how precious life really is. We’d heard this countless times in pro-life circles, at church, and in the Bible, but we’d been influenced by our culture into thinking about children as acquisitions, as planned, as ultimately items and objects that we could, and even should, control.

In these full days, when I’m often frazzled, the thought of more children makes me pause. I know I’ve got more than enough to keep me busy right now, and for years. I know what pregnancy is like, and all the risks and dangers involved, especially as I get older. I also know in my marrow that regardless of how exhausted or overwhelmed or frustrated we might get with our brood, we are neither in control of creating life, nor do we want to be. We’ve sailed that ship, and we have no desire to do so again. And I am so reassured to know that my subjective feelings on the subject are moot, because God knows what is best.

From 2017: All these blessings.

So when people ask, “Do you want more kids?” my immediate, heartfelt thought is “Yes, but my wants don’t matter. Only God can give life.”

We also know that what people are really asking is “Will you do anything to prevent the conception of more of your children?” And our answer is an unequivocal “No.” In fact, when people ask us, testing our clairvoyance, “Will you have any more children?” We can say with frank and candid honesty, “We don’t know.” God might bless us with more children. He also might not. Either way, we trust His provision for us, both if He opens His hand to grant new life and how He will provide for that life. He’s got us either way. We are not God, and we do not know the future. But He does, and He knows what is good for us.

(And I’ll be honest: Jon is much more willing and adept at turning the tables on curious questioners. Once or twice, he’s said, straight-faced, “We really like sex, and that’s not ending any time soon.” So be careful what you ask! :))

What Our Children Learn

Awhile back, Jon and I played the board game of Life with our older sons. On their own, the boys both chose to follow the route labeled “Family” rather the route labeled “Life.” And both were extremely excited when they “won” a son or daughter, little blue and pink pegs. “Mom!” our oldest yelled. “I had so many kids, I had to get another car!” He was thrilled at the abundance he’d been given.

The boys’ excitement and genuine joy at having a family, even in a game, was so gratifying to us. Our children are young, and they have so much to learn in terms of the great responsibility God gives to fathers and mothers. But we are so thankful that they are already learning to view children as a priceless gift.

Do I know what God has in store for us regarding family size? No. I also do not know what God has in store for us regarding earthly wealth, health, opportunities–you name it. Not surprisingly, I don’t know exactly what God has in store for us tomorrow. I can guess, but I don’t know. All I know is that He promises to provide for us and care for us, and He is faithful even unto death. I know he will open His hand as He sees fit, and we will receive what He gives.

And this is our hope as individuals, as parents, as a family, and as pro-life, proliferating people: that our children will live out the thankfulness of God’s gracious, giving hand in regards to family, freedom, and faith. We hope that they will be brave enough to live the lives before them, making choices to serve their neighbors near and far, not in the hope that their choices will save them or anyone else, but trusting in Christ, who has promised to hold each of them in His hand–guiding them, blessing them, and taking care of them.

An excellent resource for questions about Lutheranism, problems with contraception, and the blessings of procreation can be found at Lutherans and Procreation.

His mercies never cease.

Our Weakness His Strength

Women aren’t known for boasting. As a group, we tend to avoid discussing our accomplishments out of fear of looking arrogant, because arrogance doesn’t play well. But before you think this is yet another call for women to trumpet themselves, think again.

Last night, a group of women from our church met to discuss a chapter in Katie Schuermann’s Pew Sisters. Our ages vary, from Millenials to Boomers, and our experiences vary, from exclusive homemakers to part-time volunteers and entrepreneurs to established professionals. All of us who gathered yesterday were moms. Some are in the diaper-and-potty-training stage. Some have tweens. Some are recent empty nesters. Some are grandmothers. One thing we all share, though, is that we are weak.

Women sharing at our Pew Sisters study.

We read about Claire, a young mother suffering from postpartum depression who tenaciously clings to Christ’s promises to her in her baptism. Claire’s cross rendered her weak. And in her weakness, Christ revealed His strength and sustained Claire.

As we read and talked, our conversation touched upon many weaknesses we carry and face. Anxiety. Worry. Depression. Marital woes. Chronic illness. Addiction. Many of us shared traumatic birth stories of ourselves or of our children and grandchildren, as well as ongoing medical challenges some of our family and friends face from terminal illnesses. And it occurred to me that in precisely in baring our weaknesses, Christ’s steadfast love and His bearing of our burdens shone most brightly.

St. Paul famously wrote that Christ’s “grace is sufficient for you, for [His] power is made perfect in weakness.” None of us enjoy weaknesses–the helplessness, the lack of control, the pain, the seeming endless weight of suffering. One of the women said that Christians, though, have the advantage of knowing that God works all things for good for those who love Him, even when we can’t see or understand His ultimate plan. This is a relief, a huge transfer of whatever weaknesses we endure to the back of Him who bore all things for us.

Lent is a time of reflection and penitence, of recognizing anew the terrible cross of sin for the entire world that Christ suffered and slew for us. We don’t have much to boast about, we sinners who constantly taint and mess up our lives and suffer many and myriad consequences of sin in our fallen world. But we can always boast in Him, who promises us His faithfulness and blesses us with Himself. And we can do this together, thank God, around His altar and around His word. Crosses come, but He remains, and His grace saves us. Ultimately, that’s all we need.

Friday Feeding: An Introduction

About Friday Feedings:

This blog exists to encourage Lutherans and other Christians to live faithfully on this hard, bleak earth. We know the Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament are for our comfort and benefit. So, of course, are good foods and friends, especially when shared together. Friday Feedings, then, will include reflections on hospitality and community, and of course recipes, ones that are specifically designed to be shared for get-togethers. So get ready for lots of portions!

I vividly remember one of the first times Jon and I hosted people at our house after we were married. They were church ladies–very gracious, generous, and loving widows who supported us immensely during Jon’s vicarage (his one year training at a church during seminary). I nervously chattered as I prepared food and set up the living room, trying to make sure everything looked perfect. Eventually, Jon stopped me as I rambled. “They aren’t coming to see the house,” he said. “Relax. Just spend time with them and make them feel comfortable.”

He was right. I stopped stressing about doily placement and started thinking more about what those dear ladies actually wanted: to cherish our company. 

One thing I’ve learned about hosting over the years is that most people just want to hang out. They don’t want to see your house. They won’t put on white gloves to test your mantle for dust. They just want you to want to see them. Sure, there are some basic rules. Like pick up enough so they don’t impale themselves on something as they come in your house or have to sit on junk if they want to sit down. Wipe down the bathroom sink and toilet if you’ve got an extra minute (thanks for that one, Mom). Offer them a beverage and provide some food that’s fairly fresh (i.e. not expired or poisoned), decently edible, and you’ll have a great time. And if you don’t have awesome food? If you only have peanut butter and crackers or popcorn? If you’ve got water? No problem. Remember: they just want to see you and want you to see them–really see them, talk with them, listen to them, and care about them.

Even my kids get that all you need around your table are people. And, um, food.

Over the years, I’ve gotten much less anxious about hosting people. Hosting people sounds intimidating itself; really, I just mean providing a place where people can come and visit and feel comfortable. What does this look like? All kinds of things, really:

  • A friend stopping in for a quick cup of coffee when our floors are a crumby mess and the counters are full of dirty dishes, and we visit while she sips and I wash dishes (the best way to wash, I’ve found).
  • Foreign exchange students far from home hungry for a home-cooked meal of pork and pie and welcome in a snowy, isolated rural area.
  • Last-minute travelling guests dropping by, and me scrambling some eggs, frying some bacon, and buttering some toast and setting out preserves for a late breakfast while our guests play with the kids.
  • A busy church family coming over when I made way too much soup for us to eat, and I know it’s been a long week for them. 
  • A lady whose husband travels a lot joining us for leftovers for supper, and while I wrangle older kids, she bathes the baby. 
  • Hosting an open door annual Open House with finger foods and sweets for church family.
  • Resting with dear ones on a Sunday afternoon, with grilled brats and hot dogs and chips and veggies eaten on the porch and the patio, in the garage, and at the table, with doors opening and shutting constantly, and the voices of carefree children floating through the open windows (I’m looking forward to this when the warmth returns!).  
  • Orchestrating–kind of–a chaotic taco bar for fifty people, including twenty plus kids, and multiple friends providing the delicious fixings and desserts while we make the meat.

These are just a few examples of the countless ways hospitality works at our house. You probably notice that many of the ways don’t require a bunch of cleaning and fancy extras. We definitely aren’t etiquette experts or candidates for an HGTV house and spread. We’re just regular people who have been the recipients of great hospitality and want to share with others, too. All our feedings just require a bit of planning (and sometimes virtually none) and the willingness to welcome others, whether new acquaintances or old friends, into our home and our life.

I’m excited to share Friday Feedings with you and hopefully to encourage you to start your own! Your life–and I’d venture others, too–will be richer because of it.