My due date is today. Not for Sweet Pea, but for Theodore.
There’s a mix of emotions of becoming pregnant soon after a loss. We’re excited for Sweet Pea and talk about her often. We don’t talk about Theodore because there isn’t much to be said. We hardly knew him–no baby kicks, no ultrasound photos, not even a hint of morning sickness. I know it’s easy for some people to assume that we have forgotten little Theodore, but I haven’t.
Tucked in our closet, there is a shoe box.
There isn’t much in there–some sympathy cards, some articles and sermons about miscarriage, a photo of the pregnancy test, and a few little gifts given in Theodore’s memory. These are the things I have to show that he existed and that he was loved. Earlier this month my husband and I agreed to give a little bit of money to the local crisis pregnancy center in Theodore’s memory.
Even with his sister’s impending arrival, we haven’t forgotten Theodore. And, because life is often complicated and there are things we cannot begin to understand on this side of Heaven, I can celebrate the life of Sweet Pea that I currently carry while mourning the death of her brother.
“The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” (Job 2:21). Amen.
I knew what was happening before we walked into the exam room. The multiple positive pregnancy tests the week before and the heavy bleeding over the weekend foretold that this appointment wouldn’t have a happy ending. Yet I cried as soon as the midwife said, “Miscarriage.”
At 6 weeks pregnant, there wasn’t any more that could be done. My body was clearly doing the work of clearing out the baby that had died and there wasn’t any risk to my physical health. The midwife did her best to explain how this might emotionally effect my husband and me, but she had other patients to see–Patients with big, round bellies and living babies. I know this because I saw them as I sadly sat in the waiting room.
1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. It strikes with very little warning. One moment a woman carries life, the next moment she carries death. There is no magic formula to prevent it from occurring, there is often nothing that can be done to stop it. And as common as miscarriage is, it’s an isolated grief.
My husband and I named our baby Theodore, which means “Gift of God” (obviously we have no idea if the baby was a boy, so the name will be Theodora if the baby was a girl). It reminds us to cling to the promise that children are a gift, even the children that we only know about for a few days before they are gone. Our pastor came Thursday to do a private memorial service for Theodore. He reminded us that God knew and loved our child before we did. He told us that as Christian parents, God heard our prayers for our baby and we can trust in His mercy. In God’s mercy we have hope that we’ll see Theodore in Heaven.
“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”
God created Theodore, to God we entrust Theodore. “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” (Job 2:21). Amen.
The last funeral my husband had occurred the week of Thanksgiving. And can you guess what happened a few days ago? Yup, another member died, meaning there’s a funeral Saturday, church Sunday, and the start of Lent next Wednesday.
I hope this isn’t the new trend for the start of midweek services.
It seems to happen to every pastor’s family at some point. As a vacation approaches, death comes.
My husband has a conference at the seminary in Indiana next week. Babykins and I were going to tag along and visit some of our seminary friends. Technically, this is continuing education for my husband, but it was also going to be a vacation for our family. My husband would get a chance to focus on studying and take a break from the daily grind of parish life. I would have the opportunity to have rejuvenating socialization with people I’m comfortable with. Perfect.
But a member has been fighting terminal cancer. Last week my husband no longer referred to him as “terminally ill” but as “dying”. By Tuesday, my husband had made his decision–he couldn’t leave for the conference. We cancelled our trip.
The man died yesterday. The funeral is on Monday.
Our family can’t complain about the cancelled vacation. It’s a disappointment, but there are people in our congregation mourning the death of their husband, father, grandfather.
We’ll just count this as one of those “Quintessential Pastor’s Family Experiences”.
Today we observed All Saints’ Day at church (which technically falls on November 1 but is observed on the closest Sunday following that date). Besides remembering all the saints-those still living as well as those who have already fallen asleep in the faith–All Saint’s Day means great hymns. One of my favorite hymns for this day is “Behold a Host, Arrayed in White” (Lutheran Service Book 676).
It’s not just the text of this hymn that makes it one of my favorites, it’s also the personal memories. Our vicarage congregation was able to purchase LSB hymnals because of a memorial given when a faithful member suddenly died. On the day the hymnals were dedicated, we sang this hymn because it was one of her favorites (and it was fitting, seeing how she is now a member of the host, arrayed in white). Almost two years later, we sang this hymn on the day of Baby Girl’s baptism.
It may be strange to remember a dead woman that I barely knew when my young daughter was baptized. However, that is what baptism is about: faith and salvation, so that we too can join this host in heaven.
I fervently pray that I will be placed in the grave long before Baby Girl. But I also fervently pray that she will have a blessed end and join the saints in heaven.
Behold a Host, Arrayed in WhiteBehold a host, arrayed in white, Like thousand snow-clad mountains bright! With palms they stand; Who is this band Before the throne of light? These are the saints of glorious fame, Who from the great affliction came And in the flood Of Jesus’ blood Are cleansed from guilt and shame. They now serve God both day and night; They sing their songs in endless light. Their anthems ring As they all sing With angels shining bright. Despised and scorned, the sojourned here; But now, how glorious they appear! Those martyrs stand, A priestly band, God’s throne forever near. On earth they wept through bitter years; Now God has wiped away their tears, Transformed their strife To heav’nly life, And freed them from their fears. They now enjoy the Sabbath rest, The heavn’ly banquet of the blest; The lamb, their Lord, At festive board Himself is host and guest. O blessed saints in bright array Now safely home in endless day, Extol the Lord, Who with His Word Sustained you on the way. The steep and narrow path you trod; You toiled and sowed the Word abroad; Rejoice and bring Your fruits and sing Before the throne of God The myriad angels raise their song; O saints, sing with that happy throng! Lift up one voice; Let heav’n rejoice In our Redeemer’s song!
Truth be told, I haven’t been closely following the story of ISIS’ actions in Iraq. I can’t bring myself to read about the horrors unfolding there, but I know it’s bad. It’s hard not to feel like pulling an ostrich move and hide when there’s nothing you can do to help.
So what does the post tell us that we can do?
Repent for our lack of faith, because there may very well be a day in which we are faced with similar persecution. Learn from and pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters.
Remember that as Christians, the world is not our home. While Americans are blessed to live in a country to not face such deadly persecution, our real home is in heaven.
Ready ourselves for the time when our faith is put to the test. Read the scriptures, study the catechism, and memorize hymns so we can have God’s comfort and strength on our lips on our days of suffering.
Rejoice in the work God has given us, even when it brings suffering and death.
Also, there is a link for a newly set up fund to help persecuted Christians.
And we continue to pray for those suffering in Iraq. Kyrie Eleison.
Yesterday I was perusing Facebook when I saw an article about a missing two-year-old. I studied the picture a moment and realized that I recognized the little boy–he was our mechanic’s youngest son. Apparently the child went missing on Tuesday night and a massive search was underway. While my husband and I aren’t close friends with our mechanic, he’s been very good to our vehicles this year and I always enjoyed watching his little boy play while he worked on our cars.
Despite the search efforts of hundreds of people and fervent prayers for the child’s safe return, the boy’s body was found last night. I was brokenhearted when I found out this morning–the energetic two-year-old I saw running around just last week is now dead. I cannot even begin to fathom the pain his parents and brother are feeling.
When something this tragic happens to someone so young, it’s difficult not to demand that God explain His actions. Why did it have to be a toddler who died? Why did it have to happen to this nice man’s son? Why couldn’t the boy just come home safely? I know the theological answers to these questions–that we live in a fallen, sinful world where death is prevalent, that we are all born in sin so even the seemingly innocent suffer and die, and that God’s plans aren’t always our plans. Still, it’s hard not to feel anger that all of this wasn’t fair.
But when a calamity like this occurs, I always think of Job’s response after he lost all his property and all of his children. The man lost everything, but as he mourned he stated, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” (Job 1:21). Job kept his trust in God despite his suffering. Likewise, we can find comfort in Christ’s resurrection as told in 1 Corinthians 15:51-56,
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This little boy was part of a Christian family. I put my trust in God’s mercy that while we feel the terrible sting of death here on earth, this child is now living victorious with Jesus in Heaven. I pray that the boy’s family finds comfort in this as they mourn his death.
As Lutherans, we’re not afraid to talk about death. Death is inevitable, death can come at any time. We cannot teach the full sweetness of the Gospel without talking about death (Why did Jesus die on the cross? To save us from our sins and eternal death. Why is Jesus’ resurrection important? Among other things, it’s because it shows that He conquered death). Likewise, Luther’s explanation of the seventh petition of the Lord’s prayer includes praying for a blessed end, that is, a death in the faith.
This acknowledgment of death is apparent in many of our hymns. The last verse in “Abide With Me” states,
"Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies. Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me." LSB 878:6
Another example is found in “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus”:
"Let us gladly die with Jesus. Since by death He conquered death, He will free us from destruction, Give to us immortal breath. Let us mortify all passion That would lead us into sin; And the grave that shuts us in Shall but prove the gate to heaven. Jesus here with You I die, There to live with You on high." LSB 685:3
Now look at “In God, My Faithful God”:
"If death my portion be, It brings great gain to me; It speeds my life's endeavor To live with Christ forever. He gives me joy in sorrow, Come death now or tomorrow." LSB 745:3
There are many more examples in which Lutheran hymnody acknowledges and embraces the inevitability of death. For the most part, I find this openness about death comforting, especially when facing the life’s constant sorrows.
However, a couple of weeks ago my husband and I were looking at “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” (LSB 594). It’s a wonderful baptism hymn filled with sound teachings of what it means to be a baptized child of God. Then we get to verse 5:
"There is nothing worth comparing To this lifelong comfort sure! Open-eyed my grave is staring; Even there I'll sleep secure. Though my flesh awaits its raising, Still my soul continues praising I am baptized into Christ; I'm a child of paradise!"
Opened-eyed my grave is staring?! That’s a creepy image!
What adds to the creepiness of this phrase is the fact that the setting in the hymnal is very bouncy–it’s such a happy-sounding song! Go ahead and listen to it if you want (this video is from a WELS church, hence the different hymn number). Despite the spooky image, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” is a great hymn that teaches what baptism gives us, tells of Christ’s death and resurrection, beautifully explains what happens when we die, and provides comfort as we face sin and death. I love this hymn, open-eyed graves and all.
What is your favorite “creepy” hymn?
When I was in grade school, I hated attending the Good Friday Service of Darkness. It was dark, it was sad, and it was scary. I hated it so much that I could barely remember that Good Friday was called “good;” I wanted to call it Bad Friday because I knew what a terrible death Jesus died. But whenever my siblings or I complained about going to the Good Friday service, my mom would say, “You can’t have Easter without Good Friday.”
Now I have a much better understanding of what is good about Good Friday. Yes, Jesus died, but he died for my sins. He bore the entirety of God’s wrath against His sinful creation. Through the shedding of His innocent blood, I have been washed clean of my sins. All of this done out of love. Romans 5:6-11 explains Good Friday, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Good Friday services are often still dark, sad, and scary for me, but I also know that it is good because Christ died for us undeserving sinners so that we could be reconciled with God. Thanks be to Christ!
Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted (LSB 451)
Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, See Him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ, by man rejected; Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
‘Tis the long expected Prophet, David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it: ‘Tis the true and faithful Word.
Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning, Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning, Foes insulting His distress;
Many hands were raised to wound Him, None would intervene to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him Was the stroke that justice gave.
Ye who think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly, Here it’s guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed, See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.
Here we have a firm foundation, Here the refuge of the lost:
Christ, the Rock of our salvation, Is the name of which we boast;
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded Who on Him their hope have built.