Oct 30, 2020

Not Normal, But Good

By Leah Sherman

Back in January, our lives were busy. Many of us had carefully curated our routines to ensure that every family member was delivered to each appointment, activity, or party in a timely-ish manner. Our schedules were packed so tightly we struggled to fit in one more thing. Parents and children alike were worn out by the end of the day. As mothers, we had little time or energy to consider cooking for our families, so we out-sourced our meals and served them to our children who were strapped in their respective seats in the car, all while moving forward to the next item on the agenda. Perhaps those napkins with charming conversation starters made it into our homes with the best of intentions, but such whimsy requires both people to be present, and substantial time for conversations to become an opportunity to actually learn about one another; neither of which we had in all our rushing around.

Perhaps you enjoyed the hours of school at home alone.  You had the time to fold the laundry and mop the floors while watching the shows you enjoyed, or exercise to the music of your choice. Close friends met you at the coffee shop for a chat, and you did your grocery shopping peaceably before collecting the kids and rushing home for dinner and homework and basketball.

Whatever your normal was, odds are, it’s gone. All that we did—playdates, gymnastics, piano lessons, plays, work meetings, hair appointments, dinners out, coffee dates, church—all of it—ended. And we were forced to sit at our own kitchen tables each night with our whimsical napkins trying to cheer us up. 

Maybe your normal wasn’t quite that. Maybe you had that coveted quiet time between dropping the kids off for school and the commute to work. Your office was a place where you could accomplish tasks without constant interruptions.  You enjoyed talking with your coworkers in person and collaborating on projects; and by the end of the day, you left feeling accomplished, and thankful you had friends and family who could keep the kids a couple extra hours so you could meet your deadlines. 

All these months later, normal still hasn’t returned. Surely some of our rushing kids around and meeting with coworkers and friends has started again, but it’s still a dim reflection of what we once had, and mostly feels false.

Whatever your normal was, take a moment to consider it. Then,

“consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments. Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deed? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?” (Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism, “Confession.”)

Was your normal good?

I fear the answer for many of us must be no. It was not all good. And while what we are living through right now is also not very good, our old normal is not something we ought to desire. Much of our life was lived to self alone, and not in love and service to our neighbor. We created a pattern for our lives that left us exhausted and frustrated with the family members God had given us, and while we bemoaned the craziness of our schedules, we saw no way to fix the problems our desire to do and achieve had created. 

Our rush and hurry to give our children every opportunity our money could afford often robbed them of the attention they needed from us, their parents. Our inability to communicate with our spouses left us seeking understanding in relationships outside the home, or in the hazy blue-light of our screens. Our obsession with self-fulfillment left us little time to care for those in need in our church or neighborhood. We blamed our kids, our spouses, and our finances for the physical and emotional mess we were in.
Yes, consider your place in life. Was your normal good? 

But also, consider this new normal. Are parts of your new normal good? 

Certainly there are real, exhausting, hair-pulling frustrations with our current situation.  There are serious health and financial concerns. We are still yelling and crying and blaming and whining. 

But, is there any good? Can there be any good?

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28; ESV)

In the midst of all the upheaval and confusion, see God at work in your lives. Your spouse, your children, your parents, and your neighbors are gifts from God, and you are being called to serve them in new ways. As you are learning to care for them, look for the ways God is working for good. Perhaps you find you enjoy knowing what your children are taught daily. Perhaps you realize working from home, while challenging, gives you a chance to complete a few extra chores. Perhaps your free time allows for you to write, call, or pray for your friends and family. And perhaps, as those silly napkins of ours are getting a workout like never before, we find that sitting down to a home-cooked meal is something our families have needed, and truly is a good gift from God.


Leah Sherman is a pastor's wife and homeschooling mother.  She and her husband have struggled with secondary infertility, but are constantly reminded of God's great blessings through their son. She lives in Gordon, Nebraska, and enjoys reading, gardening, and sewing.

Sep 23, 2020

A Backwards Way to Pray (and Why It's Often Better)

 by Heather Smith

From my quasi-Baptist upbringing I absorbed many assumptions about prayer.  Some of them were admirable, and some questionable.  I was indoctrinated that God cares about all aspects of our life (He does) and we should therefore submit all our worries to Him in prayer (we should).  Various devotional programs emphasized setting aside daily time for prayer (a wise discipline that was unfortunately doled out as Law rather than Gospel).  But perhaps more than anything else, I was taught that prayer must come from the heart.  A spontaneous flow of ineloquent ramblings was the sure sign of sincerity, and I was actually cautioned against written prayers since these ostensibly could not reflect the genuine desires of the speaker’s heart.  

However, the more years I am steeped in Lutheran liturgy and practice, the more I come to appreciate written prayers, particularly the collects of the Church.  Far from leading me into a cold, rote faith, I find they direct my heart to Scriptural truths that I would otherwise overlook.  Whereas the type of prayer I was taught as a child identifies my worries, my needs, my desires and asks God to fix these problems, the ancient prayers of the Church work backwards.  They ask God to give us what we pray for—by fixing how we pray.  

This struck me powerfully in the historic collect for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity:  

“Let Your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of Your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please You . . .”

What a radical prayer!  My heartfelt spontaneous prayers would certainly never stumble upon the idea of setting aside the requests I have in mind and instead petitioning God to make me ask for better things.   

However, once I recognized this through-the-looking-glass view in one collect, I began to see it week after week:

“Almighty and everlasting God, always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than we either desire or deserve, pour down upon us the abundance of Your mercy, forgiving those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things that we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Christ our Lord . . .” (Eleventh Sunday after Trinity)

“Almighty and everlasting God, give us an increase of faith, hope, and charity; and that we may obtain what You have promised, make us love what You have commanded . . .” (Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity)

“O God because without You we are not able to please You, mercifully grant that Your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts . . .” (Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity)

Give us the things we are not wise enough to request.  Grant us true good by making us love Your commandments. Change us so that we may love You rightly.  Week after week in the historic liturgy of the Church we pray for God’s merciful correction of our truly backwards hearts.  

Moreover, it is not simply the ancient Church who believes this is the right way to pray.  It is our Lord Himself.  As Luther explains so simply in the Small Catechism, more than half the Lord’s Prayer asks for things that God would give us anyway:  God’s name is certainly holy in itself.  The kingdom of God comes by itself without our prayer.  The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer.  God certainly gives daily bread to everyone, even to all evil people, without our prayer.  

Why, then, does our Lord urge us to pray for these things?  It is so that we might learn to recognize the wondrous works He does among us.  Far more wondrous than healing from disease or averting financial ruin or blessing with a job is the primary work of the Triune God.  Namely, to strengthen and keep us firm in His Word and faith until we die.  

Left to its own devices, my heart wants to brush aside this miracle.  “Yes, yes, I know Jesus died to save me from sin, and that is the most important thing but, God, what I really need right now is . . .”  And so our Facebook feeds fill with urgent prayer requests for ourselves and those we know, sick acquaintances or bereaved friends, and it is so easy to offer a glib response of “praying!” or an emoji of folded hands.  

Certainly, Scripture commends prayer for those who are ill or troubled (James 5:13-15), but what should be the content of the prayer we offer?  If we simply ask God to provide physical healing, do we not sell short His magnificent mercy and power?  In prayer we are speaking to the very God who became incarnate, suffered unimaginable tortures, conquered the power of sin, and freely shares His victory over death with us.  Of course He can provide bodily health, but the life He most desires for us is far greater than an extension of our sin-ridden earthly years.  

So He teaches us to pray “Thy will be done.”  Those four humble words are our passport through the looking glass into the realm of right prayer.  Let us live or die.  Grant us health or illness.  Give us what we ask or withhold it.  But this one thing we must have, dear Lord:  We must have You.  You, Lord Jesus, are our true life and salvation, “Our health while we are living, / Our life when we shall die” (“Christ Is the World’s Redeemer, LSB 539, st. 1).  Whether we pray for ourselves or for others, whether spontaneously or from a written prayer book or simply in the words our Lord Himself taught us, let us ever be praying for true faith to cling to Christ our Savior.  

Yet if our selfish hearts betray us and we in frustration insist upon our own will above God’s, we have great comfort.  He gives what we neglect to ask and withholds what we foolishly demand.  He is gracious to us, and He turns our backwards hearts around so they may know and adore Him aright.  

"Nadzieja" by Ludwik Stasiak (1858-1924)
(This image is in the Public Domain)


Heather is a pastor's wife in rural Illinois, prior to which she was a teacher in a classical Lutheran school in Wyoming and spent time in the Washington, D.C. area working on a master's degree in English.  She has an abiding love for reading, baking, deep intellectual conversations, and persistent Lutheran matchmakers.

Apr 22, 2020

"Faithful Neighbors, and the Like."

By Molly Barnett

Over a month ago, before our state imposed stay-at-home laws, my husband and I  heard a knock at the kitchen door as we relaxed on the couch after our son went to bed. Slightly rattled by the unexpected greeting, I gingerly walked to the door, and cautiously gazed out the window only to see our neighbor smiling and waving on the other side of the glass. In that moment I simply had to laugh at my previous suspicion and realized with embarrassment who I had become in this age of texting. What once upon a time had been an expected sound at the door, had become a surprise! Long story short, our neighbor had simply stopped by to ask if we needed anything from the store, which then led to him spending a little over an hour with us in our living room, conversing delightedly and reciting poems we have memorized. Yes, you read that correctly--poetry! God has been too good to us in terms of who we have as physical neighbors. 

So then I began thinking about the gift of good neighbors as Luther explains in the fourth 
Give us this day our daily bread. What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

According to this list of daily bread, we have been blessed immeasurably! Thus, I have been pondering the gift of good neighbors and the calling we have to act as faithful ones to those around us. 

I met these neighbors by pure coincidence almost one year ago. With my eight-day-old son in arms, I took a short stroll outside around the courtyard and ran into my neighbor who greeted me kindly, which led to introductory remarks. Following interactions then led to a friendship of families. These are the neighbors for whom we pray in the fourth petition. The wife and mother of two used to hold weekly soup lunches for her other friends who are mothers with children, and I witnessed her selfless hospitality extended to all of us week after week. These simple gatherings allowed all of us mothers to share the happenings in our lives and often seek advice on child-rearing. In addition to these social gatherings, our neighbors freely lent us their high chair for our son to use, toys, diapers when I suddenly ran out and needed one immediately, and other odds and ends. I knew then and still know that if I reach out with a need, they will respond to lend a helping hand. In many more ways, they have taught us how to be faithful neighbors.

So what do “good neighbors” look like now in this time of isolation? We as Christians are called to remain faithful neighbors in all times. At the least, we can utilize the wise use of our phones and technology to remain in contact. A simple, “how are you today?” might be just what our neighbors need. A good dose of human creativity seems to be on the rise where we live. Many neighbors in the community are engaging in a “teddy bear hunt” wherein participants place teddy bears in their windows for walkers to seek and find. This little game has become a delightful ray of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy atmosphere. 

Although these little acts may help lift our neighbors’ downcast spirits, we ought to continue praying fervently for them as well. In fact, as Christians, that is arguably the best way to be a faithful neighbor. “How are you? How can I pray for you?” we might ask. 

I continue to pray for the health of this nation and hope that once the restrictions are lifted, we might return to acting as faithful neighbors in a more physical way by picking up groceries, knocking on doors to say hello, helping repair broken belongings, and watching one another’s children. For now, and always, let us continue lifting our prayers to our Heavenly Father to grant us faithful neighbors and help us be them. 


Molly Barnett lives with her husband and son in Alexandria, Virginia where they are members of Immanuel Lutheran Church. Before becoming a mother, she taught fourth grade for six years at the classical Immanuel Lutheran School. She holds a B.A. in English from The Ohio State University and an M.A. in liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. Her favorite activities these days include walking outside with her family, playing the piano, and competing against her husband in various board games. 

Image source.

Apr 14, 2020

Memorization for Moms (and Other Busy Ladies)

By Heather Judd

Gradually I am learning how much more pleasant life is when we embrace the present season rather than covet the blessings of the past or the future.  This includes not coveting how my neighbor seems to be in the same season of life and yet accomplishing so much more than I can manage.  My selfish heart is so very good at seeing the blessings I don’t have and the crosses I do while ignoring the good I would miss and the pains I would suffer if circumstances differed.

In my present season of baby-raising, I could make a long list of things I am not currently accomplishing:  learning German, reading epic poems, sewing adorable toddler toys, staying abreast of the news, writing regularly, let alone keeping the kitchen floor free of crumbs and yogurt splotches.  However, I have found that this is a very good season of life for something with a different sort of value:  memorizing.

I stumbled my way into memorization through sleepless nights with a colicky infant, but as I have incorporated it into the rhythms of my days, I have come to appreciate how wholesome it is for mind and spirit.  In the interest of encouraging others to share the refreshment of memorization, I offer some of the practicalities I have learned.

Memorize for Meditation

As grammar students of all ages can attest, memorization can be a stressful drudgery, but it needn’t be.  You, dear friend, are not a pupil under the tutelage of a demanding taskmaster, and your goal is to memorize not for Friday’s recitation grade but for life.  Memorize for life.  That is the key to refreshing, meditative memorization.

Since we are memorizing for life, we will choose to memorize things that we can love, treasure, and admire until our dying breath.  Scripture, but also the Catechism, the creeds, hymns, collects and other prayers, as well as poetry that delights your heart are all eminently suitable.  
So much to memorize!   If your impulse is to scribble a list and make a schedule or plan, please stop.  Simply start with something.  An excellent course is to pick up a hymn or a section of the Catechism that you sort of know but want truly to learn by heart.  The rapid results of a little study on such a thing are very encouraging.  

Have the Right Materials

Every home should have a Bible, a Catechism, a hymnal, books of poetry . . . and none of these beautiful bound books is conducive to studying for memorization.  Set them open on your kitchen counter while preparing dinner, and the gravy will assuredly slop onto their lovely pages.  Nor are they handy to haul around in the stroller or diaper bag.  

Instead, opt for thin, small, replaceable options.  My memorization of the Catechism benefited greatly from the booklet format “A Simple Explanation of Christianity.”  Your church may have these available, or they can be purchased through CPH.  Raid your Sunday bulletins for printed copies of collects, Scriptures, hymns, or the like.  I gleefully saved this past year’s Reformation bulletin, which had all the hymns of Divine Service Setting 5 printed out.  Sometimes copying or typing out things you wish to memorize provides the handy format you need.  For Lent I typed out the words to a slew of Lenten hymns so that I had my own little study booklet.

Don’t Set a Schedule

Remember, we are memorizing for life.  Although schedules and deadlines may have motivational power, they also have the power of guilt if not strictly obeyed.  Of course, you may choose to focus on some particular piece of memorization before you will move on to others, but remove the stress of planning to finish it by a certain date.

It really is possible for memorization to be soothing, not stressful.  Let your memory work be a comfortable companion, whose presence you will enjoy for the rest of life.  You wouldn’t set a deadline by which you must form a friendship with another person, and you surely know that a few dear friends are worth more than a host of shallow friendships.  So what if you only manage to memorize one of the Catechism’s six Chief Parts in an entire year?  That little addition to your personal “word hoard” is now your treasure forever.

Connect to Common Activities 

While schedules and deadlines may not be helpful, regularity is.  Ironically, the way I’ve found to make memorization restful in the busyness of motherhood is to tie it to other activities rather than giving it dedicated time.

I first began re-memorizing the Catechism during the long months when my infant son was waking every one to two hours all night long.  I was exhausted, and yet I struggled to fall back asleep after each nighttime waking.  Somehow in my haze I struck upon the method of mentally reciting the Catechism while listening to the whir of the white noise machine.  Made it to the Sixth Commandment last time before falling asleep?  Then pick up with the Seventh this time.  

As my knowledge of the Commandments solidified, I wanted to review the other Chief Parts, but those needed more work.  I put up a bulletin board above the changing table, and at every diaper change I worked on a portion of the Catechism posted there.  To this display, I added a hymn or two that I could sing to my son before bed or upon waking.  With a little intention and a lot of repetition, these too made their way into my memory.  Currently, I work on memory while taking stroller walks, which has the added benefit of making my exercise time pass more pleasantly. 

Find the activities and times that work for you.  Post your current memory piece by the kitchen sink or the stove.  Tape it to the vacuum.  Store it into the laundry basket.  Place it in a Ziploc bag in the shower.   

Make It Stick Like Velcro

The ancient Romans were fond of the maxim “repetition is the mother of memory.”  It is certainly true that memorization requires repetition, but mindless repetition is not enough.  You need memory hooks.  These are the specific little details that you note to keep your mind in the right place as you recite.  Find enough of them, and the words will stick to your mind like Velcro.

Most things worth memorizing have built-in memory hooks.  The rhyme of poetry or the Trinitarian structure of creeds are simple examples.  Perhaps some alliteration catches your eye, or you might note the parallel construction in a hymn stanza or the logical narrative which a group of stanzas follows.  Other times, some particular phrase will just strike you and become a personalized memory hook.

Repeat, Review, and Rest

If memorization is a completely new foray for you, it may seem daunting.  However, regardless of experience or inexperience, the truth is that we all start the same way.  Begin with a small portion, such as one hymn stanza or Scripture verse, and study it phrase by phrase.  As the days turn to weeks, you can add more while also reviewing what you have learned.  Somewhere in the months beyond, you can establish a comfortable rhythm between recitation and new memory work.

Deep memorization consists of several distinct steps.  The initial learning is usually nothing more than rote back-and-forth between reading and repeating aloud.  Next comes the process of trying to recite, while stopping to check and correct as needed.  Once most of the errors and gaps are eliminated, there must be a certain amount of deliberate repetition to reinforce memory.  Finally, the piece is truly learned by heart, and you may recite it as your own with restful confidence.  

The loveliness of these steps is that they require differing amounts and types of attention, thus lending themselves to differing situations and states of mental vigor or fatigue.  I can always work on reinforcing memory while cleaning the bathroom, but learning something new is better done when I can have the written copy at hand.  On a day when my mind is cloudy with angst, I may simply soothe it by reciting stores from my learned-by-heart treasury.  When I am feeling more brisk, I may push my mind up several of the more rigorous steps in one session.  

This brings us back to the importance of meditative memorization.  In the early steps, your contemplation of the words will help you find your memory hooks.  As you review, your mind will be able to ponder the text in even greater detail, sometimes finding insights in what had previously seemed mundane phrases.  

Yet, there will also be those moments when you straighten up from wiping oatmeal blobs off the floor only to realize you’ve just recited an entire psalm without paying one ounce of attention to its meaning.  Fear not.  Simply move on.  There will be time enough for meditation at some other opportunity.  After all, you are memorizing for life.


Heather is a pastor's wife in rural Illinois, prior to which she was a teacher in a classical Lutheran school in Wyoming and spent time in the Washington, D.C. area working on a master's degree in English.  She has an abiding love for reading, baking, deep intellectual conversations, and persistent Lutheran matchmakers.

Post image is in the public domain. 

Apr 6, 2020

Paintings for Holy Week: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus in Art

By Anna Mussmann

One of the worst things about celebrating Holy Week without the chance to go to church is how easy it is to lose the sense that our Lord’s death and resurrection is something we celebrate with all Christians throughout the ages. Christ died and rose for each of us, yes, but also for all of us. In times of struggle and suffering, there is great comfort in remembering the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and the communion of the saints in which we join. 

We are part of the Body of Christ no matter how long we must self-isolate.

Our ability to participate in Holy Week services online is a blessing, of course, and we can rejoice in hearing God’s Word through that medium. Yet I think it is also helpful to find other ways to join Christians throughout the ages in contemplating what our God has done for us. 

That's why I don't want to focus only on modern Sunday School-style crafts this week. My children and I will be looking at the life of Christ through art. Painters throughout history have created works that remind us of our Savior’s acts for us. We will study a variety of paintings from different time periods--some will help us “review” the life and ministry of Jesus, and others will provide an opportunity to think more deeply about His suffering and His triumph over death for us. Looking at Scripture through the eyes of artists from different times and places is something I find both moving and comforting. I hope you find this “picture study” useful!

Here are the Resources We Will be Using 

Slide Show

I’ve made a Google Slides presentation with art and Scripture. You can access it here. Because my children are young and their attention spans are limited, I’ve chosen only one painting to illustrate each event. Older kids might benefit from thinking about the differences in the way various painters have chosen to portray the same stories (for additional paintings see below). 

Individual Links to Art

In case you find it more useful than the Google slides, here are individual links to suggested paintings (they are on Wikipedia and in the public domain, so you can download them and arrange them in the form most helpful for your family). 

Ministry of Jesus: Preaching, Miracles, etc. This, This, This, This, This, and This

Resurrection: This, This, This, This, This, and This. And, I suppose, this too. 

Again, feel free to use this slide show that combines the images with Scripture verses. 

Blessings on your fine art study! I hope these are helpful. 



After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years.  She now homeschools her children and writes during naptime. Anna loves Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. She likes to review the books she reads on Goodreads, and her work can also be found in The Federalist.

Mar 31, 2020

Why I'm Grateful to be Pregnant During This Pandemic

By Anna Mussmann 

It’s crazy to see how quickly daily life in America has been upended in the last few weeks. I’ve seen a few articles that say this is a terrible time to have a baby. In some ways, I suppose that’s true. 

I’m nearly full-term with my fourth child. My midwives have already announced a number of changes to their practice that leave me wondering what will happen when I go into labor. In some areas of the country, hospitals have decided not to allow husbands to be present during labor, and official recommendations now include separating babies from their mothers (potentially for a full two weeks) if the mother tests positive for Covid-19 or even if she simply has flu symptoms. Yikes. 

If it wasn’t for this pregnancy, it would be easier to hunker down with the comforting thought that this new illness isn’t statistically much of a threat to our family on the individual level [I know that young people can end up on ventilators, but most don't], and that our isolation is simply an attempt to protect others and to obey the authorities. As it stands, though, I really, really do not want to catch anything between now and Baby Mussmann’s birth that might make me cough--the thought of triggering protocols that would force me to give birth without my husband or my usual provider, and then possibly to see my baby taken away for testing, is pretty stressful. 

Yet I think that in the long haul, even though childbearing is simply another term for “hugely increased vulnerability,” it’s an enormous blessing to be able to view the pandemic and its political and economic repercussions through the lens of having a baby. Perhaps that’s because coming to grips with how vulnerable we humans really are is exactly what a pandemic makes us do. 

There is a magic to a baby. It may be loud and squinty-eyed, it may scream for no reason, and yet it is perfect. So incredibly beautiful, so filled with potential, so capable of filling us adults with a fierce desire to become better human beings. Babies don’t care about most of the stuff that stresses us out, and that makes them restful company. Besides, their heads smell nice. Babies help us narrow our focus--onto them--simply because they exist. At the same time, they pull our attention forward, beyond ourselves, to the future. 

Having babies is a reminder that life is filled with seasons. When my first child didn’t sleep, it felt unbearable--I hadn’t yet realized how quickly babies change. When my first two toddlers both cried at the same time, it was overwhelming--I hadn’t yet witnessed the speed at which children grow past needing constant attention. 

A few years with babies has taught me that the things which feel big and hard look different in retrospect. It’s not just that children change, but that facing new challenges has changed me. I, too, am going through seasons, and coming out different at the other end. I can recognize that many of the things that were uncomfortable were also good. I am better able to accept the words of Ecclesiastes:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Having babies makes it easier, I think, to accept that there is also a time to practice the discipline of hopeful patience as we wait and see what happens next. Just as our lives hold seasons, so too do the experiences of nations. 

Even if our country is entering a period of economic struggle that may last far longer than the sleepless nights of newborn care, that doesn’t mean goodness, truth, and beauty are over. Babies help us look beyond our current experience and to remember that history goes on. We can’t say for sure what will happen to our children, our children’s children, or their children, but we can remember that our God’s promises are just as true for them as for us. 

We need not mourn past seasons of prosperity “as those who have no hope” mourn. We know that sometimes suffering is exactly what we humans need to recognize our sin, repent, and receive forgiveness. Besides, suffering does not last forever. Eternity, the answer and fulfillment of all seasons, is yet to come. 

Babies are cute and adorable and fill us with love, but they also remind us that we are vulnerable. Strangely enough that is actually the most comforting thing about them. Their very perfection forces us to realize we will not be able to save and protect them in the way we wish. We mothers cannot guarantee that our babies will be safe and happy in this world. 

That's how babies drive us to God. Through our babies and the difficult seasons they may bring, we are reminded over and over that our hope is found in the Father who has promised never to leave us, to never forsake us or our children. God’s love is not seasonal. 

That is why even though the world has upended itself and the media is declaring this year a bad one to have a baby, the world and the media do not get the last say. God does. My pregnancy reminds me of that each and every day.


After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years.  She now homeschools her children and writes during naptime. Anna loves Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. She likes to review the books she reads on Goodreads, and her work can also be found in The Federalist.

Mar 16, 2020

Resources, Babies, and a Possible Book Club (Off-site Highlights)

Dear Friends,

Greetings! It's been a long time since I posted a round-up of links. I don't know if this is a good time or a bad time to resume blogging--things are a little crazy out there right now, aren't they? Perhaps, though, now is just the time to find good stuff to read that ISN'T the news.

First, a few links related to current events:
  • In addition, I couldn't help laughing at Pastor Fiene's "interview" with the virus itself (there's some sound theology in his piece right along with the humor). 
  • This list of virtual field trips to various places around the world looks like a fun way to take a virtual break from social isolation. 

Secondly, on to the links about books and ideas:
  • Fear and the Benedict Option by Leah Libresco Sargeant. "Any sort of retreat will also attract people who are tempted to hate the part of the world they are withdrawing from. Any group gathering in a BenOp spirit should expect to attract people at varying levels of weariness, anger, fear, and despair. Even a legitimate righteous anger can curdle into contempt or despair. To truly mend nets requires us to be aware of these temptations in ourselves and in our friends, and to seek to sin no more." Read more.
  • Come Play With Me: Lessons For (and from) My Baby by Lindsey Brigham Knott. "I’ve marveled at how his baby presence can pulse with pure personhood in a way that no adult’s does. As we grow older, we clothe our persons in all the things we do and think, in quirks, hobbies, vocations, habits, places, pasts. A baby’s person is more mysterious, more elemental; he interacts simply through being, and wakes us up to the mystery of every human soul—that from its first hours outside the womb, this flesh-and-blood pulses with fears, joys, and longings that transcend its merely physical needs, and keep it tethered to a world beyond that of food, shelter, and the stuff of earth." Read more.
  • By the way, I post regular reviews on Goodreads. Feel free to "friend" me there--I enjoy finding new titles through my friends' reviews. 
  • Have any of you read Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty? It sounds really interesting (apparently it's about societal attitudes in general, not just what women ought to wear).

A last question
  • I like the idea of starting a one-time SDMW book club, probably by utilizing a private Facebook group. Would anyone be interested in reading through C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces together? 



Mar 4, 2020

What My Noisy Toddler is Teaching Me About Lent

By Anna Mussmann

My husband and I try to teach church-appropriate behavior, and my kids are usually pretty respectful and attentive. It’s a joy to hear their voices bellowing “Alleluia” or joining the Sanctus. However, around the age of two, each of them has gone through what we might call a loud period. During this time, they are not respectful. They are not attentive. They are loud, belligerent, and embarrassing. Heavy, too.

I go through a period of negativity myself during this phase. I’m annoyed if the announcements last too long. If my husband tries to discuss the sermon, I’m like, “Huh? Yeah, I guess there was one, wasn’t there?” A twenty-month-old child can make going to church so much work.

Intellectually I know it’s still good to be in church, but that doesn’t mean my subconscious--or maybe it’s just the devil--doesn’t try to suggest that my life as a mom is already hard enough without this, too. 

Not too long ago, my youngest was wiggling and fussing in my arms as we stood in the narthex. He wanted to get down, but I don’t reward bad behavior with increased freedom. I told him no. The organ began to play the Sanctus. My kid paused to warble “Hosanna!” with the congregation. Then he went right back to expressing his disagreement with my parental decisions. 

I hadn’t realized he even knew how to say “Hosanna.” 

And it strikes me that this moment is an excellent illustration of the value of remembering the season of Lent. 

Judging by the Facebook posts I’ve seen recently, Lutherans get self-conscious every year at the beginning of Lent. Some are suspicious of anything that Catholics do. Some fear pietism so much they’ve decided the only safe devotional practices are those that require attendance at church for Divine Service. Many seem afraid that fasting is doomed to encourage the wrong motivations anyway, because who wouldn’t like to lose five pounds or free up time from the vortex of social media? 

In an odd way, it reminds me of a non-denominational girl I once knew. She was struggling with the idea of baptism. She was from a Christian family and trusted in Christ’s death as propitiation for her sins, but she hesitated to be baptized. She was afraid of doing it for the wrong reasons--of being influenced by social pressure or the knowledge that it would please her parents. As far as I could tell, she felt that she needed to experience a personal, inner compulsion to be baptized in order for the act to be legitimate. It was as if she feared committing sacrilege and so she was waiting indefinitely for the right feelings. 

I wish I could talk to her today. I’d tell her that God has already told her to be baptized. It’s right there in Scripture. Those promises are for her, and require no special ultra-personal feelings or motivations, because baptism is God’s work, not ours. It’s a gift to and for us. Practically speaking, it’s also something that Christians just do--something we treat as the norm, not something we need to overthink, even though it is also a rich source of comfort and meditation for the rest of our lives. 

Maybe Lent is a bit like that, too. Scripture refers often to prayer and fasting. The assumption seems to be that this is something Christians just do. Christians throughout history have prayed and fasted. Just as the church has organized our worship practices into seasons and systems that shape what happens on Sunday, historical Christians embraced liturgical seasons that shaped their daily lives and provided structure for personal and family piety. It wasn’t something that had to be over-thought or overly personalized. It was just there. A gift. 

Nowadays, many modern Christians, Lutherans included, aren’t used to these practices. Our sense of what constitutes a “normal Christian life” is perhaps warped by our own era. It doesn’t help that popular culture’s only understanding of fasting is shaped by modern consumerism--minimalism, dieting, and “intermittent fasting,” although potentially helpful, are often just another way to achieve the homes and bodies we saw in an ad somewhere. That doesn’t mean we should conclude that fasting belongs to the world, though, anymore than we’d decide that modern bathtubs invalidate baptismal fonts. 

I think the solution lies in thinking less about Lent and simply receiving it as a gift. 

When I take my noisy toddler to church even though he is going through a loud period, it’s worse than useless for me to analyze how much he is getting out of the experience (or how much I am). It’s pointless for me to examine my own motivations too closely. Am I acting out of habit? Am I bowing to peer pressure? Am I fanning my own self-righteousness with this self-imposed suffering? Actually, it doesn’t really matter. It’s enough to know that going to church is good. It’s what Christians do. 

My toddler isn’t very good at going to church. He might fold his hands and look sweet some of the time, but at other moments he’s busy putting his sinful human nature on full display. Yet church is still doing something to and for him. God’s Word is present there, and my child is being shaped. At the very least, he has learned to sing, “Hosanna.” 

This Lent, I am trusting that “doing what Christians do” is good and helpful. I am trusting that even if I’m not getting it all right, even if I’m not always paying attention, God is at work through His Word. Just being in Lent, like being in church, might teach me too to sing Hosanna.


After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their children. Anna's work can also be found in The Federalist.

Feb 29, 2020

I Don't "Deserve" Self Care. I Rejoice in God's Good Gifts Instead.

By Molly Barnett

Social media and elsewhere have been saturated recently with messages of “self-care” by well-intentioned people who boldly declare, “you deserve it.” Insert any number of things for “it,” and do it in the name of “self-care” because you work so hard, don’t you? So maybe my cynicism has already surfaced, but I cannot help but question this modern mantra for the hard-working woman, particularly for the mother. Now that God has given me the vocation of wife and mother to fulfill, I wonder what it means to take care of myself as a Christian woman living in service to others while messages on the importance of self-care bombard me. So I ask myself, do I deserve that quiet walk alone while my husband watches our infant son at home on a Saturday morning? Do I deserve a ladies’ brunch? Do I deserve it? 

The world says, “of course!” The world through Instagram and Facebook tells me that I sacrifice so much of my time and preferences for my husband and son that I deserve something for myself. However, thinking I deserve a reward for the work given to me can be dangerous to my faith and to how I live out my vocation. I might be tempted to look contemptuously at my spouse who, I perceive, is not giving me enough of a break from motherhood, or I could even view my son as a curse rather than the blessing that Scripture tells me he is. Psalm 127:3-5 informs me that children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” In the midst of wiping the blow-out off of my son’s back, I admit, this verse is far from my mind, but it is true! God’s blessings to us are not always the kind we think we want, and we certainly do not deserve His abundant gifts! What do I deserve, then? St. Paul tells me that I deserve something drastically different than “me time.” Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” Frankly, I deserve eternal punishment for the many times I have turned in on myself and sinned by grumbling, complaining, blaming, and giving in to self-pity while fulfilling my vocation. So, no, I do not deserve a single good thing; but rather I ought to give thanks for every one of them.

A posture of gratitude toward God for His gifts and living in His richness of grace actually frees us to embrace our vocation, knowing that dutifully carrying it out will not earn any favor with God or bring about sanctification, but rather, it is an act of loving obedience. He has carried out our salvation on the cross in the death and resurrection of Christ for all of our sins. There is nothing left for us to do but to pray, praise, and give thanks! So how is this related to the world’s interpretation of “self-care?” Well, I stumbled upon this saying recently, “Self-respect, self-worth, and self-love, all start with self. Stop looking outside of yourself for value.” There it was in plain writing, the world’s lie. As Christians redeemed by Christ’s blood, we absolutely look outside of ourselves to find value in Him! Placing ourselves at the center of our world will not bring eternal rest or fulfillment for our souls, and looking inwardly for existential answers to life’s troubles will bring either despair or selfishness. Our identity rests in Christ alone. I am incapable of granting peace and rest to my own soul, for God is the only one who can--and does!

Nevertheless, pursuing our interests is not bad nor sinful. Indeed we are free to read, cook a delicious meal, eat a decadent slice of cheesecake, go for a run, or enjoy a trip to the salon. However, the minute we consider ourselves deserving of these things or consider self-care rituals necessary for the preservation our soul’s health, we have succumbed to the world’s ways. God has filled our world with great and tiny wonders to behold, discover, and enjoy, and all we need to do is receive them gladly as gifts from a loving Father who knows our every need. 

The Author of life, Savior of mankind, Alpha and Omega, cares for each and every one of His children. Is that not more comforting to hear than “do these things and look into your own heart for complete happiness?” Therefore, we may go forth in our vocations as daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives and joyfully look outside of ourselves for value, for our identity rests in Christ alone and His work done on the cross for us.


Molly Barnett lives with her husband and son in Alexandria, Virginia where they are members of Immanuel Lutheran Church. Before becoming a mother, she taught fourth grade for six years at the classical Immanuel Lutheran School. She holds a B.A. in English from The Ohio State University and an M.A. in liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. Her favorite activities these days include walking outside with her family, playing the piano, and competing against her husband in various board games. 

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