August 5, 2023

by Dr. Barbara Lane Geistfeld, Assistant Director of Volunteer Relations and National Lutherans For Life Essay Contest Committee Member

The annual Lutherans For Life National Essay Contest continues to afford our Lutheran students the opportunity to affirm and express their belief in the sanctity of life each year, and 2023 was no different! The theme this year was “Just As … I Am,” based on Ephesians 2:10.

Our first place winners from each participating state advanced to the national level contest, and we are now very pleased to announce the four national winners. We received some wonderful essays, so these students should be commended for this achievement!

National Essay Contest: Ninth through Twelfth Grade Division

First Place: Samuel Jopp, Mayer, Minnesota, won first place at the national level in the ninth through twelfth grade division. Sam won his award while in the tenth grade at Mayer Lutheran High School in Mayer, Minnesota, and is a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Mayer. He has three older siblings—one sister and two brothers. Samuel enjoys participating in football, basketball, and golf. When not participating in extracurricular activities at school, Sam enjoys going to the lake, helping his friends on their farms, and hanging out with his family.

Sam’s essay is titled “Perfect—Just As I Am.”

Have you ever been told you are a mistake and that you will never amount to anything? I was told that many times in my young life, but I am here to tell you that you are not a mistake, even with all your imperfections, and that God has a tremendous plan for your life. The Bible says, “For (you) are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for (you) to do” (Ephesians 2:10). I am a living example of how I am God’s handiwork, and I am loved by Christ just as I am.

When I was born, it was discovered that I was deaf/hard of hearing. After many doctor appointments and tests, I was diagnosed with bilateral conductive hearing loss. I could not hear from either ear and there was no cure. I didn’t qualify for hearing aids because of all the fluid in my ears. I had nine surgeries to put tubes in my ears to help with drainage and one surgery to reconstruct my right eardrum all before I was eight years old. I looked normal and spoke like other kids my age, so people thought I was “normal,” but I am not normal. I am extraordinary!

I didn’t know what I was missing in school from lack of hearing, and I appeared to be like my classmates, so teachers thought I was lazy or unmotivated to do the school work. My classmates teased me because I couldn’t hear and because of my poor grades, but I was told every day at home that I was loved by my parents, three siblings, and extended family. They accepted me just as I am and helped me to say words correctly and to speak clearly. They worked hard to help me be successful.

When I was in fourth grade, the fluid in my ears decreased, and I received hearing aids. There were so many sounds I was experiencing for the first time. Cars driving on the street, coffee dripping in the coffee maker, and the refrigerator humming were all the sounds I was hearing for the first time as a ten-year-old. I had no idea the world was full of so many sounds! I could now hear my teachers with my new hearing aids, but it also made all the other noises around me louder. No one understood what a struggle it was to be hard of hearing, and I was still teased and told I needed to pay attention in class. I had to learn how to focus on the speaker and block out all the background noises. It was very difficult to do all this and try to focus on what was being said. God knew all the obstacles I would have to overcome to succeed in life, but He placed people in my life to help me be successful in school and with my peers just as I am.

I am God’s workmanship created with His hands to be perfectly made. He hears all the hurtful words and sees all the cruel acts others do to make fun of me, but He makes it all right because I belong to Him. He has my life planned out to do good works for Him. I get up every day and face the obstacles placed before me knowing Jesus is right there experiencing them with me. He will do a good work in me as I follow His command to love others and be forgiving.

I still struggle in school and fitting in with my peers is a daily challenge, but I know I will be successful. God has blessed me with a wonderful family. I am privileged to play high school sports with my peers. My family supports me just as I am, hearing aids and all. They know God has big plans for my life and they believe in me. That is all that matters. I am living proof that God made me to be exactly like I am and He loves me just as I am. I do not see myself with a disability, but as a child of God, His handiwork, His perfection!

Thank you, Sam, for your eloquent and moving reminder that “God doesn’t make mistakes!” It is often those around us that see our disabilities as “shortcomings” when God sees no such thing! Sam’s essay should give all of us the courage to face whatever life brings as we walk with our Savior and live the abundant life found in Him.

Second Place: Annika Peterson, Arlington, Texas, was in grade 11 when she won second place at the national level in the ninth through twelfth grade division. She attends Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy, where she is working to establish a Students for Life chapter on her campus. Because of the loss of her newborn brother to Trisomy 18 in 2008 and the adoption of her little sister some years later, Annika is very passionate about helping families and mothers feel empowered to choose life. She is active in her home church, St. John Lutheran Church in Mansfield, Texas, and enjoys the youth, children, and music ministries. Every summer, she works as an assistant counselor at Camp Thurman in Pantego, where she is able show God’s love to these little ones all summer long. Last summer she was given permission to write a devotion for her campers and described how God fearfully and wonderfully created them in His image. This message lights up Annika’s life whenever she shares it, and praise God, she lights up our lives with this message as well!

Annika’s essay is titled “For Such a Time as This.” On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade and returned the authority to regulate abortion to the states. Annika firmly states, “As children of God, it is our duty, our privilege, to relentlessly love on mothers and babies … I am ready to do the work God prepared in advance for me to do, which is standing up for the lives of all the others He created to do His work … Perhaps I was born for such a time as this ….”

All of us now living were born for such a time as this! God intentionally made us His children, now, in this place, for His work. Like Annika, let us recognize our importance to the Lord’s plan and His ministry at such a time as this.

National Essay Contest: Sixth through Eighth Grade Division

First Place: Jace Latham, from St. Charles, Missouri, won first place at the national level in the sixth through eighth grade division. Jace was in seventh grade at Immanuel Lutheran School in St. Charles when he won his award. He plays a variety of sports, including basketball, soccer, and track and field. He enjoys spending time outdoors fishing, hunting, and mountain biking. His favorite subjects include math and his STEM curriculum. (STEM is an abbreviation for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.) When he’s not playing sports or spending time outdoors, he can be found working out or hanging out with his friends.

Jace’s essay is titled “Life’s Puzzle.

God’s creation is a beautiful puzzle. When one decides to end his life, God’s puzzle is incomplete. Everyone is part of God’s creation and adds a special piece to the overall puzzle. Our lives add value and have a relevant place in the world God designed. When someone commits suicide, it takes one amazing piece away from God’s puzzle.

The Bible discusses the value and purpose of life in great detail. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope’” (ESV). It is important to understand life can and will be difficult. God has a wonderful plan for each and every one of us; people must not lose hope. Unfortunate events can happen, and one must figure out how to work through them. When individuals keep God in their lives and listen to what He says, they have a better chance of realizing they have a purpose, just as they are. When one commits suicide, a puzzle piece is lost forever. Suicide is the twelfth leading cause of death, affecting every ethnic group and all ages. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says, “For you were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body.” God did not give people a life for it to end early. Every person has value and is brought into the world for a reason. All people should understand and say to themselves: I am loved, just as I am. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The importance of life goes beyond our daily lifestyle and tasks. There can also be a stronger purpose in situations not always seen and heard. While 275,000 people are saved every year from suicide, about 800,000 die worldwide from suicide alone. Mental health is important, as well as helping people feel like they belong and are part of God’s puzzle.

God’s puzzle becomes incomplete when someone commits suicide. The Bible tells every person they have value and a purpose as a human being. If people follow God’s word throughout their lives, everyone will feel connected. In the end, each piece of the puzzle will fit exactly how God intended.

We truly appreciate and value Jace’s essay on suicide. Because suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens, Jace’s words send an urgent message to his peers: Follow God’s Word. Believe that you are created by God for a purpose. Keep God in your life and listen to what He says. This is great advice for all of us, right? Right!

Second Place: Madison Ford, from Frankenmuth, Michigan, won second place at the national level in the sixth through eighth grade division. Madison was fourteen and in eighth grade at St. Lorenz Lutheran School in Frankenmuth, Michigan, when she won her award. She enjoys dancing and participates in the Girls of Grace Dance Ministry at her school. She likes shopping, traveling, and spending time with her friends and family. Madison’s favorite Bible verse is Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always to the end of the age.”

Madison’s essay is titled “Physician-Assisted Suicide: Killing the Living.” Madison’s essay affirms the role of Christians in the lives of hurting people. We have to learn about PAS: why it is a problem, why people choose it, how to prevent it, and most importantly, how to offer the love and grace of Jesus to those hurting people.

Suicide of any kind grieves our Father in heaven, and our desire should be to show love, hope, and kindness to those we know who are facing difficult times. We may never know how sharing the love and hope of Jesus may impact a friend’s life, but Madison’s words should encourage us to do just that.