Abortion, Death, And A Call To Love

“Paula” was raised in a conservative church. When she wound up pregnant out of wedlock, fear of judgment from the church drove her to a dark secret place where her baby was killed and discarded as medical waste. Paula is a Christian and can share the love of God with everyone else, but struggles to forgive herself.

“Betty” was raised in a prestigious home, so becoming pregnant as a teenager was a “stain” on the family’s image. Her parents forced her to have an abortion. Betty is now a Christian and can share the love of God with everyone else, but struggles to forgive herself.

“Carly” became pregnant after being raped by a trusted family member. Her parents forced her to have an abortion. They were leaders in their faith community and regardless of how the pregnancy came to be, a pregnant teenager would not reflect well on their image. After turning to substance abuse and years of shame, Carly is now clean, makes a daily choice to forgive herself, and works to help others heal from trauma.

“Barbara” was surprised to find out she was pregnant. Although she was married, they hadn’t necessarily planned on having more children. She’d had several miscarriages early on, a stillbirth, and a preemie. When she went to the doctor for her first prenatal appointment he said, “You don’t have to go through with this you know.” She refused to see that doctor again and delivered another preemie, who today is a thriving beautiful child.

“Joy” had a miscarriage at six weeks pregnant. She grieved her baby’s death as deeply as I’ve ever seen anyone grieve their child. Her doctor said miscarriages happen all the time and made her feel like her grief wasn’t vaild. Her family and friends struggled to relate to the depth of her loss.

“Tara” called me when she had her first miscarriage, unable to flush the obvious baby who was unrecognized by the medical community as a “life” so therefore didn’t have the right to ritual and burial. Together we were able to secure a proper resting place for the baby she loved deeply. She had several more miscarriages to follow before going on to have surviving children. With each loss, the pain and bitterness and anger grew because so few people recognized her losses as real babies.

“Tammy” was told her baby had a lethal diagnosis and would never survive outside of the womb. Even while desparately wanting her baby, she chose to terminate. She carries her baby’s memory and the “what ifs” with her every day.

“Sue’s” baby was terminally diagnosed during pregnancy, but she chose to continue to carry. While her child has special needs and life hasn’t been easy for them, this beautiful soul is now a young adult and has taught all of us much more about the meaing of life than any formal education ever could.

And during a stillbirth I attended, I tapped out the following message on my phone to ask a few friends for prayer.

“It is sacred and peaceful in this space now. After the initial shock of the silent ultrasound machine, the doctors saying there’s no heartbeat, and as compassionately and matter-of-factly as possible, plans made to induce labor at just less than 5 months pregnant.

We’ve sat through hours of intake process at the hospital, nurses coming and going, the IV specialist searching for a suitable vein. There was even another ultrasound just to be sure…

No silence screams louder than a quiet monitor from that big machine that confirms for us hope and life or stillness and death.

Now, now we are waiting for the doctor to induce her, but in this space, husband and wife have both moved beyond exhaustion and surrendered to some moments of sleep. My heart breaks, hurts so deeply for their pain, for the unanswered questions, for the ways they feel abandoned by God.

Lines from a favorite song keep replaying in my mind. “One day soon we’ll see his face. And every tear he’ll wipe away. No more pain and suffering. Oh praise him for the mercy tree. Death has died, love has won. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Jesus Christ has overcome. He has risen from the dead.”

But here, there are tears. Lots of tears. Suffering beyond the ability to articulate. Words seem wasted trying to describe the intensity of the pain. There is fear. Fear of physical pain and knowing that after the physical pain is the most intense heart pain. To know this physical pain when there is hope for new life makes everything bearable. To know this physical pain will just bring you closer to the reality of death, for that, there are no words.

There is anger. Anger that this dream would “dangle in front of them” just to be jerked away. Anger for bodies that seem to fail us. Anger that a God who is good and for whom nothing is impossible still allowed death to call once more.

These emotions are normal. They are a part of the questions and grief. Yet God is still good. He is the bestower of peace and comfort in the midst of our hardest hard. He is the kind and gentle Shepherd, loving in spite of questions, fear, anger, and pain. 

The hardest pain is yet to come. The pain of delivery and the anguish of a quiet birthing room. The physical pain of empty arms that hang heavy by your side when every part of your body is reminding you that your arms should be cradling hope, new life, joy.

We need your prayers. We need your petitions that God would be our very present help in this time of trouble. May the presence of Jesus, the risen Christ, be with us in this time. While for us, death still holds a sting, may we cling to the hope of the Mercy Tree where death has died and LOVE has won. May we hold with a steadfast hope, the promise that our present suffering cannot be compared to the eternal glory that awaits us. Amen.”

These are all women I know personally. Theirs and many other personal stories I could share about abortion, pregnancy loss, family and community reactions, society’s view of the unborn and the challenges that creates for those grieving pregnancy and early infant loss.

Our own firstborn daughter was a dwarf, a “little person.” During our appointments with the prenatal specialists they offered to “terminate” the pregnancy even though there was no indication that her diagnosis was lethal and there was never any concern that hers or my life was in danger. My husband and I could not even entertain the thought of intentionally ending the life of our baby that had such a vibrant personailty in my womb. She died nearly seventeen hours after birth, but I wouldn’t trade those precious hours for anything. Ever.

Years earlier though, I was in a toxic relationship and thought I was pregnant. (Turned out I wasn’t.) While I had always wanted children, I was ashamed, horrified, and surprised at how quickly the thought of abortion entered my mind out of fear for myself, the baby, and judgement from family and church. I didn’t have to wrestle further, because I wasn’t pregnant, but it humbled me to think of the women who truly face that situation.

With New York’s newest laws passed and a bill introduced and tabled in my own state regarding third trimester abortion, these conversations have become front and center on social media, in our homes, Bible studies, and especially among our child-loss support group.

There is no question internally where I stand on the issue of sanctity of life for the unborn, but my heart simultaneously hurts for those who already live in judgement and regret. While there might certainly be those who’ve chosen abortion without carrying their judgment, I don’t personally know one single woman whose post-abortive regret and sorrow hasn’t consumed her in one way or another. As the church, we must provide space for these women, and men, to grieve, to talk, to call on the grace of our Savior whose kindness leads us to repentance and healing. (Romans 2:4)

As righteous indignation rises up in me regarding these bills, I have been repeatedly challenged by the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13.

As radical as it sounds, I keep thinking, “If I post my oppositon to this legistalture with memes and Scripture, but have not love, I am nothing. If I protest at the local, state, and national level, but have not love, I am nothing. Even if I gave my own body for the sake of the unborn for which I profoundly and fundamentally believe are sacred and worthy of that level of my commitment, but have not love, I have gained nothing.”

Love doesn’t mean inaction. Love doesn’t mean silence. Love doesn’t mean not standing up for the most vulnerable among us. But Love does call us to operate in a spirit of love. 

Colossians 4:2-6 says to pray steadfastly, that God may open the door for us to declare the mysteries of Christ, to walk in wisdom toward those who do not believe. That our speech be gracious so that we might know how to answer everyone. (Paraphrased.)

It is from this perspective that I prayerfully measure my words toward all. What if I could sit with those who propose and support these bills I oppose? Would they hear me as a individual, or chalk me up as one more obscure number to defeat? What approach might help them listen? I will call. I will advocate. But I will also offer the invitation for conversation, praying that God might open a door for me to share the mysteries (and love) of Christ. Because only when hearts are opened to the Truth, can lasting change occur.

Lovingly signed, a mother of four including one in heaven and one by adoption.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals. 

 

 

 

 

Healing our nation at the cellular level

I can’t think of anything more polarizing these days than my social media feed. It’s easy to sit with my device and post arguments and counter-arguments, but it’s a whole different conversation with a family member, church connection, co-worker, or friend, face-to-face.  Social media affords us the opportunity to build personal communities of “friends” who vote, worship, eat, and work just like we do.

People who once were friends, “unfriend.” Posts often include, “If you voted for ___,” or “If you support ___,”  “Go ahead and unfriend me now.” Other posts state that if you believe/think/vote for/participate in ____ you are generalized into an extreme group of one party, category, or subgroup. Some include headlines, videos, or articles where the re-poster asks, “Is this who we’ve become?”

That question begs introspection of all of us. Who are we? Who do we want to be? What changes must we make to get there?

The more I ruminate, the more I’m convinced that healing for our nation must happen at the cellular level. We have to be able to see past the rhetoric, smoke screens, and talking heads, to see individuals who are often far more than a viewpoint. If someone is at a place where they simply cannot accept any perspective but their own, by all means, “unfriending” might be the gift they give the universe, but real change happens when we are able to find common ground and build on what unites.

We have to stop gloating when “our side wins,” and instead walk in humility! 

Cells combine to form tissues, organs, and organisms to form our bodies as a whole. They are the most basic structural units of the human body, and it’s often at the cellular level where sickness and disease take root. Social media posts and news headlines reveal that our nation is weakened at the most basic cellular level.

I don’t negate the issues that divide us are real, impassioned, cellular-level, core convictions that guide each individual and I’m not suggesting we sacrifice our beliefs on the altar of unity. I just can’t help but wonder what would happen if we put partisanship aside and truly focused on finding a way forward despite our differences.

Studies show that proper nutrition, especially a plant-centered diet, has the potential to reverse genes that cause heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses and turn on genes that prevent disease.  An article by Project CBD explains the benefits cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can have on our body’s cellular system. Other studies show how meditation, exercise, and deep restorative sleep can change our bodies at the cellular level.

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If we can change that which causes disease and illness at the cellular level in our bodies, can we also evoke change in our nation with contemplative and intercessory prayer, positive social actions at the local level, deepened personal relationships, and increased involvement in our own communities?

In Romans 12:9-21 the apostle Paul writes, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (NIV version)

Or in the words Henri Nouwen, “Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.”

What if we loved sincerely, hated evil, clung to good, was devoted to one another in love, and we honored one another above ourselves? What would that look like? Would that be the change that helps us become what we know we can and should be? What if we approached our conversations, our social media posts, our relationships with these measures? Could that help heal our nation at the cellular level and in turn, change our world?

New; my word for 2019

She was a purple Giant. My first bicycle wasn’t huge, Giant was the brand. As an Old Order Mennonite girl, my transportation options were the family horse and buggy, walking, or a used bike from the family stockpile. But at thirteen I got my very first, very own, brand new bike. 

I rode barefoot on long summer evenings to neighborhood softball games in cow pastures, to the river for a swim, to friend’s houses for outdoor sleepovers. I rode in bitter winter with long socks and boots, layers of coats, scarves, and hoods, my hands and thighs numb-frozen when I finally made it to youth basketball games or back home late evenings. 

As the fifth of seven children raised by a single mother, new wasn’t something I was used to. Mom would sew us new dresses, we would occasionally get a new bonnet, and sometimes new shoes, but anything new felt wildly exciting.

New. My word for 2019 has felt slow in coming, but this three-letter gem has become engraved on my heart as the first weeks of the year progress. 

New: not existing before; made, introduced, or discovered recently or now for the first time. 

After three years of what has felt like a “fiery furnace” for our family, it feels like we are on the cusp of something new, something wildly exciting! 

New: my memoir, readying for publication, from the girl whose roles and rules were rigidly defined in childhood, but whose pen and paper secretly realized a much larger story.

New: stepping out in faith into a paid position as executive director of the non-profit my husband and I started in memory of our daughter after working ten years as a volunteer, from the girl who was told women cannot lead. 

New: training for my first half-marathon, from the girl who always before said, “If you see me running you should run too, because something scary is chasing me.”

New: release from a myriad of voices imposing the weight of the world on my shoulders, from the girl who carried far too weighty baggage in childhood. 

New: intentionally setting aside family time, from the girl who has worn too many hats, (not literally, can too many hats be a real thing literally?) 

New is palpitating, coursing through my being, daring me to step forward into the places I am being called, fondly remembering the girl I was, inviting me to become. And that new bicycle I got for my thirteenth birthday? It still carries me today, twenty-eight years later, reminding me this “new” I’m stepping into has the potential to carry me further than I ever imagined. 

Cornucopia

Deep autumn air

Finagles through window seams

Invigorating my soul from sleep

Cradled by feather pillows

And fleece blankets

Loves sleep-dreaming around me

Rain forest coffee beans

Party in my thalamus

Crimson pomegranate seeds

Plink into the bowl

Dark wheat bread lies rustic in it’s basket

Tasting of sunshine, rain, and wind

Wood-stove’s heat warms toes and floors

Mocha dog, comforting, protecting nearby

Morning moves over the Blue Ridge

Breaking the quiet stillness of dawn

My day, only beginning

And just like that my cornucopia

Overflows

Bursts goodness

From the million little joys

That fill my life

Rescue

Flashing blue lights

Watery in my rear view mirror

Rain pounds relentlessly

Sirens scream past

I pause

I pray

For whoever is in need

For officers risking lives to respond

For emergency personnel

Who cannot unsee what lies ahead

For nurses and doctors

Who give all they can

Rain pounds relentlessly

Rivulets shroud my windshield

I pause

I pray

For all impacted

By those flashing lights

Watery in my rear view mirror

Regina Cyzick Harlow

10/11/18

Stationary set becomes a gift of life

Daddy didn’t come around when I was a child, but I recall a particular time he brought a small present for each of us. I loved Daddy and presents and didn’t get enough of either in my life.

I opened my box with restrained enthusiasm and caught my breath to see a stationary set. The lined pages were periwinkle, with a row of brown teddy bears across the top of the page and a matching pen. I smiled and said thank you, but inwardly I wrapped my skinny arms around his neck and shouted “I love you!”


Writing was my catharsis. We shared a lot of chatty surface conversation in our family, but didn’t know how to go deep. Most of our emotional pain was expressed physically, through hard work, and anger, instead of verbally. I fleshed out my heart with pen and paper, like wielding an ax to the root of my misplaced emotions. Writing was my alternate universe, a place where I could dream beyond our old frame house and the community that confined me there. I wrote daydreams that would color the cheeks of my demure peers, and released pain through my pen that would have otherwise devoured my soul.

This stationary set was much more than a present. It was really a gift of life.

Writing Mama

5:30 am

Releasing words

On blank page

Husband stirs, coughs,

Releases his own gas

Into the atmosphere

Cats scratch hungrily at the door

Dogs want scratched too, by me

Baby calls for mama

Another needs covers

The third isn’t sure

He can go back to sleep

Just like that my quiet space,

My blank page

Is gobbled up

By the humans and animals I love

The words stay stuck

Inside my head

For one more day

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