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. 

 

 

 

 

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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

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

Humor, havoc, heartache, and harmony

An peak into the cadence of our lives.

Why yes, yes there ARE bright pink plastic tablecloths duct taped to my mostly faithful mini van currently parked in the grass of our front yard.

We spent part of the weekend going back and forth to my brother’s camp. After spending a few hours there Saturday, the children and I returned to clean up for my niece’s goodbye party. She left for basic training this weekend to become an Army mechanic.

I was cooking pasta for a salad to contribute to her goodbye meal, when quarter-sized rain drops began to pelt the window. I bolted to the van for the keys I had placed in the cup holder, but alas, they were nowhere to be seen. I remembered the girls lingering briefly in the van when we got home, and our 2-year-old took immediate responsibility for the missing keys. Except that she had no idea where she’d put them!

I pilfered through trash inside and out, scoured the van, rummaged my pocketbook (which deserves it’s own real estate in a blog), all while buckets of rain poured into the open van windows. It’s here I sheepishly admit we only have one set of keys, so we were up the creek if you get my drift.

We missed my niece’s goodbye party. My husband came home from working on our townhouse we are prepping to sell and my mom came to watch the children so we could go get a vehicle from my husband’s car lot to drive in the meantime. As heartbroken as I was to miss the goodbye party, I could only be so frustrated with our adorable little daughter, and I literally laugh out loud every time I see those pink tablecloths on the van. (New keys are on the way today!)

I received a call last week to provide the message for a worship service for the Mid Atlantic Burn Camp’s thirtieth reunion. I was honored to be a small part of this amazing outreach, and once I had confirmed my availability, gave them a yes. But availability for an hour on a Sunday morning, doesn’t factor in preparation, so in between focusing on time with family and other events, I found myself writing the message at midnight Saturday!

Regardless of my personal circumstances demanding attention elsewhere, we had a lovely time together Sunday morning.

A highlight of the Labor Day Weekend was our 7-year-old daughter and I running our first 5K together! I’ve been running all summer. She is bouncy and always active, but hadn’t trained for running. We wanted to participate in this particular event because it was in memory of a young girl who died of cancer and provides scholarships for a summer camp.

As we started running, I encouraged her to pace herself and let me know at any time if she needed to walk. She ran 3.13 miles in 34:32 and placing first in her age group! She would have shaved minutes off her time of she hadn’t stayed behind with me! That time together with my daughter for such a meaningful cause was euphoric.

This weekend also included addressing bullying in various forms, a doctor visit for one of our children, last minute babysitting a toddler overnight, two terrible accidents involving people we care deeply about, “a paint project” by our youngest, and birthday party planning for our son this week, among other things.

Among the general excitement and busyness for the coming months is an incredible opportunity for me to spend a weekend with the lovely Helena Clare Pittman for a memoir writing retreat! I’ve been busy writing and preparing to make the most of this opportunity.

I’m always grateful for your interaction here, even when my posts are sporadic. My writing and readership community are like the friends who, regardless of how much time passes between interactions, we pick right back up where we left off.

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. Anais Nin

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. Sylvia Plath

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. Toni Morrison

Veins

As I child, I noticed mom’s hands

Worn from labors of farming and gardening

I pushed in her blue veins

And laughed as they filled again

They looked so different than my smooth soft hands

Now that I am Mom

My hands too, are worn from labors

I hold my young daughter

She laughs as she manipulates my blue veins