Abortion–and the Value of Honesty in Fighting It

Tonight, I was able to go to a banquet for our local pregnancy resource center,  and the keynote speaker was Vera Lord. Oh, my goodness. Her story is heart-stopping, not-a-dry-eye-in-the-place, “if you have a functioning cell anywhere in your heart, you will do something to stop this!” inspiring.

So I wanted to write. This post is based on a Catholic Exchange column that I wrote a few years ago, but tonight’s speech gave me some good things to update it with…

Our society’s ability to tolerate or reject abortion is the product of how we see abortion. And the way we see abortion is rooted most deeply in one factor–our level of honesty about it. Here, language is everything.

We can start with the earliest stages of life: a fetus or an embryo is not “a blob of tissue” or just “the products of conception”. I don’t even think the words “fetus” and “embryo” are honest enough. Really, at the very moment of conception, we’re already talking about babies.

At conception, this person inside a mother’s womb is already set to be either a tiny boy or a tiny girl. By five weeks, its heart is beating beneath its mother’s. It’s a baby.[1]

By nine weeks, he has fingers that he can curl around something placed in his palm. Later, that “something” will be a mother’s or father’s finger. He’s a baby.

By ten weeks, she will begin to develop Mother’s deep brown eyes—or Daddy’s hazel ones—or her great-great grandma’s gray-blues. By fourteen weeks, she can move her hands and might even suck her thumb. A “blob of tissue” doesn’t need an eye color and doesn’t suck its thumb. This is a baby.

By fifteen weeks, the mother might feel flutters and wiggles inside her womb. The mother doesn’t choose when the baby will move. It’s not her choice. The little human being inside her has a mind of his own. He’s a baby.

By sixteen weeks, this tiny person can get a case of the hiccups. By nineteen weeks, she sleeps in her favorite position, wakes, and sleeps again. Blobs of tissue don’t sleep and wake.

By twenty-four weeks, the baby is considered viable. But even before that, when she is still within the protection of her mother’s womb, she begins to learn the sound of her mother’s voice. She sucks her thumb. Her heart beats steadily. She wakes and sleeps. She moves on her own. She needs nutrition.

She’s a baby. And just calling her a blob of tissue or the products of conception doesn’t change that. Changing what you call a person can’t change the truth.

This truth—that her baby was a real, live human person—becomes evident, in one way or another, to each mother who has had an abortion. Pro-life activist and speaker Vera Lord, who chose and suffered an abortion herself, says that every cell in the mother’s body knows this truth and cries out to the mother after the abortion happens—no matter what the woman believes or what led her to justify the act. Sometimes it’s immediate; other times it might take years or even decades. But, at some point, the mother’s body forces her to face the fact that this was, indeed, her real child, her responsibility, and a baby who needed her protection, and she also has to face the painful fact that she contributed to the death of this child. Everyone else in the mother’s life–the boyfriend, parents, or other loved ones who might have convinced her that it was for the best, or the society that surrounded her with the lie that it would be OK–they all get to move on and leave it behind when it’s over. The mother never can.

When the realization hits, Ms. Lord says that it brings the mother a terrible torment unlike any other feeling known to man. It’s a grief that doesn’t go away, and it often causes Post Abortive Syndrome, which can manifest through such things as migraine headaches, eating disorders, depression, drug abuse, detachment from a spouse and future children, and other symptoms.

These things happen because what was aborted was, in actuality, a baby. The mother’s body makes her face it, despite the fact that people in her life might have worked so hard to hide it from her. The manipulation and rewording it takes to convince a woman that she’s not carrying a baby when she really is–this is the verbal engineering that enables a mother to accept an abortion. By refusing to use the word “baby”, the people who claim to help women are actually victimizing them.

The best we can do for women is to be honest with each one about the terribleness of abortion–before she makes her choice. The most merciful thing is to put the truth about abortion out there in the culture, and also speak it clearly but kindly in our personal lives every chance we get, so that each mother will be confronted with the reality of it before she chooses. Yes, even though it’s hard to hear. Even though she’s afraid. Even though she may be hurting already. Even if she’s addicted. Even if she has nowhere to go. These things are hard…but she can move past any of these things and put them behind her. Abortion is forever.

If you are a woman considering abortion, please remember that there are many compassionate options that will be better for you and your baby than abortion. There are crisis pregnancy centers and hotlines and churches and ready-to-act networks of people who want to help. They do it because mothers matter to them; they care, and they will not shame you or look down. And there are families who would love nothing more than to give your baby a loving home if you decide not to raise him or her. Don’t be afraid of embarrassment. Nine months of open embarrassment in front of peers while you let your baby grow during pregnancy—or even misplaced anger from beloved family members for a time—is nothing compared to a lifetime of guilt forcing you to hide and hurt. You’re not responsible for other people’s responses to your pregnancy; you’re only responsible for how you handle it.

To any woman who is already hurting from an abortion—you are a victim of abortion, too. You are not to be judged, looked down upon, or condemned, and you don’t deserve any of those things. You, an abortion victim yourself, are a special child of a heavenly Father who is Mercy itself and wants to help you. You are His treasure–the apple of His eye! You can turn to Project Rachel, a Catholic ministry that helps women to heal from the anguish, at www.hopeafterabortion.com . There is also the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing; they can be contacted for help at www.noparh.org . The Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge, Massachusetts are also a wonderful help; they remind us that God’s mercy really is more powerful than our biggest failings. You can find them at www.marian.org. God loves you deeply. Forgiveness and healing are there for the asking. He can help you carry this and mend every part of your heart that is broken.

And if you are someone who is thinking of voting for a pro-choice politician, please reconsider. Remember that your vote could be partially responsible for some women’s abortions. We hold the lives of those babies—and the well-being of their mothers—in our hands every time we go to the polls.

 

 

[1] All developmental timelines are taken from www.pregnancy.org, accessed 01/27/08 and rechecked 02/20/16.

Divorced. Catholic. And Grateful an Annulment Takes So Long.

OK, I wanted to talk about this–even though.

Even though it’s deeply personal.
Even though I’m not an extrovert and don’t usually talk publicly about difficult experiences.
Even though I normally prefer to keep details about family life tucked away tight within the walls of our home.

I want to say something, because I think someone should:

I’m glad the annulment process is long, difficult, and even painful.

Not that I’m enjoying it. (I’m not!)
Not that I don’t wish it could be easier. (I do!)
And not that I don’t wish sometimes that it was all over and done with and that I had a decision so that I would know what to do with the rest of my life. (I wish those things all the time.)

But, really, it just makes sense.

Of course, it makes sense because of the gravity of the decision. To declare an entire marriage covenant null? That’s some pretty heavy stuff. It’s not exactly the kind of thing a Church tribunal judge can just skim over in a printed PDF as it crosses his desk, decide whether to use the stamp that says “INVALID” or the other one that says “VALID” on it, and then move on to the next one-page summary. Of course, the time it takes makes sense for that reason.

But it also makes sense from the perspective of mercy.

I’m not talking about the “short-term mercy” of our culture today, which says, “Do whatever is going to make the person’s life easier for now. Ease their suffering now, and let them worry about the consequences later.”

I’m talking “end-game” here. We need to get back to long-term mercy, which says, “Do what’s best for the person. Do what’s going to help them to be healthier in the long run. Do what will help them to get to Heaven.”

St. Padre Pio said, ” The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self. There is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

I can see how this applies in a special way to the divorced person seeking an annulment. When a marriage ends civilly, there’s a lot of pain left. There were mistakes made by the person seeking the annulment–whether they were mistakes that led to a relationship that never should have been, or mistakes that contributed to the end of a viable marriage. And the only way to face those mistakes and make sure they don’t happen all over again is to walk right back through the pain. Those mistakes need to be processed deeply and intentionally, with plenty of thought, prayer, quiet time, and good spiritual direction, until the petitioner understands–not just mentally, but on an action-changing level of the heart–what he or she did wrong and how to keep from repeating that.

Then, there’s the hurt left over from the marriage itself. If there has been a divorce, you have to heal not only from the pain of the family breaking, but also from the pain you endured living in a wounded marriage. These things weaken a person, and they don’t go away overnight just because you separate and divorce.

And, most importantly, there’s the way that Christ draws us very close to Himself when we’re hurting. But that takes time! The annulment process is a “little desert” for each of us–a place where God can re-form and reshape our hearts and bring us closer to Himself.

For me, it’s taken four years so far to go through the annulment process (over half that time was just me working through the questionnaire)–and I’m grateful, because, looking back, I can see that every minute of that time has been a blessing. Even though the marriage was broken from the beginning, I’m grateful that “moving on” hasn’t been made easy. I’m grateful that, in order to move forward, I first had to go back and sort through everything that happened in the past–despite the fact that that was incredibly painful.

Finally, I am ready to wholeheartedly accept the Church’s decision–whatever that may be. This has been, in part, a fruit of the annulment process–because it’s tedious, because it requires the divorcee to relive the pain and analyze it, and because it takes a long time. All of these things were hard to walk through, but, at the same time, were a gift.

After a divorce, the last thing you want to do is end up there again…but if we don’t give Christ the space and time to reshape our hearts, that’s exactly what will happen. “Moving on”, whether into a healthier marriage or a life of single living to honor God, requires healing and recovery first.

Yes, the annulment process can be tedious and frustrating and painful. But Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Pain and suffering have come into your life. But remember pain, sorrow, and suffering are but the kiss of Jesus–a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” The difficulty of the annulment process gives God space to work on us and to heal us. And that makes it worth the time.

Loving the Sinner…Halfway.

The emphasis these days on mercy–wow. It’s deeply, deeply needed. Families in our society have been decimated. It seems every single person in our culture has been touched by something no one should ever have to endure. Everyone–everyone–is broken now. We live in a world that needs mercy like never before.

As a Catholic, I’m constantly reminded of this. Before my reversion to the Faith, my sins and mistakes had left me a shambles in need of healing. There was almost nothing left of me, and the only thing that healed the pain was God’s mercy. And since I’ve returned to my Faith, it seems that the more I learn–the more light enters my life–the more I can see that I’m broken. Thank goodness God forgives us when we go to Him with sorrowful hearts asking, and thank goodness He keeps reminding us of His love for us.

I got to thinking about the depth of God’s mercy today, and it brought to mind the story of the woman caught in adultery and her conversation with Christ found in John 8. You remember–when the scribes and Pharisees were ready to stone her, Jesus outsmarted them by saying, “Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” At this, instead of stoning the woman, the crowd dwindled away, leaving her alone with Jesus. He asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She answered, “No one, sir,” and He offered her the fullness of His mercy–“Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Now, today, as I was mulling this over, I got to thinking–

What would that have sounded like if Christ had left out the reference to the woman’s sin, so as not to offend her…as we are often encouraged to do today?

What if Christ, instead of saying, “Go, and sin no more,” had just said…”Go.”?

Would her life have changed? Without admonition and encouragement to do better from a God who loved her, would she have “sinned no more”…

Or would she have gone right back to the same broken, heart-wrenching lifestyle that had nearly led to her death in the first place?

Healing and recovery aren’t the result of someone making us “feel better” about the fact that we are living apart from God. Healing and recovery come about when we turn to Him and offer Him every part of our lives. That means turning away, with His help, from things He asks us not to do.

When we, as Catholics, talk about sin, it’s about so much more than “this is right, and that is wrong.”
It’s about dignity. It’s about a person’s value. It’s about what a person is worth.

Jesus Himself wanted that woman to know that she was worth more than the degrading life she was living. Sin breaks us. It tears a person apart.

Real love–real mercy–does not mean telling that torn, broken person that their sin is OK–because they’re drawn to it, or because it’s the modern thing to do, or because they can’t help it. Real love–real mercy–doesn’t just say, “Go.” That’s only half the mercy we are called to share. Real mercy shares Christ’s full message–“Go, and sin no more.”

In the end, it’s all about love. And, really, you can’t love someone if you don’t hate what brings them down.

In other words, we can’t really love the sinner unless we hate the sin.

Who Are the Richest People on Earth?

Did you see that homeless man on the corner?

The one who’d been there awhile.

The one who was hungry.

The one who, deep down, really didn’t expect that you’d give him anything today.

Is it possible that that homeless man could teach us how to grow rich?

For a while, a long time ago, we were a little hungry sometimes (not often). Not the ravenous “I need something–anything to eat!”–kind of hungry, but just the “Gee, hamburger meat would be soooo good…but it’ll have to wait ’til payday” kind of hungry. The kind where you really crave red meat sometimes but just can’t afford it (which, to most of the people in this world, wouldn’t really be considered hungry at all!)

Anyway, it was during that time that I drove my three small children into town one day, parked my car at the local grocery store, and picked a shopping basket out of the parking lot. As we were walking towards the entrance of the store, we passed a small, old, very clean pickup truck with a camper on the back. In the window was a cardboard sign: “Hungry. Will work for food.” Now, strange as it may seem, that sign wasn’t the thing that had the biggest effect on me. It was the camper itself.

See, that camper had windows. And in those windows, I could see that that camper held everything a person needed to live. Utensils, tools, engine oil, plates, a drinking cup, a razor, a toothbrush–everything most people would have in their bathrooms, garages, or kitchens, this man had in his camper. And everything–I mean everything–was neat as a pin. All lined up, on shelves, in the windows of his camper. With the sign in the back corner, telling the world that this camper WAS his home. This man cared. It wasn’t that he wasn’t trying–goodness; he took better care of those little things in his camper than most of us take of our flat-screen TVs and X-Box games. But, still, even though he was obviously a diligent person, he was there. In the parking lot at Hitchcock’s. With a sign.

That really got through to me. So, out of the money that we had for groceries that week, while we were in the store, I bought him a big bag of apples and the biggest jar of peanut butter I could afford.

My goodness. You should have seen the look on his face. His cheeks were sunken in, but when I gave him the apples and peanut butter, it made him so happy–as happy as I would have been at that time if someone had given me free groceries for my family for life!
He said, “Thank you so much. God bless you, ma’am.” And he really, really meant it.
I said, “God bless you, too, sir–it’s no problem; that’s what we’re here for–to help each other.”
He nodded his head and looked down, and he said, “Yes, but some people don’t know it.”

I felt badly about that. Partially because of how he had been treated, and partially because I knew that the “some people” were sometimes…well, me.

It happened again, much the same, about two months ago. We had just finished getting some things we needed at our local Winn-Dixie. As we pulled out of the parking lot, there was traffic, so we were behind a line of cars. On the right, a man sat on the curb next to a bicycle with a basket on it. His cheeks were sunken in, and he was bone-thin and tanned from being outdoors with no shelter from our blazing Florida sun. He was unshaven, and he kept his head down. His shoulders were slumped. On his bicycle was a cardboard sign that said “Painter for hire”.

We got out of line and went back into the store. By this time, we were in a much better place financially (thank You, Lord!), so we were able to do more. My daughter and I tried to think of what someone who had to be outdoors all day in the summer in Florida would want. We bought some groceries, and I put some money in with them, and we took them out to him.

I’ve never seen a more grateful person in my life. He was so happy–he must have said, “Thank you,” at least ten times. And when he saw that there was a bag of oranges in one of the bags, he lit up like a little boy under a Christmas tree. He said, “Oh, I love these–but they’re just so goldarned expensive, I can’t get them!”

I remember thinking he was as grateful for those groceries as I would have been if I had hit the lottery.

Which brings me to my point. Who’s richer–the man who has very little, but is grateful for every little thing he has?

Or the one who seems to have everything–but who always wants more?

People teach us about who they are by their responses to charity, but they also teach us about who we are.

How happy would we be–how much richer would we be-if we were so grateful for apples and peanut butter that we smiled from ear to ear and exclaimed, “God bless you!” every time someone gave us some?

How much wealthier would we be if we considered a bag of fresh oranges a wonderful blessing and thanked God–really thanked Him–each time a bag of those oranges was placed before us?

We never know–it might be true that some people without homes are homeless because they spent money unwisely or developed bad habits, as we often assume.

But it’s also true that all of us make mistakes. And, when it comes to gratitude, sometimes the people we would call “poor” are really far richer than most of the rest of us.

Why Refusing to Serve a Gay Wedding Isn’t Always Discrimination

Wow. The Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26 legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States ignited a firestorm of conflict, even between people who normally wouldn’t be up-in-arms over anything. And for good reason! Pro-same-sex marriage people are giddy, while most conservatives are worried that their conscience rights will soon be stripped down to even barer bones than they are now. The arguments are loud, and often angry, from both sides. Most Facebook posts have a new profile image that looks like it could have come straight from an episode of “My Little Pony”–paired with text that definitely could not.

I get it. It’s sort of like a really big, reeeeaaally important football game that’s tied in overtime. Each push forward gets one side closer to victory, and each setback could spell defeat. Except in this competition, nearly every single person in our country is on one side or the other. And it’s far, far more important than any football game could ever be, because each side feels that if they lose, basic rights are at stake.

But it doesn’t mean we have to hate each other. People are still people, and, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” And, really, no matter how strong your argument is, if you have hate in your voice when you say it, no one listens, anyway.

That’s not to say that there’s no right and wrong–or that we shouldn’t have strong opinions. Of course, I’m Catholic (which is why my blog’s not called the Kitchen Table Seventh Day Adventist or the Kitchen Table Hindu–you get the idea :-)…), and I do believe that marriage is a sacrament that God intended to unite one man and one woman in free, total, faithful, and life-giving love. I believe He designed each of our bodies, out of His love, with a meaning and a purpose, and that each person’s outward body is a reflection of that purpose, even when his or her inner feelings might conflict with that outward reality. So I’m on the anti- gay marriage side…BUT I don’t hate anybody. Honestly. I can’t think of a single person in this whole world that I hate. (I’m grateful for that.) And, if a member of my family, or one of my close friends, “came out” to me, I would see that as a sign that they needed more love and support, more care, and more encouragement, because it would mean that he or she had a very heavy cross to carry and a very hard road to walk.

So I thought I’d try saying what I think about all of this–with love. I thought I’d try saying it the way I would explain it if a really close friend “came out” and asked me what I thought…and I wanted to start with the discrimination argument about Christian businesses who refuse to serve gay weddings.

Now, this might sound weird, but, the way I see it, that’s not necessarily discrimination. See, discrimination is when you 1) treat someone differently from others AND 2) do it because of who they are. So, if a Chinese man came into my bakery and asked for a birthday cake, and I said, “No, sir–I can’t sell you a birthday cake because you’re Chinese,” that would definitely be discrimination, because both elements are true–I treated him differently, and I did it because of who he was. That’s discrimination.

BUT, if you’re a gay couple who comes into my bakery and asks for a wedding cake, and I refuse, it’s not the same. See, the REASON I’m not providing the service is actually not because you’re gay. (Stay with me here…)

If you’re a gay man, and I know you’re gay, and you come in and order a cake for your daughter’s birthday, I’ll bake you the most beautiful birthday cake you’ve ever seen.

If you’re a lesbian woman, and I’m a Christian florist, and you come into my shop and order a Mother’s Day bouquet for your mom, I’ll put everything I have into making her something she’ll love. I’ll serve you gladly and gratefully. You’re not asking for anything I can’t do, and my job is to serve you. I’d do my very best and say, “Thank you for your business. I hope she likes it! Come back soon!” and mean it with all my heart.

But if I’m a Christian baker, and you’re a gay man, and you come in to order a wedding cake for yourself and the man you plan to marry, you’ve just asked me not to try to please God. See, my faith teaches that homosexual intimacy is a mortal sin (a sin which can keep a person out of Heaven and cut off ALL of God’s grace in his or her soul, which can lead one even deeper into sin), just as it teaches that heterosexual intimacy with anyone other than a person’s Church-married husband or wife is a mortal sin. Not only that, but knowingly cooperating with or supporting mortal sin (such as by baking a cake or doing flowers for a gay wedding)…is also a mortal sin.

So, really, what you’re asking is for me to commit a mortal sin.

That’s why I can’t bake the cake. That’s why, I’m sorry, but I can’t put your flowers together. It’s not because you’re gay. If a heterosexual man walked in and asked me to bake a cake and tried to pay me with money I knew he’d stolen, I couldn’t do that, either. I’d treat him the very same way I’d treat a homosexual couple asking me to bake their wedding cake. I’d tell him no. Not because he’s heterosexual, but just because my faith teaches me it would displease God. That’s all.

So, see, really, it’s not necessarily discrimination. I’m not treating you differently than I would treat anyone else asking me to commit a mortal sin, and I’m not telling you no because of who you are. I’m not asking you to live by my faith, but I would really, really appreciate it if you would allow me to, without taking me to court for trying. There are plenty of bakers. There are plenty of florists. Why choose a Christian one if they believe your marriage is wrong?

There’s so much more to say, but I think that would be best left for another post. Until then, many blessings to you all–no matter how you “identify”!