Having traveled across the United States, talking to those who are fierce advocates, both for and against a woman’s right to legally accessing an abortion, we’ve recognized a few areas in the conversation that would benefit from dissection. Not for the purpose of refuting one side over the other, but merely to help us shine a light on how we can effectively communicate our thoughts, even when it comes to the most incendiary topics. In most cases, we’ve found it boils down to three things: 1) talking past one another, specifically having absolutely no interest in listening to what the other person has to say; 2) using and applying a belief system not held by the other party; and/or 3) as a follow up of the second point, applying a doctrinal belief to someone’s life who has absolutely no desire for you to do so.
I want to take each of these points, dissecting them from both sides of the debate, and suggest a way to engage in HEALTHY conversations that will move us towards a Christlike posture reflecting the love of our Savior, and not the hatred and condemnation of the Pharisees.
The first point is actually the easiest to address and it takes us straight to scripture. The world will know we belong to Jesus by the expression of our love for one another. (John 13:34-35) I have raised this point during many of my conversations with those holding an anti-abortion position and, without fail, 100 percent of the time, their response is always the same: I’m loving the baby. And while I appreciate the heart behind this response, there’s a glaring flaw in the rationale: Loving the baby doesn’t preclude us from loving the woman carrying the baby. As Christians, we don’t get to choose who we’re called to love and equally important, the laws of man should never dictate the limits of our love.
To hold a “pro-life” stance means you not only advocate for the life of the unborn, you chase after the heart of the woman carrying the child. You advocate for the life of the prisoner on death row because you believe in the power of redemption, and you never settle for children being detained in cages, separated from their parents… no matter which administration created the laws, implemented the laws or upholds the laws. Because when we label ourselves “pro-life,” we don’t get to pick and choose which lives are worthy of advocacy. As Christians, we hold that God is the judge. (Yet, so often we like to step into those shoes. Some of us walk in them quite frequently… to the point we’ve worn holes into them.)
And PLEASE hear me out. I’m not advocating for those who oppose abortion to stop opposing it. What I’m asking is for you to take a hard look at HOW you’re opposing it. What I’m asking is for ALL of us to look at what a TRUE “pro-life” stance entails. And then filter that through the absolute radical existence of Jesus and the gospel… and his call on our lives to love others. This is an important conversation the church needs to have. Desperately. One of the more interesting points of contention on our trip thus far has been the level of defensiveness (and divisiveness) surrounding this topic… on both sides of the issue. But, if we can get to a place where we’re willing to listen to opposing views, be open to the possibility (*cough, cough* PROBABILITY) that we all have something to learn, and remind ourselves that Jesus calls us to care for EVERY life, no matter the circumstances… if nothing else…. the tone of our conversation will change. As will the witness we are providing to a watching world.
Points two and three go hand in hand… and this has, by far, been the MOST contentious point of discussion across all topics we’ve dissected. From a Christian perspective, the “pro-life” stance is based on the belief of life beginning at conception. As a Christian, I hold this belief. But I also recognize that many people don’t, including many in the church. (Again, check your response to my last sentence.) But, here’s something I find incredibly interesting: None of those people, despite being “pro-choice” believed in elective abortions being performed in the third trimester. And most had a hard time with elective abortions in the second trimester. And, on the flip side, not every anti-abortion proponent referred to abortions as infanticide. (And, as a point of clarification, abortion is not infanticide. While I understand the heart behind this argument, I would contend that using the verbiage is intentionally inflammatory and does very little, if anything, to spur on any helpful dialogue.)
As I close, I want to revisit the first sentence in this post: So how do we end abortions in our country? It wasn’t really a fair question because the truth is simple. We won’t. Even if the Supreme Court reverses Roe V. Wade, and every judge appointed to the bench is a staunch, “pro-life” conservative, abortions will never end. But that doesn’t mean the circumstances surrounding a woman’s (or a couple’s) choice can’t change.
And I believe this is where the Church can have the most profound impact when it comes to drastically reducing the number of abortions taking place here… and around the world. My next post, will be the final one in this series. I will share my own personal views and will propose a solution to help us move in the direction of Christ’s love.
I’ve been sharing my story for years, as the Lord prompts me. Almost always when I hear a woman confess her abortion under a heavy cloak of shame. (And it’s incredibly important to know the difference between guilt and shame.) Almost always, it’s after they hear the story of how Jamie and I chose to keep Sydney. And the words of these women are almost always the same, “Your story has a good ending, but mine doesn’t.”
And this is a problem we have created… in the church.
Whether intentional, or not, we’ve created a culture in some of our churches where the “success” stories within the congregation become idolized. One of my friends calls it “ill-famous.” She refers to it as having an illness, or an exploitive sin, that a church can leverage to their advantage. (And she would know, because her family’s story has been requested for use by her church on multiple occasions… including a building campaign.) Unbelievable as it might sound, it goes something like this: If you’ve been healed from a disease, overcome a significant obstacle, or freed from the grips of horrific sin… your story is a commodity that can be used (exploited) by the church. And, obviously, the repercussions of this can be devastating to the church body, as a whole. As one person on the road described it: If you have reoccurring sin you just can’t seem to conquer, or some “almost-unforgiveable-sin-that-OF-COURSE-Jesus-will-forgive-but-the-church-will-NEVER-forget,” you become a second class citizen of sorts. It’s like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. You are forever known by the sin you committed.
When asked why I don’t share my story more, the truth is pretty simple. I’m not interested in dealing with a lot of judgmental Christians with HUGE planks in their eyes… on an issue Jesus had already dealt with. Like the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, I’m free for freedom’s sake. Period. Plus, self-righteousness disguised as holy righteousness isn’t something I have the patience for. (And for the record, neither does Jesus.)
But then I started listening to more women share their stories. And men. Would it surprise you to know that 54% of the women who had abortions in 2014 were identified as Protestant or Catholic? Let that statistic sink in. Over 50% of the women who had abortions in 2014 were professed Christians. Stop right now and take inventory of your thoughts at this exact moment. Are you reflexively questioning the salvation of these women? Were you overcome with anger and judgment because of the decisions they made? Or did your heart grieve for them, NOT from a place of superiority, but from a place of compassion?
When we first got on the road, Sydney and I had the chance to speak with a long time pregnancy care advocate based in Ohio. She had spent an extensive amount of time with young women who chose to terminate their pregnancies. (She also spent time talking to the Church about tangible ways they could help women facing unplanned pregnancies, but I will focus more on that in the next post.) At one point in the conversation, she told us that many of the women looking to terminate their pregnancies were professed Christians; and when asked about their decision to go through with the abortions, almost all of them had the same response:
“Jesus will forgive me, but the Church won’t.”
I STILL remember that moment. Sydney and I were sitting on the sofa in the RV and both of our mouths dropped open at the same time. So many thoughts were going through our minds and we were eager to ask so many follow up questions, but, first, had to recover from our stunned silence. This statement is profound, and in my experience (and the experiences of so many other men and women I have met), painfully accurate. Christ will forgive us for our sins, no matter how heinous they are, and never hold them to our face as a reminder of who we were. The Church, on the other hand, hasn’t had the best track record with extending grace when it comes to having children out of “wedlock” or to those who have had abortions. (See my Scarlet Letter reference above.) Honestly, the choice is rather simple: you can choose to take the pregnancy to full term and deal with all the whispers from within the church, or you can terminate the pregnancy and suffer in silence.
But, either way… you suffer.
When you think of the mission and message of Jesus, this is an incredibly damning indictment against the Church… and should give us great pause. (And this issue isn’t limited to the subject of abortion.) If I’m being honest, I imagine several people read the line “many of the women looking to terminate their pregnancies were professed Christians” and scoffed at the notion of anyone calling themselves a Christian while even CONSIDERING an abortion, let alone HAVING one. And here lies the problem.
Well… one of them anyway.
Years ago, Jamie and I shared our story with a local pastor. I remember the look of confusion that came across his face. He then asked, with genuine sincerity, “But, weren’t you guys Christians?” It was completely unfathomable to him that we would even consider abortion as an option if we professed Jesus as our Savior. (Ironically, he didn’t question our salvation when it came to having sex outside of marriage.) I’ve also had a young man look me in the eye and tell me there’s no such thing as a “pro-choice” Christian. (And before anyone COMPLETELY loses their minds, pro-choice DOES NOT mean pro-abortion. It would be SO MUCH easier to argue a “pro-life” stance if it did. This is something I’ve come to learn on this trip. And something I will talk more about in the next post.) Or that you can’t be a Democrat and a Christian because those two “positions” are diametrically opposed… most likely because of the pro-choice stance that many in the party adhere to. But, would it surprise you to know that 29% of Democrats consider themselves “pro-life”? Or that 21% of Republicans label themselves as “pro-choice”? (Click here for the stats.)
How many of you have an elevated heart rate right now? Creating the bullet points for all your arguments against what I just posted. I assure you… it’s okay. Remember, We’ve been doing this for 10 months and we know all the points and counter points. But, this isn’t about winning an argument. It’s about chasing after hearts. It’s about Jesus. For those who are chomping at the bit to say Jesus was against murder, I would respectfully remind you about his stance on hatred in our hearts being tantamount to murder at our hands. His words. Not mine. AND PLEASE HEAR ME OUT ON THIS: We’re NOT trying to change anyone’s stance on anything. All we’re suggesting is that NO MATTER your political affiliation, or your stance on the issue of abortion, how we communicate the love of Christ to those facing the choice of abortion is the most important thing we will ever do when it comes to the issue.
As Sydney likes to say, “We’re trying to save two lives here, not just one.”
After leaving the Good Friday service, it took about 12 hours for me to accept the Lord’s answer to my fleece. But, there was one glaring problem: If He was calling me to share my story with others, I’d probably need to share it with my husband first.
About 30 years ago, I made a conscious decision to give myself a fresh start in life. A reset, of sorts. And I didn’t meet my husband until almost 10 years AFTER that reset… far removed from the shackles of a past I was determined to leave behind. But, now I sat on my bed trying to figure out how in the world I was going to share this story with my husband. What was I going to say? How would he react? We hardly ever fought. I mean, after 17 years of marriage I can probably count on one hand the times we’ve fought. I didn’t even know how to prepare myself for any type of confrontation.
The only thing I knew to do was pray and then to ask someone else to pray, which is exactly what I did. I called my friend, Anna, confessing my need to tell her something… but, needing to tell my husband first. I asked her to go somewhere alone to pray for me, to pray for my husband. I asked for her to pray until I texted her that my conversation with my husband was over. She told me she would and I knew she’d hold true to her word. Anna, despite not knowing the circumstances, understood both the sincerity and severity of my request.
I remember telling my husband that I needed to talk to him; it was urgent and cleaning would have to wait. I remember telling the kids they could watch a movie and that cleaning would have to wait. I remember the kids being thrilled with the indefinite postponement of chores. I remember feeling like I was going to throw up. I remember crawling into bed and wrapping myself in the blankets. I remember telling my husband the entire story.
I grew up in an abusive home, something my husband knew. My dad was a controlling, sadistic alcoholic who physically beat me and my mom, usually when he was drunk. But sometimes, especially when he was angry, alcohol wasn’t required. In middle school, social services got involved. Briefly. But, also the consummate sweet-talker, my dad convinced the social worker that my cry for help was nothing more than a kid looking to be “spared from the rod.” A funny comment from a man who refused to go to church because he didn’t want to associate with hypocrites. But, the irony was lost on the social worker because she didn’t bother asking if my dad even went to church… or asking for my side of the story, or asking to see the bruises on my body.
One night, while calling home to see if I could stay a little longer at a friend’s house, I could hear things breaking in the background. I could hear my dad in a fit of rage. The last thing I wanted to do was go home, but the last thing I could do was leave my mom there to fend for herself. By the time I got there, the house was destroyed. Picture frames torn from the walls, glass broken everywhere. My dad was still reeling and my mom was still making excuses for him. It was the same song and dance we’d been doing for years. But, I was tired of this dance. I was tired of living in fear. Honestly, I was tired of living. Period.
So, I left.
At seventeen, I left home. For a couple of weeks, there were friends whose parents took me in because they were sympathetic to the situation. But, I never wanted to overstay my welcome. I spent weeks sleeping wherever a bed, or couch, was offered. I stayed in my car. I asked my friends for whatever food they could spare during lunch. If there was enough, I’d save some for dinner. As the weeks turned into months, my friend circle began to change; all my “church” friends stopped talking to me. I started hanging out with an older crowd, which led me down a destructive path.
At the age of 17, I found myself pregnant and homeless. And in a horrific twist of fate, my parents offered me a chance to come home, under the best possible circumstances. My dad was being transferred to an office in Texas for the remainder of the school year. My parents told me I could return home, without having to deal with the presence of my dad…. but, only if I wasn’t pregnant.
Being pregnant wasn’t an option. I mean, what would the people at church think, right? This was a genuine response. (And after hearing the stories of so many others, it’s a common theme from within the church.)
I remember sitting in my car outside of the abortion clinic, watching women walk in. Watching them walk out. Curious if their countenance would change. I noticed a woman sitting in a beach chair outside the clinic, a Cool-Mate cooler to the right of the chair. She was reading a book, but every time a woman passed on the walkway to the clinic, she would look up and say something. Sometimes the interaction was longer than others. Eventually, I got up the nerve to go in. I convinced myself this was a necessary decision for survival. I needed to graduate high school and get out from under the control of my parents. But, I had to pass by this woman and her cooler first.
To this day, I remember so much about my conversation with her. She got up from her chair and said that she had been watching me for as long as I had been watching her. She then asked something I would have NEVER expected.
She asked if she could pray for me.
When I said yes, she grabbed my hands and moved in close. Too close. Her forehead pressed against mine. I braced myself for what was about to come. I was raised in a church where Sunday morning announcements included the phone numbers of elected state and federal officials you needed to call to make sure your voice was heard. I was prepared for the back-handed prayer of condemnation to hell because I was about to commit the unforgivable sin. I was ready.
But, it never came.
Instead, this woman prayed a prayer that would one day save my life. She prayed that I would experience the Father’s love in a real way. No matter what I decided, she wanted me to know that God would love me as much walking out of that clinic as He did when I walked in. No matter what I decided.
That was it. She didn’t try to change my mind. She didn’t throw scriptures at me or call me a murderer. She didn’t show me horrible pictures. She just showed me compassion. She showed me love.
She showed me Jesus.
Years later, I would find myself spiraling down a path of crippling depression, wanting to end my life. (And before anyone starts “explaining” my situation as some form of PTSD. It wasn’t. I spent a lot of time in counseling as a part of my healing process… healing from ALL the trauma of my childhood. Let me save you from your arrogance and/or ignorance. This moment, unfortunately, stemmed from other circumstances far beyond my control and had absolutely nothing to do with this situation.) In my darkest moment, I remembered the woman sitting outside the clinic. I remembered her talking about a God I never knew, despite being raised in the Church. A God that loved you… no matter what. In that moment, I called out to that God. I told Him that if He really existed, I needed Him to take this consuming darkness away. He had to end it, because if He didn’t, I was going to.
And as soon as those words escaped my mouth… it was all gone. The darkness and despair, the depression. All of it. Inexplicably gone.
I wish I could sit here and say that in that moment I dedicated my life to the Lord who saved me from myself. But, truth is… in that moment, I thought about ALL the times I was taught about God’s love for children. I thought about the horrors of my childhood and wondered where God was all those years. Instead of being overwhelmed by His love for me, I became overcome by my anger towards Him.
So… I ran from God. Hard and fast for almost 10 years. Around the world, literally… and then to Maine.
I sat on my bed, finally through the whole story. Tears rolling down my face because I just shared years worth of trauma to a man who never signed up for it. I had no idea how he would take it. My husband is an internal processor, a pretty extensive dialogue takes place in his head before any words cross his lips. I, on the other hand, am an external processor. I need words to be expressed vocally, especially in these situations.
But all I got from him was this quizzical look, as if every word coming from my mouth had been in some indistinguishable language. The expression remained on his face for an uncomfortable amount of time and I used every second of the silence to brace myself for every possible response… except the one he gave me.
“Deirdre, I’ve known… I’ve known for years.”
I’m sorry, WHAT?!?! How in the world could he know? And, more importantly, how was it even possible for me to have absolutely no clue?
My husband then went on to explain how years ago, while packing up for our move, he came across a box filled with letters and pictures. He didn’t recognize the contents and began searching for a clue. From the few things he read, my husband was able to piece together my story. But, instead of bringing the contents of the box to my attention, he quietly placed them back onto the shelf.
Immediately, I placed myself in his shoes. I can, quite confidently, admit that if the roles had been reversed, my actions would not have been the same. NOT. EVEN. CLOSE. I would have brought the whole thing to his immediate attention asking how he could have possibly kept something so monumental from me. I, most likely, would have felt entitled to know every detail and demanded as much. At the end of the day, I would have expected a complete confession and then (possibly) extended grace…. maybe. I wish I could say that my response would have been different, but I know myself pretty well.
Thankfully, that was NOT how my husband responded. And when I asked why he never said anything to me, his answer was simple… but profound.
“That was from atime in your life before you knew me.That’s not who you arenow.”
And, just like that, for the first time in my entire life, I understood how Jesus REALLY sees me. I came to a place of TRULY understanding what he accomplished on the cross.
For years, men in the church… leaders in the church… shamed my husband because of his “lack of leadership” on the home front. They blamed me for not being submissive. They questioned his lack of interest in leadership opportunities at the church, opting instead to watch the babies of the young women I would teach. They never once saw how much of Jesus my husband REALLY was. (Confession: Neither did I… because I believed the lies so many propagated in the Church, whether through their words or actions.) My husband was the first to serve in the most “undesirable” positions. He saw my giftings and did everything possible to make sure I used them for the edification of the body… even if that meant being covered in the spit up of a child that wasn’t ours.
In that moment, through those simple words, my husband showed me an inexplicable love. He showed me the love of Jesus. And in that moment, EVERYTHING changed.
I woke up the following morning determined to make it absolutely impossible for God to speak to me. (I know. Sitting here, at a RV park in San Antonio, I read that sentence in embarrassment.) I’m not sure if it was arrogance or stupidity. Maybe it was just a matter of complete desperation. But, whatever it was, I had a plan in place.
In a pinnacle moment of maturity, I decided to play sick. Yep. I mean, if I don’t get out of bed all day, just pull the covers over my head, and tell everyone to leave me alone… God can’t possibly talk to me, right?
Everything went exactly as planned until around lunch time, when I heard the chime from my phone buried somewhere in the bottom of my purse. I immediately began kicking myself for not silencing my phone. This text, under any other circumstance would have been the answer to prayer. But, in my current situation, it would lead to my undoing. You see, the text was from a young woman who had been living with our family for months After living as a missionary overseas, she needed a place to land, to find her bearings. For months, I had been asking her to go with us to church. For months, she had passed on the invitation. Then, all of a sudden, out of the blue… yeah, okay, God… she sent me a text asking it I would go with her to a Good Friday Service. (Did I mention that it was Easter weekend?)
Here I was, faking illness, eliminating all contact with electronics and people… well, almost all… trying my best to keep any and all communication with God to absolutely zero. And then I get this text asking me to attend a church service with someone who hasn’t wanted to go to church in months. Something I had been praying for, wrestling with God on, for months. And, THIS was the day He decided to answer that prayer.
And that, folks, is how our God works. His timing really is impeccable.
I agreed to going to the Good Friday Service. But I was arriving late, leaving early and sitting on the back pew. Non-negotiable. (I can’t imagine what thoughts were going through this young lady’s head.) But, understand the predicament I found myself in: I was trying to avoid God… and now I was going to church, arguably, the last place you’d want to go.
Yet, there I was.
I remember parts of the service. It was cast as an ecumenical service. Seven different congregations were participating, most from conservative and/or liturgical backgrounds. But there was one that wasn’t… and that pastor decided to hijack the Good Friday script turning it into one of deliverance, prophetic words, and healing. You could almost see the heads explode one by one, starting with the Baptist congregants, shortly followed by the Anglicans.
Under “normal” circumstances, my head would have probably been pounding too. But, I was just counting down the minutes until the last song would be sung… and I would subtly exit my pew and run back to hide under the covers of my bed until the clock struck midnight. But, as the last song began to play, I noticed Katherine, another one of the young ladies from my discipleship group, at the front of the church. It was hard to NOT notice her, because she was waving to get my attention.
For about five seconds, I contemplated ignoring her. But, I knew something was wrong just by looking at her. And, by the end of those five seconds, I had this horrible feeling Katherine was part of God’s plan. It was the same feeling I get when riding a rollercoaster, about to crest the top of the peak… about to drop three stories with lightening speed.
Katherine lived in downtown Portland, right above the Planned Parenthood. On that particular Friday, protesters paraded in front of the building, holding posters not suitable for young eyes, citing scriptures found in the Old Testament… ignoring those in the New… telling those entering the doors of the clinic that they are murderers. And like so many other Fridays, Katherine walked down to the street and engaged in conversations with those firmly gripping their poster boards and their bibles.
One of the many things I love about Katherine is her heart for those who don’t know Jesus. Even in these moments with protestors outside of Planned Parenthood, she wanted the witness of the Church to reflect the love of Christ. Because of this, she tried to engage one of the protesters into a conversation. She questioned why they relied so heavily on the Old Testament, ignoring the words of love from Jesus that permeate the New Testament. But, like so many times before, the conversation went nowhere.
Finally, one of the women talking to Katherine shared her story, which includes multiple abortions. Almost as an acknowledgement of the impasse, the woman told Katherine that she doesn’t expect someone who’s never lived her experience to understand her position. In part, this woman was arguing that she has more insight, and by default, more of a right, to engage in this form of protest that arguably heaps on more condemnation than anything else.
As Katherine continued to tell her story from the previous hour, I began to feel the crest of the roller coaster fast approaching. As she looked at me, somewhat defeated by her interaction with the woman, I knew the Lord was using Katherine to check off all the conditions I gave Him. She finished her story almost with a resigned defeat, as she said her final sentence, “Maybe she’s right, I’ve never been in these women’s shoes. Why should they listen to me?”
And just like that, in the house of the Lord, on Good Friday, the Lord spoke in a way I couldn’t deny. I remember feeling sick, as I grabbed the pew to steady myself. Conversations were going on around me, but I couldn’t hear them. I couldn’t hear anything except the voice in my head, a volley of expletives and questions. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Katherine broke through the verbal tennis match in my head with a request for me to drive her home. And somewhere between the walk back to the car and my key turning the ignition, I became lucid again. I didn’t even make it 100 yards down the road before I pulled off to the side and asked Katherine to take out her calendar. I told her I thought God spoke to me through her and that I needed her to hold me accountable. I asked her to make a reminder on her phone, two weeks from that day, to check in with me. To hold me accountable. I apologized for being vague and explained that I couldn’t tell her anything more, but that I would explain everything in two weeks.
But, it didn’t take two weeks. It didn’t even take two hours. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I knew what the Lord was calling me to do. He was calling me to share my story. But there was one problem. No one knew my story.
So before I could share my story with the world, I’d need to share it with my husband.
Four years ago, about halfway through seminary, my life changed forever. Radically. I grew up in the church, had been studying and teaching the Bible for years, but for the first time in my life I was about to see Jesus in a completely different way. Or, maybe I should say, for the first time I would come to a transformational understanding of how Jesus sees me.
One of the requirements for my particular degree program was a 30 week concentration in spiritual formation. The requirement, though time consuming, was relatively simple: meet with a local ministry leader once a week for mentoring. At the end of the 30 weeks, I would present my mentor with a project entitled “My Story”; a simple narrative of my testimony.
I still remember that fateful day, sitting at my local Starbucks, presenting my paper, clearly and concisely sharing my testimony with a woman brave enough to take on the job of mentoring me. It’s wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. But, this final meeting was easy. I’d given my testimony a hundred times, learning to keep it sweet, simple and too the point.
Box checked. Moving on.
Or so I thought.
That night I tossed and turned for hours, but sleep eluded me and I had absolutely no idea why. Did I consume too much coffee after 4:00pm? Were the kids okay? Did I forget to lock the doors? It went on for hours. And then, out of nowhere, it hit me. Almost like God was talking to me. (He wasn’t. At least, not audibly.) Maybe I was talking to myself. Whomever was behind that still, small voice… my deep subconscious was breaking through with four simple words:
“That’s not your story.”
I’m sorry. What?!? What do you mean it’s not my story? Of course, it is! I’ve told it a hundred times, if not more. The Carry On Project was based on that story. I mean, I LIVED it.
But, then, almost like an answer to what I thought was a rhetorical question, the Lord brought the story, ready to be told, into focus. This wasn’t a forgotten tale repressed in the cob-webbed crevices of my mind, nor was it a story I chose to ignore. It was just so far removed from my life… decades removed. Before I knew Jesus. (Yes, you read that right. It IS completely possible to be raised in the church, even be baptized, and have absolutely no idea who Jesus is.) And for someone who had first hand experience of how the church shoots it’s wounded…
Yeah… no thanks. I’m good.
But, the Lord was unrelenting and the turning point finally came in a moment of frustration as I screamed in my pillow, “For the love of Jesus.”
It was almost like the Lord answered, “That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
So, I did the only thing I knew to do when faced with a decision I didn’t want to make. I pulled a Gideon and threw down my fleece. But, this was no ordinary fleece, mind you. This fleece had points and sub-points. In no uncertain terms, if the Lord wanted THIS to be “my story” then He needed to make it UNDENIABLY clear.
Here were my conditions (laughable, I know): #1 He needed to clearly confirm this was the story I was called to share; #2 He needed to clearly articulate WHY I was the one to share it; and #3 He had to do it within the next 24 hours.
Yeah, I know. I have some nerve, right? Questioning the Lord of all creation? Giving Him a timeline to meet MY demands? Who the heck do I think I am?
Truth: in that moment… Jonah. Ready to run as far away from Nineveh as possible. And, thankfully, the Lord extended to me ALL KINDS of CRAZY GRACE. Because He answered all of my questions by the following night.
Lesson for today: When you try to paint God unto a corner, He might just blow that corner up.
Over the next five or six posts, I’m going to dive deep into this topic of abortion. Today I’m sharing Sydney’s journey with The Carry On Project and what we’ve experienced on the road. In the subsequent posts, I’ll share my story with you, tying up this series with a look at the conversation surrounding abortion in the Church and the ministry the Lord has called me to as we move forward. But, first… Sydney.
Part of our RV adventure across the country has included stops to pregnancy care centers as part of The Carry On Project. (You can read more about the project here.) We’ve had the opportunity to visit centers from New York to Texas, sharing the music, but also the heart behind the mission. The ministry, on its own merits, is beautiful. I remember Krissy sending us the unfinished version of Carry On and immediately knowing this song needed to be in the hands of every woman facing an unplanned pregnancy. But, I also remember Sydney championing the song’s other significant ministry… to the Church. Over the last year, Sydney has constantly, consistently, reminded us of this.
She reminds everyone of this.
Sydney has always been apprehensive of The Carry On Project. Not in the mission itself, but in the assumptions others would make. From the VERY beginning, Sydney made it abundantly clear to her management team that she wanted to avoid using the term “pro-life” when describing the song. It was too politically charged and, for those Sydney had a heart to reach, it would be a repellant.
I will never forget the night the publicist called to tell us that CCM Magazine wanted to do a story on Sydney and The Carry On Project. They wanted to use term “pro-life” in the title. Sydney’s response: Absolutely not. The management team was baffled. Why in the world would you say no to that kind of exposure? In her abundant wisdom, and as a foreshadowing of future events, Sydney explained that using the terminology would align her with people and movements she doesn’t want to be aligned with. She was confident the Lord wasn’t calling her to the politics and policy side of the conversation.
But, Sydney also felt called to speak to the Church. To Sydney, Carry On is a reminder for the Church to surround women facing unplanned pregnancies with love and support, not hate and condemnation. Sydney knew there were TWO lives at stake and the best way to save the life of the child was to chase after the heart of the mother. This is the beat of Sydney’s heart… and not just on this topic.
Eventually, Sydney agreed to the CCM Magazine article. I still remember the conversation. In the end, it was one comment that changed her mind: Sometimes (probably ALL the time, in my opinion) the Lord opens a door and we have absolutely no say on the terms… and that’s when our pride can get in the way of us living out our purpose. So, she agreed to have the story run, and then about one week later, during an interview with a radio station in London, her worst fear came true.
God’s timing around the circumstances in our lives the past three years has been impeccable. Spot on. 100% of the time. And this interview, unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on how you look at it) was no exception. The DJ informed Sydney that the previous person interviewed for her show had also written a “pro-life” song. I wish you could have seen Sydney’s face as she listened to the DJ set up the question. It was a mixture of dread, frustration, and anger, with a tad bit of I-told-you-this-was-going-to happen thrown straight at me. (I remember covering my head with a pillow, praying the Lord would give my girl a double helping of grace and discernment when she opened her mouth to speak.)
Truth is… we were very much aware of the person and song the DJ was referring to. It was written by a male worship leader at one of the bigger churches in Franklin, Tennessee. The focus of the song was different from Carry On, as was the ministry surrounding it. For this other song, the life of the unborn was the focus and a pro-life activist asked the artist to join a few events around the country.
The DJ wanted to know how Sydney felt about creating a song that was part of this pro-life movement taking over the country. A movement that has, at times, brought out the worst in people as they stand outside of abortion clinics with hate-filled signs calling women murders. Sydney has seen this. She has watched mothers and fathers encourage their children to speak words of condemnation to complete strangers… in the name of Jesus.
And without missing a beat, Sydney set the record straight, informing the DJ she wasn’t a part of that movement. Period. She offered no other explanation. She refused to whitewash her answer in an effort to diminish some of the apparent sting. There was just silence. Awkward, long silence.
Sydney LOVES those moments.
So here we are on the road. Birmingham to be exact. Right as Alabama is passing state abortion laws that will undoubtedly make their way to the Supreme Court. As men and women, Lord help us even children, stand in front of abortion clinics holding posters with pictures of aborted babies, calling the women entering these clinics murders and damning them to hell.
All in the name of Jesus.
But through all of that, you have a 17-year-old girl visiting a local pregnancy care center to give them the download cards for Carry On. Wanting to share her story… our story… in hopes that extending love will be more powerful than casting stones. At the clinic in Birmingham, the impression Sydney made was lasting. That evening, one of the women working there made a purchase from our website. She included a note to Sydney saying how impressed everyone in the office was with her poise and her heart for the women entering these clinics.
Here’s the truth: Years ago, I told Sydney that our story might have been a whole lot different if I was met with protesters outside of that Planned Parenthood. Instead, a woman working there listened to me and Jamie wrestle through the pain of this life changing decision and then she told us to go home. Not a story you hear very often, but it’s one that has shaped Sydney’s heart. This woman working at the Planned Parenthood extended love to me when my church kicked me out.
We found ourselves in a very frustrating holding pattern at this point in the story. (I can’t help but laugh at it now. There have been SO MANY holding patterns since this period of time. And a moment of complete honesty: our lives before this adventure were so busy, scheduled… predictable… that waiting didn’t really exist. Even if we put something before the Lord, our petitions weren’t consistent because there were so many other balls to juggle in life. But, living your life in such a way where almost everything depends on the Lord… when your prayers aren’t scheduled, but are a constant flow from your lips throughout the day… it changes how you see this life. It changes how you see your purpose as a child of God, a servant of the Lord. But, we were about to embark on the most trying season of our lives because EVERYTHING depended on waiting…on Him. Even now, we have no idea where we’re going to be in a month. We are going through our savings faster than we want. We are praying for the Lord to make the next step clear. Some nights I can’t sleep. I wonder if I missed something. Would things we different if we were more faithful in some area of our lives?
But, then I remember that He is always faithful, no matter my lack of faithfulness. (Plus, that line of thinking in a form of prosperity gospel, or Christianized karma. Following with Jesus doesn’t work that way.)
We had two weeks before Sydney’s last show in Georgia and no idea how we were going to fill it. (But, the Lord did.) We decided to head down to Alabama to visit another one of my Noonday friends. I went to Uganda several years ago with Melody. We were actually roommates. She and her husband have a wonderful ministry called LIFE Ministries and meeting with them came at the absolute right time.
We met Melody and her husband, Randy, at a local Chick-fil-A in outside of Birmingham. Our time with them was so short, but for the first time since we had been on the road, someone looked at Jamie and I and said, “How is your marriage?” I remember wanting to cry and fighting to hold back the tears. It’s such a simple question, but so profound. Truth be told, our marriage was great. The only time our marriage MIGHT have been better was during our time church planting in Rhode Island. Almost nine months in, our family is closer than ever. But, our time with Randy and Melody helped prepare us for the trials ahead.
Randy hammered home the importance of protecting our marriage. He asked probing questions about our personalities and communication styles, how we handle conflict and prioritize time away as a couple and as individuals. At this point in the adventure, we were still trying to figure out how six people (and a dog) can live in 300 sq. ft. without killing one another. We were winging it, so to speak. But, that wasn’t a strategy for longevity. Randy knew we needed to be proactive in protecting our family in order to give us the best chance of thriving in an absolutely chaotic existence.
The verdict might still be out…but we’re still at it and no one had died yet. I’m counting that as a success.
While in Birmingham, I also made a new, and unlikely, friend… at a local Starbucks. SURPRISE! I had dropped Sydney off at the gym to work out while I went across the street to write. But, I got absolutely no writing done that day. Almost immediately after sitting down and taking our my laptop, this older man took a seat near me. As a die-hard people watcher, this individual intrigued me from the moment he sat down.
First, I’m pretty sure this man knew absolutely everyone who walked into that Starbucks location. (Maybe this is why I was drawn to him! He was ME!!!) This man, Wayne, sat down right next to the table with milk dispensers ands sugar packets… right smack-dab in the path of all the foot traffic, and EVERY SINGLE PERSON STOPPED TO TALK TO HIM. I couldn’t stop laughing. Eventually, he turned to ask WHY I was laughing! Which made me laugh even more.
Over the course of the next hour, I sat with a man who is about as Republican as they come. We talked about politics, abortion, immigration, gun laws. You name it, I asked him his thoughts. And we disagreed more than we agreed. But, here’s the beauty of this conversation: Wayne gave me permission to push back on some of his views… and even conceded to some of my points. And better yet, I gave him the same permission and he pushed back on some of my views… and I conceded to some of his points.
I walked away from my time with Wayne with a renewed sense of hope. We became friends on Facebook, but the request came with one IMPORTANT caveat: I told him that, inevitably, I would post something he doesn’t agree with, politically speaking. I asked him to push against any inclination to “unfriend” me, and, instead, enter into a conversation… offering a different perspective.
Six months later, we’re still friends on Facebook. And we recently found out that we also share the same birthday! I’m convinced that isn’t a coincidence. The Lord is constantly showing us that our connections in faith run deeper than our differences in politics… as long as we focus on nurturing our connections in faith more than exploiting those differences.
But, six months after this meeting, we’re finding this to be increasingly more difficult.
Next month will mark our three year anniversary of meeting David Leonard. When I think of all the things that have happened in our lives over the past three years, arguably, NONE of them would have happened if we hadn’t met David. He was the catalyst for a myriad of chain reactions that have led us to where we are today.
First, and probably most importantly, David and the guys at The Creak Music (Seth and Brad), have been instrumental in restoring Sydney’s confidence in both her God-given abilities and her unlimited potential; but also her faith in the church. He has also introduced her to people in the industry that have helped her grow as a writer, musician, and as a person.
David and his wife have taken Sydney into their home when we couldn’t travel with her to Nashville, shuttling her to the airport and providing her with a family as she enters into this awkward phase of young adulthood. But, it’s more than that. When I got sick a few months ago, David was one of the first people to reach out, making sure we were okay and seeing if we needed anything. There aren’t many people I would trust with my children, but he is most definitely one of the few.
Our original plans for this short three-day stop in Nashville were to record three songs at the studio: One for Be The Change Collective and two new songs for Sydney. Over the past six months, Sydney’s style had evolved, matured, becoming more folky. But, her lyrics were also becoming more powerful. She was excited to move into a new direction and start something on her own, apart from Be The Change Collective.
This also marked Brayden’s first time recording at the studio and because he was so excited, Sydney decided to work on the the next Be The Change Collective song first. Conscience, written by Brayden, gives you a glimpse into some of the darkest moments of his life. During their shows on the road, Brayden shares how he struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts for years. There is such a stigma around mental health, ESPECIALLY in the church, and Sydney and Brayden are trying to use their music to break down some of those walls.
This also marked the first time another teen would be in the studio recording with Sydney. For this song, she actually had two joining her. At a show in April, we met an extremely talented musician named Zion Goins. The kids hit it off with Zion and invited him to be a part of the process. So, for the first time, Sydney’s vision of creating a place for teens, like herself, to create music with industry professionals, was becoming a reality!
But, unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Something we didn’t anticipate… but we MOST DEFINITELY should have… was Brayden’s creative mind going into hyper-drive. Add to that three professional musicians/producers who LOVE to experiment with new sounds… and what was suppose to be a one-day project became a THREE day project! (And to be fair, the song sounds AMAZING!)
Our take-aways six months ago: Sydney, despite being incredibly disappointed about not recording her new music, was so incredibly gracious to her brother. She was maturing in ways that would serve her well in the months to come. For Brayden, we often joke that getting him to graduate high school will be a miracle. The kid creates music morning, noon, and night. But, during those three days, at different times during the process, the guys separately pulled Jamie and I aside to tell us that Brayden has what it takes to “make it” in the music industry. We’ve always known our kids are talented, but actually creating a career in an industry known for killing people’s dreams… it’s not the road we would choose for them. But, if it’s the road they feel the Lord is calling them to… it helps (a little) to know that others in the industry see their talent and potential, too.
What we’ve learned over the past six months: SO MUCH. The Lord is still writing this story, so I can’t share everything. But, I will say this: The Lord had different plans for Sydney when it came to recording her new music. A new plan. A new producer. A new direction. And it was ALL the LORD. (Seriously. It’s a crazy story.) Also, making the decision for our kids to focus on, and grow in, their faith before taking the “next steps” with their musical aspirations was the BEST decision we could have made. Our kids have been forever changed by the people they have met over the past eight months. Their music has changed. Their goals and aspirations have changed. Their love for others has changed. Their dreams have changed.
Eight months into this journey, there have been days when I simply want to pack it up, sell the RV and buy a home in the middle of nowhere… and talk to absolutely no one. Ever again. The End. But, thankfully those days are few and far between. If nothing else, our search for unity in the church has grown both our compassion for others, as well as our patience. But, even with that, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that sometimes I question whether true unity is possible, under the current circumstances, in the American church.
Then I think about the people with whom I differ in political leanings and/or theological interpretation. I know it’s possible because I live it out with those individuals. But, I’ve never really thought about WHY it works (in those rare instances) until our stop in Arkansas.
Years ago, the Lord crossed my path with a woman who would forever change my life. She became a spiritual mother, then a surrogate mother, during a season of life when I desperately needed it. It’s a role she took on for many women in our growing church. Yet, when she and her family left Maine to return to Arkansas, she remained a very important person in my life. She’s always been the first person I call when we’re desperate for wise counsel, need something covered in prayer, or find ourselves questioning the Lord… and ourselves.
Our time with Lisa and her family was short. Less than 24 hours. But, it was so sweet. All of her three kids happened to be in town as well, including her youngest, who had just taken a job with Liberty University. We sat at the table over dinner, catching up on life. It’s crazy to think that Lisa’s oldest kids were in middle school when we first met them. Jamie and I only had Sydney and Brayden at the time. So much had changed, yet so much seemed the same.
I remember looking around the table and feeling like I was home. And I was.
After dinner, we took dessert out onto the front porch and began sharing with them what the Lord had been showing us over the past couple of months. We talked about politics. We talked about differing theological interpretations around homosexuality. We talked about social justice. And here’s the thing, while we are more aligned on some issues compared to others, we don’t see 100% eye-to-eye on any of them.
On politics… most definitely not.
But here’s what I love about Lisa. She’s acutely aware that her political leanings might be a relational road block in the current climate and for that reason, she isn’t vocal about how she votes, or for whom she votes. (She also doesn’t shy away from talking about those things if she’s directly asked, which is another reason why I love her!)
For me, talking about these things isn’t a road block, (though some might argue differently!) because it’s what I’m called to. A couple of months ago, Jamie and I sat in our car, at a RV park in Washington state, and told our pastor we thought the Lord might be calling us to something that might hinder our ability to make (or maintain) friends on either side of the political (and theological) spectrum: To speak out against the entwining of faith and government in our country. (And just for the record, Jamie was the one who shared the epiphany. He’s actually the one who gets ALL KINDS of riled up over it.) I’ve become the contemplative one, while he’s become impassioned. It’s almost like our personalities have been switched. For those who know us, let that sink in.
Here is the unavoidable truth: I love Lisa and I know that no matter what, she and her family will ALWAYS be there for us. And the same can be said about us for their family. I will also admit that this might be one of the exceptions to the rule. (Jamie is having a really hard time talking politics and policy with his family right now… like so many other people we know.) It’s a tightrope we walk sometimes and, admittedly, it’s A LOT easier talking to strangers about these things than friends and family. Recently someone asked why I felt this way and the word that immediately popped into my head was UNITY.
Disagreements, by design, disrupt unity. And right now, some of the most divisive disagreements are happening within the church body. Usually on social media. With everyone watching. (If I had a dime for every time I saw a popcorn emoji on someone’s thread, I wouldn’t have to limit my Starbucks visits on the road!) And with a HUGE election cycle coming at us in 2020, and the evangelical vote, arguably, a deciding factor on the national stage, our unity, as a whole, has never seemed more fragile (in my lifetime).
Scripture tells us that the church will be sifted, separating the wheat from the tares. Yet, even in the sifting, we are called to fight for unity. But, what in the world does it look like?
The final rapid-fire head turn came at the end of the service as a woman was brought infront of the congregation as a confirmation of her membership into the church body. Those sponsoring her membership joined her at the baptismal basin, along with the pastor. A short mediation was repeated by the new member as well as the congregation. And, then the new member was given a rainbow pin.
Imagine how much my repressed Southern Baptist upbringing was squirming at that moment.
The final head turn occurred, but I didn’t have it in me to even look their direction. Honestly, I was in shock. I was at a loss for words. Differences in theology aside, I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was seeing. Why was this pin given at THIS moment? I’ve seen churches give people Bibles, or a pendant of the cross, as a sign of them being welcomed into the body of Christ. I’ve even seen churches give people t-shirts with their logo front and center for everyone to see… maybe as a sign of welcome into a particular church community? (I have issues with this as well, just so you know.) But I’ve never seen, or heard, of new members being given a rainbow pin under these circumstances.
After church I fielded all the questions from the kids the best I could. One of them included my 8-year-old son asking why this woman was given a pin about “God’s promise to Noah to never kill His people again.” (PROFOUND words coming from the mouth of a child and something we all should push into a little more as those in the LGBTQ community are being murdered around the world… in the name of God.) But, honestly, I had a lot of questions of my own and told the kids to wait until after their event was over that evening. In hindsight, that was a good call, but, honestly, I was just trying to buy time at the moment.
Up to this point, the kids “performance” was routine. They didn’t deviate much in what they shared and the same songs were played at each show. They knew what they were doing and had become familiar enough with the material that they really had every detail down with few, if any mistakes. And, hands down, 100% of the time, the audience has always been attentive and engaged. Without exception… until this performance.
I really don’t know how to explain it. From the very first song to the closing remarks, almost every person in that room was on their phones for the entire hour… including the adults. And to make matters worse, they were only sitting a few feet away from Sydney and Brayden… who were acutely aware of their inattentiveness. Jamie and I sat there for the entire hour watching it play out, praying the kids could persevere and completely confused by the response (or, lack of response). I mean, when a 14-year-old kid tells you about his struggle with depression and shares how his thoughts of suicide consumed him… it’s a pretty compelling moment.
After the event, I went to the lobby to help people wanting to purchase some of our merchandise. (We don’t charge for these events, but ask for permission to sell our merchandise to help offset our costs.) Almost immediately, Sydney found me and very bluntly whispered, “Okay, did we suck tonight?”
All I could say was, “Nope. It was actually your best show so far.”
I know she didn’t believe me, but it was. She was slightly dismissive with her response… or lack there of, but kept focused and interacted with the kids from the youth group. At the end of the day, this was her passion and no matter what happened during the past hour, she would make the most of the interpersonal time given to her.
After the event, our family was invited to join the youth group for a meal. I ended up sitting next to a volunteer who was incredibly personable and I asked if he could share his faith journey with me. He was more than willing and over the next ten minutes I found out he was the father of two sons and married to another man, who also happened to be there that evening. I listened to him talk about the church and the importance of having a place where he felt welcomed, as he was, to worship God and serve others. I just listened. I had so many questions and wanted to ask them, but it wasn’t the time, nor the place. (The Southern Baptist in me was hyperventilating, on the verge of losing consciousness.)
It’s interesting to me. I’ve heard it more times than I can count. A common belief is that many have “sound theology” until someone they know tells them they’re gay. It’s one of those pendulum swings… from one extreme to the other. But, that just seemed to be an oversimplification of a subject matter that has more nuances than I ever imagined… even within conservative circles. Don’t believe me? Try sitting down with a group of Baptists and asking this question: Which is the sin: being gay or acting on homosexual desires? (And before anyone gets mad at me… that wasn’t MY question. It was the topic of a conversation I walked in on last year, and there were about as many different opinions expressed as the number of people in the room. (Now imagine adding some Methodists, Catholics, and Presbyterian to that conversation. That conversation can be as combustible as gasoline on a space heater!)
But here’s the question: Does it even matter?
From an eternal perspective? (I’ll share my opinion on this in the weeks to come.) From a unity perspective? (Whether it SHOULD matter is a different question. But, from everything we’ve seen on the road, it DOES matter to a lot of people.)
And while these questions are acutely important when it comes to the question of unity in the church, I think this experience was about something else. Our family walked into a church where we questioned both the teaching and what seemed to be the elevation of an individual’s sexual identity over their identity within the body of Christ. Even if we pushed aside the topics that some argue could be boiled down to a difference of biblical interpretation (homosexuality), there were CLEARLY inaccurate teachings (definitively Numbers 20, arguably the reference of the Holy Spirit as “She.”)
Our kids then walked into their performance only to be received by ears unable to hear. Maybe unwilling to hear. I really don’t know. I just remember sitting at the RV park after a very long day and being overwhelmed by an epiphany. What if we just witnessed a modern day version of Isaiah 6? What if their ears WERE unable to hear? It’s definitely a possibility. But, PLEASE hear me out: This is NOT limited to the “liberal, progressive” church and I’m not tying it to their stance on homosexuality. Over the next few months we would enter into conversations about incredibly divisive issues in our church today and those on the conservative end of the pendulum are equally at risk of hardened hearts as those on the liberal side. More so in some cases, I think. Honestly, none of us are immune and I think understanding this is the first step towards unity.
Just to make sure I underscore my take-aways from this experience and you understand a foundational premise for our family as we move forward in this journey, I began wrestling through these issues in the church: The importance of biblical literacy (both sound teaching by leaders and independent study for individual congregants); The temptation to place any identity over our one true identity as Christians (specifically sexual identity and political identity, but most definitely not limited to those two areas).