I attended Catholic schools 1st-12th grade but almost all of my peers shared my worldview. We saw ourselves as separate from the teachers, administration, and religious, and certainly better, younger, stronger and wiser than they. School was somewhere we had to go, something we were forced to tolerate. We hated it. But we knew nothing else and so we took what we liked from our lessons each day and spat out the rest. We went to the sacraments with rolling eyes and didn't dare sing too loudly for fear of the disdain from our peers. If we prayed or went to Confession, we made sure to mock it afterwards loudly enough for someone to hear. A few didn't follow that crowd... but they paid a price for it.
In middle school, we officially learned about the birds and the bees. By junior high, a number of my classmates (in a very small class) were sexually active. We had a morality lesson during our 8th grade Confirmation preparation but it was received like everything else at school... with blank stares and a mild sense of disdain. "Hurry up clock... I want to get out of here and get on with life." The kids I knew well never considered the teachings of the Church or the Word of God in their actions. Radio, video and magazines were the authority. Sin was a dead word.
I was born to know and seek joy. I held on to it for years as a young child and never totally lost sight of that little light that found itself so deeply buried... but those years almost completely covered it. The heart of youth naturally looks up and beyond; but the spirit of our secular culture beats it down into unrecognizable forms. I wanted to rise! But there did not seem to be another path besides the embittered, defiant, dark road that almost everyone else seemed to be on. That spirit of youth is something like a dormant volcano... eventually, it must have an outlet. Some of us threw ourselves into the acceptable and PC avenues of positive outlet and took up the causes of environmentalism and feminism. Others became absorbed in athletics or music or art. Others let the pressure build until they found themselves behind criminal activities (or a weapon at Columbine). A few others descended to the dark and fiery depths and built identities centered on and ultimately ending in death.
It seems to me that very few ever discover how to reconnect with that original joy. Mine was almost eliminated and I suffocated. The pressure was a physical and emotional pain that brought me to the very bottom. But the light never totally went out and I walked one inch at a time with the crowds that pushed forward in mind numbing goose step.
By the time I entered high school I was already at the bottom. How can anyone endure such a snuffing of joy? Such an annihilation of purity and innocence? Such a loss of original vision? I walked on but I didn't know why. I continued to spew the mantras and slogans of the causes that I had desperately and fervently embraced. But the conflict remained real and painful. I took on the label of "feminist" and built my dreams around it.
During my sophomore year of high school, I stood up in my Catholic high school English class and delivered a speech as part of a persuasive writing assignment. I don't remember much of it, only that I spoke fervently about the need to keep abortion safe and legal in America. I remember a couple of the faces in that class watching me. I remember that I received no feedback, positive or negative, either from the class or the teacher. I remember that my grade was a good one.
In researching for that paper, I read an awful lot of feminist propaganda. I devoured mountains of it, excited to be uniting myself to my freedom "sisters." But for all my outward enthusiasm, I wasn't entirely comfortable with it. Their compassion sounded hollow to me and I recoiled somewhat at the steady stream of anger. So I firmly adopted the middle-of-the-road position on abortion. I wouldn't have an abortion myself but believe in another's right to do so. If limitations are to be placed on abortion, exceptions should be made for (fill in the blank). I liked how it sounded. I felt compassionate and still free from the controlling misogynistic element of our culture. And also free from the angry old women I claimed to idolize. I felt like I was able to hold my own in discussion among my peers (I realize now that most were as ignorant as I was and many cared less than I did) and felt intelligent and powerful in those discussions.
When I was 16 years old I saw Gloria Steinem speak and shook her hand and watched the adult women around me fawn over her and treat her like a superstar. I watched them from a distance and saw her eyes. I was riveted to them. She didn't like these women. They annoyed her. She tolerated them... and her eyes were cold. She doesn't love these people, I thought. But she was powerful and smart and strong and I embraced her teachings in spite of my distrust.
That same year, a pro-life teacher posted pictures of aborted babies outside the school cafeteria in an effort to educate about life issues during the presidential campaign. I was angry (not at the facts displayed before me but at the messenger) and joined a successful effort to have them removed. I never fully looked at those images. I never really thought about them. I just saw something grotesque during my lunch hour and protested against my discomfort. I stood tall and sure in my position. Until...
It was my senior year of high school. I was taking a morality class with a rather eccentric instructor. Rumor had it that he had been kicked out of seminary (we never really knew if this was true or not) and that the school administration had it in for him. For those reasons, and because his class was always different and interesting, most of us liked him... or at least paid attention when he was talking.
One pivotal day in class, he made us all stand up in the middle of the room. He then instructed us to separate ourselves into three groups: Those opposed to abortion in all cases, stand on the left side of the room. Those supportive of the right to abort in all cases, stand on the right side. Those who think abortion is sometimes permissible, stand in the middle. The middle group was the largest with the 100% pro-choice group being next in size. The pro-life group was the smallest. By far.
I planted myself arrogantly in the middle. I stood tall knowing that my argument was superior. I stood in front of the group and waited for my opportunity to speak. The teacher walked over to my group first and asked why we held our position. I opened my mouth to speak and he suddenly turned away, dismissed us with a wave of his hand, and said something about our position not being worth hearing and how we couldn't have it both ways... it's a baby or it's not a baby and it's okay or it's not. Not both. I could barely understand his mumbled dismissal.
He left me there with my mouth hanging wide open. I didn't hear a word the other groups said because I was fuming so furiously. He wouldn't even listen to me. To ME! I had a strong position and should have been shown some respect... and he wouldn't even listen.
I was angry for weeks. And then time softened some of the hardness and I started to think about what he had done. It is either human life or it is not. It cannot be both. We must decide whether ending a life is a tenable position even under the hardest circumstances. My faithfulness to my position began to waiver but the question remained hidden for a while. No one I knew talked about abortion except for me... and I didn't feel comfortable talking it over with myself anymore. Deep down, I knew that I would have an abortion if I were faced with an unwanted pregnancy. My moral "high ground" was phony.
There were whispers of abortion in high school but not really conversations. Girls were aborting, that I knew. White, middle class girls who couldn't afford to have their lives derailed for one (or two) babies. There was one girl who kept her baby. Her friends showed her a video about abortion and she kept the baby and finished up the school year with a growing belly. No one wanted to be her.
Toward the end of my senior year, I met my future husband. He was a faithful, energetic and gentle Catholic who witnessed Christ's love to me as no one else had. Early on in our relationship (maybe the first week) the subject of abortion came up. I tried my weak argument on him but didn't get very far at all. I don't remember exactly what he said but it was something like, "It's either a baby or it's not. Even people in crisis situations do not have the right to kill another innocent person." That was it. The conversation moved in another direction. A short time later he gave me a book that presented the science behind the unborn life. It was easy to understand the real question: "Considering the fact that human life begins at conception, is it ever justifiable for us to deliberately end that life?"
Becoming pro-life was as easy as that for me. But as any pro-lifer knows, living out the pro-life position is not easy. The condition for human life is black and white but we live in a complicated and painful world where we are tried to the utmost in our commitment to love. I learned so much from my husband about that kind of sacrificial love but my pro-life journey has been an ongoing conversion.
My husband was the first fervent pro-lifer that I had the opportunity of getting to know. He had been a warrior for life, walking the talk in so many ways. I listened as he told me about his experiences and was moved by the witness of those who give so much of themselves to save the lives of others. He told me what he had seen and learned. He told me about rescues he had seen and the time he was pulled from a position of prayer into an angry pro-choice crowd and how he was kicked on the ground. I wondered at the kind of love that would drive people to defend the unseen children even to the risk of their own safety.
After we were married, I met more pro-life people and Christian women who now regret their abortions... and saw a huge disparity between them and the fervently pro-choice people I had known. This was a peaceful and joyful group, determined to stand up for the rights of the innocent. The pro-choice community was largely angry and bitter, always demonizing and yelling. I saw this more and more as I participated in pro-life events with my husband. As we prayed quietly at a roadside, there was always someone hanging out of a car shouting profanities in a purple rage. Witnessing and praying quietly outside the abortion clinic brought out the "friendly" abortionist who had a vulgar mouth and who spoke of women with disdain. It was all consistent, even with my experience as a pro-choice advocate.
I was now pro-life and lived pro-life and spoke pro-life words... but there are so many levels of conversion and this was just touching the surface of my heart.
During my first year of marriage, I found myself alone in the house one night and felt a little insecure in my lonely surroundings. I wanted some noise, some company, and dug out our videos. I came across a tape that I had heard described but had not felt a desire to see. It was called Hard Truth and I picked it up and put it in the VHS player, not really prepared to be challenged the way I was about to be. My eyes were riveted to the screen as I saw pictures of life and then life destroyed. The scales fell from my eyes and heart. Remember those pictures on the cafeteria wall that I fought to have taken down? Even though I had seen the truth with my eyes so many times, I had not looked. Now, I looked... and I fell to my knees and I wept and I begged God to grant mercy for all of the ways in which I had participated in the evil of abortion which is so clearly the torture, mutilation and destruction of innocent human beings.
If you have not looked, you must look. Really look. Long enough to weep and to feel ill and understand the horror of what it is that happens behind the plain and silent walls of a clinic or hospital. Do not stop looking until you feel it and understand your role in both the evil AND are driven to discover your place in the remedy.
I began to read more about these things. I read the stories of former abortionists. I read the history of the "family planning" movement and the rot that can be found at the core. I read about the abuses within the abortion industry and the way that women are sacrificed on the altar of greed in the name of "women's rights." I read the stories of pro-lifers who had given their lives for the cause. I read the words of women who had aborted and suffered. I weighed them against everything I had read from the other side and knew there was no contest between the two. I knew love when I saw it. I knew selfishness and greed when I saw it. I knew that my own heart had been corrupted by these things but also from a vast ignorance and I determined to keep on reading.
Another big step in my conversion to life was reading one book in particular: I Will Never Forget You: The Rescue Movement in the Life of Joan Andrews. There are more complete, better written, more detailed books about the pro-life movement out there, but I was completely fascinated and captivated by the simple and all-consuming love of this woman. She was concerned with one thing: how can I save a life today. The purity and gentleness and courage in her efforts drew me in and changed me. Unconcerned about her own well-being, she only wanted to save those children. There was nothing complicated about it... just a driving passionate love for the innocent lives affected by abortion. I couldn't imagine doing what she did and yet I thought that I should be able to love passionately and freely enough to do such as she did. Like the saints have done. By the time I read her story, rescues were no longer being done in the US because the laws had caught up with the rescuers and there were not enough people willing or able to go to prison for this work. Still, I thought about it this way...
If I saw a child being carried into a building where she were going to be violently murdered, what would be the proper response? To kneel down and pray that the person holding the child would change their minds? Or to run and block the door, stand in the way, defend the child's life with my own?
If I were the one being carried to my death, what would I want others to do? Would I look to the roadside and see people praying for the conversion of my captor? Would I see any brave and loving soul who would come to my rescue, putting love to action? God calls all of us to pray... does He call any of us to rescue?
I understood the complications of rescues in the political and legal climate. But I also knew that God's law permits us to defend innocent life even if American laws do not. Where have all the martyrs gone?
Joan's story prompted me to examine my soul more deeply about the issue... because it was becoming less and less about an "issue" and more about a person. Lots of little persons created by the hand of God to love and to be loved. Love is not easily put in a box. Love is patient and kind but it also burns the soul with the fire of gift and sacrifice. What are we willing to give for love?
My marriage led to children and to an increasingly busy life. My husband is required to be at work more hours. My pro-life hero gives his life away at the office so that his children may flourish. It is a different kind of pro-life battle. I have willingly born 7 children (one in heaven) but it has been a labor of love. Being pro-life is not easy. I have looked at some of those pregnancy tests with instant joy and others, with a covered up, tiny joy that is accompanied by a big, deep fear and shameful tears. It is frightening to open oneself up to life and there is no slogan that can encompass this journey, this conversion to love through the gift of life. I am a fearful person. I struggle with trust. But God has never given me a cross that does not produce joy greater than my imagination.
God dreams in ways that are beyond our power to see. I love the Chris Rice song, "Deep Enough to Dream", that speaks of a dream of heaven. He sings, "I can dream in brilliant colors I have never seen..." Can you imagine a color beyond the color wheel? Try. You can't do it. But God can. Can you imagine joy resulting from conception during a violent rape? God can do that, too. I frequently have trouble imagining what was going through the mind of God when He entrusted all the beautiful people I birthed to my care. I face my failures daily and look up, asking once again, "What were you thinking?" But I do know...
It was just my Lord... dreaming again. I will do my best not to interfere.
I think back to those black and filthy school days; that prison of smallness, neglect and immorality. So clean and Christian on the outside but so deadly at it's core. What if I were welcomed to love life passionately when I was a little one? If I were taught to look at the crucifix and SEE the joy? What if we all were... and how would our lives and world be different?
This is one of the many reasons, not the least, that we homeschool. If our children can be freer to enter God's dream and to live a life of unreserved love... it takes my breath away to imagine the possibilities.
Like any story, I've left out an encyclopedia of details... but no one really needs them. My primary reason for writing is to give glory to God and thanksgiving for illuminating the darkness in my mind, breaking the chains of sin and expanding my capacity to love. My secondary reason is to share hope and to encourage you to ask God to lead you further in your conversion to life. Every time I think I am there, God reminds me that I have stopped short of full conversion. I have not really given all.
Lent is the perfect time to grow a pro-life heart because it is a time that we put set aside our comforts and try to embrace the fullness of the Cross. Let us pray:
Pro-Life Examination of Conscience