I still remember where I stood, what my eyes held their gaze toward, and my harsh, harsh words. A and I were both teenagers — seventeen and still navigating the inner and outer workings of high school and independence. So, when she called me, I asked if I could call her right back because I was rushing to something. She told me no, she needed me now. With my hand on the door, she told me she was pregnant and didn’t know what to do.
I ignored her trembling voice. I ignored her feelings about being terrified.
I told her that if she had an abortion I would never speak to her again.
We were no longer living in the same state, so the distance only magnified my detached response.
I ignored the broken home life she already had. I ignored the fear she carried.
I chose myself.
To this day, I am haunted by this scene of my life and actions. While her decision led her to bore a sweet baby boy, it was in no way thanks to me. Her decision was hers alone. Our friendship has continued, but I think it is only because the grace my friend extends is endless. I, however, cannot begin to extend that piece of grace to myself as her friend in those moments so long ago.
I wish I could say that it took me a day to recover and re-approach my friend with new ears and words. No. Instead I found myself further down the hole of politicizing personal decisions that would in no way effect my day-to-day affairs. It seemed to be much easier to reign and rule from a self-righteous pulpit, believing I was doing the world a great service at the expense of someone else’s lived story.
Then, in early 2010, I became a youth leader for a local high school ministry in Florida. I loved having the privilege of getting to know those amazing girls. Lord knows, I certainly had not been a fan of high school, so I set sail with them. I felt a certain level of protection over them. Something to the likes of a crossing guard, holding a yield sign to decisions that I had once made and, if given the chance, would have a reset button pushed. But I still wanted them to feel the freedom in their decisions. Mistakes were OK, because, well, life is messy. More than anything, it was important for them to discern, not my voice, but the inner-workings of the Spirit.
Because where the church was located, the backgrounds of these girls were mostly the same — broken home life and families — while some were definitely more privileged than others. I became extremely close with the girls whose parents didn’t know or care where they were half the time. Mostly, we were together. I would listen to their stories of silly boys, not being able to afford necessary medications or the ability go to their dream college. I would try my best to be present and encourage them in these very real fears.
Like most of my life story consists of, I eventually had to move away. I ended up in Illinois and my life felt meaningless (a story for another day). As I wrestled with this new life I was (de)constructing in Illinois, I received a message from one of my girls. “R” had already turned eighteen by this point and she was now unexpectedly pregnant. She was scared and had no idea what to do. Her boyfriend wanted her to get rid of “it,” but she was terrified of what that meant.
So we talked. I listened to her fears and what it would like to for her to bring a child into the world. I listened to her boyfriend’s instruction on what he wanted done. I saw R.
I let her know I was with and for her, and that I wish I could be there with her through this. But I wasn’t. I was no longer a car ride away. Instead, I was someone she trusted to be with her no matter what.
She chose to have an abortion and told me shortly after. I know it was the hardest decision she had to ever make. Perhaps things could have gone differently had I still lived near her and she had the right resources. R looked at the cards she was handed and felt that playing what she had was a safe bet. While I would have loved to see her carry, I know it wasn’t my choice. My responsibility was to see her, offer her grace, and love her through and through. (That boyfriend, though….)
I am telling this all now, because I think it’s time we, as Christians, find a new way to talk about and approach abortion. My two stories are held in such sharp contrast to each other: I see how I treated my best friend and then I see how I treated R. I have asked myself what made them both so different. The conclusion that I draw? Who I chose in the moment. And this is where I believe it makes all the difference. I don’t know how many of you have had situations like the ones I have. I don’t know how many of you hold black and white outlooks toward abortion. What I do know is that sign holding and picketing and shaming each side will never help us. And that someone’s story is never just black and white.
Over the weekend, I participated in The Women’s March on Chicago. It was a remarkable time to feel the inherent, God-given passion about being a woman. We are incredible humans that deserve the right to (among other things) be in control of our bodies — like, hi, “No” means “No.” While there, I saw a lot of clever signs. One of which read: “Get your rosaries off my ovaries.” Which made me pause and reflect on our perception as the church regarding this very sensitive and very real topic.
I think — I could be wrong here — people think we’re obsessed.
Christians, please hear me. Jesus, when asked what commandment is the greatest commandment, said to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. He gave a little story about how a Priest, Levite and Good Samaritan walked by a badly beaten man. The Priest, so holy and good, crossed the street away from him. As did the Levite. But the Good Samaritan cleaned him off. He put him up in a hotel room, and did so without a second thought. Jesus told this story and asked, “So, who did the right thing here?”
Our neighbor is our friend or the stranger on the street; the person who has been entrusted into your care and love. There is a vulnerability that, unless you have faced it yourself, you and I will never comprehend when it comes to abortion. Certainly, some may abuse this. However, I am betting that almost all women who have sought out their options did so with a trembling heart.
How we take care of that heart is the call we are responsible to take.
If you still feel that it is your duty to picket and seek out the closing of Planned Parenthood, then please consider what you’re also doing when it comes to taking care of the orphan or the pregnant teenager or homeless mother of three who are all equally scared and feeling alone.
I also want to acknowledge the couples that have struggled with conceiving or have had something unthinkable happen during childbirth. I would never want to dismiss or minimize your struggle. This message may feel so broad in the face of what your story holds. Please know I am hoping to seek out those who refuse, at all costs, to hear another side.
Lastly, when I asked A if it was OK to share this story, she so gracefully said yes. She also wanted to share her response to that moment when we were teenagers. She prefaced that, even though what she was going to say was harsh, her love for me has never wavered. I have decided to end this by sharing some of it with you.
Pregnancy was something I obviously knew about but wasn’t scared of. As cliche as it sounds, it wasn’t going to happen to me. When it did, it felt surreal. The only option in my head was abortion. I, selfishly, wasn’t going to let this unborn baby “ruin” my life and my plans. Planned parenthood told me my options and without giving it any real thought I immediately jumped to the conclusion of abortion. I called to set up the appointment and the abortion clinic was closed. I decided I would just keep my calm at home as to not alert anyone and just call in the morning when the re-opened. After calling them, I called you. Other than J and planned parenthood, you were the first person I went to. You were my childhood best friend and even though you had other new friends in new places you were always my special one that I felt the most bonded to, even in our silent times. I had no idea what your opinion was on abortion or that you even had one so I definitely wasn’t prepared for the blow I was about to receive. I was expecting the friend that always supported in whatever stupid decision I made. Instead I got the friend with the voice that stood strong in her opinions. However when you first told me how strongly you felt against abortion my initial feelings were mixed. I was stunned. I didn’t understand or know people our age even thought about things like that. And even more I was hurt and scared. Scared to be alone more than anything. I was irritated and didn’t understand why you couldn’t just support me. After all, it was me! And then I was sad; sad that maybe I cared for you more than you did me. I felt dispensable and like a disappointment. My fears about the relationships I had were coming true. Here’s where the real selfish part comes out. I had already selfishly decided to kill Someone for my own life. Then when you told me you would never speak to me again, I selfishly chose life to keep you in my own.
I went home and had more time to think about it, your words still stinging. In my heart I knew you were right, my head was just still wrapping itself around the idea of being “the pregnant teenager.” I didn’t want to be a stereotype. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to disappoint my grandparents. I didn’t want to grow up. But your words changed my opinion that I didn’t even know I had up until this trivial moment in my own life. I chose life for selfish reasons and because it was the right choice. To this day I still feel embarrassed. People ask me my age then ask my son’s age, I see them quickly doing math in their head and judging me without trying to be alarming. I’ve learned more and more with every passing year that it doesn’t matter what people think. I’ve also learned that even though my initial reasons for not going through with the abortion were selfish in nature, that doesn’t matter either. The right thing happened. My life has been hard. It’s been hard as hell. And I often think about how it would be different had I not cared about what you said and just did it. Or even if I had done it and then called you. Would life have been easier? I don’t know.
I was invincible before him. Now I’m fragile and I have to protect myself so that I can be here for him. I’m not religious like you are, but I am a very firm believer that everything happens as it should. My son was meant to be here. He saved me. I gave birth to him, but he gave me life. In conclusion I’ll add this: I am very proud of you for always reflecting on your own person. I don’t agree with you on all of your opinions but I appreciate that you have them and stand up for them. I’ll also add that, although I don’t speak out on my views on these kinds of things, I will share that I am undecided on where I land with abortion. I agree with the idea from pro-life supporters in that the moment that egg is fertilized it is a human and should be given a fair chance at life just as anyone else. But in the same breath, I know how real the fear is of bringing a child into a world when you have no business doing so. But I wouldn’t change anything as it’s led me to where I am. I’m not proud of the life I’ve given my son. But I’m proud of the love I have given him and that I’ve hopefully shown him to always do what’s right.