Unplanned

Unplanned

My younger sister, parents, and I went and watched the movie Unplanned. It is the true story of Abby Johnson, who went from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life advocate shortly after being called in to assist with an ultrasound guided abortion. I had heard many things about the movie, most of them about how sad it was or how it had the ability to change hearts and minds.

I thought it gave an accurate portrayal of the positives and negatives of both the pro-life and the pro-choice side. (Note: I use the terms pro-life and pro-choice because those are generally what each side wants to be called and if I want to engage in a genuine conversation, I don’t start off by alienating them over a title.) Not all pro-lifers are compassionate figures who reach out in love to assist women. Similarly, not all pro-choicers are concerned only about the money behind abortion. The situation is more complex than a simple good people vs. evil people.

During my time outside an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh, I saw some of each type of person depicted in the movie. I saw people who loved the men and women entering the clinic so much they endured hours of standing in the cold and being cruelly mocked by the pro-choice escorts. Yet I also saw pro-life people yelling at abortionists that they are baby killers who are going to burn in Hell or that the women will for having an abortion. While there, I encountered people who genuinely thought abortion was the best option for some women and thus volunteered their Saturday mornings to assist these women. I also met pro-choicers who were extremely hardened, who intentionally pushed into me when I tried to talk to the women, who stood in circles as they joked about physically harming those of us who were praying.

It is because of my time spent at the abortion clinic in Pittsburgh that I watched Unplanned and didn’t think it was as difficult to take in as some people had said it would be. No, I didn’t enjoy watching it, but I had already watched countless women, escorted by best friends, boyfriends, husbands, and parents, walk passed me and into an abortion clinic. I saw women slowly walk out of the clinic after they had their abortions. The reality is far harder to take in than watching a movie about it, as powerful as the movie may be.

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What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need

What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need

The first homeless man I truly met was Tony.

It was cold and we were all bundled up, but I made a concentrated effort to not mention the coldness.  I had only been outside for a few moments and this man had no home to seek refuge in against the frigid weather.  My perspective of the cold was altered in the presence of a man who stood before me after successive days on the streets.

Tony was tall and kind.  In situations where he easily could have been bitter, he chose to not be.  I was with a group of pro-life university students and he never once made me feel privileged or self-indulged.  One Saturday, a student bought Tony a coffee and I watched him graciously accept it, even as his cold hands shakily caused the coffee to spill on his fingers.  My face was etched with the concern and sadness I felt as I watched the scene unfold, but Tony sought to comfort me in this situation.  He told me to not be sad because even in his difficult situation he was still happy.  That momentary exchange made such a significant impression on me.

In a couple of hours, I would return to my dorm room after a filling breakfast and Tony didn’t attempt to guilt me for the luxuries I had in life.  Rather, he came to the cold streets of Pittsburgh to spend time with us.  He accepted money or coffees when offered, but he said he didn’t like to look homeless.  We wouldn’t see him pushing a cart around or laden down with luggage.  Dressed in the warm clothes appropriate for the cold, he didn’t want to accept extra things that he would have to carry with him during the day.

Tony was the first human face I saw of homeless in a personal way.  I heard him talk about how fearful he had been early one morning when the intense cold made it difficult for him to get out of the chair in an abandoned house that he had accidentally fallen asleep in.  The reality of not being able to move for a couple of hours shook him as he faced the reality that he might die alone in the cold someday.  Yet he was also very happy and enjoyed being around a bunch of young college students.  He wasn’t near us because we always gave him things or because we were popular in the area.  Tony enjoyed being with us and some of the students became his friends. Continue reading “What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need”

Halloween: A Call to Goodness (Not Another Origins of Halloween Post)

Halloween: A Call to Goodness (Not Another Origins of Halloween Post)

Oh, Halloween! 

This is a day that seems filled with disputes, particularly this year, about the Catholicity or Anti-Catholicity of the festivities.  I’ve never been a die-hard Halloween person, but growing up, we did the typical trick-or-treating and dressing up in costumes, generally not of a religious nature.  Nearly every year I went as something that could be assembled at home.  One year I was a clown, another a scarecrow, and another year an old lady.  (That last one was last year.)  I enjoyed my mom’s creativity and how she pulled together costumes and matched it up with heavy make-up to play the part more authentically.

For a few years in college, though, I spent Halloween on a pro-life retreat in Brooklyn.  We stayed in a monastery where Sisters of the Precious Blood lived and didn’t venture outside.  In fact, I had to remind myself that it was Halloween when I was there.  Immersed in talks about the history of the pro-life movement and the development of the Culture of Death, I wasn’t interested in Halloween or costumes, spooky or humorous.

Then, I graduated college and returned to South Dakota.  My hometown had ramped up their celebrations of the day during the years I was away from home.  Full-out murder scenes were staged in front yards.  Even though they were clearly fake with faces roughly sketched on bedsheet corpses, I found myself oddly sensitive to the horror.  It continues to mystify me that awful acts, when experienced in real life, are entertaining and fun when mockingly displayed.  Chainsaws, torture devices, and bodies splayed open are “all in good fun” during a few weeks of the year.  My heart, though, doesn’t pay attention to the time of the year.  It is bothered by these scenes, regardless how fakey they seem or when they are presented. Continue reading “Halloween: A Call to Goodness (Not Another Origins of Halloween Post)”

Sorrow and Joy

Sorrow and Joy

Yesterday, I stood on a busy street holding a sign.

It was Respect Life Sunday and my town has an annual Life Chain that stretches alongside the busiest road in the state.  While I don’t participate absolutely every year, I try to go when I am able.  Nothing about the situation was new.

Except my response.

In college, I spent many hours in front of an abortion clinic an hour from my school.  The experiences there shaped my heart and the way I approach being pro-life.  Some of the most difficult moments, the ones of heart-wrenching, soul-crushing sorrow, were on Highland Avenue.  An intersection in town where it always felt a bit chillier than anywhere else.  When I think about hardcore pro-life activism, I place myself back on the frontlines, where life and death literally hung in the balance.

On that busy street yesterday, it was not like my experiences in college.  The sun came out and warmed my face.  As a whole, the reactions from motorists were favorable.  Many people waved, honked their horns, gave us a thumbs up, or even yelled a kind greeting to us.  Children’s faces were pressed against windows as they watched the long line of people hold signs on the sidewalk.  Overall, the experience was pleasant.

Two things stand out in my mind.  Interestingly, the emotions are interwoven, although they seem to be contradictory.  One is the image of a couple of police cars driving past our lines.  An officer in one vehicle waved at us and the other gave us a thumbs up.  For some reason, this moved my heart.  Men in uniform, charged with protecting citizens and enforcing laws, were giving us a gesture of support.  My heart filled with gratitude.  In addition to the officers, the predominantly positive response from the passers-by was a cause for rejoicing.

Yet intermingled with this thankfulness was the realization that abortion still happens.  Lives are still taken, hearts are still wounded, and skills of healing are still misused for destruction.  Surrounded by young and old alike, I was grateful for the pro-life movement.  Years ago I would have mourned for the children only.  Yesterday, I was mourning for mothers and fathers, friends and family, doctors and nurses, everyone impacted by abortion in any way.

A woman drove by and yelled at us that everyone has the right to choose.

Everyone? Continue reading “Sorrow and Joy”

His Terrifying Vulnerability

His Terrifying Vulnerability

There is a terrifying vulnerability in how His arms are outstretched.

I’m not certain I had ever quite seen it that way before.  At Sunday Mass, I was looking up at the large crucifix behind the altar and I was slightly fearful.  That wide open heart, that vulnerable heart, that posture of being unable to defend oneself is what He wants from me.  And it scares me.

A nail pierces each hand, fixing them in place.  He is unable to shield Himself from anything: not the hurled insults, not the mockery, not the physical blows should it come to that.  Briefly, I pictured myself unable to curl up into a ball to protect my heart, to shield my face.  It was terrifying.  I would not be simply defenseless before loved ones but before my enemies.  That place of weakness seemed to be too much to bear.  At least in the face of persecution and mockery, I like to appear to be strong and resilient.

And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!  (Luke 23:35-37)

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An Encounter of Love

An Encounter of Love

October is known as “Respect Life month” in the Church, but it is important to not reduce this to merely life in the womb.  Pro-lifers are sometimes accused of being only pro-babies and at times that accusation rings a little too true.  Babies, you see, are easy to love.  They are adorable, helpless, and are fun to shower with affection.

Yet while babies are a delight to love, it is the other people I struggle to love.  To be pro-life, though, means to be for the lives of every person, regardless of their personal appeal or state in life.  Such a worldview is one that is hard to cultivate.  However, if we claim to be pro-life we must work to achieve that broadness of heart.

When I was in college, I had multiple encounters with a living pro-life saint, Msgr. Reilly from Brooklyn, NY.  Few can rival his dedication to the pro-life movement.  He stands for hours outside abortion clinics, praying for the people who enter and offering alternatives accompanied by a genuine smile.  While he is located outside an abortion clinic, he is not simply offering love to the pregnant mothers and fathers.  He is loving the doctors, nurses, clinic escorts, men, women, and friends.  Each person who enters or passes by the clinic is shown an authentic witness of love.

My heart is much smaller than Msgr. Reilly’s heart, but I learned quite a bit from him.  Initially, I was all about the babies.  Through his words and witness, my heart began to be changed.  I began to feel love for the mothers and fathers who entered the clinic.  Then I began to experience an authentic love for the clinic escorts who thwarted our every attempt to offer help and compassion.  Finally, I was moved by love to encounter the doctors who performed abortions. Continue reading “An Encounter of Love”

On Highland

On Highland

Most of what I have learned about the Lord’s mercy, I learned on Highland Avenue in Pittsburgh.

My younger sister and I were talking the other day about college.  We agreed that perhaps even more impactful than the beautiful truths we learned in the classroom were the heart-wrenching experiences we had in ministry.  Those were the moments that changed our hearts.  Those were the moments when the truths of Christianity became living, breathing testimonies.

The first place I truly experienced a situation where I could love those who persecuted me was on Highland Avenue.  Yet it was also the place where God reminded me that He never abandons anybody.  There my heart was broken and there my heart was healed. Continue reading “On Highland”