Thanks Nanny.

My Nanny taught me much about life and faith – and I recognize it more today than ever before. When I became heavily involved in a conservative, evangelical, Pentecostal church at age 21, she promptly told me, “Donna, you will ALWAYS be a Catholic, no matter where you go to church. You were baptized Catholic, and if I have anything to do with it, when you die you will be buried Catholic.” Yes, my grandmother, my Nanny, was fiery – but incredibly generous – some of my family would say, to a fault. Though, we all benefited from her goodness – even if (okay, when) we took advantage of that goodness from time to time.

Making some less-than-stellar choices as a young adult, (like getting married one month after high school graduation) as an escape, Nanny instinctively knew our bank accounts wouldn’t be flowing freely with sufficient cash to make life work very well. Groceries arrived regularly – so did dinners at her house. Grandpa kept a well-stocked separate room, that was actually like a mini-mart – being a child of the depression, he was a diligent sale shopper, and we reaped the benefits. Whenever there was need, we were invited to shop – even before we said anything Grandpa would tell us to head out to the storeroom and grab what we needed.

In my quest to be holy as God is holy, I tried to do it all right. I mean, I did after all have to fit into my persona as Little Miss Goodie Two Shoes – even if it was a big fat lie. I was taught many rules in my church, what I should and should not do, what all good Christians pursuing truth should be about – especially being sure to tell others about Jesus – the Savior of the world. (Except I was a great big failure at that one – it just never felt very kind – and it was just words – what did it mean anyway?) There was also emphasis on the heathen (!) in other countries, who needed to know how to correctly live a Christian life. (Another !) Nanny, hearing my words, (because words have always been my constant friend/enemy), would often repeat some version of this: “Donna, do you see the need right here in the United States? I don’t see the point of sending money away, or spending so much time on something so far away when there is so much need here.” (Now, all my missionary friends, it’s okay, I support you, and your beautiful work of compassion – this was my fiery Nanny, apparently living out her own calling, but sometimes missing others!)

IMG_5413Today, while unpacking more items from our year-ago move, I discovered a round plaque that seemed very kitschy and cheesy stating  HOME: Where each lives for the other and all live for God. I mean really, what does it even mean? (See, I do ask that question a lot!) I’ve tried to toss this before, the style, honestly, it’s really just not me. But it hung in Nanny’s house for as long as I can remember – so it’s a point of emotional connection; a memory-marker. And so it sits on the table before me, wondering if it will be tossed out.

I’ve gotten quite used to unpacking my beliefs over the past decade or so, about things I’ve held tightly, but no longer believe as truths. I’ve learned there are shades of grey – akin to those paint cards with graduated, slight differences in perspective. (No fear folks, my faith in the God of the universe is still intact – I just hold it differently, with a generous grace, attempting to live into my own callings more clearly, chucking fear at every waking.)

So when I read this plaque today, I started to consider what it might mean – digging deeply to stifle the early conversion default template about what was right and what was wrong. Nanny reflected the heart of God for her family – she was all about generosity, both relational and resource. That, I suddenly realized was living for one another – and, perhaps more to the point here, living for God. Nanny’s beliefs weren’t only in her head – she lived them out. She wasn’t a saint, that is, unless saints also had a less-than-perfect side – and I suspect there is truth there. The hopeful take-away in these rambling thoughts this cool but sunny October day, is that while we are all less-than-perfect, and even in the midst of that, we can affect others lives for good – and I suspect that is what it means to live for God.

Interesting how my life work would ultimately reflect Nanny’s ethos of caring locally. Having been at Choices Mt. Shasta for nearly twenty years, learning (and relearning) what it means to truly care well, wrestling through beliefs about the shoulds of life perspectives, and ultimately landing on the reality that it is the simple, consistent and caring presence of one human face and heart to another that makes the difference – right here in our little communities.

And I’m still not sure what to do with the plaque. Maybe I could revive it with some fresh paint? A fresh expression of an old foundational understanding about life and the ways in which it’s not about the rules – it’s about the simple presence of caring that connects people to something greater than themselves – the Creator of the Universe. The Creator is for us – and we can communicate this best in the ways we love others. (Which is why my FaceBook religious view says Love God, Love Others.)

Jim Henderson reminds me of this in his latest book Saving Casper: “The spiritual life is the discovery of the self God meant us to be so that who we are can be God’s gift to the rest of the world.” Thank you Nanny for inspiring and building a legacy for good – for God, in the simple ways of life you modeled for me. I heard, I felt, I knew goodness, safety and hope  because of your care.

(So I realize I haven’t let you in on much of Grandpa’s very loving and influential role in my life – like how he’d roll his eyes with a smile when I’d put ice cubes in my red wine. Yes, people, I wasn’t always the classy wine drinker I am today. Another time. This is about all I’ve got today.)

And, to answer your most certain question, these days I’ve settled comfortably into embracing a hybrid of Lutheran (ELCA) and Anglican (Episcopal) expression of my faith – and I’m thinking Nanny would somehow find that a suitable compromise.

Cheers and goodness to you – may you discover a few deeply held memories that inspire life forward.

I Stand With Katie

UPDATE 6/23/15: It appears the video clips supporting the assertions in this blog post are no longer available, which makes the read less clear, but nonetheless compelling to do this compassionate work of caring for pregnant and parenting mamas, daddies, their little ones and families.

To be sure, this is NOT a blog post to debate abortion – that is a VERY different conversation. This is a justice declaration in responding to those with sexuality, pregnancy and parenting challenges – and in some sense of a current national theme, a whistle-blowing attempt to call out the wrongdoing of misdirected crisis pregnancy centers. Further, this is for those who have been harmed  by well-meaning, yet mislead caregivers, in the process of the working out and wrestling with these weighty and deeply personal matters of the heart and soul. Forgive us. Join us. Help us.  We are so much  more than the abortion question. A quick nod to the amazingly supportive village that is Choices, getting to know our guests who become friends, and providing one on one help in the areas of parenting guidance and insights, (along with practical resources, such as diapers, wipes, clothes, blankets, car seats), dating/partner abuse/violence, and sexual  health and trauma. We were not intended to journey alone – we are better together.  And, as is customary, while I realize this is not a formal writing piece, (clearly!), and lower word counts equal more readers, I struggle with brevity. You’ve been forewarned.  But hang in there – you might just find some intriguing, surprising, challenging, and hopefully encouraging thoughts. As I identify as a Christian, this is the perspective I write from, and while there are many Christian perspectives, it is my utmost desire to honor God with the tools, experiences, and passions given me. You may believe differently; there are many shades of gray. My hope is that we are able to live in peace amidst the difference.  And, please also know this represents my wrestle with a Beloved God, who is at work among us, and through us, and loves us in the midst of all the hard, vulnerable and failing places of our lives – the messes and gray areas, the surefooted and the shaky. Please be kind.  An Unlikely Alliance Katie Stack, founder of the Crisis Project, is just now learning that I stand with her on calling out crisis pregnancy centers who do harm – for many reasons, but also because I am appalled and grieved that such tactics purport to represent the heart of God.

Synonyms
noun. injury – damage – mischief – detriment – hurt – evil
verb. injure – hurt – damage – prejudice – impair – do harm

Katie might be suspicious of my contact. And, honestly, who can blame her? I’ve identified myself as a longtime crisis pregnancy center director – the very group (at large) she is rightly investigating – which, as a movement, has shown itself to be largely deceptive and manipulative to accomplish its aims, (in addition to a tremendous amount of honorable, compassionate work). Why should she trust me? And I get that, and maybe I don’t even know why I wanted to contact her, except perhaps to say – you’re right to do what you’re doing with the Crisis Project. I stand with you.  As Katie has personally visited several crisis pregnancy centers posing as a young woman in need of services, she has uncovered and publicized what we have known to be standard protocol for more than twenty years — and what we have sought to excise and transform, steadily and incrementally since my role at Choices began in 1994. Below are some examples of her necessary and important work, but first a disclaimer. If there was any hesitancy in including these links, which publicly identify these surely well-intended women, it is that I do not desire to hurt them – they are deeply entrenched in perpetuating a system that is flawed and in need of overhaul, that is inflicting harm through many of the 4,000 plus crisis pregnancy centers across our nation. Certainly not all, and certainly there are models with varying degrees of unhelpful and damaging procedures that mostly thwart the stated mission of CPC missions, stated in some form to provide ‘Christ-centered ministry’.  On an aside, a question might be, how can we define ‘Christ-centered ministry’? Likely, we would have varying definitions, as we are all created to reflect different facets of Christ. But, I hope that we can agree that deception, manipulation, invoking fear, guilt and religious propaganda are not among them.

And, sadly, there are more. How many more are there that haven’t been captured? How many women are being victimized in the name of God? So, a challenge in response to viewing Katie’s work – and, some of you will first need to take a breath and dig deep –  might be to identify and acknowledge the irresponsible and outright harmful tactics these volunteers have been taught in an attempt to steer women away from abortion clinics – and to save them. One cringeworthy story I recall is a terrified young college-age woman who went into a CPC for a pregnancy test, discovered it was to her greatest fear positive, and then promptly to be told by the counselor, “If you would just turn your life over to Jesus, everything would be okay.” This is a lie, not helpful at all, and it was these words that completely missed this young woman’s deep pain, and offered her no tangible help. And, since I know this young woman, her Christian faith was already intact –  in case anyone is curious. The outcome? She fled and sought an abortion to relieve her pain. Did she want the abortion? Perhaps. Could she have used a safe space to explore her feelings? Definitely. Harsh and judgemental words that miss the needs of women inflict harm – in the immediate, and in the future. Well-Meaning, Yet Mislead It seems that this phrase could be applied to a few sides of this conversation: those who have labored alongside so many women in crisis and with challenges – and those who have strong opinions, yet little experience in direct care. Meeting face to face with people in pain makes a difference. Misguided agenda includes:

  • Religious proselytizing
  • Fear-based information
  • Images or words intended to emotionally manipulate

Courage hasn’t always come easily – well, maybe never – but perhaps ironically, as I’ve wrestled to live further into my faith as a Christian, I find there is no other option than to declare what I know to be true: my faith informs me that God created us all with the ability to make choices – and that means I don’t get to make yours. To set-up a scenario that seeks to shame, judge, manipulate, impose fear and agenda to accomplish one’s aims (no matter how strongly one feels), is to disrespect God’s intentional design. Our job is not to dissuade women from having abortion – our job is to create an emotionally safe space for a woman (and her partner if desired), to get in touch with her own voice, and to discover that there are resources, both economical and relational to come alongside her should she desire to continue her pregnancy. Our job is not to take advantage of and proselytize women in the midst of deeply painful, vulnerable situations. To hear, “If you would just give your life to Jesus, everything would be okay,” is a flat out lie. Yet, more than once I have heard a woman tell me some version of this was her experience. And mostly, coincidentally, these women will think twice before setting foot in an institutional church. Purporting to represent the heart of God, these inappropriate statements do incredible spiritual harm, and ultimately often keep people from experiencing the Belovedness of God, who loves them unconditionally, just as they are – even if they proceed with abortion. Do Justice e·thos: The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement When a pregnant woman comes for a pregnancy test, because though they’re readily available, she may not have the financial resources to purchase one – or she may have come needing a friend to help process a hard place. She is offered a private room, devoid of happy, smiling pregnant mamas and babies, and no visible display of fetal models. Her advocate is there to provide support, listening for conversational cues that guide responses to meet spoken emotional, practical and spiritual needs – always respecting boundaries, with no imposition of what one should think, do or believe.

I’ll never forget the look she gave me as she explained, clearly, that continuing the pregnancy was not an option. I realized in that moment that the only way to be truly compassionate was to trust her; that what ever abstract, philosophical debate was taking place in my head, I simply had no way of knowing why she felt the way that she did in her heart. http://www.katiestack.com/?p=71

Justice infers that we are fair, that we are respectful of one another’s understandings and boundaries – regardless of our own standards, values, morals, beliefs and lifestyles. Justice recognizes that there are many factors that may contribute to a pregnant woman’s ability to honor her own desires in the sexuality, pregnancy and parenting realm. These may include domestic violence, sexual shame, trauma or abuse history, family of origin issues, losses, and perceptions. These are deeply personal stories that we must engage carefully and honorably – not as having answers to fix, but as having presence to listen and respond with compassion. Justice respects, so it must also be stated that those entities that lump all CPC’s in the same category with regard to harmful and deceptive ways is not justice, and potentially deprives women, partners and children of needed compassionate care. Justice is that women and their partners have access to the informed services they choose and are available, but the unfortunate fact is that there are those who malign the good work of centers such as Choices that do not intentionally or deliberately mislead or pressure women with any form of an agenda. Shifts Happen It must be said that we understand, know and care deeply for many who have very strong, yet differing perspectives regarding what we should be doing in the *counseling  room. In fact, some of those who read this will think we’ve jumped the ship of faith – at least the correct representation of faith – but nothing could be further from reality. Our deepest desire is that people might begin to glimpse the loving presence of God that looks – and feels – like hope, as we care and are attentive to concerns. Without a doubt, I am convinced that the beautiful, compassionate community of Choices well represents the heart of God, and the compassion of Christ, which has no place for the use of manipulation, fear-based materials or language, judgement or religious agenda.

Love God. Love others. The rest are details. ~Jesus, based on Matthew 22:37-40

So Katie, I stand with you. While it’s likely true that we may differ on various desires for what crisis pregnancy centers should offer, we can likely both agree that there must be change that honors and cares well for those who come seeking love, tenderness and mercy for sexuality, pregnancy and parenting related concerns.   

Desperate for Grace

Would it surprise you to know that you bailed on me at one of the most painful and vulnerable times of my life? While I was simply trying to breathe through my days, you left, just like that.

Triage

Triage had become my way of life. Yes, you too were in the midst of attempting to stop the bleeding out of all that you cherished. I knew this. I grieved for your pain. My losses were tracking with yours, only on different battlefields.

You had depended upon me to help bring your visions to life, for which I delightedly obliged. You provided relationship and generosity as thanks. I gave. You gave.

And, ultimately, sadly, I became anemic, losing my spirit and purpose somewhere among the mounting losses that was my life. I no longer knew who I was – or who I was to be. The foundation of my dignity was disintegrating daily, and I was on increasingly shaky ground. Hanging on, desperately trying to find where to step to find solid ground, avoiding the deep crevasses that kept appearing. Managing all the crises and loss was life-consuming. Ever-draining. My wounds were deep.

Grace. Mercy. Compassion. The gift of time. These were my needs.

Specific relational behavior, as in this is the way people should behave was expected from you, and when not met, you bailed. You shoulded on me. And my heart ached. It still aches. Where is my friend?

If I am only a friend, worthy of your presence when I am serving your needs, and behaving according to your formula, then where does that leave my humanity?

A realization learned through this deeply painful chapter – when we are emotionally unwell, when we are on the edge with life-consuming challenges, trying to make sense of circumstances, losses, crises and demands – it is unfair for others to impose time-frames and expectations.

Hopes and plans, coming in the form of spoken or written words when someone is in the midst of crisis, are nothing more than wishes that may never be realized. When we fail to live up to them, we need grace. Especially those of us who’ve faithfully been there. We hurt more, because it’s not who we are in our heart and soul. We are wounded, bruised and battered by life’s unrelenting pummeling – which makes it so hard respond in a manner that meets others needs. Maybe because we are drowning in our own brokenness.

Be sad and be grieved that I could not be there in the capacity to which you were accustomed. Be patient and long-suffering – most importantly, be present.

And be grace-filled. Always. Even when you don’t understand, and when it hurts.

Grace could be defined as the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it. Just do it. God endorses it, generously, as God knows we all have need of it’s restorative healing. I  heard that in your words – but I did not experience it when it mattered.

But, you might not know this brokenness because you bailed.