Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Vigil for Life

The post below mentions a picture. Blogger is not cooperating, but I'm leaving the post as it is and hopefully inserting the picture later.

Five people from my church recently participated in a Vigil for Life sponsored by the Roman Catholic diocese of Green Bay. It has taken me a while to process my thoughts enough to try to write about them. It is difficult for me to write about the subject of abortion for many reasons. I've listened carefully to people share their thoughts or their experiences. I've sat across from women and watched their faces and listened to their stories. I've wept with them as they remembered the anguish and pain of their particular circumstance. I have heard more than one account of a situation that made me think, "Oh God, what was the right thing? What could have been done? What would I have done?" It is also difficult to write about this because I no longer live in a tidy world where I think people who love Jesus Christ agree on just about everything. I haven't for a long time, I suppose. How young I was once!

The issues are not simple. One of the Rev Gals devotions (see the book in the sidebar) was a recollection of terminating a pregnancy and the sorrow--and grace of God--that followed. We probably disagree about "the abortion issue." I read with tears in my eyes though, and I wished I could give an in-person embrace to this precious sister in the Lord.

The OB/GNY clinic is across the street from the hospital. About half of the women who see doctors there give birth to a live infant. The other half are there to have their pregnancy terminated. There are six doctors. Only two of them perform that means that two doctors are dealing with almost half the women. Something is so sad about that. We were told that one rode a bicycle and we were warned that he would likely be very angry and confrontational. He had narrowly missed hitting several walkers with his bike, frightening even senior citizens as he headed for them--and turned at the last moment. The other doctor, our shift leader said, had spoken to no one and came and went quietly. We saw neither doctor that day.

The prayer walk began on Mother's Day and concluded on Father's Day, a period of 40 days. Twenty-four hours a day for 40 days someone walked and prayed. This vigil was not confrontational. We carried no pictures of aborted fetuses, and we seldom spoke to anyone, including each other. We stayed carefully on the sidewalk. We were walking on a Friday morning, so most of the walkers were retired folks. One very old woman told me that her feet were hurting badly but that she was not quitting till her allotted time was up. As she limped she prayed the rosary. Others prayed the Lord's Prayer. Two men walked together and quietly prayed scripture.

In the picture above I'm in the front of the line. My husband is a ways behind, in the hat. A bit further back are two of my church people. There were several different kinds of signs, as you can see. I've done this before, and I always choose to carry the sign that reads, "Abortion Hurts Women" if I can't have my first choice, "Jesus Forgives and Heals." There are a few that I cannot carry, even though I believe they are true.

It was a very warm and sunny day, but the atmosphere was somber. One man walked alone for two hours, never making eye contact with any of us and never speaking. His face was full of grief. I prayed silently for him, wondering what the pain was that he carried. At one point some children arrived and walked for about a half hour. One boy with bright blue eyes and a broad smile wore a shirt that proclaimed, "I choose life." He proudly showed it to me. Somehow, it just made me sad.

We tended to walk two-by-two. When I walked with my husband we held hands and prayed quietly. Sometimes we walked in silence. At one point I walked with a woman from our church for a while. Strangely, at one point we both were almost overcome with grief. We could not speak, except she asked, "What is this grief I'm feeling?" It felt very personal, as if someone I knew closely was dying. Tears poured down my face as I walked. I silently prayed for the women who were caught in desperate situations. The abused woman. The broken woman. The woman who had discovered that something was seriously wrong with her unborn child. The woman who had no one to stand with her or pray with her or just love her. The confused woman. The angry woman. The teenager. I saw them in my mind, and I wept for them and for the life in them. Then, almost as suddenly as the grief had begun, it ended.

I recalled a young teenager I knew years ago--an angry, spoiled, selfish girl. I learned that, at 17, she had just had her fifth abortion. She, and her mother, were quite casual about it all. I was horrified. Occasionally I still think of her and I wonder what went wrong. As I walked I prayed for her. She would be almost 40 now.

Next my mind went back to a dark night on a hillside. The smell of pines filled the air and the campfire crackled pleasantly. Five of us sat around the fire--my husband and I, two others whom I've forgotten, and a grieving young woman. I had been counseling her for a while. She had told me she had to have a sort of funeral for the children she had never seen. Sobbing, she laid three rosebuds on the fire. One was pink. The other two were white. As she watched the flowers burn into ashes, she spoke to her three children as if they were sitting with us. Wrapping her arms around her body, she sobbed out sorrow, brokenness, regret and pain that was beyond my comprehension. She asked forgiveness for ending their lives before they had begun. One was a girl, she knew. She told them that she would do it differently now, and that she prayed for God's forgiveness. She was only beginning to consider that God might love her. We moved away shortly after that night, but I hope she continued on in her journey and found God's healing and love.

I remembered the night a relative told me something she had never shared with anyone. Twenty years before, in an abusive and adulterous relationship, she found herself terrified for her life...and pregnant. She doubled over in grief as she anguished, "I know it was not right. I felt like I would die too when I went into that room. I hated the doctor. I hate myself sometimes too, and I grieve for that child every day of my life. But if I was in that situation again I can see nothing else I could have done. I had no choice." I said nothing. I just hugged her and sobbed with her.

I remembered the young woman who was raped and became pregnant. Seeking help from Planned Parenthood, she was only told the location of abortion clinics. Only when she became angry and insistent was she told about adoption options. She carried the baby for nine months, and she talked to it, sang to it and told it she loved it. When her little girl was born she cradled her for two days before tearfully giving her to the parents she had chosen to raise her child. Six years later, a picture of a newborn still sits on her dresser.

All these thoughts swirled in my mind as I walked and prayed. I prayed for God's confused, sinful, broken creation. I prayed for women, and for men, and for babies unborn. Not once did I pray for Roe V. Wade to be overturned. It never occurred me to pray about politics. There is much I don't understand, but I know this much. Politics and courts are not the answer. I also know something else.

Jesus forgives and heals.

Patricia Gundry has written a very thoughtful article, "Why I am Anti-Abortion and Pro-Choice." She discusses why we may feel conflicted about the abortion issue. I'm not sure what to think about all of what she says in this article, but she makes a lot of sense, as always. The article can be found here at FemSpeak. It will give you lots to ponder.