Thursday, October 10, 2013

Worth the wait, Part 2

By Robbert van der Steeg (originally posted to Flickr as Eternal clock) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

We need to be more intentional.  We need to be more involved in the lives of people.  We need to be more connected.  We need to be more accessible.
-Jessica Harris, Why I'm not a belt-notcher: The importance of intentional community ***

Here's the backstory: 

The idea for the original Worth the Wait post came from my husband.  We were leaving the grocery store where a man with a cart-load of groceries offered to hand an item up to the cashier who was completing our transaction.  We weren't in the middle of checking out.  Johnie had already swiped our card. 

The cashier cancelled the action, added the item, and the man moved his buggy to let me through.  I heaped apologies, but he said they weren't necessary.

I was struck by just how willing -- happy even -- he was to inconvenience himself for us.

"I just love that people are so nice about things like that here," I said.  This wasn't an uncommon occurence.  We have story after story of friendly retail experiences like this one.

"Maybe you should write a blog post about it," Johnie said.

The post began as a way to brag about how nice people are here in Kentucky.  But I'll be honest: Not every one here is that nice.  (Me included.)  And this state has so many problems I just couldn't bring myself to ask everyone else to be more like us. 

So as I continued to write, revise and edit, I began to ponder the true value of people.  How people should be our priority.  And the underlying reasons for our unwillingness to wait -- our drive to have everything we want and to have it now.  I thought about the cost of our demanding, rushed, self-focused, solitary lifestyles.

Obviously this extends well beyond customer service experiences to encompass a complete cultural framework.

I asked myself:

What if we defined progress not in terms of technological advances or scientific discoveries or societal benchmarks?  What if we measured it by relationships built, people encouraged and strengthened, communities brought together and supported?

What if we defined success not as titles or degrees or wealth accumulated but as lives touched, mouths fed, people hugged and loved?

In our world, best equals strongest, fastest, smartest, prettiest, sexiest, funniest, wealthiest.  The superficial list goes on.  Charity. Grace. Compassion. Humility. Deliberate, intentional thoughtfulness. Those are second rate qualities.  How great, we think, if the strongest or the fastest also has compassion or humility, but that doesn't make him the best.  Being strong and fast makes him best. 

Our individualism and this race to see who can reach the highest the fastest has sent us spiraling inward.  Isolated.  Alone.  Afraid to talk about our struggles lest someone use our weaknesses against us.

So we paint a pretty face.  Manipulate our life so that it looks appealing on cameras and computers for everyone to see.  But when the screen goes dark, we ache.  And we soothe those aches that could be healed by love and community with more gadgets, more superficial accolades, more distractions that keep us further and further away from people who could actually help us.

And as things get worse, as we battle depression and anxiety and feelings of self-loathing and self-worthlessness, our remedies become more destructive. 

It reminds me of an analogy by Dallas Willard of cattle raised where the land is mineral-poor.   The cows crave those essential minerals so badly they will eat anything to quench that longing.  Rusted metal, nails, whatever they can find.  And it kills them.  He was comparing this to people's inherent desire for holiness and for Jesus.  So fitting.  But I also think it extends to our innate longing for community.  Our desire to know and be known.  To be loved just for who we are, just exactly as we are.

In my reflection, I posed the question to myself as I was posing it to my readers: How many problems would be solved if every single one of us was valued and embraced and honored with time by the whole community?

My mind immediately whispered a response: Like abortion.

This was never meant as an attempt to couch a political statement.  The answer came as a shock, and I initially dismissed it.

My original intent with the creation of this blog in the first place was to (among other things) talk about hot-button issues like abortion.  The loudest voices I hear on this issue (and others) don't resonate for me.  I don't really feel comfortable in either of the two major camps and wanted to offer another option, another outlet, for those who may feel like I do.

But as the weeks wore on I kept chickening out. 

I decided a few weeks ago to try to be more vulnerable in this space.  So after my mind whispered abortion this time I eventually decided to go for it.  And spent the time since then working up the courage to click "Publish" on this post.

I feel passionately about babies and about women. It only stands to reason that I also feel passionately about abortion issues.  But that doesn't always translate into clear-cut, predictable thoughts or actions.

When I read this account of a friend walking into a clinic that offers elective abortion procedures, I was at first compelled to put on one of those orange volunteer vests myself and help escort women through the crowd that gathers outside each day.  But then I thought about what all happens inside.

I'm repulsed by the part of the pro-life movement that involves picketing, holding grotesque signs and saying things like baby-killer.  Nor can I bring myself to put any energy into advocating for laws, policies and regulations that make the abortion process increasingly more difficult for women already set on that type of end for their pregnancies. 

But I have to be honest with the pro-choicers too: While I am sickened by what goes on in the crowd outside, I don't think I could stomach what goes on inside either.

I think Dr. David Gushee says it best:

I could tell that they [pro-choice activists] were drawn into this issue because they had caught a vision of the suffering of women whose pregnancies create a crisis for them, and the even more intense crisis that this would be for them if they had no legal recourse to an abortion. Their fixed gaze on the needs and the suffering of women impressed me, and I respected it. Anyone who cares deeply about the suffering of other people is on the right track — because that is one of the ways we demonstrate our love for the sacred persons around us.

I do continue to think that our gaze on this issue must be at least bi-focal — on the suffering pregnant woman, and on the developing human life that she is carrying. I do sense that decades of defending the rights and needs of the pregnant woman have trained many in the pro-choice side to avert their eyes from the child. But I also recognize on the part of many pro-lifers the parallel averting of gaze away from the woman and her situation as she experiences it. Decades of advocacy in a polarized debate have caused both sides to miss the intertwined sacredness of woman and child. And it is certainly clear to me that the only way those whose gaze is fixed on the child will succeed in saving more of them is if they learn not only to look at the woman, but to love her. (Read full post here.)

Ultimately, abortion cannot be controlled in clinics or courtrooms.  It is a decision made in the hearts and minds of mothers.  And whether or not we agree with abortion under any circumstance or in every circumstance, can we not see the anguish of each and every mother opting to terminate a pregnancy?

Should we not, then, make it our common goal to address and alleviate that anguish?  Just as it is not true that women today abort their babies because it is legal for them to do so, it is also not true that abortions are difficult for women only because of the regulatory (and social) barriers in their way.  A friend of mine says, "we all are pro-life."  In the same vein, no mother wants to have an abortion.

This is where we must consider:

If every woman was part of a supportive community where she was valued and honored, would there be fewer abortions?  Would women find the confidence and resources there to leave unhealthy or abusive relationships and to continue a pregnancy?  Would women find the strength and resources there to carry an unexpected child  -- even when it involves great sacrifice (every pregnancy involves sacrifice for the mother)?  Would women find the safety, the love, the solace there to make the best decision for them in the face of violence, incest, rape or complex medical complications?

It is my belief that any woman contemplating how to proceed with a pregnancy needs -- like all of us everyday -- a heaping helping of grace and mercy.  And if she chooses abortion, our love for her shouldn't change.  As a woman, I can definitely understand why women who are scared or alone or shocked or abused or sick or poor or all-of-the-above might choose that option. 

Laws and protests don't help those women.  And they won't change feelings or circumstances. 

But relationships will.  A world where a woman feels secure and accepted and supported is a world she will be more willing to birth a new life into.  This is where I think some of our pregnancy crisis centers get it right.

But we must take this line of thinking even further: If every woman and every girl was part of a supportive community where she was valued and honored, would there be fewer crisis pregnancies?  Would women who feel loved and who are confident in their worth seek out artificial love in bedrooms and backseats?  Would boys who are brought to manhood with integrity, reassurance, support and love know the true value of each woman and treat her with the dignity and devotion she deserves?

I thought about doing some research on this.  Just as one example, I've read studies about the impact fathers have on their daughters -- their education, their relationships, their engagement in drugs or pre-marital sex.  But, honestly, the numbers don't matter. 

I do think that many crisis pregnancies might be prevented if women felt loved and cherished.  I think many times women (and men) turn to sex for the love and fulfillment they were denied by those who were originally responsible for giving it.  And I also think women would be more willing to naturally complete their crisis pregnancies if offered a strong support system. 

But even if I'm wrong it doesn't matter.  The simple truth is that women shouldn't be poured into or nurtured so that they will refrain from risky or pre-marital sex or so that they will deliver their babies.  Women, just like everyone, should be loved and honored because they're intrinsically worth it. 

And no matter the cost of doing so, that -- loving people -- should be the most important thing.

The best use of life is love.  The best expression of love is time.  The best time to love is now.
-Rick Warren

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***The linked blog post by Jessica Harris is written with a focus on christian community, but I think her advice would be beneficial to any type of community.