Which is it? A pesky weed thrusting its measly self through the sidewalk, or hope?
I see hope; the tenacity of a fragile stem ignoring what should be possible, pushing toward light despite the hostile environment it is bound to enter.
This photograph speaks to me in a particularly vivid way right now, especially concerning a recent calling of the heart. Despite my intentions, I’ve been finding myself lately on the sidewalk in front of North Dakota’s only abortion facility. Yes, moi, the gal who always thought her pro-life convictions would be best shared in a “safe” place. Through the written word, for example, or a radio interview, but certainly not as an active sidewalk-counselor-in-training.
About a month ago, I interviewed on our local Catholic radio station the woman — Elizabeth McClung — who helped effect the conversion of former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson to the side of life. When I listened to the podcast of that interview a few weeks later, I was jarred to hear myself telling Elizabeth that praying for life publicly “isn’t for everyone.” I was speaking about myself.
But then Abby came to Fargo and I had a chance to hear her story in person, both from her mouth and through her bestselling book, Unplanned. When I realized Elizabeth’s prayers and the flowers and card she had offered Abby two years before her conversion had made a difference, despite many days, weeks and months of it all seeming futile, things changed inside of me. When Abby challenged us to not forget about what she’d shared, and insisted the women seeking abortions needed to hear our voices, I could no longer ignore the still, small voice within me.
Then again I might have, if not for my 13-year-old daughter, who’d also met Abby.
“Mom, can we stand out on the sidewalk again this Wednesday?” she asked a few days before “abortion day,” the week following our meeting with Abby. It nearly took my breath away to hear her request, but I recognized the opportunity at once and knew I could not diminish it.
“Sure, let’s do that,” I said, not quite believing what was happening. Her young voice was rising above the din of my doubts, giving me courage to shoo away my timidity.
“No offense, Mom,” she added, “but maybe, because I’m younger and all, I might make more of an impact.”
“You know, you could be right about that,” I said, not able to deny wisdom as it stared me in the face.
Indeed, her presence could well make a difference. It already had. The week before, as we stood there with the others praying in the rain, a car full of hecklers driving past yelled obscenities at us from our sidewalk perch.
“What was that?” she asked, turning to me. Then, in an impeccably timed moment, she added, “Oh, they must just be jealous of my good hair day.”
It’s exactly what I needed to decrease the tension and sadness I felt watching one woman after another walk into the facility, knowing she would come out a changed person, and not for the better. As one bumper sticker I read recently says: “Abortion: one life lost, another wounded.”
This week I returned without my daughter, who was out of town, and though I’m still a sidewalk newbie, I’m starting to get the hang of it. I know where I can and can’t stand (“Don’t touch the green carpet!”). I’ve gotten to know some of the names of the abortion facility escorts; some of whom are very aggressive toward those who’ve come to pray, others who are quieter, perhaps new like me, just trying to figure things out.
And I’ve discovered that I’m not content to only pray, though prayer is certainly one of the most valuable things I can do. I’ve reached out to several of the escorts in an attempt to get to know them. One of them was very receptive this week. I know that everyone, no matter what side of the sidewalk they’re on, truly believes they are helping women. But I also know that it can’t be the case that taking life is ever a positive, and that I have entered the front lines of a war zone. Lives of the mothers, the babies, and all those who love them are at stake.
I can’t completely explain what has compelled me to take up a post on this sidewalk of all the sidewalks in North Dakota, but I definitely feel it as a strong stirring, an urgent call to action, though certainly not one I would have willingly chosen.
Perhaps God has had this in mind for me for a long time, but I’ve only recently become ready. I’m beginning to think that might be the case. Regardless, I’m becoming bolder. I want to meet the workers of the facility and somehow, in whatever way I can, give them the same sense of hope I’ve experienced while looking upon a weed that refuses to give up on light.
Q4U: What was the bravest thing you did recently? What compelled you to do it?