Planned Parenthood and Me

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I have kept this under wraps. I can count on one had the number of people who know.

But here goes.

I am one of the many. One of the women who anxiously hoped that if “Penny” ever called, her parents wouldn’t be the ones to pick up the phone.

I make no secret of the fact that Chris and I had sex before we were married. I’m not proud of it. It was wrong. But I am free of condemnation because of the cleansing blood of Christ. God has forgiven us both, and it was in the midst of this sin that He clearly drew both of us to Himself. Though we had both made commitments to Him as children, it was during this time that we both began to understand the reprehensible nature of sin. We both began to understand our depravity and our need for a Savior.

Of course, we didn’t discuss it in that kind of language. Just after our engagement in July 2005, we began attending church together. As we drove back to my parent’s house one afternoon, I commented, “You know, we probably shouldn’t have sex on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday morning.”

Hashtag duh.

Thus began the process of breaking old habits and learning to obey Him. It didn’t happen overnight, but by the time we were baptized together just before Christmas that year, we were committed to remaining sexually pure until our wedding day.

But there were stumbles along the way.

And so a trip to Planned Parenthood.

The chances that I was actually pregnant then are extremely low as the chances of me getting pregnant now are extremely low. We’re talking less than 1%. I didn’t know that then, however. I didn’t know that I was infertile. All I knew was that I was scared out of my mind. I wasn’t on any form of contraception at the time and we hadn’t made use of a condom. What was I going to do? How would I take care of a baby? What would people think? I didn’t want this.

Nervously, I made the appointment. We drove to the plain gray building in silence. It was a beautiful fall day, bright and sunny. I wore my favorite tan corduroy jacket.

I remember feeling like this was an out-of-body experience. Less than a decade prior I was so certain that I would never have sex before I was married and that I would never darken the doors of Planned Parenthood. I even signed the “True Love Waits” card and placed it proudly in my high school scrapbook.

I had no problem with the use of birth control under a doctor’s orders and supervision (and still don’t). I had been on a couple of contraceptive pills in my teens to try and regulate my unpredictable cycle, but didn’t stick with either one as they both made me feel sick. But Planned Parenthood is more than birth control. I knew about Margaret Sanger and her complex relationship with eugenics, racism, and classism, a relationship that cannot be separated from the organization she founded. I understood that the main service Planned Parenthood provides is not low-cost health care for women (of which I am an advocate), but abortion.

Yet there I was.

The lobby was ugly and uninviting. Plain gray walls. Gray carpet. Orange plastic chairs. I scribbled my name on the sign-in sheet. Chris and I sat down together. We did not look at each other. We did not hold hands. There was a young couple sitting to my left, a pair of teenagers. She had been crying. He looked afraid, bewildered.

The room was still and quiet. The receptionist worked busily behind her bullet-proof glass window.

My name was called. I don’t remember if Chris came back to the examine room with me, but he probably did. I don’t remember what the nurse looked like. The doctor was a woman. She had brown hair styled in a bob and glasses.

I won’t demonize this woman. I have no idea if she performed abortions then or if she performs them now. I’m not saying that she was right or that the organization she chose to work for is right. But she was kind to me. I told her what had happened, what I was there for. She did not pressure me to do anything. She listened to me and gave me my options: Emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill, not the abortion pill) or wait and see.

She told me that the “morning after” pill wouldn’t stop the process if a fertilized egg had already implanted into my uterus, but it would prevent fertilization and implantation from happening if it hadn’t yet occurred. She told me that I should probably go to the store and get some motion sickness medicine as the high-dose hormone pill might make me nauseated. She instructed me how to take the pill, showed me some information about it and put everything in a brown paper bag. It was my choice whether or not to take the pill (I didn’t have to take it in the exam room, in front of her), but I did need to make my decision within a couple of hours.

We went back to the car, still in silence.

I took the pill.

We stopped at Wal-Mart for motion sickness medicine, which I also took.

I will never forget that October day. It is a moment that I have long wrestled with.

When I was in therapy, my counselor and I discussed this at length. In addition to being a very wise and godly woman, she was also a registered nurse. She knew the reproductive system backward and forward. She explained to me that, since I did not ultimately go through a pregnancy, that the “morning after” pill did its job. It functioned just like taking a birth control pill on a daily basis does. I did not have an abortion, because there was no baby.

I understand that. I accept that.

Nevertheless, I also know what my motivation was. I know the intentions of my heart. I did not want to be pregnant. I did not want a baby to “mess with” my plans. I was afraid of being judged by my family, my friends, my church. Chris and I were dealing with some other very difficult and heavy things, and I did not want to have a baby on top of that.

It was a completely selfish decision.

As I said above, I am not one who believes that using birth control is wrong. While I would much rather see people, especially young people, embrace the safe and beautiful sexual ethic laid out by God, I know that everyone is free to make their own choices. If people are going to engage in sex outside of marriage, I would rather they use contraception than have abortions or abandon more children to a broken foster care and adoption system. Within marriage, family size and the spacing of children, or choosing to not have children, is between the couple and God. Scripture says that children are a blessing, but there’s nothing there that says they are a requirement.  So the “morning after” pill itself is not the problem, and I unequivocally support its use in cases of rape or incest.

The problem arises when a woman like me uses it out of fear and selfishness.

I also have a great deal of compassion for that woman, and won’t throw stones.

I don’t have that right.

Nor do I have the right to condemn a woman who has had an abortion, because that was the intention of my heart. I determined to end the life of the baby that we might have conceived. That’s the cold, stark truth of it.

It was fear that motivated me to go to Planned Parenthood, and fear that has kept me silent. I’ve seen the reactions when women share their stories. I’ve read the comments, heard the words. I know just how nasty people can be. And there’s no need for it. No excuse.

In this highly polarizing arena, the Church needs to get better at extending grace to women like me. We need to explain and live out the fact that there is nothing that God won’t forgive if we but ask in humility and repentance. When we talk about abortion, we need to remember that there are people in the room who walk through their days with this burden on their shoulders. Yes, let’s be truthful. But let’s not forget love. Let’s not forget that we, too, are sinners, even if this not our sin.

A “pro-life” culture cannot focus on birth alone. A “pro-life” culture must be one whose members come alongside single parents. Who adamantly refuse to be nasty. Who offer rides to doctor’s appointments, provide job references, give money, throw baby showers, offer to babysit and just, you know, practice that whole kindness thing. Be the support system so desperately needed.

I am so grateful to God. More and more I understand how wretched I am. More and more I am amazed at the marvelous gift of salvation. He justifies and sanctifies me. I can do neither of my own volition.

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

“I [Jesus] say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” – Luke 7:36-39, 47-48 (NKJV)

The grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. – 1 Timothy 1:14-15 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

What You Need

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Gentle Reader,

No, you can’t always get what you want,
No, you can’t always get what you want,
No, you can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime, you just might find
You get what you need. – Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Yes. I just quoted the Rolling Stones.

The chorus of this famous song holds a lot of truth. Try as we might, we don’t always get what we want. If we’re honest, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. We work hard. Try to be kind. Take care of our families. Pay the bills. Shouldn’t we get what we want? We’re playing by the rules, after all. Shouldn’t our figurative cups be overflowing?

When we think of the abundant life, we assume that it will be filled with all the things we want. The wants may not be extravagant. A nice home, good relationships, a steady income, no debt. They might be wild and imaginative, like the desire to travel the world or have a painting hanging in a famous gallery or museum. Or they might be somewhere in the middle, like a cool car or a book contract.

Thing is, God is less about what we want and more about what we need.

Don’t misread that sentence. Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17) and He delights in giving us those good gifts (Matthew 7:11). There are many times when God blesses us with something that we want because He’s a good and loving Father. Yet if we look at the big picture, the Lord doesn’t allow us to have or do something that is outside of His will. He is not a vending machine, to use the cliche, concerned only with dispensing our desire of the moment. His will in the life of a believer is to make her more like Christ (Romans 8:29) and if the disposable income readily available for the purchase of new shoes every few weeks isn’t going to make her more like Christ, then, well…

You do the math.

Again, don’t misunderstand. I don’t at all believe that God inflicts suffering and hardship on His people willy-nilly. He doesn’t use our longing for red ballet flats or a new set of chisels as a source of entertainment. He doesn’t see what it is that we want in life and then go out of His way to make sure that the opposite happens. As a wonderful and kind God, He showers us with goodness, but within the context of making us more like Jesus.

2 Corinthians 9:8 opens up the concept for us:

God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. (HCSB)

Graces oozes in fantastic measure from the Lord, pouring out torrentially upon His people. He makes sure that we have absolutely everything that we need – and this is a greater blessing than having everything we want. Think about it. You may not being having filet mignon for dinner tonight, but, if you have access to the Internet and can read this right now, chances are good that you’re not going to be hungry. Is a fancy meal every single time you sit down really better than a satisfied stomach? Is the food you eat what matters, or is the fact that you get to eat?

Because here’s the thing: This verse, which talks about grace permeating your life and all your needs being met, stands in a very specific context in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Take the time to drink in every word of the chapter:

Now concerning the ministry to the saints, it is unnecessary for me to write to you. For I know your eagerness, and I brag about you to the Macedonians: “Achaia has been prepared since last year,” and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I sent the brothers so our boasting about you in the matter would not prove empty, and so you would be prepared just as I said. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we, not to mention you, would be embarrassed in that situation. Therefore I considered it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance the generous gift you promised, so that it will be ready as a gift and not as an extortion.

Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. As it is written:

He scattered;
He gave to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever.

Now the One who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God. They will glorify God for your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with others through the proof provided by this service. And they will have deep affection for you in their prayers on your behalf because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. – 2 Corinthians 9 (NKJV)

God blesses that we might bless. He provides so that we might provide for others.

The abundant life isn’t about big houses and nice cars. It’s not about extravagant vacations, millions in the bank and a wrinkle-free face. It’s got nothing to do with age or class or gender or race.  It’s about being like Jesus. The One who had no home (Luke 9:58). The One who set aside all of His glory and riches (Philippians 2:5-11). The One who took up the role of a servant (go here for a list of the many references regarding Jesus’ servanthood). The One who ultimately hung on a Cross, enduring great pain and humiliation. (And, praise God!, the One who rose again).

This same Jesus took a couple of fish and five small loaves of bread and made a feast for thousands (John 6:1-12). A feast made of fish and bread. Not exactly food for a king. Yet He both blessed and provided for the crowd by meeting their needs with this simple fare. They experienced abundance because God touched them all with His compassionate, inventive caring.

Let’s take the fish and the bread we need – and share it with others.

In that is abundance.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Ugly Offspring of Worry

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Gentle Reader,

Scripture is deep. I wish I had a better way of saying that, but there you go. There is no end to the treasures to be found within the pages. Perhaps more importantly, there is no end to the ways that God will speak to us. One moment, one verse, one eye-opening lesson. The next moment, same verse, different lesson.

I have long loved Psalm 37:7-8 –

Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm. (NKJV)

As we use “worry” and “fret” interchangeably in the impreciseness that is English, I have assumed that these verses address worry. Don’t worry about what other people are getting. Give things up to God. Wait for Him to act; He’ll always take care of you. Let anger and worry go because they only hurt you.

All of that is true. Last week, however, I decided to look up the original word for “fret.” There are four different Hebrew words:

Charah: used in Psalm 37:7-8.  To blaze up, of anger, zeal, jealousy; be angry, burn, be displeased; earnestly, fret self, grieve, be (wax) hot, be incensed, kindle; very, be wroth.

Pecthetheth: a boring or eating out, hole, hollow. (Refers to a leprous decay in a garment).

Qatsaph: to be displeased, be angry, fret oneself, be wroth; to be full of wrath, to be furious; to provoke to wrath or anger; to put oneself in a rage, anger oneself.

Ra’am: to thunder; to make the sound of thunder, thunder; to rage.

Along with several Greek equivalents:

Athymeo: to be disheartened, dispirited, broken in spirit.

Ekkaio: to burn out, to set on fire, to be kindled, to burn.

Lypeo: to make sorrowful; to affect with sadness, cause grief, to throw into sorrow; to grieve, offend.

Merimnao: to be anxious; to be troubled with cares; to care for, look out for (a thing); to seek to promote one’s interests; caring or providing for.

(This list of Greek equivalents is not exhaustive. For more information, check out StudyLight).

As I pondered these words, it occurred to me that fretting is the ugly offspring of worry. I have yet to meet someone who struggles with anxiety who doesn’t also struggle with anger. The two are logical bedmates. When you are worried that nobody else is looking out for you, it’s natural to get angry. It makes sense to blaze wit bitterness. You’re trying to protect yourself, trying to prepare for every possible outcome. As you are seeking to promote your own interests, you don’t really have energy to promote anyone else’s, and, if they ask you to, you resent that. They have added to your burdens.

Don’t fret – don’t lash out. Don’t thunder. Don’t let worry eat a hole in you. Don’t rage. Don’t be offended.

All this anger stems from anxiety, and that anxiety is rooted in a disheartened, broken spirit.

I know this in my bones. When my husband leaves his things lying around, I get irritated. I snap at him. I make it a bigger deal than it needs to be – because I am afraid that he doesn’t listen to me. I am afraid that he doesn’t think I matter. I apply to his actions a meaning that isn’t there, because of past hurts that have torn my heart to pieces.

Brokenness to anxiety to anger.

Look what Jesus said He came to do:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. – Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 (NKJV)

A disheartened, broken spirit results in the oppression of anxiety which leads to the fires of barely controlled anger. Jesus came to set us free from that! He came to mend all the broken places, patch the holes in our hearts, pour into us real love and hope. My friend, let’s allow Him to do that work, right now. This day. This moment.

Let’s allow Him to begin the process of transforming our lives. I don’t know about you, but I am weary of the past dictating the present. I don’t have energy to plan for every outcome. I don’t want to argue with everyone about stupid things. What I want is trust that God has my best interests at heart, that He will promote them and that I can rest in His continual care. Imagine the freedom! Imagine the peace! Whatever is happening with other people, whatever they might be getting, I want to be assured that it’s all good for me.

I want to live in the riches of His grace, reject going back to prison, live wide-eyed in the world, dance in freedom and embrace His favor. I want that for you, too!

My journey to faith. (15) This post also appeared on the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog on March 9, 2014.