27 January 2010

Choices & the Value of Human Life

It’s such a peaceful afternoon, and the solitude is something I’ve been craving for weeks. I have pages of notes of thoughts and stories, and had every intention of spending time enveloped in memories of purchasing my own cookware when I was nine or the beauty of a highly dysfunctional family of double-kin, halfs, strays, and ‘dopteds. But a simple post I made on Facebook yesterday afternoon changed things.

My doctor said I was too sick to carry my son to full-term. He suggested an abortion - said it was the smart thing to do. My son is 26 now. It was one of the best choices I've ever made.

Within a few minutes, several people had clicked the “like” button, while a few commented that I had made a good decision, and how my decision reinforced the importance of a woman’s right to choose. One particular statement – “I think Ronne's testimony is wonderful. The whole point was, she had a choice. She made the right choice for her.” – made by a woman I respect and admire, resonated with me.

I did indeed have a choice. When Dr Turner, the OB/GYN who believed I would miscarry, encouraged me to “take care of things rather than face the inevitable,” I could have said “yes." But I was pregnant, carrying an innocent, vulnerable human life who didn’t have a vote. Scripture after scripture told me that, even though the pregnancy was unexpected (I was actually in the hospital, hooked up to IVs while the doctors determined whether or not a hysterectomy was necessary), my baby was not an accident, not a mistake. So my decision to NOT have an abortion wasn’t the right choice for me – it was the right choice for him. He deserved every opportunity to experience life, even if the road to get there was difficult. And it was. I was in the hospital for several days as they monitored his heartbeat and health. I almost miscarried at six months, and I still carry the battle scars of a difficult delivery. But it was absolutely worth every moment of laughter and pain.

I also had a choice when I was 18. A bright-eyed freshman at the University of Oklahoma with big plans and the attention of a handsome, smart guy named Chris, I plunged head-long into a dating relationship. He and I met at a frat party (he and I were both pledge class presidents – he of the fraternity and me of the auxiliary “Little Sister” organization), and we rarely spent a day apart. I chose to have sex with him. And I got pregnant. I remember weeping as I told my mom, remember the long conversation with Chris, remember the highly logical “pros/cons” list created used to judge the value of the life I was carrying. He planned to be an attorney, and I had aspirations to be a network television anchor – and the idea of being burdened by a baby just didn’t seem palatable. So, on a chilly December morning, after finishing my first semester finals, Chris and I drove to the doctor’s office and paid our $250 (plus an extra $50 for a RhoGAM shot to protect me just in case the baby’s blood wasn’t O- like mine). I changed into a hospital gown and was moved to a room with an examination table. Placing my feet in the stirrups, the doctor told me everything would be “back to normal” in a few minutes. A long tube was inserted, and I then heard the sound of the machine. I wasn’t asleep, so I witnessed it all - literally felt life being sucked from my body. Despite the pain medication given to me, I felt every contraction as I watched the tube fill. I wanted to scream, but knew it wouldn’t matter. So I kept telling myself, “it’s all going to be better soon.”

There was no counseling before, no counseling after. No one talked to me about other choices I could have made – open adoption or keeping the child (even without the boyfriend in the picture). No one talked to me about possible medical complications that could arise from the act of abortion – medical complications that, for me, would eventually result in an inability to have children. No one talked to me about the guilt I would ultimately experience when I realized the choice I made that was “right for me” ended another person’s life.

Call it what you want. Debate the “viability of life” and “when a human becomes a human” and a woman’s right to choose and who gets the short straw in the “my life or yours” decision. Discuss at length all the variables about health and safety, and include the “incest or rape” factor that affects 1% of all women. I'm not saying choice is a bad word - remember, I've made choices. But when all is said and done, abortion is still defined as “termination” – an ending of potential for someone who didn’t get a vote.

I remember hearing a story once from a man who was on vacation in Florida with his family. They were enjoying time on the beach when they came to a fenced area with huge “CAUTION” signs posted. At first glance, nothing appeared to be inside the fence. As the family grew closer, they could read the smaller lettering on the sign. The fenced area was protecting a nest of sea turtle eggs. More than 200 eggs were under the sand, safe and sound from predators courtesy of the environmentalists who believed each of those turtles had value. Those who tampered with the nest were threatened with stiff fines and possible jail time.

I wonder what would happen if we valued human life as much as those environmentalists valued the lives of those unborn sea turtles.

Note: I have forgiven myself for the decision made so long ago. I believe with all my heart there is a precious daughter awaiting me in Heaven – perfectly whole and wholly perfect. I know she and my son will have a wonderful time getting to know each other some day.

25 January 2010

Ballerina Barbie & the Baby Chicken

"There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good."
~Edwin Denby

Psalm 31:8 You have not handed me over to the enemy. You have set my feet in a place where I can move freely.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 Fig trees may no longer bloom, or vineyards produce grapes; olive trees may be fruitless, and harvest time a failure; sheep pens may be empty, and cattle stalls vacant-- but I will still celebrate because the LORD God saves me. The LORD gives me strength. He makes my feet as sure as those of a deer, and he helps me stand on the mountains.

Last night, I longed again to be Ballerina Barbie.

If you know me at all, you know I love to dance in a "randomly move to the rhythm of the music" way. I do it often and without warning. But, in my mind there lives a person dressed in sparkling tulle and chiffon. She is dainty and delicate, and seems to float effortlessly through the air– like a Barbie doll but with a more realistic body type. She can twirl and spin and leap like a ballerina. Oh, she is my own tiara-wearing superhero - her grace transforming the most dark moment into a composition of beauty. From the time I was a little girl, all arms and legs and big feet, she has been with me. And if I close my eyes and feel the smooth cool floor beneath me, we are one.

Then I open my eyes – and I’m all arms and legs and big feet again.

I was all arms and legs and big feet on the special day I was a cat and a baby chicken. I hesitate to use the word “chick,” because, while I am a chick in the “she’s a pretty casual gal” sense, I don’t really consider myself cool enough to wear the badge all the time. And on that very special day, my yellow shiny sequin-adorned leotard with fluffy feathers shooting everywhere definitely classified this chick a baby chicken.

Now, the cats shuffle-ball-changed around the stage in a circle as I suppose cats would do if forced to wear patent-leather tap shoes. We held our hands up like little paws, and were careful not to smear the whiskers painted on our face with eyeliner. I tried to imagine myself a real cat, but since our family was a “dogs-only” clan, I had little inspiration for the moment. So I attempted a Cheshire Cat grin – the kind my mom said I used when I was guilty about something – and tried not to think about things like needing to use the restroom because I was scared.

Something magical happened, however, when the black ears and tap shoes were traded for yellow feathers and soft pink ballet slippers. For two short minutes, I was Ballerina Barbie. I batted my eyes and traded the grin for my best “pretty” look as I followed the rest of the baby chickens in pirouettes and plies. I felt the freedom and beauty rise. The stage was my playground – large and beautiful and crying out for my dance to grace it.

Last night, I wanted to be a baby chicken again. Yes, I longed to be Ballerina Barbie. The desire happened in the most unusual of places – while sitting with friends, discussing important things like church and food and art and work and movies and finances and earthquakes and Twitter and writer’s block and politics and song lyrics. I listened and chatted, all the while hungry to become one again with the smooth cool floor in some very different place – a place where I wasn’t hindered by arms and legs and big feet that fumble for balance and stumble so easily over the “here and now”. I pictured myself swept up in the songs of the Almighty, moving at the very whisper of His will to a dance carefully choreographed with the poor and the needy. There were no feathers or tulle, no shuffle-ball-changes or fear – just the stage and the transformation and the grace.

This morning, I’m still there, in that hungry place, longing to dance a dance of salvation and healing with those who are hurting. And this morning, I still feel all arms and legs and big feet. Oh, how thankful I am for the words of Habakkuk in moments like this: no matter what is happening around me, I can rejoice and dance for there is hope. I need only to step on that stage.

Let freedom and beauty rise in this baby chicken. Now and always.

15 January 2010

Why did I wait? Book review: Fearless by Max Lucado

have a confession to make. I've had the book Fearless by Max Lucado since November. And it's January.

Now, don't get me wrong - I am a Max Lucado fan. In fact, his books line my shelves. I've given copies of In the Eye of the Storm and When God Whispers Your Name to friends, and defend his work to those colleagues who believe his simple, conversational style isn't "challenging" enough (I find, more often than not, those critics have never cracked open a Lucado book).

So, why was I so hesitant to read Fearless, an engaging and practical look at the types of fear that can grip our lives? As a person who identified with more than one chapter title, carrying more than a little religious baggage with me, I simply didn't want to be reminded I was a failure in the "perfect love casts out all fear" department. But Lucado's book did not walk that road. With wit, wisdom, and his classic "slice of life" approach to teaching, he shares without pandering. This isn't a self-help book - rather, it's a mirror that reflects not only the challenges of fear but the scriptural promises to comfort and heal.

Whether it's read from cover to cover, or in individual chapters based upon the need of the moment, Fearless inspires. After reading it, I have another confession to make. I'll be adding this latest Lucado book to the "a great book to give to friends" list.

08 January 2010

Cake and Cole Porter

When you get real old, honey, you realize there are certain things that just don't matter anymore. You lay it all on the table. There's a saying: Only little children and old folks tell the truth. ~ Sarah Louise Delany

“Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the LORD. ~Leviticus 19:32

We were quite a threesome – Courtney and Amber and I – as we carried a large cake and bags of lap blankets up the sidewalk to Buckner Villas. Visiting nursing homes in foreign lands seems natural to me, because for some reason in my mind I can reconcile the “widows and orphans” connection so clearly there. But there’s a sadness what washes over me every time I pass one here in the US, and I get caught in the trap of feeling incapable of being able to offer anything valuable to those inside. This trip was a special request - the Christgiving wish of a dear friend, Libby York. She has a special passion for the elderly, and knows my heart well. She said the journey would be a rich one.

There was music playing as we entered the room where a small group of cotton-topped faces were being entertained by a woman strumming a guitar and singing standards. Some were sleeping, others were listening intently, and a few were singing along. Most were in wheelchairs. The cake was cut and passed around by staff members as eager to enjoy the dessert as they were to share it with their precious residents. We looked around at the faces in the room – so many stories in those eyes, so many memories etched in each wrinkle. Each face - a voice just waiting to be heard.

It was hard not to be mesmerized by Thelma. She sat in the center of the room, tapping her shiny gold-shoed feet in rhythm to the music. It was her birthday – she was 101. And she was happy about it. She was alert and well-dressed, with lovely red nails and hair in a bun. Meeting her was magical. “Do you love to dance too?” she asked in a New York accent that hadn’t faded over the years. “You know, you have to work hard to get to dance on stage.” We talked about ballroom dancing, and she recommended I wear a green gown because it would complement my blonde hair. “It will make an impression on the audience.” Her son, she said, was a dancer, and had traveled from New York to California to pursue his dream. She said she hadn’t heard from him in a while, likely because he was busy with his budding career. “How old is he?” I asked. “Twenty,” she smiled. “I’m here on vacation, you know. But there are so many old people here at this resort.” She asked where my friends and I were from, and when we said Texas, she was shocked. “You traveled all the way from Texas to Baltimore? Why?” One of the nurses gently corrected her, but Thelma rolled her eyes and laughed. “I lived in New York for years. My father bought a house in the suburbs – I could never live in the city in one of those apartments. But I’ve come to Baltimore. This resort is nice, but I don’t socialize with the older people much. I’m here on business.” Her business was dancing, and she believed it should be everyone’s business. She told me I looked like a flapper - quite lovely for 19.

I think that, if I was a dancer in that green ball gown, I would have a perfect partner in Mr. Hoover. Reclining in a custom wheelchair that was heavily padded to make his twisted body more comfortable, he strained to sing every lyric of the Cole Porter songs the guitarist played. “He’s one of our favorites,” a nurse whispered. “He can’t talk, but he can sing.” Most words were difficult to understand, but three were clear and crisp. “Delightful. Delicious. De-Lovely!” He reached for my hand as I sat next to him and Ron, a precious man who loved to laugh, and then he sang for me. There was no sound, yet I felt every note.

Someone else felt every note of the music that day. Idra, a petite woman with lovely curled hair, sat in her wheelchair in the corner. I immediately noticed her hands, clapping in perfect time to the strums of the guitar. At first she was distant, and I was told she had a reputation for being a bit cantankerous. But one question changed everything. “Did you play piano?” She beamed, and introduced herself. She talked about the music, and how she liked her “home.” I offered her a lap blanket, and she began to cry. “This is the nicest thing – that you would bring something for me. It’s really for me?” She then asked about my friends, and the tears came again. “I had a friend. We were friends from kindergarten on. But she died. She was my very best friend. And she’s gone. I miss her so much.” She said she had made some friends at the nursing home, and she really loved her nurse, but there was no one like her best friend. Then she smiled. “I’m sorry I cry. But I cry because I’m happy. You’ve made me happy.”

I watched as Amber embraced Woody, a well-dressed man celebrating his 91st birthday. She held his hand, and he stroked her long, blonde hair as they enjoyed the music, and laughed as they tried to remember the words. Amber had wished for a grandpa – and in that moment, her wish had come true. I couldn’t help but think that, for Woody, holding hands with a pretty lady was one of the best birthday gifts he had had on a long time.

Courtney snuggled next to Jo, a spitfire in a wheelchair who loved to move around. But she calmed down when she saw that smiling face and heard her name. She grabbed Courtney’s face and kissed her forehead. And the happy tears flowed again.

The faces. The voices. The stories. And the wash of sadness happens again – not because I don’t feel I have anything of value to give, but because I’ve waited so long to embrace the moment. I was told that day, “It costs nothing to reach out and hold someone.” Oh, but the riches received in that touch – in those smiles, in those tears. I pray I sing, even when the words don’t come. I pray I am never afraid to cry happy tears. I pray that I’ll always love birthdays. I pray that, if my mind slips a bit, I see myself at a resort. And I pray I always want to dance. Thank you, Thelma, Idra, Woody, Jo, Ron. And you, Mr. Hoover, are absolutely “de-Lovely.”