Light, restoration, the friends

Broken Offering

It’s Sanctity of Life Sunday and I was asked to preach the sermon at my church.  So there at the podium I stood with a large, painful sty forming in my left eye and with a mind so exhausted from grief that it couldn’t hold a thought.

This is what I said:

Last month, down in fellowship hall, Tim asked me a few questions about crisis pregnancies. He was writing a paper for seminary.  He wanted to know who puts the greatest pressure on a woman to abort.

“It’s not always a who,” I said, “sometimes it’s a what, and that person or thing is different for every woman.”

For the recent high school graduate sitting across from me in the counseling room it was her reputation in the eyes of her younger siblings.  She had always been a “good girl” and they had always looked up to her.  She wept at the thought of letting them down.

For the young waitress, who had recently moved to Michigan from Oregon, it was her abusive live-in boyfriend.

For a distraught sixteen year old it was her harsh grandma who said “you can only have the baby it if it is a boy.” An ultrasound revealed she wasn’t.

For the married woman carrying an anencephalic baby it was a team of doctors talking at her around a conference table.  They convinced her that aborting her 7 month fetus would be easier than giving birth and watching him die. It wasn’t. “Why couldn’t he have died in my arms?” she cried in group. Deciding how and when someone will die is a decision way too heavy for us humans.

For a co-worker, back in my social work days, the pressure was a what.  She was booked to go on a party cruise when she found out she was pregnant.  The cruise was already paid for and she wanted to get her money’s worth – and that meant drinking. Fairly heavily.  She was also newly engaged and she wanted to look slim and trim and not-pregnant in her wedding gown.  She thought she’d just get rid of this baby, conceived at an inconvenient time, and have another, later.

Tim also wanted to know what pastors can do to help women in these crisis situations.  What can a pastor do? What can a church do? What can you do?

In the case of the good girl, you can help her re-frame what it means to set a good example.  Instead of modeling perfect behavior, she can model perfect love.  You can help her show her younger siblings what it means to take responsibility for a mistake.  To lay down one’s reputation, one’s immediate plans, one’s life for the good of another. Jesus said greater love has no one than this.

The woman with the abusive boyfriend needs a dose of logic and some practical help.  Logic because her boyfriend threatened to take the baby if she didn’t abort, and keep him from her.  The abused are often so beaten down by their abusers that they believe their ridiculous threats.  “Joni,” I asked, “why would he take the baby when he doesn’t even want the baby?” With that question her sobbing ceased.  Helping her meant teaching her to take abusive thoughts captive to God – and it meant putting her up in a hotel for a couple of nights until she could arrange to get back to her family in Oregon.

I didn’t know how to help the cruise-bound co-worker back then, back before I became involved with the crisis pregnancy ministry. I knew that she had grown up in a Christian home and that she already knew that abortion would harm her spiritually, so I didn’t say anything.

And I didn’t say anything several months later when she plopped down in a chair in my office and asked, “Now what am I supposed to do?”  Three of us in the foster care agency had gotten pregnant since her abortion – two of us were about to go on permanent maternity leave and one, the first of us to deliver, had just visited the agency that day to show off her newly born daughter.

I began volunteering at a pregnancy help center two years later mainly to educate myself so I would know what to say next time.

I became acquainted with the many ways abortion can do harm – spiritually, physically, emotionally and psychologically. I learned things that may or may not have made a difference in that co-worker’s decision. That crafty serpent was promising her that abortion would be no big deal and oh how she wanted to believe him.

I’ve led several groups of women – and even a couple of groups of men – through a post-abortion Bible study, and I’ve witnessed how healing takes place.

So now, if a post-abortive co-worker were to plop down in my office and ask, “Now what am I supposed to do?,”

I would listen to her story with nonjudgmental ears.

I would help her name all the players in her decision to abort and assign an appropriate portion of the blame to each.

I would gently help her put a slice – no matter how big or small – on her own plate.

And if, after all the excuses and justifications, she could recognize that none of them were worth the price of a life – her child’s life – healing would begin.

And if she could name her child, acknowledge his or her existence, claim him or her as her own, her child would finally have a mother.

I’d help her ask forgiveness – of her child, of God, of herself.  Forgiving one’s self is always the hardest.

A young girl was walking through the woods on a glorious early spring day.  Suddenly a snake appeared in her path…

Forgiving ourselves means recognizing that we’ve been duped by the enemy of our souls; betrayed by the faux friend who offered us a way out and then slithered away hissing “Sucker.”

Men suffer in the aftermath of abortion, too.  Sometimes it’s the father who failed to protect, or who was lied to or who wasn’t given any say in the matter.  Sometimes it’s the man who drove his friend to the clinic, thinking he was doing the helpful thing, only to be smacked in the face by the full realization of what it was he helped her to do.

The pressure to abort almost always involves some sort of fear.  But as long as we have a powerful God to help us, the right solution to a fearful situation is never the taking of an innocent life. Perfect love drives out fear.

Mother Teresa said, “There is no love in abortion.” She was right.  I’ve looked at abortion from every angle and I’ve yet to find any love.

The solution to any crisis pregnancy is Love.

When a woman comes into your pastoral office or your living room or your cubicle contemplating abortion, help her look for the love in it, and when she can’t find any, help her find another solution.  Inspire her towards love.

And when a woman plops down in your office and says, “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” lead her back to love.  Because that’s what God does.

All life is sacred.  The sanctity of life doesn’t only apply to humans.  God is the Good Shepherd of all of His creation.  Jesus told us that not a sparrow falls to the ground outside our Father’s care.

I’ve encountered Christians recently who scoff at praying for a pet. They seem to think having dominion over animals means it’s okay to treat them harshly or callously.  But that’s not how God exercises His dominion over us.   He came into our doghouse and camped out with us for thirty-three years.

As I cared for my dying little beagle these past 3 months, I saw up-close what a Good Shepherd He is.  As I carried her home from a walk too long, holding her little heart to mine, as I cooked for her and prayed for her, anointed her soft little head with oil and measured out medications,  as I showered her with a depth of love I hadn’t previously known, I realized that I am not kinder or more loving or more compassionate than God. As deep as my love for the Be, His was deeper.

Upholding the sanctity of life is not about judgment, upholding the sanctity of life is about Love.

After the Be died on Wednesday I had nothing for today.  I knew I should sit down and gather my thoughts but my mind was numb.  I just needed to grieve.

I tried again on Thursday but to absolutely no avail.  I just needed to be quiet all day.

All of Friday was spent preparing for a Saturday morning deadline.

And then, after an early morning meeting yesterday, the words finally came.  I knew they would be delivered in weakness today, but at least I had them to deliver.

And I think perhaps that was God’s exquisite desire all along – that today’s message be written and delivered from a place of deep grief.


Jesus, life


After the final presidential debate, someone shared a Huffington Post article on Facebook. It was written by a gynecologist, the title was something along the lines of “Abortions Are Never Performed in the Ninth Month.”

I scanned the sanitized, sugar-coated, textbook description of abortion written, no doubt, in an effort to make those who support barbaric partial-birth abortion feel better about supporting it. Written, I’m guessing, by someone who has never performed one.  The author, sadly, could not resist ridiculing Donald Trump in the process, lowering the professional credibility of the article considerably.

The author succeeded, however, in making the Facebook sharer feel better about supporting a candidate who supports a cruel procedure. Her accompanying comment said just that.

I have helped women, and even some men, pick up the pieces in the aftermath of abortion. I did so for twelve years.  And though I am not a gynecologist, I’m sure I know as much about abortion as any gynecologist who sits safely removed from the unpleasantness of it all.

I’ve listened to stories of regret, guilt, deception and coercion. Stories of women who were forced into it by their moms, brothers, boyfriends. Women who eagerly listened to the deceiver before the procedure and then heard him hiss, “Sucker!” as he slithered away after the procedure.

But not until he planted the tormenting question: “What if you can’t have children now?”

I listened to men cry because their child was aborted without their consent, sometimes without their knowledge until years later. Men who had no say in the matter, who weren’t given the opportunity to step up to the plate. I listened to a married man whose child was destroyed by its mother. By his wife. His now ex-wife because he just couldn’t reconcile it.

Any parent of an aborted child – male or female – who wanted to volunteer at the pregnancy center while I was director, was required to participate in a post-abortion recovery group prior to counseling anyone.  Just to make sure any underlying pain and regret wouldn’t make a surprise appearance in the counseling room, so it wouldn’t interfere with their client-centered counsel.

I’ll never forget the 9th-month-abortion experience one of those volunteers shared.

Testing revealed that her soon-to-be-delivered son was anencephalic.

While she was still reeling from the news, she found herself in a conference room with 21 doctors all telling her she needed to abort.  Giving birth would be too traumatic they said. It would be too hard on her to watch her son die in her arms they said. If the baby did live beyond a few hours, his handicaps would be too hard for her to abide they said.

They decided abortion would be easiest on her.

It would certainly be easier on them.

So there she lay alone in a room, on a cold table, hooked up to a saline solution. She lay there for hours while her son thrashed violently inside her. His delicate skin and his lungs burning.

Finally, mercifully, he died. And she was never the same.

She wouldn’t hurt a fly.

I hate flies. Hate them. I hate that they walk in dog poop outside and then come inside and walk on my counters. If I can shoo them out of my house, I will. But if I can’t, I have no problem whacking them.

There was a fly on the sliding screen door in my family room. I closed the heavy inner window-paned door, trapping it between the two. Then I went outside to open the screen door and set the fly free.  But once I got out there I realized the screen door was locked. Opening the heavy door to unlock the screen might release the fly into my house. So I left it trapped.

The fly buzzed frantically in its confinement.

Just hurry up and die, I thought, feeling kind of sick.

I thought of the volunteer on that table.

There I was sick over a frantic fly – a germy, gross fly.

She had to lay there alone while her precious wanted baby thrashed in pain.

No doubt she hoped he would just hurry up and die, too.

“How was laying on a table feeling him thrash in pain for hours easier than giving birth to him and cradling him gently in my arms while he died?,” she sobbed. And sobbed.


“Why didn’t they tell me I would feel him dying?”

“Why didn’t they tell me I’d be alone…”

The problem with saline abortions was that some children survived them. They were born with chemical burns to their skin, esophagus, lungs. And once born, of course, they could not legally be killed.

So saline abortions were replaced with partial-birth abortion.

Because scissors in the base of a delivered skull ensure a dead baby.

A delivered skull.

We have a wet foot/dry foot policy for Cuban immigrants.

The least we can do is have a wet head/dry head policy for babies.

If your head makes it safely through the birth canal, you get expedited citizenship and all the protections that go with it.

I sigh at the “life and health of the mother” rhetoric.

In a true medical emergency, doctors save all who can be saved.

And they lose the ones they can’t.

Skull-piercing scissors are not tools intended to save life.

Mothers who want their babies cry, “Save him!




Food, life

The Making of Huevos Rancheros


As I was whipping up a simple guacamole about an hour ago – red onion, avocado, lime juice, cilantro, salt, pepper and the slightest wisp of cumin – I started thinking about people who have nerve. Nerve has been off and on my mind since it arrived in my inbox this morning. From WordPress. To prompt me.

I kept thinking about nerve as I followed the making of the guac with the making of a 3:00-in-the-afternoon huevos rancheros. My first meal of the day. And you are correct if you are guessing that I am not yet dressed.


Ordinarily I would grate the cheese directly onto some tortilla chips and then melt the cheese/toast the chips in the oven, but I’m lazy today so I grated it directly into the egg pan. So as not to dirty a cookie sheet. I agree, I need to stop being lazy and clean my stove.

Anyway, I was thinking about a young woman I met a few weeks ago.


I was hoping the cheddar would become crisp – like grated Parmesan in the fry pan does – but it didn’t. So I just globbed it on.

The young woman, upon learning that I am an abstinence speaker, asked how long I have been speaking on the subject. I told her I started my ministry 13 years ago, and that I was speaking on the subject long before that as the director of a crisis pregnancy center.

I’m not sure if any of my answer registered, because she then asked, “Have you ever heard of Pam Stenzel?”

I smiled and nodded yes.


Make sure you keep the eggs over easy so the velvety, buttery yolks run onto the chips below.

Her  question reminded me of all the times during the twelve years I was directing the pregnancy help center, appearing in promotional videos for Right to Life and writing letters to the editor on the subject of abortion, that people, upon discovering the work I was doing, would ask, “Have you ever heard of Roe v. Wade?”


Put a little jarred salsa on there. Organic.

The young woman proceeded to tell me all about abstinence; all the things she tells the high school cheerleaders she coaches.

I smiled and nodded and, when I could quickly squeeze a word in, said, “They are fortunate to have you.”


Now pile on the guac you just made and sprinkle a little extra cilantro on top. Because you can never have too much cilantro. Just smile and nod you cilantro haters.

Why do people do that?

Is it just plain old nerve?

Or do they think they are always the smartest, most well-informed person in the room? Even when there are people in the room who have been devoting their lives to whatever-the-subject since they were in diapers?

Or do I just look like I’m a moron?


See what I mean about the yokes running? Ya’ gotta’ have that. The hub doesn’t like runny yokes. His loss.

Please God, don’t let me ever be so eager to show off what little I know (I do hope I’ve aged beyond that) that I cause someone I meet to nod and smile.



Not Today

Diego Sideburns, Creative Commons

Diego Sideburns, Creative Commons

I was in my office on the top floor of the converted Victorian house.  I always arrived an hour and a half before the center opened so I could get some uninterrupted work done.  That morning I was engrossed in making plans for our upcoming annual banquet when the client services director arrived.  She came in through the back door and called up the stairs, “Have you been listening to the radio?”

“No, why?”

“A plane just flew into the World Trade Center!”

I raced down the steep staircase and flipped on the tv in one of the counseling rooms.

As we watched the tower collapse, a second plane flew into the second tower.  Suddenly we were aware that the first had been no accident.  We stood there stunned and sick.  The world had gone mad and life would never be the same.

Soon the volunteers started to arrive, and then the clients.  Around noon a young couple came in for a pregnancy test.  They were married but they were not ready, they could not have a baby.  They were in the United States on student visas and they had little money.

Our newest volunteer asked if she could talk with them.  She and her husband had been in a similar situation – young, in college, financially unstable – when she became pregnant with their first child.  She wanted to encourage them that things could work out.  I allowed it.

The client services director and the other volunteers were upset with me.  What if she blows it?  A life hung in the balance.  The new volunteer was a bit rough around the edges and awkward, but she had something to share so I trusted God’s sovereign pairing and went upstairs to my office.  And then I got on my knees and prayed – for the couple, for their baby, for the volunteer counselor, for the world that had gone mad.  And then God spoke.  He said, “Enough.”

“There will be no more killing.  Not today.”

And I knew He meant it.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.  Psalm 126:5

I went back downstairs and told the group fretting outside the counseling room that the baby was going to be okay.

One year and one month later, the couple and their darling baby boy were the guests of honor at that year’s annual banquet.

And I made the mistake of serving pork.

This post was inspired by the Christmas ad in this post, and by the comment I left there.

Happy Monday.

Light, love

Passionate About Life

1384201_10201607437404552_810844066_nToday’s daily prompt wants to know which causes evoke our passions.  This one is easy, I am passionate about life.  Why?  Because it is the way of love.

The way of love is sacrificial.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Love is putting the best interests of another ahead of your own.  Love is laying down your desires for the life of your baby.

There is no love in abortion.

Think about all the reasons women choose abortion and for each reason ask yourself, where is the love?  Don’t include “the life of the mother”.  In a true medical emergency life and death decisions are made by doctors who have taken an oath to save whoever they can.  Think of all the elective reasons.  I was the director of a pregnancy help center for ten years.  I lead groups of women, and even some men, through post-abortion healing.  I have heard their stories, walked through their pain and I have found no love in abortion.  Selfish love for oneself, maybe, but no selfless love for another.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to heap guilt on those who have had abortions.  I have much compassion for the walking wounded.  I know that many of them were deceived into thinking it was the right path and then, once they were too far down it to turn back, heard the hater-of-women hiss, “Sucker.”

There is a gut-wrenching, God-level love in adoption.

Adoption seems so much harder but in the end it is so much healthier.  One of the groups I lead included a woman who had been pregnant three times.  The first two pregnancies ended in abortion.  The last one ended in the birth of twins.  Because she was still in college and had no means to support them, she made an adoption plan.  Years later, she came to our group with a broken heart.  Not over the babies she had placed for adoption – she was proud of herself for that – but for the ones that she gave no chance at all.

Our laws have made abortion legal, but our hearts know better.  Abortion is no longer a hot political issue, but there are still efforts to push the envelope of acceptance.  I recently saw a cute young actress on a late night talk show describing very nonchalantly that the character she plays in a soon-to-be-released movie had an abortion.  And it was a light, breezy, happy thing.

In real life it is a heavy, soul-crushing thing.

And that is why I am passionately pro-life.