Compassion is as compassion does.

Back in 2005 the hub loaded his table saw, planer and a bunch of other heavy woodworking equipment into a small u-haul.  We were headed to Vero Beach, Florida with a group from the church we attended to help repair a church that had been damaged by a hurricane.  Since the hub had major carpentry skills – and major equipment – he was in charge of that aspect of the trip.

I was in charge of activities for the church’s children.

While we were there we hosted nightly cookouts at a park near the Vero Beach church and invited its members to come, relax, eat and share their hurricane stories.

Because I thought sharing their stories might help.

Turns out it did.  Turns out listening to their stories, hearing what they had been through was the best, most restorative thing we did all week.

It helps to know someone cares.

It was hallowed ground in a Lansing courtroom when Larry Nassar faced his victims.  God bless Judge Aquilina for patiently giving each one of them the opportunity to tell their stories.  God bless her for giving us the opportunity to listen compassionately.

It helps to be heard.

The White House recently invited community members and victims from Parkland, Florida as well as victims from the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings to a listening session.

God bless our President for giving them a chance to speak and for giving us a chance to hear their hearts.

There are those who hate our President no matter what, who would refuse to give him a nod of credit for an act of compassion, who would refuse him the opportunity to speak and the opportunity to be heard with compassionate ears.

In their minds he is morally “less than” they and therefore he isn’t worthy of their compassion.  They just want to see him destroyed.

Actions speak louder than words.

If we want our country to heal, and it’s looking like the collective “we” don’t, we’ll have to put down our self-righteous hate and pick up an olive branch.  Or at least a hearing aid.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.



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!





Killing It

I was there the day my dad shut the door of his vacated apartment for the last time. He had moved from one floor of the Riverside Presbyterian Apartments, Jacksonville Florida, to another.  Before he turned in his key, he wanted to do just a few final chores.

I helped him. He was meticulously clean and tidy so scrubbing out his tub would be a piece of cake. Except, back then, for me, nothing  was a piece of cake. So even though the tub wasn’t dirty,  I scrubbed it as though it was.

As I worked an old toothbrush into every clean crevice, my dad walked past and casually laid down a sentence that felt like a punch in the gut. A casual sentence that made my life a whole lot easier. Eventually.

“Don’t get all alcoholic about it.”

What?  My thoughts reeled, I’m not all alcoholic.

I backed off on my scrubbing and gave the tub a rinse.

It took a few years, but those 6 expertly placed wounding words cured me of my perfectionism.

Before those words I took pride in perfection.

But my brilliant dad paired my perfectionism with his disease.

Perfectionism suddenly became imperfection.

And I certainly did not want to be lumped with imperfection.

Like I said, it took some years.

I still have the occasional relapse, and when I do, I see my young self bent over that bathtub scrubbing alcoholically and I hear those wounding, healing words.

“Don’t get all alcoholic about it.”

Thanks, dad, for killing it.


For more about my dad and his disease: Concerning Hope




Negative Nellie

I had an appointment to see a specialist on Tuesday.  It was originally scheduled for September 3rd, but his office called Monday afternoon and said they had a cancellation and would I like to come tomorrow instead?

So I drove across town Tuesday morning and limped through a large medical building to get the records they wanted me to bring.  I thought they’d be grateful that I took their cancellation and made the effort.

But when I checked in Tuesday afternoon, I was greeted by Negative Nellie.  Her name was actually Amanda, but she was definitely a Nellie.  She was young and pretty and ugly.  And her professional personality was off to a snarly start.

I handed her my license and my insurance card.  She looked at it for a minute and then screwed up her face.

“We don’t take this insurance,”  she firmly asserted in a sort of accusing, punishing voice.

“Look at the back of the card,” I suggested,  “I’m pretty sure you do.”

She flipped it over and then handed it to the woman next to her.  That woman looked it up in a binder and said, “Yes, as long as [insurance name 1] and [insurance name 2] are both on the card, we take it.”

[Insurance name 1] is on the front of the card and [insurance name 2] is on the back of the card, so Nellie said, “It doesn’t say [insurance name 2] on the front.”

The nice lady next to her said, “I don’t think it matters as long as both names are on the card.”

I could see in Nellie’s set face that she wasn’t about to concede.

So I spoke up.  I shouldn’t have, but I did.  “I’ve been through this confusion before,” I said with a smile, trying to blame the confusing card and not her, “and I can assure you that the second name does not have to be on the front.  If it makes you feel better, I gave my insurance information over the phone when I initially made the appointment and it was checked then.”

Uh oh.  Now she was determined to prove me wrong.

The nice lady suggested she ask the insurance specialist in the back if she needed additional confirmation.

So off she huffed.

Yep, they take it.

And Nellie was not happy.  She was rude a few minutes later when she handed back my license and card.  She was rude when I handed in my questionnaire.  And she was rude when I said goodbye.

She looked about 21.  Unless she switches professions (I vote for that), her work life is going to be miserable – for her and for countless patients.  How much nicer and more gratifying her days would be if instead she were to cheerfully say things like, “I haven’t seen this type of insurance before (It’s a pretty common one), let me double check with our insurance expert for you.”

For you, not against you, is the operative attitude.

I thought of Nellie this morning when I read John 5.

A man who had been an invalid for 38 years was lying next to a healing pool.

Jesus approached him and asked, “Do you want to get well?”

(Apparently not everyone does.  In fact, I’ve known people like that, you probably have, too.  People who counter every helpful suggestion with an excuse or reason why what you are suggesting is impossible;  people who seem to enjoy wallowing in misery.)

The man did want to get well, but no one would help him into the water when the pool was stirred, and, since he was so slow others would push ahead of him.

Jesus bypassed the pool altogether and said,  “Pick up your mat and walk.”

So he did.

And it was the Sabbath.

So his fellow Jews, rather than being THRILLED that this cripple of 38 years could suddenly walk, jumped right in and said the equivalent of “Awwww, you’re in trouble.”

No rejoicing over the sudden wellness of a fellow human being.  Just, “It’s the Sabbath, the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

What makes punishing people focus in on the infraction and completely ignore the miracle?

‘We don’t take your insurance.”

What makes Negative Nellies so punishing?  What makes them see everyone who comes their way as an adversary to be squashed?  A cheater to be caught? And WHY ON EARTH would they enter a  healing, helping profession?

Jesus, life, Light

God is Always Good & We are Always Loved


I read the second half of John 4 the other day and thought of my sister as I watched Jesus move from spiritual healing to physical healing:  After He gave eternal life to the woman at the well, He spent a couple of days in Samaria and then continued on to Galilee.

A royal official in Galilee, whose son was near death, begged Jesus to come and heal him.

Jesus replied, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.”

In Sunday school, Jesus’s statement here (and similar statements elsewhere) were always taught with annoyance in Jesus’s voice.  But I don’t think He was annoyed.  After all, He came to heal and set free and to show us what the Father is like.

I don’t think He was speaking with exasperation, I think He was telling the official why He was about to do what He was about to do:  “Your family won’t believe unless they experience a miracle, so I’m going to show them a miracle.”

And then Jesus assured the official, “You may go. Your son will live.”

And He was right.  The man took Jesus at His word and departed.  And when he learned that his son was alive and realized that his condition improved at the exact time Jesus said, “Your son will live,” he and all his household believed.

Jesus knows who will be impressed by a miracle and who won’t.  And when He knows a miracle will yield belief, I can’t imagine that He wouldn’t be very happy to perform it.

But He also knows that miracles don’t always yield belief.

Remember what Abraham said to the rich man in Luke 16?  “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Miracles are apparently wasted on some people. And I doubt Jesus, being perfect in every way, is wasteful.

Maybe that’s why some people are miraculously healed and others are not.

My sister, Laura, and I had a peaceful visit yesterday.  We watched her favorite movie, ate soup, talked and then she napped while I prepared their dinner.  It was just the two of us.  Her husband went in to work for a few hours.

I asked her how she is doing spiritually, emotionally, mentally.  She said, once again, that she is not afraid to die.  She said her family is handling it well and her son is beginning to come to terms with it.  She said she has accepted death – that acceptance is a grace that God gives at the end.  I was grateful to hear that.

She said that even though the end came on quickly – she was just enjoying Mackinac Island a month ago – she can’t complain.  She has had a lot of fun and done a lot of traveling in the six years since her battle began.  The doctor’s didn’t expect her to live nearly this long.

She has always been a doer, so life on the sofa is no life for her.  She is ready to go.

My sister is near death.  And it might very well be her time, or it might be time for a miracle, not for the sake of her belief, because she already believes, but perhaps for some in our family.

So my prayers are conflicted.  She has peace, acceptance and she is ready.  But if she could be healthy enough to get off her sofa and enjoy life, she certainly would choose life.

I believe that Jesus can certainly bring her back to health.  And it doesn’t hurt to ask.

So every night I ask Him to give her a restful, healing night’s sleep.  And every morning I ask Him to give her a peaceful, comfortable, even joyful day.  And if a miracle will yield belief in those who do not yet believe, then yes, please, Jesus, reach down from heaven and touch her with Your loving hand.  Allow her husband to enjoy some wonderful retirement years with his wife.  Because You came to seek, to save, to heal.  Amen.

God is always good and we are always loved.