Monday, January 02, 2006

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

We are here to love. And the enemy of love is self-consciousness.
--Tom Jackson, as quoted in Living the Questions: Making Sense of the Mess and Mystery of Life by Carolyn Arends

January is here. Goodness, how I hate this month. I know that this month, on the twenty-second, we will mark yet another anniversary of that travesty of humanity, decency, liberty and justice -- the reprehensible Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court abomination of 1973. This whole month hangs heavily upon me -- a burden of pain that surfaces more easily at this time of year than any other. The mass murder of the unborn is never far from my heart, but, in January, it is like a millstone weighing me down. Because, this month, I have to do something about it that takes me far outside my comfort zone. Because, this is the month to stand up in public against the culture tide and proclaim loudly that I will speak against this horror -- I will speak up for the little ones robbed of their voices.

I love and rejoice to support crisis pregnancy centers throughout the year. I am blessed to be a small part of child-and-youth-centered ministries like Compassion International and Mercy Ministries. Toy drives, supporting the Seattle Union Gospel Mission, volunteering at my church -- these are my preferred ways of loving children. I enjoy working in the shadows. I hate to stand up in public. But, every year I dutifully pack warm clothes and my Bug into the Cavalier and journey westward to Olympia to stand on the steps of the capitol (the place where the legislators of one of the most pro-abortion states in the Union legalized abortion in 1970 -- beating the SCOTUS to the punch and declaring in no uncertain terms: "Inconvenient babies must die.") and join with fellow travelers in saying, "Not in my name." Every year, I am just miserable about it. But I do it, because not to do it would be inexcusable.

This is the same dilemma I face when I get that letter every year from Compassion International. My stomach ties up in knots when I see the annual request that I host a "Compassion Sunday" at my church. All this is is a short presentation before the congregation sharing about my experience as a child sponsor, and then setting up a table after service to give people the opportunity to ask questions about my experiences and, hopefully, feel led to sponsor a child themselves. Every year, I pray: Please Lord, let another sponsor at our church volunteer. Every year, the reply is the same: Nope. You're up, baby. So, I do it. I stand up in front of everyone with my knees knocking and my voice quavering, and I speak from the heart, trusting in the Spirit to lead me. And every year I get a positive response, and some beautiful children living in poverty around the world are given a safe haven in a ministry partner of Compassion International because the Lord spoke to hearts through me. That's humbling and unnerving and a little too close to His holiness for comfort. But it is what I do, because not to do it would be inexcusable.

Last year, when the world clamored to starve and dehydrate Terri Schiavo to death because she was severely handicapped and her husband remembered five years after her incapacitation that she had really wanted to die all along, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) sent out a call to action for its supporters to write to their congressional representatives and ask that "Terri's Bill" be passed so that her case could be subjected to federal review. Oh goodness, I did not want to write anything to Maria Cantwell or (even worse) Patty Murray, because I would prefer if their lives and the lives of their staffers never crossed mine. Mostly, I want to live under the radar of any government official -- I most certainly did not relish subjecting my e-mail address to their list of constituents. Then, after I had decided that this was not for me, I had a very disturbing vision of my standing before the Judgement Seat and trying to explain to the Holy One why I did not send out a simple e-mail when a life was on the line. So I did it. And I got the automatically-generated reply back from those two senators. And the bill was passed, but Terri was put to death anyway. At least I did what I really thought the Lord wanted me to. Not to have done so would have been inexcusable.

Once, I really crossed the line of my comfort zone. I went to a prayer vigil outside a local abortion mill that was organized by a local Catholic pro-life group. The morning started with Mass at the local parish, which is uncomfortable enough for a Prostestant heretic like me, and then proceeded caravan-style to the death house. Those were a few of the most uncomfortable hours of my life. First of all, there was the Catholic aspect. I love Catholics -- I do not think, like so many Prostestants unfortunately seem to, that Catholicism is a cult. I know that they love the Lord, but there are a lot of auxiliary doctrines and rites that I just do not get (e.g. the Pope, the holy water, the saints, the obsession with Mary). It was very hard to be the only non-Catholic at the vigil. Everyone was praying the rosary, and the Hail Marys kind of freaked me out. Then, of course, there was the public aspect. I hated, hated, hated standing on a street corner in one of the top three pro-abortion states and hearing obscenities yelled out from passing cars. The cheers and honks and thumbs-up we got were a heartening relief, though. All in all, I wouldn't want to do it again, unless I could find some fellow non-Catholics to go with me. But, then, I think, what if even just one heart were changed -- what if just one life were saved? Then, that makes all of my discomfort and self-consciousness irrelevant and petty. So, I'll probably have to do it again. Not to do so would be inexcusable.

I have felt led by the Lord for a couple of years to do two things that I have so far left undone. The first is to start a Saturday morning coffee and doughnut table in a park and talk with everyone who comes by for a cup of joe and a sugary pastry. It is just a call to do that putting yourself out there in love that Jesus modeled consistently. The other is to start some kind of housecleaning care for new mothers, especially single mothers. I know from experience that the last thing new mothers have the energy to do is clean house and do laundry and cook. I'd love to start some kind of network with like-minded people to give them a helping hand. Of course, starting anything like these takes a whole lot of shedding of self. For the first, I would have to commit to giving my Saturday mornings in service on a very consistent basis, since love cannot be a fly-by-night operation. For the second, I would have to assert myself with local hospitals or support groups to find out which new moms need help. Here's a question: Does anyone have any suggestions for getting started? There has been a lot of prayer already, and still I hesitate. I'm definitely going to wait until we move, though, because whatever may come, I want to have permanence and reliability. I know that eventually I will have to do them both. Not to do either would be inexcusable.

So, I'll be in Olympia later this month. I have yet to find the date of the March for Life posted, but I will be vigilant until it is -- most likely on Friday the 20th, or thereabouts. Here's my recounting of the March last year. I do not think that I added in the gritted-teeth and knotted intestines aspect to my post, because it all seems so silly to have been tense, once the travail is over. But here I am again, all grouchy and uptight and self-conscious once more. The Lord will kick me in the pants and get me there and get me through it, because He is good and He has not given up on me yet -- nor will He ever! So, I will lean into Him, trusting not in my own understanding but in His love and grace -- not to do so would be inexcusable.

One last thought from the always apropos Carolyn Arends:
I need a touch of love. I need a thrust of grace. A push, a shove, a slap in the face. I have gazed too long at the person in the mirror. As I turn away, I'm finding things are clearer. I will set my sights on Someone so much higher -- not on what I want, but on what I require to travel to the place where at last I can embrace all the things that really matter. I don't want to be here again, bowed at the altar of ego. I've sacrificed most everything, here at the altar of ego.
-- From "The Altar of Ego" by Carolyn Arends (I Can Hear You, 1995)


CrazyJo said...

Justine, I want to be like you when I grow up. :)
Just reading this I'm reminded of how many, many times I don't do something just because it's outside my comfort level. I have some deep beliefs, but so often I remain silent, and I rarely actually DO anything about them. Hopefully God will help me in that area. I know He's been working on getting me out of my comfort zones in other areas.
And from personal experience I think the ministry to new mothers is an awesome idea! I was so stressed and tired and overwhelmed when the EBD was a newborn. Having someone stop by to help out could have made a world of difference some days. I'd like to do something like that myself someday. I'm not sure what would be the best way to go about setting one up. Maybe a good start would be to do a google search on similar programs that you could contact for advice.

Justine said...

Oh goodness -- it's all such a struggle. Sometimes I get so frustrated with myself and say, "Shouldn't I be beyond this all by now?" There is so much grace, though. Even when I fail -- too often -- it is amazing how the opportunities keep coming. He has a lot of faith in me.

I sort of started to get the idea for the new moms by reading the book 52 Simple Things You Can Do to Be Pro-Life. They suggested helping out single moms who chose to let their children live when in a difficult, unexpected pregnancy by babysitting, housecleaning, supplying baby goodies, etc. Lots of crisis pregnancy centers help out with the baby supplies, but not many provide maid services. :-)

Cleaning happens to be something I'm pretty good at, so the Lord really made that idea stand out in my mind. All new moms need a big break, though. It would be nice to give every new mom a rest from real life and some weeks of just gazing into baby eyes and kissing baby cheeks, without worrying about clean bathrooms or the piles of laundry. Some moms can afford doulas who help; most moms cannot.

Thinking about what you said, I bet that crisis pregnancy centers would be a good place to start. Plus, I'll need to get myself bonded and insured, so that I can eases the moms' minds that I'm not coming in to steal from them or hurt them. Maybe in SD, our church will have something already set up -- or will be amenable to helping me start one.

Hey, I hope your husband is doing well. I'll keep popping over to Crazy Jo's and check for updates.

Peace to you, and thanks for the encouragement!

Arielle said...

I constantly marvel at the compassion and willingness to serve that I see from you, Justine. It leaves me humbled. I didn't even feel equal to commenting on this post to begin with! I have a lot of outspoken beliefs, but I've yet to back them up with time and service.

Justine said...

I hope that this post did not come off in any way like boasting -- for the Lord reads my obstinate heart and knows how reluctant I really am to serve Him.

Please, please do not look at these meager offerings mentioned as anything other than an attempt to rally myself back to a point of cheerful service. I cannot believe how grouchy I am about the March for Life (or assisting in Sunday School or the Compassion Int'l letter that's coming soon). I just have to remember that none of this is about me.

This post was simply meant to be a way for me to exorcise this demon of self-consciousness. I need to remind myself constantly about how I've stepped out in faith in the past, and the world didn't crash down around me. And yet, I'm so aware how even though I continually force myself to do these things, I am still not beyond myself. It is so frustrating how I still over-think and over-analyze everything, even the no-brainers of acting out in love.

And, I think that you two ladies live out your love for the Most High everyday. And, what is more, you do not put on a face of righteous hypocrisy on your public forums. Your honesty is in and of itself an act of service. One of the best things that I think Christians can do is to be as honest a possible about our struggles and failings and stubbornness and worries. Then, if there is anything good that people see in us, we can easily point to the Lord and say, "There is only One who is good -- our Father in Heaven." I see those qualities everyday in what you write, and that is why you are powerful women of faith. You serve Him more than you can even comprehend.