The cost of being an advocate.

A couple of months ago, I wrote this post for the #StandForLife Movement blog. Yesterday on my birthday, as I sat in reflection on what being twenty-five was like, I re-read this post & made a decision all over again that the heart of this post would be the mark of my life, no matter the cost.

Something has shifted in me in this season — a little more fight in my heart, a little more life in my bones. (More on that to come!) What I know is that God made Noland & me to be watchmen on the walls; advocates of people, even if there’s nothing in it for us. So I’m sharing this post again, as a declaration of the year(s) to come, that I will not let the things I walked through at twenty-five be lost in all the rest of my years. I intend to take back everything the enemy stole this year in the years to come — it will not be wasted. And it starts here: obedience, no matter the cost.

Six months ago, my husband and I began a journey that would change our perspective forever on what it looks like to be advocates of life.

Before I share my story that will undoubtedly be laced with my own opinions and convictions, let me be clear on the truth that cannot and will not be moved: the only reason I can stand for anything at all is because of what Jesus did on the cross. I am no more holy or righteous than the woman on the streets who chooses the same Jesus as me. And after the things I have seen in the last several months of my life, I would without a doubt call her the braver of the two of us.

Yet I’ve been given the opportunity to speak as I happen to be an upper-middle-class pastor’s wife who happens to have a bit of a blog/social media following — and I pray I speak on behalf of her far more than I speak on behalf of me and my story.

The bottom line is that we are to be banner carriers of hope. The kind of hope that rises even out of the grave. The kind of hope we have in Jesus, who is still the answer to every broken thing. And we are still God’s chosen vessels to carry that banner of hope to a dark and broken world. Make no mistake. We are not heroes. We are vessels… and we are broken.

Six months ago we were coming up on two years of infertility and had decided to put our dreams of starting a family on hold. We were getting ready to plant a church, and in the middle of so much transition we decided that neither IVF treatment or the long process of an adoption felt practical for this season of our life. Just as we were ready to shelf our dreams of a family for a while, God laid an invitation on the table that we knew could only be Him.

To make a long story short, we entered into the process of a private adoption with a woman with whom we had a personal relationship. She was a recovering addict, and I had walked closely with her through her previous year in a women’s recovery home where I was volunteering. After a year and a half of being clean and falling in love with Jesus, she relapsed and got pregnant — and she asked if we would adopt her baby.

We knew it had the potential to get messy, but we also knew God was asking us to stand in the gap and champion this little life. So we began to walk through this woman’s pregnancy with her, praying every day for our boy, who we named Judah Rise.

At around 24 weeks pregnant, Judah’s birth mom relapsed. I wish I had time to tell the entire story — the ways we saw God perform miracles to preserve his life even as she was losing a physical battle to her addiction. We wound up pulling her out of a drug house and sleeping at the foot of her bed for several days while she detoxed… sweating, crying, screaming and writhing in pain. We found ourselves in the trenches in ways we never imagined we would be, crying out to God through all hours of the night.

She was able to reach a healthy, stable place and had a few great weeks. Then on Mother’s Day, it happened all over again. We went back and forth with her for over a week, trying to get her to come back to a safe place to get clean again. When she finally did, it was too late.

She had been staying with a drug lord and pimp who wanted to sell her for sex. Knowing he couldn’t do that if she was pregnant, he forced an abortion on her. She was somewhere between 28 and 29 weeks pregnant. We were only 10 weeks away from meeting our boy when we learned that we had lost him.

I’m sure we can all agree that this was a tragic experience. I’m sure you can imagine the healing process we’ve gone through over the last three months since that Friday morning in May when it all came crashing down. But what I’m not sure you can imagine as you’re reading this, is what it’s like to actually enter into the depravity of this issue in this way.

I don’t know what it’s like to carry life inside of me physically, and there is no guarantee that I ever will. I don’t have a newborn photo to post with a LIFE filter on it and a birth story about how I’m so glad I chose life. But what I can offer to this conversation is an uncomfortable reality of what the other side of this issue looks like. The side that ends in death but still has an option of finding life beyond the ruins of a broken world.

Judah’s birth mom didn’t choose abortion. It was chosen for her. Too often we make our stances on choosing life and we preach this one-sided “it’s an easy decision” message, not realizing that for a lot of women, the option of choosing life isn’t even there. A large portion of this issue comes not from those of us with privileged lives “choosing life” — but from those that aren’t given a choice at all.

I hope you don’t misunderstand me — social media is a fantastic tool for raising awareness, and I believe this movement has the favor of God on it to help make a difference on this issue in our nation. I also believe that all of our voices and stories matter in that awareness raising effort. But it is going to take more than awareness for us to make a difference. And God’s “Plan A” to mobilize hope and healing in the earth has always been us. The Church.

The Church will change the world when we make a decision to be willing to have our lives interrupted on behalf of others, no matter the cost. It may cost us a life… and wouldn’t that be just like Jesus? Obedience to the point of death?

Oh, but friends — the life it will yield if we are willing to get our hands dirty. I can’t look at the life of Jesus and not believe wholeheartedly that this is what we’re to do if we want to be like Him. Enter into the mess. Like the Jesus who stooped low to the woman caught in adultery.

We can share our opinions all we want, but until we’re a people who actually walk alongside the broken population of our nation that face a mountain of impossibility in their every day lives, I honestly don’t believe our opinions carry much weight or authority. I love what Ann Voskamp says about this issue — that it isn’t about a woman having a choice, but a woman believing that she has no choice.

What are we going to do about this? To what extent are we willing to humble ourselves and reach across the chasm of our society to the woman who lives in that reality of hopelessness? What kind of inconvenience are we actually willing to step into on behalf of someone else? When there’s nothing in it for us. When at the end of it all, we aren’t going home with a new baby.

I’m not sure what the answer is for you. To be honest, I’m not sure what it is for me either. But I do know that the grace and mercy of God is so inclusive that it’s almost offensive to me. And I know that He intends to continue to lead me into uncomfortable places of advocating for life in ways that will probably cost me something.

I can’t think of a better thing to live for, though. We are not on this earth to build our own kingdoms and dreams. We’re here to build His. And it’s going to cost us something to be a people who step into impossible situations, right alongside those living in such depravity, leaving our own places of comfort and ease to do so.

This is an exciting hour in our nation for the Church. I pray we enter into the hard places and gain ground in every place that He intends for us to. It’s going to take more than our voices though. It’s going to take our hands and feet, surrendered entirely to a heart that belongs to Him… which means there may not be much in it for us.

How will YOU respond?

When death and life collide

Six weeks ago, my grandma Charlotte passed away. We knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t see her again after we moved, so it wasn’t completely shocking. I still remember the really surreal feeling of walking out the door the last time we went to see her, wondering if that would be the last time on this side of glory that I got to kiss her on the cheek and tell her I loved her. Turns out it was.

She was the best. My mom always tells me I’m going to be just like her when I get old. Which is I think a nice way of saying I’ll still be abrasively competitive and unapologetically opinionated, but I’ll take it. Grandma Charlotte was a feisty little Italian lady — and she was a magician of a chef. I proudly carry the honor of being the only one of the six grandchildren who got “the gene” in the kitchen.

On July 19, my dad called to tell me he thought she was probably on her last day. About two hours later, I got a message that she had officially gone to Heaven, and that my dad was going to fly me home two days later so I could be there for her funeral.

Even when it’s expected and you’ve been able to prepare, it hurts to lose someone you love. There is something so “other” about experiencing death — we don’t have a grid for it because we weren’t made for it. God never intended for us to taste death. It’s a result of the fall of man.

What He did do though, was redeem it.

On July 20, I was packing my bags for Houston when I got a message from my little sister. She was pregnant with a baby girl, to be named after the grandma we had just lost. She wasn’t due for three more weeks, but she texted to tell me her water had broken and she was on her way to the hospital. There was going to be a baby by the time I got there the next afternoon.

Just thinking about the kindness of God in that moment right now, tears stream down my cheeks. I had spent nine months grieving the fact that I knew I’d miss the birth of my first niece. I had spent 24 hours grieving the loss of my grandma, reliving that last day I got to see her over and over in my head. And right there in the middle of my grief, God was bringing new life.

Because that’s what He does. In the economy of the kingdom, death is always followed by resurrection. He always brings new life. Beauty for ashes. Joy for mourning.

I will never forget how sweet it was to hold baby Charlotte on July 21, and at the same time grieving Grandma Charlotte with my family, who would have been 81 the next day. I learned over those few days that this dichotomy of emotions is one that I had become familiar with in this season of my life.

A few weeks later was Judah’s due date. I found myself reliving the grief of that Friday morning in May all over again, wishing he was here, still not understanding why God allows these things to happen sometimes.

And all the while, we are living inside of an unprecedented move of God in Salt Lake City, Utah right now. I’m looking around at the way God is growing His Church and our ministry here, and I feel like I haven’t done anything to make that happen. I’m just a mess, and He’s just moving.

I still feel the sting of death and the ache of loss every single day. And in the same breath, I feel the most alive in ministry I have ever felt. Familiar with suffering and at the same time unable to escape the goodness and favor of God.

This is the gospel. More alive in my own story than I’ve ever known. Deepest grief and highest praise seem to be the simultaneous cries of my heart in this season.

And something feels right about that.

I don’t get it.

Last week Noland and I traveled to Little Rock to be with is family and go to his grandfather’s funeral. It was a strange interruption to the blissful feeling of the beginning of spring — an interruption of all things being made new to feel the sting and reality of death. At the same time, it was oddly timely for it to happen during the week of Easter. It got me reminiscing and re-living a lot of things, because this wasn’t the first time I was experiencing a convergence of death and resurrection in my life.

In fact, exactly six years ago today I experienced a tragedy I’ll never forget. It was the loss of a close family friend, he was my best friend’s dad and my dad’s best friend. I’ll never forget my mom telling me what had happened that Monday afternoon after school. I’ll never forget the somber drive from Nashville to San Antonio two days later, and I’ll never forget sitting through his funeral on Good Friday that year, trying to hold on to the truth that He’s good no matter what, all the while asking that same one-word question over and over in my head.

Why?

I was seventeen years old and for the first time I was feeling the unparalleled pain of the death of a loved one — a pain that, in the beginning, it was never intended by God for us to feel.

And somehow the kindness of God showed up in the timing of it all. Because on Easter Sunday two days later, we celebrated the resurrected one who died so that we could live forever. It didn’t take away any of the pain. If I’m honest, I still ask that same one word question sometimes when I think about it to this day. But it reminded me that Jesus already defeated death so that we don’t have to be defeated by it. We can’t escape it, but it isn’t our end either.

But I still don’t get it. And I never will.

Two months ago, a guy I went to high school with committed suicide. That’s the kind of death that will make you question all sorts of things about eternity you never questioned before. I had so many friends that were hurting so badly, and my heart broke for them. It still breaks for them. And that same night, as all of this was weighing so heavily on me, Noland and I went to the college worship service at our church. It happened to be a night of worship and baptism.

As the service went on, people who hadn’t been saved started giving their lives to Jesus left and right, and spontaneous baptism broke out and all of a sudden there were 25 people standing on stage who had just been baptized. Buried with Him in death. Raised to walk in newness of life.

And I stood there on the second row, not knowing a single person on that stage yet weeping at the beauty of what was happening. In that moment God spoke, “You came here mourning the loss of one. You’re leaving celebrating the resurrection of twenty-five.”

And just like on Easter Sunday in 2007, the pain didn’t go away. But I felt the presence of God draw so near, and the only thing I can resolve from this mystery is this: I can not escape the sting of death on this side of Heaven. But the goodness of God will always outweigh it — and not just a little bit, but 25 and 50 and 100 fold.

Sometimes God’s mysteries are fun, like a treasure hunt. And sometimes they hurt. But no matter which side of the spectrum, they are always humbling. The mysteries of God always remind me of how small I am. They always remind me of how much I need him. I was reminded of that this weekend as I felt so small standing with Noland over his grandfather’s coffin. 

“I just don’t get it. I don’t get death,” he said.

“That’s because you were never meant to,” I told him.

And we stood there silently in the mystery. There are so many things we don’t get. I don’t get why I still watch a family I love grieve a lost father, six years after he’s been gone. I don’t get why people take their own lives, and I wonder how God handles it.

I don’t get how God will make all things work together for my good, but it says in his word that he will. I don’t get how every promise he’s spoken will be fulfilled, but I know he’s not a liar. I don’t get how Noland’s dreams and mine will be woven together into something more beautiful than we could have imagined, but I know God said he would show us things we wouldn’t believe, even if we were told.

And the trade off is that even though I don’t understand the hurt, I also don’t understand the love. It’s endless. We’ll never reach the end of it. There’s always more. It’s unfathomable, and it reminds me that living in the unfathomable is worth it.

When I don’t know anything else, I always know He’s good.