Two weeks ago I shared with you my reasons for joining the 40 Days for Life campaign here in Austin. I’d like to reiterate what a difficult, yet prayerful, decision it was to participate. Here I am, two weeks and two hours of praying on the sidewalk later, to reflect on my time at the clinic.
The lesson I learned on the sidewalk caught me surprise. I expected to feel sadness, anger, pity and perhaps a bit of joy and happiness. While I certainly felt each of those, my greatest lesson has been one of tolerance and an informed conscience.
Tolerance From Friends
Before I even began my first hour, a friend emailed me. She is most definitely pro-life, but she had some valid concerns about the 40 Days for Life campaign. She was worried that our presence made the women feel bullied and our efforts could be spent in more productive ways, like volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center or victim abuse house. Admittedly, I was grateful to get her email. It was a side of the campaign I hadn’t fully understood or appreciated. Naively, I assumed that while every pro-life advocate may not feel comfortable with praying in front of a clinic, they wouldn’t take issue with a campaign that did. Her email, and subsequent conversation via phone, allowed me to stand on that sidewalk with a softened heart and one open to God’s will.
Tolerance From the Abortion Clinic
I know. It seems strange that I would find tolerance from the one place that dreaded our presence. After returning home from my hour, I immersed myself in the clinic’s blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Part of my reaction was shock. But what I’ve come to realize is “those people” we refer to – the clinic workers, pro-choice activists and women who choose abortion – deserve and demand our compassion and love. Yes, their reasoning for being pro-choice goes against my moral compass. However, as I began to inform myself as to why they choose to believe in abortion, I found myself even more convicted about the need for a culture of life.
Tolerance From the Clinic Workers
While I initially planned on spending the bulk of my hour praying for those women that entered the clinic, I found myself drawn to pray for the workers, above all. That first week, we saw so many come and go from the side door, a dozen, maybe? During one moment, I found myself locking eyes with one on her break. She stood there in the courtyard and we just looked at one another. It’s hard to describe that moment of intense prayer, but I felt the Holy Spirit rain down some amazing prayers for that young woman. It was transformational.
Tolerance From Fellow 40 Days for Life Prayer Warriors
I was struck by the genuineness of our fellow sidewalk prayer warriors. The trained sidewalk counselor reached out to every person who pulled into the lot or walked out of the building, but she never negatively engaged, nor did she persist if the person walked away. She simply said, “Just know that you have options and we’ll be here to share those with you when you’re ready.” Her love radiated and it was an honor to see her used as an instrument of the Holy Spirit. There was Fr. S, there on his lunch break. L, an energetic African-American woman who just exuded love. She gives me the best hugs, by the way! There’s Y, with her heavy European accent and her very big heart. She has a permanent smile on her face. And, more than a dozen others who I’ve had the honor of meeting these past two weeks.
Tolerance From the Holy Spirit
Abortion is such a big issue, isn’t it? Politically charged, emotional. But truly it’s a symptom of a much larger problem. We are a culture of death. I still have a difficult, if not impossible, time understanding why a child has to die because of a choice a person makes. Abortion is 100% preventable. I also recognize that the reasons a woman walks into that clinic in North Austin are many. My hours on the sidewalk have been humbling. I still remember the face of every single woman who walked into that clinic. My mind scrambles to think of what their scenario might be. Unplanned pregnancy with an abusive boyfriend? Single and professional with a mind on her career? A mom who feels burned out and feels her sanity can’t take another child?
The Holy Spirit has really worked in my heart these past two weeks. I won’t lie to you. Just as I step out of my van, I take a deep breath and grip my rosary with a firm grasp. The walk up to the clinic is incredibly difficult. And, as I return back to my van at the end of the hour, my walk is brisk because I can feel the tears coming. It usually takes me a minute or two to gain composure before driving away.
All I know is this: we have to stop the hateful rhetoric, the mean jabs and the graphic depictions of abortion. That doesn’t change hearts. That’s not a sign of someone who loves another human being. We change hearts when we reach out in love, for that’s when the Holy Spirit works best.