After one short day at home, I headed back down (by myself this time) to Texas, Belton to be exact, to meet with pro-life students, residential assistants, and also to speak at chapel. Although I was excited about speaking on a college campus again (it had been over six months since I had last spoke at one), I was missing my daughter and feeling drained when I headed out the morning of November 10th. Any apprehension that I had about being back out speaking again after one day’s rest melted away when I met up with Chaplain George Loutherback (aka, “Dr. L.”) and Amanda, one of the officers of Cru4Life, UMHB’s relatively new pro-life student group, at the Killeen airport.
A quick aside here, which I think is pretty interesting stuff….when we left the Dallas airport to head to Killeen, the flight attendant notified us that although our trip would be a quick 31 minutes, President Obama was scheduled to leave Killeen (where he was attending the memorial service for the victims of Ft. Hood), at about the same time we were scheduled to land, so there could be a change in our arrival time. We landed in Killeen on time, without fanfare, but as I looked out of the window to my left, I could see Air Force One sitting there. (I have included a picture below, although it is far from great). As we left the airport and traveled through Ft. Hood, there were a large number of military and police personnel patrolling the area.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand…I had spoken with Dr. L. a few times by phone in the past month and had thoroughly enjoyed my talks with him, and meeting him in person simply solidified for me what a great man of faith, character, and leadership he is. It can be hard sometimes, heading out to place after place, meeting person after person, and although most of us always click in terms of our personalities and beliefs, some people are just easier to get to know and more comfortable to be around. Dr. L. and all of the students and staff that I met at UMHB were some of the most approachable, committed, faithful folks that I have met throughout my travels, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them.
I started Tuesday evening off by having dinner with Dr. L. and the four student officers of Cru4Life-Amanda, Eva, Nikita, and Ashley at the Olive Garden. We had a nice, relaxing meal together and shared our personal stories of how we’ve gotten to who we are/where we are in life, and we talked about a wide range of topics, from pro-life student activism, to the barriers that are encountered on campus and in a secular society, to my story and what it was like for me as a college student (MANY YEARS BEFORE). (I have to add that last piece in, because although I love being around high school and college students because of their energy, enthusiasm, and fresh perspective on life, I am increasingly aware that I am getting increasingly older. Bless their hearts, some students later remarked that they thought I was a student, but they must not have looked close enough to see the gray hairs on my head and the wrinkles around my eyes!)
We headed out from dinner to the UMHB campus, where the Cru4Life group was holding their weekly meeting at 7:00. Although attendance fluxgates from week to week, there were over 20 students in attendance that evening, and I was very pleased that this included a number of male students.
I was impressed not only by the number of students present for the meeting, but also with the preparation that students had done by researching pro-life news around the world to share with the group. I never pretend to know everything about what’s going on in the pro-life culture, but I was very surprised to learn that evening that the largest Planned Parenthood clinic in the world is currently being built in Houston. I pray that children like me are spared from abortion at this clinic and are given the chance that they deserve at life.
We spent the evening together discussing the prevalence of abortion on college campuses (and the likelihood that even some in that very room that night had likely experienced an abortion), what impacts college women to have abortions, and the resources and supports that men and women facing pregnancy and parenting most need from their campus, their faculty and their peers. Like many college students that I have met, it was easy for them to identify what drives college women to have abortions: lack of emotional support, fear, being shamed and blamed for becoming pregnant (yes, even on Christian campuses), coercion by friends, family, and partners, lack of knowledge about resources and supports available to them and how to access them. However, when it came time to identify what resources were available (like Title 19, Food Stamps, FIP, pregnancy resource centers, WIC, campus housing, etc), the students found it much harder to identify how a pregnant or parenting student would go about finding these resources and how they, as pro-life leaders could help them to access them.
I certainly don’t blame them; their experience is not unique, even for a group of pro-life student leaders. I am glad that we got the conversation started that night about what expectant parents may need, and I am excited about continuing to support them in their efforts in addressing this area for themselves and their peers. Although resources and supports are key in supporting pregnant and parenting students, I think that the most important thing we discussed that night together was about how to talk to and treat pregnant and parenting students-with love and compassion, genuine care, not shaming, blaming or judging them for their circumstances or choices.
We wrapped our time together for the night with me sharing part of my personal story with them. I didn’t want to give it all away, since I was speaking the next morning at chapel, but I wanted them to have the opportunity to spend time with me in a more intimate setting and hear things from me that I likely wouldn’t have time to say the next day. It was a very moving experience for both the students and myself, as we sat together in a circle that night and looked at the true reality of abortion and how it has impacted my life and everyone around me. Although I didn’t want to tell them “everything,” a number of students didn’t want to have to wait until the next day to hear the rest of the story, and some just couldn’t make it to chapel, so we convened the meeting and headed to a small chapel so that I could continue sharing my testimony with about ten students. It is such a different experience to be sitting face to face with people instead of standing at a podium or on a stage, and the depth of our emotions and the presence of the Lord were palpable that evening as we continued our time together.
There were the gasps, sighs, and tears that often come about as I give my testimony, and I was moved that they were so moved by my story and the power of God’s grace, but so, too, was I moved by my time with them. I always feel the Holy Spirit move through me when I speak (and it certainly lingers for hours afterwards, which can be a problem when I speak late at night and then can’t sleep), but there are moments in time where I can just see the Lord in the room when I speak, and that night was certainly one of those nights. And just like always, I was not surprised by the gift that the Lord gave me that night, when a young woman stayed after to speak with me. “I was scared to come here tonight and meet you,” she started off by saying. She went on to share that she had had an abortion in high school, coerced into doing so by her verbally abusive boyfriend, who made her undertake the process alone. “I was afraid of what you would look like….I just didn’t think that I could handle it.” I certainly understood what she was saying. When you hear that someone like me has survived a lethal attempt on their life, should have burned from the outside-in, and was told by doctors that they would likely have any one of a number of disabilities, you don’t know what to expect when you meet them. I am grateful to the Lord for my health and my well-being, and I know that the Lord had a plan when he not only saved me but made me healthy and whole, for I am a reflection of him, and I am also a reflection of each and every one of those beautiful children whose lives have been ended by abortion.
I had a wonderful heart to heart with my young friend, who is fortunately but unfortunately wise beyond her years, and she has a beautiful story to tell, that I hope that she someday comes forward with publicly. In the few short years since the abortion, she has grown exponentially as a person. She’s born again in her faith, she’s forgiven her child’s father and now befriended him in Christ, she’s worked through her grief and loss through the Forgiven and Set Free bible study, and has found a way to memorialize her unborn child and find the purpose and meaning behind her experiences. She is a true inspiration to me and she is the kind of woman that I want to pattern myself after. Spending time with this young woman was a great finish to the evening.
Blessing of all blessings, I had the rare opportunity, traveling alone, to sleep in the next morning, which was a great way to start the day. After calling home to check on Olivia and the rest of the house, I made my way to the UMHB campus. It was a beautiful morning, and I had the opportunity to tour the campus (by golf cart ) with Dr. L., which is truly one of the most picture-perfect campuses I’ve seen. Between the people and the campus, I must admit that I could easily be swayed to join them in Belton sometime-permanently!
Chapel was held at 11:00 Wednesday morning. After a very moving invocation from a student who is also a member of the armed services, which honored our fellow veteran’s, we had the opportunity to share in the music of Scattered Leaves, a Christian band from Maryland. They were awesome! I didn’t know if or how I was going to get and keep the students’ attention when it came time for me to speak right after them, but the Lord was present by my side as always, and the students and faculty present listened whole-heartedly to my testimony for the next 30 minutes. As always, I had written a specific speech for this very event, but once again, it wasn’t needed. I know my story by heart, but the Lord guided me on the other points to make with the students about how we are ALL impacted by abortion, how we were ALL just one step away from being me, the only difference being that their mother chose life, that we all have a role to play in respecting and protecting life, we simply need to tap into our God-given strengths and talents to help make the world a better place.
Following chapel, a number of the Residential Life staff took me out for some great Mexican food , and we spent time again talking about the needs and resources available to their students, the resources available to help students help provide support to other students, and the role that they can play in assisting their students. It was a great finish to a great morning and a nice transition for my trip back home.
After chapel that day, and even since thereafter, I have heard from a number of students and staff who have shared their own personal stories about abortion and adoption in their lives, and found my time with them to be inspirational and educational. I am certainly grateful that I made an impact in their lives, but I am equally grateful that they made an impact on my life. Their commitment to their faith, their dedication to doing good works for others, and their belief in respecting and protecting children just like me will have a lasting impression on me throughout my life.
Plans are underway to get me back to UMHB next October to speak with students again on the annual Day of Solidarity. I look forward to seeing everyone again at UMHB soon!