Things Best Not Forgotten (Project Posterity: The COVID Chronicles)

Today we played badminton and cursed the wind, chasing the birdies through the year’s first grass before the dogs could get them.

Today is the last day before online lessons are given for a grade, but my fourth grader finds herself wanting to do the optional ones anyway, to do work she could choose not to do. But still she wears pajamas, fights me about brushing her hair. We are, after all, at home.

We counted the days of online school to come, clocked it at only 12 though it somehow feels an infinite number before us. In counting we assumed a return date that isn’t set in stone, but rather in each other and how well Americans manage to stay at home.

I call this Day 18.

Eighteen days of togetherness in which everything has changed: How we eat, sleep, shop, parent. How we read the news, communicate, say our prayers, and breathe.

I’ve yet to sew a face mask.

I have a machine, and cloth, and thread, but lack discernable sewing talent and so I doubt I’ll be posting pictures of colorful face coverings anytime soon. But a sincere thank you to those whom God has blessed with the gift of stitching us together, weaving half measures into whole.

I just found out our neighbor is an ER doctor. I didn’t know. But now a neighborhood email has been sent and read that tells me this is true. Tomorrow we will gather outside his home as he returns from his shift at a now empty hospital, the calm before the storm that is projected to hit our state in 16 days. Which is fewer than the infinite 18 in which we’ve lived fully into our homes.

I still see neighbors walking their dogs with one another. Kids riding bikes down the empty streets. I shake my head and close the curtains with a sigh.

When did we start judging people for how close they stand to one another as they amble in togetherness? And when will this judging stop? I wonder.

The day so far is beautiful, despite the wind. My three children are enjoying the sun together, dodging dogs and their messes, laughing as the wind carries a birdie ten feet away one minute, then backwards the next. My youngest has worn the same clothes five days now; he wants to set a record. I told him he already has, but he just laughed and kept them on: Florescent green shorts and a maroon Razorbacks shirt handed down from a cousin whose sister just cut his hair because all the salons are closed. I was impressed with how well she did.

My mom has a mask. One mask. She uses it for Kilz and sawdust and the other noxious fumes and particles of construction. “Should I ask Collin if he wants to wear it when he goes out for us?” she asked me this morning. Collin is in his 20s and likely the best suited of us to risk exposure.

“I don’t know,” I said. Because I don’t.

There’s so little I know these days, other than a schedule really helps, but so does pretending it’s not a schedule at all; else the kids might revolt. I’ve learned if the house isn’t tidy I can’t do this thing we’re all doing together separately. I’ve learned to hit refresh on Prime Now to snag a delivery spot as soon as one opens, and how to wipe down a box of cereal to make sure it doesn’t kill my mom. I’ve learned we’re all amazingly resilient, but I also wonder how that day will feel when it finally comes. The day the kids return to school. The husband to traveling for work. The house as empty as it ever is, which is to say it’s down to 2 adults and their barking dogs. That moment, when it comes, will be strange, I think. Happy but a little sad, a celebratory moment of peace, but also a moment of loss, as I send my kids away.

For now, I’m keeping them in check with prizes. They draw post-its from a once-red bowl, now orange from time and washing. These post-its hold their next task, whether fun or work, and they earn points upon the task’s completion. At the end of the day, or perhaps two, they are rewarded prizes for how well and nicely they performed their tasks. So far the rewards have been gifts purchased for birthday parties never held: the virus has halted even the earth’s movement around the sun.

Andy and I agreed last night that it will be a shame when we go back to how things were. Moments of rushing and shushing to get where we’re supposed to be. To hurried bedtimes that happen right after tired dinners that happen right after Andy gets home. To times when I can’t—or think I can’t—sit in the shade of a beautiful day, watching my three laugh over failed serves, fighting against the sun dots dancing before their eyes.

It is wonderful. And quiet. And joyful. It’s all the things parenting should be. Perhaps that’s why I’m writing this so early in the day when there are still so many hours left to come: This is a moment to hold on to, to reread in coming years. There is much to remember about these crazy days, but the sun and wind and laughter are the ones I hope to remember most.

badminton

In Which I Am Tired but the Dogs Don’t Care (Project Posterity: The COVID Chronicles)

The kids and dogs are outside.

The house is quiet and not a little boring.

It occurs to me that instead of scrolling Facebook and reading dire, apocalyptic articles that don’t tell me anything I don’t already know, I should probably Do Something.

I don’t feel well enough today to do anything that takes physical energy or that even requires me to take multiple steps (i.e., pay a bill that I have to look up on the computer and then set up bill pay with my bank. That’s TWO WHOLE STEPS), so I decide I should start a COVID-19 journal. I’m sure all the cool kids are doing it, and you know, that’s what I do: I write.

I’m always complaining there’s not enough time or mental energy in the day to put words to page, but here it is: a golden opportunity. So okay. I’ll do it.

April 2, 2020,

 The emotional toll of this pandemic is not at all like 9/11, or —

Wait—is that the backdoor? Yes, that was definitely the backdoor. I hear paws on wood, and then footsteps.

Collin comes through the living room, typing furiously on his phone. Without looking up, he says, “Uh oh, Mom. Muddy paws. VERY muddy paws.”

Well, shit.

(There’s something about this pandemic that makes me curse. I have no idea why.)

I assess the damage and it’s worse than I thought.

Both dogs, looking rather pleased with themselves, are covered in mud. Their paws, their bellies, their shaggy rear-ends. And, to make matters even worse, I just gave them their monthly bath TWO days ago. AND cleaned out the giant whirlpool tub I bathed them in. This takes effort, folks. Lots and lots of effort. If I remember correctly, the doggy bath two days ago resulted in my being covered in water from neck to knee, and cleaning the tub involved me kneeling inside the tub in a bathing suit and holding a bottle of bleach. I cannot do this again a mere two days later. This is not okay.

I try a towel on their paws, which involves illegal WWF moves and lots of “come back here you mangy dog” from me. The dogs were not impressed.

So, I will save my first journal entry regarding this historical pandemic for another day.

Because I refuse to consider that this—this muddy moment of atrocity—is day one of such an important recordation for posterity.

Parents, You Are Rocking it Right Now. I Promise.

I’ve spent more time on Facebook and the interwebs in general in the last two weeks than I have perhaps all year. Not because I’m cooped up at home—I’m always home anyway—but because I so desperately want to know what’s next in this whole mess. Hitting refresh on pages or chatting with friends online or posting on Facebook helps pass the time but also helps me feel better somehow. Like since none of us know what’s next then it’s all okay. Which makes zero sense but there it is.

In my new life of Facebook binging, I’ve noticed several common COVID-19 themes:

  • Lots of accusations of parents hating their children because said parents are complaining about being with their kids
  • Lots of comments about alcohol consumption regarding those complaints
  • Lots of frustration by homeschooling parents at the use of the word “homeschool”
  • Lots of support for one another in this stupid crazy time

So. Let’s take them one by one.

1) Parents do not hate their kids. Parents love their kids. A lot. Parents are complaining for a multitude of reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the amount of love they have for their kids. This s**t is hard, folks. We are home 24/7 with kids who we love, but who are kids and therefore are not meant to be cooped at home and are thus going crazy just like we all are. They cannot (presumably) drink their frustrations away like many parents appear to be doing (more on that later), complain on Facebook about their crappy parents, or get in the car and go for a drive. All they can do is complain bitterly and turn up their music and rudeness level (teens); whine and ask for snacks, screen time, and answers to when this will end (pre-teens); and bounce of the walls, cry, complain, and protest their parents-turned-teachers demanding they sit down and work when home is supposed to be a place of refuge from the pressures of school (little kids/all kids).

We don’t have kids without thinking and then complain about them. We have kids, love them, complain anyway, then snuggle them to sleep. I mean, do we ever complain about spouses/jobs/pets/cars/houses/etc.? Of course. Does that mean we hate them? Nope! So parents, ignore those saying you hate your kids because you complain. Go ahead and vent because that’s what keeps so many of us sane. If it makes you feel better, add an obligatory “I love my kids but …” but know that you don’t have to. Most of us get it. We get you, because we are you.

2) Do folks really drink as much as the memes would imply? I had no idea! I’ll admit that does worry me a bit, and it worries me too that our kids (universal) will see the memes and jokes and think drinking is a way to solve problems. But, see number one above. Jokes are jokes, and many of these memes and comments are likely just that. I personally find it strange, but a strange without the teeth of judgment behind it. Hope that’s okay.

3) We are doing school. At home. So, given the rules of compound words, we are indeed homeschooling. I think we get that what we’re doing because of school closures is not the same as what those who homeschool on a daily basis are doing. There are co-ops and apps for that. Play groups and specialized resources. We are not there. But it’s semantics, folks, and this is no time to argue semantics or be offended by the use of a sensical combination of words to explain what we are doing to keep our children from suffering educational losses. It’s okay, really. So homeschool away, everyone, and may the force be with you. All of you. No matter what.

4) Oh, there are hearts. And rainbows. And chalk art and Zoom groups and driveway tea times and my kid had a playdate with the neighbor kids from literally across the street: He stood on one side and they stayed on the other and they called it playing “together.” We are in it to win it, folks, except maybe for those who are price gouging TP and hand sanitizer. (Seriously, today I saw a 12-pack of TP for $75 on Amazon!) The stories of support and caring are legion, and I am beyond impressed. For every story of craptasticness, there are 10 of awesomeness. So keep being awesome. I’ll try to as well, but on occasion I’ll likely complain about my kids. Maybe even my husband. But I promise that I love them.

For real, there is an increase right now in child abuse, domestic violence, and other horrific things. This is real stress about real things, and even though this too shall pass, it isn’t clear yet what it will look like on the other side. For some, like me, things will be nice and rosy. For others, not so much. Please, let’s hold each other in prayer, and in so doing, please remember our school districts and our teachers who are struggling along with the rest of us, deemed “non-essential,” yet working from home with their own kids screaming in the background and their own issues to deal with.

And now I will go because Jeffery, my Instacart shopper, is texting me that 800 of the items I ordered are out of stock and no, butter lettuce is not a sufficient replacement for a grain bowl.

Perhaps $75 for TP isn’t so bad after all.

Foreign Virus, Harvey Weinstein, and What COVID-19 is Teaching Us About Economics in America

I haven’t been able to get the phrase “foreign virus” out of my mind since the President first introduced it into our vernacular last night.

I similarly haven’t been able to get Harvey Weinstein’s well-deserved sentence out of my mind, or the fact that the United States Soccer Federation is using a grossly sexist legal defense to excuse paying female players less than their male counterparts.

And then of course there is the threat (and in some instances the actualization) of school shut-downs due to COVID-19 that will have the unintentional effect of depriving poor children of needed meals and safe spaces. Similarly, this novel pandemic has highlighted the plight of workers without health care or even sick leave. The men and women who go without are faced with losing their jobs or going to work and putting themselves and others at risk. Then there are the teachers who, even with sick leave and health care, continue to show up to work in germ-filled classrooms with Kleenex-filled trashcans and a short supply of hand sanitizer each and every day, despite their personal fears of becoming sick. And let’s not forget to mention congressmen who kill bills that might have eased the economic burden on those who need it the most.

From “foreign virus” to sexism and abuse and back to the virus again, these seemingly disparate things have one very specific thing in common: othering.

It was no mistake that Trump deemed COVID-19 “foreign.” Not because it started in China or because Europe didn’t make a good enough effort to contain the virus, but rather because it is inflammatory, self-protecting, and accusatory. If we—Americans—become ill, it is only because some other government, some other type or color or differently accented people, immorally allowed a virus to ravage not only its own people, but also ours. Economic and physical harms arising from this will continue to be laid at the feet of the other, even as Dr. Anthony Fauci says America is failing to appropriately address this pandemic.

Harvey Weinstein preyed upon women who went to him looking for work, for mentorship, for help in a cutthroat profession where women are already expected to acquiesce to nude scenes and subject themselves to playing roles that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. These women—like the female soccer players who are accused of not working as hard as or having the inherent physical talent of male players—apparently needed to pay their dues somehow and Weinstein found a way. Under these standards, the female body, whether as an athlete or sexual being, is no match for the prowess of men. Women are “other,” and in being so are less than.

But of course, that’s almost always the case.

It is the “other,” those who are “less than,” whose economic plight many are just now realizing as COVID-19 is sweeping our nation, bringing certain hardships into common conversation. It’s easy to see only the “top layer” of a story, but underneath there is always so much more. The plight of low-wage workers, food insecure kids, the homeless, and the chronically ill goes on each and every day, not just this particular moment in history. Sick leave, health care, child care, living wages; they are always relevant.

We live in a nation built on “othering.” There are moments in time that make that othering obvious, bring it to the forefront of public consciousness. But a Facebook meme showing white people in traditional Chinese garb holding a giant bottle of Corona is not a novel type of humor. The abuse Weinstein perpetrated upon women happens at every economic level and largely without public scrutiny or discussion. Women at all professions, not just professional athletes, continue to be underpaid, and the poor tend to remain that way.

Gratefully, a small but mighty portion of Americans wage a daily war against the disease of othering, though usually in ways that are underfunded, overworked, and underpaid. And as we too often do in important work sectors (such as education), we tend to push those in the trenches of this war into their own economic insecurity. Of course, with a president who continues to create new columns in which we can place those “different” than us, nationally televising and normalizing xenophobia, I think it’s safe to say these war wagers will not soon be out of a job.

The Problem with a Woman’s ‘No’

Like most women I know, I am a woman who “does things.” Whether in the church, classroom, or community, I volunteer for activities and events because I enjoy doing them.

The problem with this (one of a few) is that once a woman gains a reputation of saying yes to things, even more requests for stepping up come her way. There is some good that comes with that, but also some bad. The requests begin to broaden in scope until they encompass unenjoyable, un-called-to things. They also begin to pile up, as two hours of help turn to three, then ten, and before you know it, a whole month has gone by. Sleep is lost, kids ignored, husbands relegated to last in line for attention. Nutrition and exercise fall to the wayside, and, perhaps, stress begins to manifest in physical ways.

Hence the market for self-help books teaching women the seemingly-easy skill of saying no. There are actually books—plural!—that contain hundreds of pages explaining how “no” is a word women shouldn’t be afraid to say. Those two little letters, that tiny package of a word, is truly a linguistic barrier to a happier, healthier life. If we women who “do” things could just learn no’s value, the books claim, we could better live into our actual calling, better love ourselves, our husbands, and our children. But wait! There’s more! We also wouldn’t lose friends, professional opportunities, important roles in the community, or any of those other things we’re afraid of losing should our yesses stop coming.

It isn’t just books: Pastors give this advice. Therapists. Friends. TV doctors with good intentions. And I agree with them: no-saying is a necessary skill for those of us living in a world with too high expectations and too few people to fill the roles we’ve spontaneously created then deemed essential.

But knowing intellectually that we should balance our yesses with a handful of nos is one thing; putting it into play is another.

It’s hard to step back and let something fail, go fallow, or not be done to our personal specifications. It’s even harder to let go of things that fulfill us, that intellectually stimulate us, that give us more to talk about over dinner than laundry and homework. But sometimes there are reasons we must say no, even if we’re left not just with more family and “me” time on our hands, but also with isolation, unpracticed talents, unstimulated minds, and deep sadness.

A couple of years ago I was really sick. Like go-to-the-hospital-bi-weekly sick. In that two-year season I posted on this blog a grand total of FOUR TIMES. I couldn’t even write while at home in my PJs sipping cocoa! I was living off prednisone and even with that most hated of the best loved drugs propping me up, I still just couldn’t go on being someone who “did” things.

So my husband and I decided it was time I just said no.

I emailed heads of boards and bowed out of roles. I spoke for hours, days, years it seems, with my (very supportive and understanding) pastor about church roles I could no longer fill. I let folks at my children’s school think I’d fallen off the edge of the world. I rejected clients. I just … stopped.

So I’ve been there, and you can trust me when I say that sometimes saying no is way, way harder than the overburdening of all the yesses combined.

Being out and about in the world I knew without being an integral part of how it ran was devastating. Not because of the loss of control, but because some of us, like me, were created to be in the ranks of those who do. I thrive on the yesses.

But then … it got easy.

Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t like easy easy. Just … easier. Enjoyable, even. After the boredom and sadness passed, I started to feel better. I went off the prednisone. I had the energy to switch to a vegan diet (one of the top five best decisions I’ve ever made, by the way. Feel free to ask me about it.). I watched TV. Read books. Had an actual conversation with my husband. And then I was able to go off the immunosuppressant medication that kept me living off antibiotics.

Through this I learned that while the yesses might be life-giving, saying no can be lifesaving.

But I’m sad to say I learned another lesson as well.

I learned that the books are wrong. That our well-intentioned friends are wrong. That the TV-doctors and celebrities are wrong. Even our religious leaders are wrong.

The hard truth is that few people want to hear a no.

While many are sympathetic to the need to step back, many are not.

I was told I didn’t care about my church.

I stopped hearing from friends I’d made through shared volunteer activities.

I was excluded from certain conversations and actions I still wanted to be a part of.

I was stunned.

I readily admit it’s true we can’t always have the best of both worlds. In some roles you’re either in or out; there is no in between. It’s also true we can’t expect place holders: we snooze, we lose. And, of course, there’s the issue of reliability: will she or won’t she back out at the last minute?

Showing up is crucial—when one takes on a role or task it’s expected that she will perform it. How, especially after repeated cancellations, can others continue to rely on and trust those who no longer seem reliable? Likely they can trust that the intentions are good, but good intentions never cleaned the church kitchen, taught a Sunday School lesson, or edited a manuscript. You need an actual person for that.

So this isn’t a bright line issue.

There’s a burden on the chronically ill person to know her limitations and establish firm boundaries, even if those boundaries are disappointing. Being on a particular board may be something really relevant, important, and desired, but if all the meetings start at 8pm and you need to be asleep by 8:30pm, then not accepting the board position to begin with is essential.

There are other roles, however, that are more fluid. Roles someone can more easily step into on the fly if needed, roles that can be quickly understood and executed. Roles where a bit of delay won’t actually cause as much of an issue as others might like to think it will.

There is definitely nuance to the conversation.

But the point here isn’t to delve into each possible scenario, rather it’s to bring a hard truth to the surface for conversation: though we are taught, preached to, advised, and counseled that “no” is a viable and even respectable option, the response received to it does not always correlate with that position.

As I write this, I’m wondering if some will think this is a pity party or indictment of my various communities.

I reject both of those notions.

Let me say that I am writing this only because I hope that by bringing a real-life experience to light, those on the receiving end of “nos” may reflect on their own responsibilities as leaders and respond the way we’re taught to believe they will: sympathetically, warmly, and with understanding.

I also hope that by reading this, those who need to take a step back from some responsibilities can go into the process as better-informed decision makers. Are there things you will lose, perhaps long-term? Will some—even those you think of as friends—respond with criticism? Will people second guess you? And worse—will you begin to second guess yourself? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding … maybe.

All this begs the question: should you say no if you don’t feel up to a yes? Yes! And should you say yes if it may sometimes be dotted with nos? Well, yeah, I think you should.

My mentor, who has her own chronic health issues, explained it this way: we don’t forgo our work in this world because of illness. Yet we don’t necessarily need to live it out in times of flares or in ways that push us to the brink. Instead, we establish systems and supports that can be put into place as needed. That is one of the many things community is for, and part of successful ministry is learning to use the strengths of community wisely.

As hard as some things have been post-season-of-nos, it was worth it. I got a significant-if-limited portion of health back, reconnected with my family and myself, and made radical life changes that I will continue to reap the benefits of in the years to come. There is nothing more important than that, even ministry, as we cannot give of ourselves if there’s nothing left to give.

 

 

Cuddles’ So-called Life

I almost ignored it.

I was raking thatch out back, watching the kids pretend long, fallen branches left over from winter storms were light sabers, and our willow tree Darth Vader. Vader had won this battle and the kids were headed in, the youngest crying at his loss, when I saw something shimmery and black wiggle a little in the grass. I thought for a second it was a trick of the light, but then remembered the baby copperhead we found a couple of months ago and figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

Three steps later and I was staring at a mostly naked baby mouse, no mama mouse in sight.

I had no idea what to do. It was too young and cute for me to have the typical “mouse” reaction, and besides, it was barely breathing, let alone moving. What could it possibly do?

I dropped my rake and ran in, calling for the kids to come outside. Aaron resisted at first, still crying but now sitting at the kitchen island. “But Aaron,” I said. “It’s a baby mouse!”

If that mouse does nothing else in its entire life, it can always say it stopped a four-year-old’s tears.

The three of us went to look, the kids getting too close, while I went through the various scenarios in my head.

We couldn’t kill it. And we couldn’t keep it. And we couldn’t just dump it over the fence and make it someone else’s problem. Maybe drive it to a field and let it go? No. It was too little; it would die.

I decided to call Andy, who was still at work, but thankfully his office is in our basement so he didn’t have far to travel when I said, “Come to the backyard ASAP, please.”

He didn’t know what to do, either.

“If we leave it alone its mom might come back,” he said.

“No.” I’ve worked with neglected children long enough to see the signs, even in a 5-inch long rodent. “It’s been abandoned. It’s going to die.”

We took pictures. We hemmed and hawed. We told the kids not to get too close or to touch. We shushed all the pleadings to take on a new pet.

“I’m making an executive decision,” Andy said.

I immediately got nervous. I don’t do executive decision too well, unless I’m the executive.

“We’re leaving it alone to see if its mom comes back. I’ll check on it in a couple of hours.”

We agreed and went in the house, but went straight to the window overlooking the shiny, black, clearly dying lump of almost-hairlessness in our backyard.

I started dinner.

The kids and Andy played Uno.

The dog wanted out.

“Oh no. He might eat the mouse.”

“He wouldn’t eat a mouse.”

“He tried to eat the copperhead.”

“Yeah, but snakes are tasty.”

“Andy…”

“Well, Winston eating it might save the mouse from something worse.”

Rachel started screaming.

“I’m also worried about Winston bringing mouse-mouth into the house!”

“Oh, right.”

Rachel was still screaming.

“We aren’t going to let him eat the mouse, Rachel. Sit at the window to play cards. If Winston gets near the mouse tell me and I’ll get him.”

Winston didn’t eat the mouse. He didn’t even try to.

I kept cooking and they kept playing cards. Every 5 to 10 minutes, one of us would check on the mouse to see if it was still breathing. It always was.

As I cooked I thought, what are we doing? This is crazy. A month from now I’d try to kill that mouse if I saw it. We have mouse traps in our basement for crying out loud. And babies are always cute. Then they grow up and turn into adults and sometimes become completely unlikeable.

But still.

This was a baby. Its eyes were still closed. It wriggled and writhed in the grass, clearly rooting for its mama and her milk.

I called Petco.

“No, we don’t take wild animals. Sorry.”

I called our vet.

“No, we don’t take wild animals. Sorry.”

I started to say thank you and hang up.

“But let me give you a number,” I heard just in time. I wrote it down, but it was 4:55 on a Friday. What could be done?

I called the number anyway and got a woman’s voicemail telling me she was only accepting baby birds on a limited basis. She didn’t mention mice, I thought, so that must mean she’s taking them in droves. Score! I left a message.

We ate. We checked the mouse. We told the kids to eat. We checked the mouse. We finished dinner. We checked the mouse. We started to pick up. The phone rang.

It was the limited-number-of-birds lady.

“Sure. It won’t be the only mouse I’ve ever raised.”

She told me where to go – a town 30 minutes away. On a Friday. At rush hour. Right before the kids’ bedtime. And those kids also need baths.

But still.

She told me how to transport it safely. How to warm it if it were cold to the touch. How to cup it in my hands and rub life into it and give it sugar water in just the tiniest amounts because otherwise I could drown it.

I donned gloves. I filled a Tupperware with Kleenex. I grabbed a dipping bowl and medicine syringe and headed out back, the kids begging to do the work for me.

I noticed it had rained while we were eating. The mouse was now even slicker, shinier. Colder.

I scooped it into my hands.

“It’s a boy!” I said to the three people gaping at me through our open living room window.

I carried it inside. I laid it in its box. I let the kids touch it, ever so gently. I dribbled sugar water into its mouth.

“Was he cold when you touched it?” I asked the kids. They nodded.

Well crap.

I would now incubate a mouse.

And it worked. Slowly he started to wiggle more in my hands. His heartbeat became stronger. He twitched his little mouth and drank the sugar water. His ears – once flattened against his head – were somewhat softer. Perkier. After a few more minutes, he wriggled more. Became ever more alive. And I didn’t want to put him down. Feeling that life come into fuller being in the palm of my hand was … miraculous. Somewhat indescribable, although not entirely.

Eventually I put him in the Tupperware, leaving one corner open just like the limited-birds woman told me.

“Y’all better hurry. She said time was of the essence.”

But still I stood there, plastic box, tissue paper, and life grasped in my hand.

I told Rachel that she was the mouse keeper. She would have to be the one to keep him safe during the thirty-minute Hanauer Medi-Vac trip. Her smile was huge.

Aaron, however, sat at the table, sad.

“Should I take him?” Andy mouthed to me, gesturing slightly towards Aaron.

“Why not? It’s Friday. May as well.”

I said good-bye to Cuddles, placing him safely in the van, Rachel’s keen eye watching the whole time.

I turned to go in and saw a box against the garage. A delivery.

Well crap again. I knew already what was in it.

Inside, I grabbed the scissors, sliced open the box, and saw before me peppermint oil – mice don’t like it – and mouse traps. Ordered two days ago, BC: Before Cuddles. Before I became an incubator.

Earth Day is tomorrow. The next day is Sunday. I could hear the Sunday School lesson forming in my head as I stared at those traps, then realized I wasn’t teaching that week. What a shame. I’m sure there’s a lesson in this somewhere.

Just as I sat down to post this, the phone rang. I noticed the call was coming from the town 30 minutes away.

“Hello?”

“Do you have a cat?”

It’s the bird lady.

“No, just a dog.”

“Well, he’s a bunny.”

“My dog?”

“No, the mouse. He’s a bunny.”

Of course he is.

Whole Women, Whole Families, Whole Truths: Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say

The number of abortions in the United States may have declined by more than one-third over the past two decades—reaching its lowest rate since record keeping started in 1976—but the issue is far from settled. Today the Supreme Court hears its first major abortion case in almost 10 years, and, barring a 4-4 split due to the death of Justice Scalia, will likely hand down a decision by the summer.

This case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, questions the constitutionality of restrictions the state of Texas is imposing on abortion providers—restrictions like requiring abortion providers to hold admitting privileges at a local hospital and for centers to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Opponents argue that these standards are unnecessary and will cause clinics to close, resulting in significant limitations on women’s access to abortion.

This case has far-reaching implications as the Court is set to consider what regulations constitute an undue burden on a woman’s ability to get an abortion. As it is in all Supreme Court cases of this significance, media coverage is intense, and the protestors are many.

Significantly, this whole discussion is taking place during an election year, which is sure to force presidential hopefuls to address abortion head on. A study by the Barna Group has found that while only 30 percent of the general population places abortion as a priority in determining which candidate will get their vote, 64 percent of evangelicals say the same. And that means, because abortion will again be in the spotlight, this 64 percent will have their views heard by a larger audience than normal.

Of course, neither a Supreme Court case nor a presidential election is a top motivator for pro-lifers* to make their voices heard. Still, if history is any indicator, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole will provide a unique opportunity for influence that may not come around again for quite some time.

So the big question is how best to assert that influence.

Public perceptions of the pro-life movement are often significantly and negatively shaped by high profile cases like that of Robert Lewis Dear, the man who last November shot and killed a police officer and two civilians at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. At his first court appearance, Dear proudly professed guilt and claimed to be “a warrior for the babies.” Not much earlier, a pro-life group released highly controversial, sting-style videos of Planned Parenthood executives that resulted in a wide, public debate about federal funding for the organization. And, of course, we’ve all seen the heart wrenching and anger-inducing footage of protestors blocking young women from entering into clinics, making clear their opinion that the young, scared woman will burn in hell.

There is also the perennial issue of conservative politicians taking a hardline pro-life stance, yet seemingly disregarding the hardships that can come from an unplanned or unsafe pregnancy, and eliminating funding for programs that could either help minimize these hardships or stop the unplanned or unsafe pregnancy from occurring in the first place.

It’s a hostile context, with various “camps” pitted against one another. Surely there has to be a better way, a way far removed from pickets, judgment, hate, and hypocrisy.

To this end, it’s important to remember that when hoping to sway public opinion and/or policy to align with one’s belief system, moral credibility is key. That means the pro-life movement must become one associated with believing all life is sacrosanct—whether in the womb or already born. Perhaps it should go without saying, but the most basic tenant of eliminating abortion must be rooted in compassion and love, and not just for the unborn, but also for the expectant mothers. Certainly, pregnant woman who feel trapped by their pregnancy and are considering abortion should think of the church as the first place to turn for help, not as the last.

Thankfully, there are faith leaders who are opening their doors wide to those both considering abortion and those who have already had abortions. Last year Pope Francis declared that women who have had abortions could seek forgiveness from any priest, without authorization of a bishop. President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, wrote of those who have had or participated in abortions, “God has already pronounced what he thinks of this person: ‘You are my beloved child and in you I am well pleased.’ … Offer [] mercy not only at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but in the small groups and hallways of your church.” There are those who will take umbrage at the notion that a woman needs either forgiveness from a priest or mercy from church members, but for many women, both avenues of grace are desired and significant to their lives.

By decreasing social stigma within the church environment, providing non-judgmental counseling and assistance to women suffering at the hands of a partner or family member, and putting in place the go-to tried and true church supports of meals, rides to the doctor, deacon’s fund assistance, and the like, local churches can provide tangible support to women both considering abortion and those who have already had abortions. Shaming, shunning and judging will only drive women from the church.

Of equal importance is the significant contribution of churches and faith-based organizations to social services (the Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services in the world). One of main reasons women give for seeking abortions is financial. In fact, studies show that women with family incomes below the federal poverty level account for more than 40 percent of all abortions, and this particular demographic has one of the highest abortion rates in the nation (52 per 1,000 women). Given that six in ten women who receive abortions already have at least one child, it seems clear that greater systemic support for families below the poverty line is a prime way to reduce abortions.

These numbers indicate that being pro-life is about speaking up and acting on socioeconomic matters just as much as it is on abortion itself. Recognizing this, faith-based non-profits can and do provide subsidized childcare, job training, financial and material support, housing, and counseling for women in the “at risk” category. These efforts should be seen not just as economic in nature, but as essential ways to demonstrate  one’s commitment to ending abortion.

Similarly, better educational and vocational opportunities, workplace protections for pregnant women, and low cost, high quality childcare would help reduce the stressors on women who seek abortion for financial reasons. Many of the socioeconomic changes needed must be systemically implemented at a policy level, but others are within the grasp of individuals, places of worship, and organizations.

For those interested in having a direct, personal impact, there are many options other than marches and protests, all of which are considerably more effective. The influence of making ones position known to state and federal legislators through letter writing and phone calls, petition signing, ballot measures that increase socioeconomic support of women and families, and an individual’s voting power cannot be overstated.

For those less politically inclined, there are ways to advance one’s beliefs that may not change laws, but will fulfill the primary goal of both reducing abortion and creating more sustainable futures for those lives once they enter into the world.

Pregnancy centers, most of which are religious in nature, make it their goal to support women through their pregnancies as well as achieve long-term self-sufficiency. Women who might otherwise feel there are no options other than abortion can turn to these centers for help not only throughout pregnancy, but also into the future by learning the life skills necessary to successfully parent a child and run a household.

Despite the high number of women served by pregnancy centers, they aren’t without controversy, and some are more reputable than others. Volunteering at or donating to centers with a track record of providing sustainable assistance with long-term implications is a great way to make a local, direct impact. Before partnering with a pregnancy center, affirm that the center has appropriate medical oversight and licensing, as well as non-deceptive advertising, literature, and practices. Some pregnancy centers have come under criticism for these things, and to truly help women and the unborn, maintaining credibility and compassion, not merely pushing an agenda, is key.

Of course, pregnancy centers aren’t for all women, such as those who feel unprepared to parent. For those in this situation, adoption agencies are often presented as an alternative to abortion. Like pregnancy centers, these agencies provide pregnant women with services to help them throughout their pregnancies, but also help match birth mothers with adoptive families. Many provide prenatal care, help with housing and other expenses, and even maternity clothes and rides to the doctor.

Some of these centers are religious- or state run non-profits, others are privately owned and for profit. As with pregnancy centers, some are more reputable than others and must be thoroughly researched before a referral can be made. Each state has its own regulations, but as a general rule, adoption agencies should be licensed, been in business for many years with a well-maintained reputation, have a high number of successful placements per year, and should not pressure clients into making certain choices. Individuals and faith communities should take the time to research near-by agencies and be prepared to make a knowledgeable recommendation to a woman in need.

In so doing, it must be remembered that for adoption to be a truly viable option, women must feel emotionally and physically able to make it through nine months of pregnancy. This means pro-life advocates must recognize that the reasons women seek abortions can take all kinds of forms, including social stigmas, lack of health care, abusive relationships, family pressures, and financial and work or educational limitations, among other things. Those committed to ending abortion should consider putting time and energy toward finding a workable solution for as many of these problems as possible—although certainly no perfect or easy solution exists, nor does this list address the myriad of needs that present when women become pregnant through rape, or when a pregnancy compromises the mother’s health. Those are complicated, emotion-laden, and highly individual cases that I cannot begin to address here.

Promoting and achieving pro-life goals will come from establishing credibility by honoring the sanctity of life, both born and unborn, and taking compassionate, non-judgmental, prayerful and loving action to reduce the reasons women seek abortion in the first place, primarily their belief there are “no other options.” Simply put, we must give them options.

What if rather than creating picket signs and coordinating protests, efforts turned instead toward creating options by caring for women and families in need, and working towards systemic change that does the same? This is not only a third-way of being pro-life—it is the best way. It’s a way that respects and honors all life, at all stages, without judgment, but with honesty, compassion, and a nuanced understanding of the very real hardships faced by women dealing with an unexpected pregnancy.

State laws and Supreme Court decisions don’t change the fact that the real work of making pro-life mean all life often takes place behind the scenes, through small acts of love and kindness that have a big impact on the lives of many, both those born and those yet to be.

 

* I use the term “pro-life” because it is the term most commonly used and understood in public discussion. I find it to be a misnomer, however, as those who are pro-choice are not, in fact, anti-life. Similarly, many who may deem themselves “pro-life” for lack of a better term, are not “anti-choice,” although they would limit situations where that choice might be employed.