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We Can Only Imagine

Dear VSM LifeSharers,                                                                              February 2010

            Can you imagine what goes through the minds of people driving by an abortion clinic, an abortion clinic where a pro-lifer is standing with a smiling baby sign and a banner that reads, “Mom, We Care for You and Your Baby”?  

            I can.

            And if you’ll indulge my imagination for a bit, I’ll share with you a few possibilities.  Yes, these are fictional wanderings but after 30 years of pro-life activist experience, (including thousands of testimonies read and personal conversations engaged in), I don’t think they are far off the mark. You see, when I am in front of an abortion clinic, it is to serve two purposes: 1) to help sidewalk counsel as needed and 2) to present a pro-life witness to the public passing by. My signs and banners, therefore, are of most immediate importance to the incoming clients, but I'm also very serious about showing them clearly to those hundreds of people driving by during the time I’m there.  I smile, give a gentle wave, try and ensure that both directions of traffic can easily see either my sign and/or my banner...and I pray. I'm well aware that many of those driving by don’t want to notice me (or “us” if I'm with colleagues), but the clear fact is – they do!  And I am quite confident that God is speaking to them. After all, by His very nature, He is a revealing God Who constantly tugs at men’s heartstrings.  He does so through conscience and memory, through creation, through the written and verbal word, through examples, and through the “still, small” voice of conviction.

            What does God want to say to those people driving by an abortion mill and how will they respond to His entreaties?  The answers to those questions are as many, as varied, and as complex as the people involved.  But we can be sure of this – God knows each person intimately. He is “in on” every detail of their history, their beliefs, their hopes, their fears, their secrets, and their future. And so God can use any tool available to reach out to them, not the least valuable of which are courteous, prayerful Christians who conscientiously present the winsome pro-life messages of their signs, banners, demeanor, and conversation -- and who then pray for the Holy Spirit to use them as He wills in the individual’s life. Again, what goes on in those minds and hearts? 

            We can only imagine...

            Car #81.  Inside this green SUV were three nurses car-pooling to work at a nearby hospital.  The two in the front seat were both very uncomfortable when thinking about abortion.  One had gone through that tragedy when she was 19 and had never forgiven herself. She shuddered at the memory and tried to think of something else – anything else. The other nurse, the one driving, was once married to a security guard whose duties included escorting women into an abortion clinic.  He had hated the assignment at first and felt very guilty about it. He had been raised in church and believed abortion was a grievous sin. To make it worse, he saw how dirty the place was, how arrogant and coarse the abortionist was, and how the staff lied to women, scared them, and (behind their backs, of course) made fun of the girls that came there for abortions. But her husband had been afraid to tell his boss that he wouldn't work there and was too lazy (she believed) to go get another job. And so he stayed – and grew hardened and profane and then even brutal himself. He finally was reassigned but it was too late. She no longer loved or respected him and the marriage was broken.

            That nurse would have described herself as pro-choice before her husband started working at that place. But not any longer. Not after she saw what prolonged involvement with abortion led to. It wasn't that she knew much about it or that she was ever moved to speak against it; all she thought about when she heard the word “abortion” was the shame and emasculation it had brought to her husband, a man who she once thought was a fantastic guy. But seeing the man with that banner that read, “Mom, We Care About You and Your Baby,” gave her a couple of new things to think about...like babies and people who were willing to stand in the snow to try and protect them.

            But the third nurse, the one sitting in the back, had a much different reaction when she saw the pro-lifer on the sidewalk. In fact, she gave him a big smile and actually applauded when she saw him lifting his hand as a greeting.  The reason for her strong show of support was because she worked in the neo-natal unit of the hospital and was very much aware of the beauty and mystery and value of each baby that God sent to earth.  After they had gone by, the nurse at the wheel asked if she knew that man. “No,” she said. “I just wanted him to know I appreciated the stand he's taking. I think that's really cool.” And then she talked for several minutes about why she believed as she did. It even gave her an opportunity of referring to her Christian faith. As she did so, it prompted an intense longing inside the nurse on the passenger side, the one who had opted for that abortion when she was a teenager. She was sick and tired of trying to bury something that wouldn't stay buried. She didn't want any more excuses or distractions; no more coping mechanisms or escape hatches. She needed to get rid of this guilt.  And Christianity was about forgiveness, wasn't it? She made a resolution then and there that she would have a long talk with this gal sometime when they were alone. And that sometime couldn't come too soon.

            God had used that pro-life witness there on the sidewalk to plant a couple of seeds. And now God was carefully, lovingly watering them.

            Car #214 was actually a pickup truck and in response to the pro-lifer’s smile and nod, the driver leaned across his passenger to yell out an obscene phrase.  In doing so, he momentarily lost control of the truck and almost hit the school bus coming up alongside.  When the pro-lifer didn’t respond (except for a wry smile and a little shake of his head), the pickup driver screamed out again, “Why don’t you get a life, you @&*#%.”  By this time, they were far down the street. Still, the driver kept shouting things out the window for another block.

             The other young man in the truck was embarrassed by the actions of his co-worker but what troubled him most was the phrase, “Get a life.” That was a joke.  After all, what kind of life did the two of them have?  They were doing dirty jobs for a jerk who was constantly on their case. And the meager paychecks they got were then spent mostly on cheap weed.  They lived in a noisy, filthy apartment where the plumbing was a nasty mess. No, there was no other way to slice it; they were losers with no future and no hope. And yet here was his blockhead friend yelling at that man to “get a life.” And why? Because he’s a decent man trying to save babies from being torn to pieces? For crying out loud!

            The young man would go on to stew on that irony throughout that day and most of the next week. And with his intensified sense of failure and desperation, he even began to entertain thoughts of a “way out” that he hadn't considered for years; namely, taking his next paycheck and buying a bus ticket back to Mills Creek. Back to family. Back to memories of a better time. Back even to that little church where the people had made him feel so welcome. Maybe it didn't have to be a dead end for him after all.  Maybe he could get rid of the dope, get a new way of thinking and “get a life” once again.

            God had used that pro-life witness there on the sidewalk to plant a seed. And now God was carefully, lovingly watering it.

            Car #239 was an old but newly-washed Ford Fiesta with a young woman driving.  She honked and waved at the man with the banner even before she got to him.  She did that every morning she saw him.  And a couple of times when the traffic allowed she had slowed down and yelled out to him that she would pray for him and the other pro-lifers there.  And that she did.  Polls indicate that young Americans are even more pro-life than the generation before them but, believe me, this young woman still didn’t come anything close to the stereotype of a pro-life citizen.  In fashion, attitude and the music on her MP3, she was 1968 and Flower Power all over again. But she worked as a chemical engineer for the FDA and her hobbies included writing poetry, skeet-shooting, and skydiving. And one more thing,  she frequently helped out at a crisis pregnancy center.  The motivation for that latter activity was because her birth mother was once going into an abortion clinic in Georgia when she got involved in a conversation with the pro-life sidewalk counselors who were outside. They convinced her to choose life instead of death for her baby and then introduced her to a pregnancy center who, in turn, introduced her to a couple who very much wanted to adopt her baby. Et Voila'! 28  years later that baby crossed the stage to receive her Ph. D with her parents and her birth mother in the audience applauding. Oh yes, this young scientist knew firsthand the crucial importance of sidewalk counseling.  And that’s why she so diligently prayed every time she saw these pro-lifers:

            “Lord Jesus, please use their witness there on the sidewalk to save lives like mine and also to plant many seeds of truth in the hearts of people driving by.  And thank You for Your care in watering those seeds in the days to come. Bring in a rich harvest from their devoted service in Your behalf.  I pray in Jesus' Name. Amen.”

            The cars continued to speed by in waves that morning.  Many of the drivers smiled back when the pro-lifer smiled and waved to them.  Some also waved, or honked, or gave a thumbs up. One little kid saluted.  One of the honks was given by a man whose mother was a strong pro-life voice in her community back in Nevada.  Another came from a grandmother who had recently lost a granddaughter to a terrible illness and, through the ordeal, had learned anew the preciousness of human life.  And one women gave a thumbs up (she had done so frequently in recent weeks) just to emphasize to herself that there were still men of principle in the world.  Unfortunately, her life had been messed up pretty thoroughly by men who were anything but.

            And there were, of course, a few shaking heads too and a few obscene gestures. There was one more “get a life” yell (besides the pickup driver) and two urging the pro-life activist to “get a job.” The most enigmatic outcry came from an older woman in a new Volkswagen who shook her fist out the window and bellowed, “Why did Nixon go to China? Answer me that!”

            From the perspective of the sidewalk counselor, it was just another sad morning. None of the abortion clients had turned away. That meant 7 babies, infinitely precious in the sight of God, had been aborted. But he kept up his vigil there by the abortion clinic parking lot. And he kept showing his sign to the eastern flow of street traffic and his banner to the west. And he kept praying that God would plant seeds of truth in the hearts of all who passed by. 

            Finally, there was Car #433 which came by just a few minutes before the pro-lifer had to leave the abortion clinic.  The young couple inside didn’t wave at him nor did they smile.  In fact, they each tried hard to make it seem that they hadn’t noticed him at all...even to each other. Because, you see, there was tremendous tension inside Car #433 because the couple had gone through a long, exasperating, even violent argument the night before over abortion.  And the topic was not raised in any political or sociological sense, but in an extremely personal application.

            For this young woman had discovered she was pregnant and, with no small amount of trepidation, had told the young man with whom she had moved in five months before.  He had been bitterly angry with her and when she had balked at his insistence that an abortion was necessary, he became enraged.  To calm the storm (and because she was trying to convince herself that she loved him and needed him), she had finally relented and said “yes” to an abortion.  But, at breakfast the next day, the young father had new doubts about his girlfriend's compliance. She was distant and cold, like a robot going through programmed actions. Still, there was just no way he was going to be saddled with a kid right now.  So, even if it took heavy pressure to get her to the abortion clinic; he would definitely turn the screws. It might not be quite as sweet a setup as before – for awhile anyhow. However, he was confident she'd give in.

            But that assurance was taken away the moment they had driven by that guy with the banner, “Mom, We Care About You and Your Baby” for, in the icy silence that followed during the next several miles, he began to realize that something, maybe everything, had changed inside her. She hadn’t said a word.  She never acknowledged seeing the banner or the smiling baby on the sign that he knew she'd peeked at through the sideview mirror. But she had changed. He knew she had decided against the abortion.  If he had her to himself, he could have insisted she get an abortion before the holidays. But it was too late now. She had seen that banner. She had seen the eyes of that baby.

            God had used that pro-life witness there on that sidewalk to plant a seed. And now God was carefully, lovingly watering it.

            As I said when I began this exercise, I know I’ve used my imagination in constructing these scenarios.  But, based on my experience, I submit that they are true-to-life and certainly reflect the directions of my prayers as I ask God to use my pro-life witness outside abortion clinics to teach, warn, comfort, encourage, rebuke and inspire according to the specific needs of the people driving by.  And yes, indeed; I believe that dramatic, life-changing stories like these do occur…more often than we dare to dream.  When we get to heaven, we'll hear them firsthand.

            As always, I'd like to conclude this letter with a sincere thank-you from both Claire and I for all of the financial support, the encouragement, and the prayers that you invest in the work of Vital Signs Ministries. Whether it involves our sidewalk counseling, our public advocacy, our cyberspace outreaches (including the ever-increasing impact of Vital Signs Blog), speaking, “Mercy Ministries,” networking, and so on, we will endeavor to hold high His banners for the Faith, the family and the sanctity of life. God bless you for your part in this great team effort.