This time of year reminds me of a day 24 years ago when a close friend made the choice to terminate a life — her own. I still mourn. That choice ended all other choices.
She was in despair. A few weeks before graduation from her final year of university she was dropped from the program. Her supervisor said she did not have the temperament for her chosen field and would not receive certification.
It was the same temperament she exhibited the entire time and the decision so late in the process was a blow. She felt ashamed and like she had wasted nearly four years of her life. The rejection not only dashed her dreams, it became part of her identity.
Reject. Shameful failure.
When she talked about ending her life I interfered. I meddled. I made it my business, and I do not apologize for that. I arranged for professional help. I got her to the hospital.
I understand despair. I know what depression is like. I know the feeling that hope has been chased away by the ugly trio of anxiety, shame, and dismal forebodings. I know what it is like to make my failures my identity. I know what it is like to believe that the world would be better off without me.
I also know what it is like to be healed, to see the sun come out from behind the clouds and warm my heart again. I know the joy of hope restored. I know what it is to be loved for myself and not for my accomplishments. I have met the God of hope. He healed me and lifted me out of the pit of despair.
I know she told people what they wanted to hear to get out of the hospital. She still saw herself as an unwanted reject. I urged her to accept help, but she refused.
We talked on the phone a lot, frequently in the middle of the night. Telling her about how learning the truth of the simple child’s song, “Jesus Loves Me” rescued me from hopelessness brought an angry response.
“Quit cramming religion down my throat. I’m tired of religious people condemning me. You can’t tell me what to do!”
I wasn’t condemning her, but she had grown up with a lot of legalistic religion with impossibly high standards, so that’s how she interpreted what I said. She was right about me telling her what to do.
I could not tell her what to do with her body. She had free will. It was her choice. One night she hung up on me and chose to overdose. She told the paramedic who transported her to hospital that she changed her mind. But it was too late. She had an allergic reaction to the antidote and died. The consequence of her choice put an end to all other choices.
Years passed before I accepted there was nothing more I could have done to change her mind. It was her body, her life, her choice. I still miss her. I still love her. I still put flowers on her grave.
I read something another young friend wrote today. (For Danika’s excellent blog “My Life, My Choice” click here.) Danika’s life was also interrupted by a change of plans. She was on her way back to college to complete a program in a chosen field in which she excelled when she learned she was pregnant.
Her doctor urged her to get an abortion. She didn’t want her “to throw away everything she had worked so hard for.”
As I thought about it, I realized the doctor accepted the same belief as Lisa. Success in this culture is achieved through hard work leading to money, status, and power. Circumstances that set us back in this competitive atmosphere, in which everyone is too busy chasing goals to quit the race and stop to help another human being, are cause for despair.
Resiliency carries less value as a character trait when hope is lost. Compassion in a world of despair can offer only a cruel kindness. Abortion may look like a kind rewind but it ends the life of a living being whether or not you believe it is human or of any value. It permanently ends the possibility of any other choices.
I began to think about the many women I know who felt coerced by partners, social workers, doctors and family members into a choice that increased their sense of being a failure, whether it was failure to produce a male child, or a perfectly healthy child, or simply remain unpregnant. Some, feeling there was no place in the world for themselves if they could not keep up in the success race, assumed there would be no place for their child either. For some, despair and hopelessness led to a kind of suicide by proxy. Someone told them the world would be better off without their child and they believed it.
Danika chose a third way. She defied the edict that declared her only choices were to “throw her life away” by remaining pregnant or terminate and become a success by finishing her degree and getting a job. Her career plans have shifted and now she has started her own successful business and is studying online. Her little girl is a bright ray of sunshine in the lives of everyone who knows her. This child will grow up with free will and the right to make her own choices.
It has not been easy. I’ve watched Danika struggle, but I’ve also watched her accept help from community resources and family and friends who genuinely care, people who by their actions told her she is loved and valued for who she is and not just her accomplishments.
There was a time when suicide was against the law. What’s the point? I don’t think abortion can be legislated away anymore than suicide (although I certainly don’t want to be a part in it anymore than I would want to supply anyone with a lethal dose of pills). You can’t tell people what to do with their own bodies. They will follow through on intentions whether or not the process is “safe.” You can only be there to help, to support, to point out other options, to let the goodness of God show through your actions, and to point to the source of hope. The abortion issue is about more than a change in laws. It’s about change in hearts. It’s about hope.
Unless those of us who value life in the womb address the problem of the lack of love, honour, forgiveness, and hope in this world and until we live in a way that exemplifies resiliency and joy in trusting God to not only get us through tough circumstances, but flourish through them, we will have no influence. Until we are willing to care for others in non-condemning, self-sacrificing practical ways, we will only spend more years laying flowers on graves on our way to protest marches.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NIV)
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
“Christ in you” is not only your best hope of glory, it is the world’s only hope.