Introduction by Jor-El Godsey, PresidentHeartbeat International
The pandemic revealed something we already knew, pregnancy help is an essential service even in the face of severe community upheaval. Serving in the heart of one of those communities facing major upheaval, is First Image in Portland, Oregon. For the better part of four decades now this Heartbeat affiliate has been a harbor of life-saving ministry and lighthouse impacting the culture with Kingdom love.
In this particular season, the leadership team of First Image, led by Rev. Larry Gadbaugh, penned a worthy call to their team – staff, board, and supporters – in how to respond to the present challenge:
The upheaval in our culture sparked by the police killing of George Floyd has ignited a movement around racial justice in our country and within the church in our city. The realities that have sparked this movement are not new, and at First Image, we have made some intentional efforts to learn and grow in this area over the years.
Before the current movement began, some of our leadership team had been building relationships with black Christian leaders in our city. We serve a diverse population, and we have known that in order to love our clients well, we need to understand their experiences, perspectives, and unique challenges. So, as a predominantly white organization in a predominantly white area of the country, we’ve asked these leaders what we don’t know. And we’re listening.
We’ve been reading recommended books, participating in listening sessions, and are continuing to build authentic relationships. As we engage, we see that we have more work to do.
In our strategic planning process earlier this year, we identified “fostering diversity” as a key element in long-term health and vitality, both to reflect the diverse vision of the kingdom of God, and to better represent and serve our clients. Fostering diversity sounds nice, but the reality is that we have work to do in order to make First Image a place where we can have true unity in diversity. We believe that Jesus Christ is reconciling all things to himself and calls us to join in the ministry of reconciliation (1 Cor. 15). The work of true reconciliation is deep and it is hard, because it requires us to believe that there is something that’s broken, which needs restoration.
How will we be going about this work at First Image? Here are 4 things we will be practicing during this season and in an ongoing way:
Rooted in the Word of God: We believe that the scriptures are the revelation of God and the grounding of our growth in Jesus. They are also the mirror that helps us to see what we do not see naturally. They leave no stone unturned and call us to the deepest kind of love. The voices we’ll be learning from and engaging with will be rooted in The Word.
Listening: We will continue to build relationships with local Christian leaders of color and we will actively seek to listen and learn from them, to move beyond our own echo chambers. The book and resource recommendations we will be working through together in the coming months are coming directly from those leaders.
Lament: We will not be shy about empathizing with the pain of our neighbors created in the Image of God. The scriptures call us to weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). When part of the body tells us it is hurting, we will join it in its pain. As we think about our clients, we understand this intuitively. As our understanding of the experiences of people of color deepens, our lament will deepen as well. We will resist the temptation to harden our hearts in order to merely justify and protect the status quo.
Repentance: Jesus calls us to bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). Listening and lamenting are not ends in themselves. They lead us to deeper repentance. Repentance is not just apology, it is going a new way. We will be actively looking for areas in our own hearts and within our organizational culture, practices and policies that need to be reformed in light of the things we continue to learn.
We realize that issues surrounding racism are politically explosive. At First Image, our aim is to go deeper and beyond the political categories to a Kingdom vision that sees and loves the people that God has called us to serve and serve alongside.
We will work to foster an open environment, where we can process together honestly, and where we maintain mutual respect and care for one another.
First Image has been raised up by God as a steward of his transforming grace and truth in Christ. We are embracing his ongoing work of transforming us together to more fully see and serve the diversity of the image of God in our mission, our churches, and our community.
All life-affirming Pregnancy Help Organizations (PHOs) grounded in faith in Christ can insert their organization name in place of First Image’s call for Unity with Diversity.
Recommended reading from Larry Gadbaugh:
by Jor-El Godsey, PresidentHeartbeat International
The Beatitudes, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, are a list of characteristics He calls us to be as well as the spiritual reality of blessings that flow when we fulfill those characteristics. (Matthew 5)
Poor in spirit. Check.
Hunger and thirst for righteousness. Check.
Pure in heart. Check.
I say, “Check,” not because I’ve fully accomplished any of these, but I understand how they are to help me shape my internal person, and my outward effort. I check these as important things to work toward and embrace.
But then I run into the 8th blessing characteristic. Unlike the others, this one does not immediately focus on my inward nature and longing. Instead it invites actions from others. Others who stand against me. In fact, they actually insult and persecute me.
“Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:11a
Wait, what?!? I’m blessed when others insult, revile, mock, lie, and utter all kinds of evil against me falsely? (I’m borrowing from various bible translations to explore what “persecute” fully means.)
Of course these types of things are all very common at the big sports rivalry game each year. But not something I expect when we’re trying to help people choose the Gift of Life and the Giver of Life.
There are many examples in recent years of this very type of mocking, lying, insulting attack against the pregnancy help movement. We’ve documented attacks from NARAL, HBO’s John Oliver, Abortion Access Front (formerly known as Lady Parts Justice League), Texas Handmaids, medical groups, women’s marches, OpenDemocracy, and more.
But the very recent attack against Adirondack Pregnancy Center seem to advance Alinsky-styled tactics at the hands of the Democratic Socialists of America to keep this brand new pregnancy help harbor from even opening their doors. And they attempt to use their Heartbeat International connection to make some grander play. All in an effort to keep local women from having access to a choice besides abortion.
And there it is.
The work of the pregnancy help movement is all about the work of the Holy Spirit in championing the worth of the Gift of Life – for the mom and her baby and the family. It is every bit part of the Great Commandment to love and the Great Commission to go.
This is all for “righteousness’ sake.”
And that is where the blessing comes. When we, members of the pregnancy help movement, are persecuted for fulfilling the call of God to help her choose life, we partake in the blessing of the Cross. Jesus, Himself, was persecuted for righteousness’ sake so that He could conquer the death sentence of sin. And before Him, His prophets were persecuted for even carrying the message of life over death.
Why should we be different? In our way, we speak life to this generation. And they hate us, not unlike those of old hated Jesus (Jn 15:18).
We are blessed to have the gift of being persecuted for His name and His work. It does not make our work perfect, but it does mean our work’s goal is holy. Championing God’s Gift of Life is partnering with Him in a stand against today’s culture of death.
So take heart because the next verse (Matt 5:12) calls us to “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…”
“Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Luke 19:5B
Jesus would have been lousy at Instagram. While Jesus would have millions of followers, likes and shares on any social media site, something tells me He wouldn’t have spent much time trying to get the perfect photo to share or musing on creating a viral meme.
And when we look carefully at Jesus’ ministry, He never appeared interested in the big numbers. Instead, he almost always focused on the “one,” or only a few.
Yes, Jesus spoke to hundreds and even thousands, but we never see Jesus trying to pull together a crowd. There were no banners proclaiming, “Jesus to Speak on the Mount Today! Don’t Miss it!” If crowds showed up, Jesus didn’t turn them away. But most of Jesus’ most memorable moments took place with one person here, a small group there.
Think about it. Jesus chose just twelve disciples. Many others followed and were disciples as well, but Jesus zeroed in on just twelve. We see story after story of Jesus healing one blind man, only ten lepers, one boy possessed by a spirit, one centurion’s servant, one blind man, one man suffering from dropsy. We could go on—the list is long.
And Jesus’ stories? He told us of one lost sheep, one good Samaritan, one prodigal son and his relationship with one loving father.
Jesus spoke to one woman at a well, one curious Nicodemus, and called out for one Zaccheus, almost lost in a huge crowd.
Yes, Jesus fed thousands. He healed . . . who knows how many? But at His core, the good news Jesus talked about spread because of one here, one there. Because of Jesus’ focus on the “one,” He earned the trust and love of the thousands.
As we serve those we see, we likely wonder sometimes whether we’ve made much of a difference. One came in the other day and we’re not sure we reached her. Another made a life decision, but we can’t know for certain what her future holds. We wonder, is our work truly making a “big” impact?
Jesus knew how to make a “big” impact. He reached one here. Then, he walked for miles and reached one more. Then, another. And another. By doing so, He created a blueprint for us in the pregnancy help community—one we follow each day.
We don’t know if following this model will make us social media influencers or draw crowds of people desperate to hear us speak. But we do know this model is Jesus-inspired. And, regardless of whether we see instant results, connecting with the one brings God-sized results.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement SpecialistHeartbeat International
So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. John 4:40
The story of the Woman at the Well is familiar to all of us. We often think about this story in terms of Jesus reaching out to someone struggling in relationships and life in general. And we consider how Jesus chose this woman to reveal Himself as the Messiah.
It is a story of love, hope and new beginnings.
And, it is a story of a common-sense approach to racial reconciliation, a great need in our culture today.
The Woman at the Well was a Samaritan, and we know mainline Jews never talked to Samaritans. Upstanding Jews never traveled through Samaritan areas, never connected with Samaritans, had no place for them in their synagogues.
But Jesus cut through all of this, building a bridge of connection with five powerful actions.
Jews went around Samaritan villages, not through them. But Jesus made it his mission to go into Samaria and connect with the woman at the well.
Starting with a simple request for water, Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman in conversation. He never judged, never pushed his opinion on her. He let her do as much talking as He—a great lesson for all of us.
When the Samaritan woman tried to bring Jesus into a debate about theological issues (“You people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship”), Jesus didn’t take the bait. Instead, He focused on bigger issues (“An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”).
By not debating the smaller matter of where to worship, Jesus could zero in on the major issue--Who to worship. In doing so, Jesus opened the door for anyone—including the Samaritan woman—to join Jesus’ team.
When the Samaritan woman told Jesus she knew the “Messiah is coming,” Jesus didn’t hold back, sharing with her that He was the One she was looking for. Because we’re talking about Jesus, it’s easy to overlook: Jesus was taking a risk. She could have laughed at him. She could have argued with him. She could have walked away in dismissal, even if still wondering how Jesus found out about her background of having five husbands.
Because we know the rest of the story, we know she went to her city, proclaiming that she may have met the Messiah. Through her story, many followed Jesus. But it all started because Jesus was willing to risk sharing His identity.
The story of the Samaritan woman doesn’t end with her going back to her village. A few verses later we see the Samaritans asking Jesus to stay with them. Jesus moved quickly from place to place, but for two days—a long time for Jesus—he stayed in a land forbidden to Jews.
Simply put, Jesus stuck around to invest in the community. While there, “many believed because of His word.”
In today’s chaotic world, we can become overwhelmed with the news of the day, believing society’s problems are too big, too complex to solve. They aren’t.
As we serve those who come in our door, we know that—regardless of our color—we will serve those who don’t look like us or believe like we do. Differing backgrounds often create differing world views.
Jesus is our example for how we approach these situations. First, He went out of his way to find those different from Him. From there, He started a conversation, didn’t leap in to take a side when a tough subject came up, risked transparency . . . and He invested in a community which was not His own.
And, He changed the world.
by Jennifer Wright, Editor/WriterHeartbeat International
It’s been a rough year so far, and this summer hasn’t really been one for traveling. Together, these make for a challenging time with those vacation days. What do you do when you can’t tell if Disney will be open or not?
For a lot of us, vacation might end up being at home this time. Fortunately, I’ve had a little bit of experience with staying home vacations and retreats. Here are a few things I’ve learned that I can share with you.
It’s really easy if you are (or have been) working from home to never stop working. The first thing to make a vacation work, especially if it has to be a home, is to keep it from feeling like work.
Set aside a long weekend, a day, or even just a few hours to be completely off work. Don’t check emails, don’t answer office phone calls, don’t even text a coworker to check in. Use that vacation time!
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re going to be away for a while, you don’t need to make it impossible to reach you. If you are in a position where you might need to be aware of something right away, it’s reasonable to make yourself available, but do it in a specific way that doesn’t force you into a rabbit-hole of work emails and follow-ups. Give your coworkers a single way to contact you that you will be responding to, and stick to it.
Once you’re out of a work mindset, it can be hard to find something to do. The temptation is to do something you already do in your off time. (For me, that means zoning out to Star Trek reruns.) But if all you do in your time off is something routine, there’s no vacation.
That park around the corner with all the hiking trails you never have time to explore? Take a day to explore the trails. The recipe you’ve always wanted to try, but it could take you 4 hours to make? Break it out. Those paints on the top shelf of the closet that you don’t get out because it makes a mess? Paint a picture. That book you haven’t picked up off the nightstand in months? Crack it open and read.
Do something that makes you feel creative, engaged, and alive.
There are healthy ways to engage with the screens in our lives. We can connect with loved ones far away, watch tutorials on things we want to learn to do, communicate quickly and effectively, and more, but sometimes, we need to close them all down for a while and spend time elsewhere.
If your mini-vacation is a day, take 4 hours to be completely unplugged. If it’s a few days, see if you can take a full 12 hours. A week? Try just a few waking hours each day.
It doesn’t always have to happen all at once, but taking time out to be completely without the internet, the computer, the television, the smart phone, and the world of digital media, is more relaxing than you might imagine.
The impact of something as pervasive in our lives as screens is difficult to gage because we never get away from them. Spend a little time without screens, if for no other reason, to see how it makes you feel. I have found it to be incredibly refreshing.
I don’t know what your daily prayer routine looks like, but I do know mine gets stale from time to time. That’s when I know I need to try something new. That’s when I’ll pray in a different space, with a new devotional book, or with a different approach.
Consider taking an hour for imaginative prayer. Read a passage from the Bible that you know well, but instead of reading it from afar, put yourself in the passage. Read Psalm 23 and imagine the table prepared before you by the Lord. Read the story of Christ’s death and imagine yourself at the foot of the cross. Read Acts of the Apostles and imagine yourself helping to build the early Church from scratch.
Or go somewhere new to pray. Take a walk to talk with God about creation. Make a new space in your home to sit, kneel, or stand in to pray. Light a candle. Add a piece of religious art (maybe even something you created yourself).
A new approach to prayer can send you back into the fray refreshed and reconnected with the things that really matter. And for me, that’s what I really want from a vacation – to feel ready to come back to where I was.
So that’s my plan for my summer vacation this year: take time off, do something out of the ordinary, unplug for a while, and pray in a new way. What will your vacation look like?
And after that, He went out, and noticed a tax-gatherer named Levi, sitting in the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow him. - Luke 5:27-28
The calling of Matthew is as simple as it gets. In Luke’s account, Jesus is only passing by Matthew’s office when he says, “Follow me.” That’s it. From there, Matthew hops up and follows. Easy, right?
But wait a minute. Why did Matthew follow? No one this side of Heaven knows for sure.
We know only one piece of information on Matthew, that he was a tax collector. On the plus side, tax collecting was lucrative work, because tax gatherers like Matthew normally extracted more from the taxpayer than the owed amount. They kept the extra drachmas and denarii for themselves. This practice didn’t win friendships, but it certainly paid the bills.
by Joe Pellegrino, Legacy Minded Men
If you ask most folks in the states when Mother’s Day falls on the calendar, they can tell you, the second Sunday of May. But when you ask them the same question about Father’s Day most will have no idea and some might even say “is there still a Father’s Day???”
Dads have a bit of a perception problem these days. Maybe it's time that we start a paradigm shift. Why not offer a blessing to fathers this Father’s Day?
It’s not complex. It’s straightforward. It’s a word of approval or a word of support. It’s a word that bestows confidence, hope, and a sense of well-being. And brings affirmation. It’s a word that allows a young child, a woman or a man to move forward boldly, humbly, but with courage and confidence into the future. It’s a word that says, “You are a masterpiece that has been created for a unique purpose in this life.” It’s a word that helps our children, our family, our friends, and those we work with know they are valuable and fashioned for something special in this life. Finally, it’s a word that ADDS VALUE to another! As a father myself, I can say while some of us have received a blessing, many of us have not. Several years ago at one of our men’s conferences, we gave a call for men to come forward who felt they had never experienced a blessing from their parents, family, or anyone, but particularly from their dads. To our amazement the majority of those present came forward - men from their teens to their 70’s. When we see people who are excelling in life, regardless of their family’s financial or economic status, we often will find folks who come from a loving, supportive, encouraging family background that continually imparted words of blessing into their lives. They were told they could do anything in life they set their heart and mind to.
Studies have shown that many super successful people who even came from very difficult and distressed families and backgrounds made it in life because of the words of blessing spoken to them.
The men that walk in your doors with your clients may never have had such affirming words spoken to them. In fact, they may have heard nothing but discouraging, demeaning, and angry abusive words. Whatever the case may be, when you take the chance to offer them a blessing, they can learn to bless others as well.
Perhaps this is the way to help shift from Father’s Day to "Fathers Say."
Men are being pulled in so many ways today that distract them from their primary roles as husbands and fathers. As a result, all too often, our children suffer. Now, more than ever, we need to understand the true role dads play in their children’s lives as our kids face a world we could never have imagined. What fathers SAY can determine their child's WAY. Let's turn everyday into "Fathers Say" by continually blessing and mentoring our children or a child in need.
Offering a blessing to a father can create a ripple effect that gives them the inspiration to do the same for their children and families. This is what "Fathers Say" is all about – fathers stepping up to offer blessings to people in their lives. This is the power of an encouraging word! Who knows, it may even result in a re-launch of Father’s Day!
"Fathers Say" is a concept and book available from Legacy Minded Men. For more information, click here to find out how you can engage, equip, and encourage men to be the fathers and husbands they were made to be.
by Lisa Pinney, Pittsburgh Transformation Center
Those involved in the work of caring for the traumatized or struggling, often do not see the slow growing signs of secondary trauma (STS) in their own lives. We are so focused on the person in front of us that we forget to pay attention to our own needs. Among helping professionals, the risk for secondary trauma increases if we have our own unresolved trauma. The difficult stories we regularly listen to also increase the possibility for compassion fatigue.
Many times, friends and family will notice the changes before we do. Whether we are like the proverbial frog slowly being boiled, in denial or just others focused, the impact takes its toll on us, our families, and the important work we do.
What Others See
What We Will Notice (even if we haven’t put the pieces together yet.)
If we do not want to be taken out of our callings prematurely, we must care for our whole being. Body, Soul, and Spirit.
There is so much out there in the way of self-care; but, like Paul, we do not always do what we should. I know I should take care of myself, but I do not. I know exercise reduces stress, but I hate to sweat. Our bodies tend to hold onto stress. That means we must find ways for our bodies to let go of the stress and trauma. Dr. David Bercelli developed Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises (or TRE®). TRE is a somatic process. These sweat free exercises help release tension and calm down the nervous system all without having to revisit a negative event.
Stress and trauma are also held in our souls and emotions. As Americans we spend a lot of time in our heads. We can talk with a good friend that holds space for us. We can seek out a professional. Both options help us process and care for our precious emotions. Why do I say precious? Because they are the very tools God has given us to be able to be compassionate, empathic ministers to the hurting in their time of need.
Last and most important is caring for our spirits. We are spiritual beings housed in a body and soul. If our soul is overwhelmed, our spirits have a more difficult time being nourished. In addition to our regular devotions, we all need ongoing encounters with a loving God if we are going to be who God created us to be and work with the hurting.
As a certified encounter coach and owner of Pittsburgh Transformation Center, I help others with anxiety and unprocessed trauma. I have watched God bring peace and rest to the clients I serve, by healing soul wounds and meeting the emotional needs of their hearts. I watch clients breathe freely and witness the relaxing of shoulders as God speaks to their innermost man. Tears may flow which indicate a letting go of distressing emotions and confusion as God meets them in very personal ways. It is so life giving. In my opinion, these tools are essential for everyone. But they are especially needed for those with unresolved trauma.
Recently, I was in a conversation with a woman and expressed to her that the tools for both trauma and secondary trauma are different. Reading, worship, and prayer are essential, but with trauma you need additional tools. These tools I speak of, heal the emotional heart, reviving us. This could be the missing link in self-care. Caring for our spirit could mean the difference between longevity or abandoning our callings.
Now try this: Think about your own anger. Are you wanting to withdraw or self-medicate? Are you numbing your difficult emotions? These are common responses to the stress and trauma we are experiencing. So, take time to get in touch with those tough emotions. Feel your feelings. Pay attention to your thoughts and the stories you tell yourself. Sometimes, what you are thinking is what is causing all the trouble. Instead of suppressing them bring them into the light where Jesus can illuminate. Ephesians 5:13 TPT says "Whatever the revelation-light exposes, it will also correct, and everything that reveals truth is a light to the soul."
by Jennifer Minor, Editor/WriterHeartbeat International
I’m one of those blessed adults who had the joy of growing up with a nurse for a mother. There are several ways this affected me as a child. I used to go to work with her sometimes where she trained nursing assistants and my brother and I would practice skills on the mannequins. I don’t remember a time I didn’t know the basics of CPR. As a seven-year-old, I once told the school nurse I was feeling “rather lethargic.” She sent me back to class and called my mom to share the story.
All my best advice comes from my mom. “If you can fix it, fix it. If you can’t fix it, don’t worry about it.” There’s plenty more advice I’ve taken and given from her, but even though she said this when I was freaking out about a 5th grade reading assignment, I think about it every day.
Over the years, there have been a lot of hospital visits with my family, usually my grandparents. Unsurprisingly, we’ve depended on my mom a lot in those times. Her experience as a nurse and in training nursing assistants to provide care made it only natural that she would take point and help us understand what was happening.
The funny thing was, she didn’t want the medical staff at the hospital to know she was a nurse most times. I imagine most nurses understand why. If the surgeon working on your mom’s back finds out you’re a nurse, he’ll speak directly to you assuming you can explain anything your mom really wants to know later. Conversations about care quickly become insider conversations, leaving the rest of the family in the dark or getting the information later from the nurse in the family, who has to now take the time and effort to translate what she learned.
Partly though, I think she was less worried about being a go-between than about us learning to interact with medical professionals well. I know today if I see a doctor, I ask a lot of questions, and may drive them a little crazy, but I know what’s going on with me medically so I can make informed decisions about my care. I guess that’s one way she was being a great mom in the midst of things.
Somehow though, she always gets outed eventually. Sometimes, a former student of hers comes and says, “Mrs. Minor! Do you remember me?” Other times, she asks a question with just a little too much insider vocabulary. Then there’s my favorite time. She was leaning on my grandpa’s bed. I don’t even remember what procedure he’d had or anything, but an alarm was going off sometimes and we weren’t exactly sure why. Honestly, we weren’t that worried about it because a nurse or nursing assistant would come in and turn it off and leave. Finally, one of the nurses said to my mom, “You know, you’re making that alarm go off when you lean on the bed.”
She reacted like most people would, jumping back from the bed and apologizing, but she made one addition that gave her away. “Oh! It’s a falls risk bed.”
From then on, at least on that shift, everyone knew she was a nurse.
While the technical stuff can make it easy to identify a nurse, even if she was hardcore undercover and managed not to out herself, being around a hospital floor or medical team for long enough, they always figured it out eventually. Her patient (pun intended) care for any family member in the hospital shows it every time. My mom is identified as a nurse – and a mom – because of her compassion, her expertise, and the trust she inspires.
Yes, I know, I got those words from this year’s theme for National Nurses Week, but it’s true. And I find that compassion, expertise, and trust are words that apply to mothers as well. The best mothers pour out compassion constantly, are experts on their kids (and many other things), and inspire trust. My mother certainly has my trust (and, if I may speak for him for a moment, my brother’s as well).
So this year especially, when Mother’s Day lands right in the middle of National Nurses Week, I want to say a special thank you to my mom.
Mom, thank you for everything. You continue to be a role model for me every day. I hope your Mother’s Day, and your National Nurses Week are joyful and blessed.
And a special thank you to all mothers and nurses out there. Happy Mother's Day and Happy Nurses Week!
by Lisa Bourne, Managing EditorPregnancy Help News
I was fortunate recently to catch Terrence Malick’s film, “A Hidden Life,” on an airplane during a trip taken as a belated celebration of my husband’s and my 25th wedding anniversary.
The film’s main character, Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, refused to sign an oath to Hitler and fight for the Nazis during World War II because of his faith. He could have agreed to and (presumably) eventually returned to his wife and three daughters and their simple farm life.
But his conscience dictated his obedience to God over man, and he was executed.
His story was largely unknown until the mid-1960s. Jägerstätter was later declared a martyr and beatified by the Catholic Church. The film was beautiful, brutal and inspiring all at once.
Among the many things it brought home for me was how each life is a story packed with importance and meaning, no matter what, even as most of those stories go largely untold.
My father passed away last Saturday, March 28, from complications of an apparent heart attack. He was 84. He’d been taken by ambulance to the hospital late Wednesday night, and received treatment for his heart, kidneys and more in the following days, but he became unresponsive midday on Friday.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic no one was allowed in to see him, not even a priest, until he was cleared from having the virus (he later was).
The first chance I had after my dad had been hospitalized, I inquired with the hospital on the phone into whether he could be denied care amid the pandemic, his being 84, having a weakened heart and compromised lungs. The nurse was taken aback at the question, replying that things hadn’t come to that in Dubuque (Iowa).
But what if they had? I’m sure there are many people across the world right now who never thought their parents would be in that situation. I remain confident that it would have been at least naïve not to ask.
I rushed with my brother through the several-hour drive to our hometown that Friday, praying we’d make it in time.
Because my father’s death was imminent, they began to allow us in, though only two at a time.
We took over for two of my sisters; my mother had gone home to rest.
My brother and I were blessed to stay overnight and keep watch.
Over the course of the next 14 hours we were able to get numerous responses from my dad, I think because the morphine he’d initially been given had worn off.
We were able to see, hear and say things that were an absolute blessing and a gift, for us and the entire family.
I video-called people who could not come, including his sister, the remaining sibling in his family of eight children. This also included my husband and kids - my eldest daughter and son-in-law with my three-month-old granddaughter, who my father had not yet met.
We prayed the rosary, played some of his favorite music, and listened to Mass on my phone.
As I texted my siblings to let them know he could hear us and was responding, even saying things, my sister told me to let him know that all of the abortion facilities in Iowa had been closed, referencing the governor’s clarification earlier that day that surgical abortion procedures were included in the state’s suspension of non-essential medical procedures in response to the coronavirus.
Though this was inexact and threatened lawsuits have since drawn out that some surgical abortions are still permitted in Iowa during the pandemic, nonetheless, in that moment it got a marked happy response from my father.
His nurse was nearby, saw this and laughed. I held his hand as I said, “They’re non-essential, Dad … but then, we knew that….” Another positive response.
These responses were just part of the gift of those 14 overnight hours.
I’m so grateful we were there, selfishly for us, but also for him.
I was exceedingly grateful as well to later learn that a priest had been able to anoint my father and he’d been given the full extent of the sacraments that he could have received in his condition.
My dad passed his commitment to life on to me, along with his devout Catholic faith.
Just as with Malick and his film about Bl. Jägerstätter, I couldn’t possibly completely sum up my father’s life, let alone what it meant to me or countless others, nor will I, even after I may come to terms with his death. He was and is my dad.
Our relationship hadn’t always been easy, in fact it was difficult for a time. And so, perhaps one of the greatest lessons he gave me was that life can be messy, but even so, it’s always a blessing, and beautiful – a gift from God.
He taught me too that some, really most, of its greatest blessings and beauty are found in everyday life.
As the funeral home appointment approached on Sunday, I tried to wrap up my part in putting together the draft of his obituary before we would sit as a group and craft the final document. I was in my pajamas, the shower was running, and I had to keep running back to the keyboard as things came to me.
As of this writing nearly a week later they’re still coming to me, and I hope they never stop.
So far, his death has punctuated the profound fact that – whether healthy or ill, elderly or nascent when it ends, surrounded by loved ones or alone, ended by the hand of God or that of man – every single life is precious to God.
There are no hidden lives. They may be hidden to us, but not to Him.
In your charity please pray for the repose of the soul of Charles Theodore, and for comfort for his family. Knowing my dad, he’d want you to pray unceasingly for the unborn, and all human life, as well.
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