18 April 2011

Faith and conversion

I just read the most amazing book yesterday.  (Book club girls, look away, LOOK AWAY, if you haven't read it yet!)

It is called Unplanned, and it is written by a young woman named Abby Johnson, who was at one time the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic.  She had a dramatic conversion over the course of several years working for Planned Parenthood first as a volunteer, and eventually as a fulltime paid employee, rising to the level of director of her own clinic and a media representative for Planned Parenthood.  She is passionate about helping women; you can see that and feel it in her story.  No matter which side of the fence she is on, literally or figuratively, you can really get a sense of the depth of her commitment.  This post is not a debate about abortion or reproduction rights or any of that icky political stuff.  I have my beliefs, and you have yours, but I don't want to argue.  And see, this is my blog :)

No, I don't want to debate at what point a fetus becomes viable, or what point a fetus gains legal personhood or what the intricacies of the law should look like in my perfect world.  I want to examine Abby's conversion and just stand in awe at what faith can do.

Abby was firmly pro-choice, and believed strongly that women should have the right to choose what to do with their own bodies.  Abby believed whole-heartedly that Planned Parenthood's mission was to decrease the number of abortions overall, and she believed she was working for the betterment of women's lives.  She believed she was working as a part of a force for good in the world. 

But she always had these little questions nagging at her.  She couldn't always reconcile what she said she believed with the actions she took.  She was horrified when a very pregnant woman came into her clinic and asked for a late-term abortion, at twenty-three weeks.  Her own line in the sand was at the point of viability; she couldn't abide late term abortions.  But this woman really challenged her; she said to Abby, "What difference does it make, six weeks or twenty-three weeks? Isn't it all the same anyway? I just want it out of me."  Bound by her commitment and responsibility as clinic director, Abby sent the woman to a medical facility that did late term abortions, not being able to budge the woman from her decision with adoption agency referrals or the knowledge that the baby was in fact medically viable.  The woman simply didn't care, and it bothered Abby greatly.  But this was not the point where she acted.  Not yet.  She was asked to assist in a procedure one day,  and what she saw and what she felt in that room added to her growing  inner turmoil  But this was not the point where she acted yet either.

Finally, she was given a reprimand and a stern talking-to about her clinic's failure to meet its financial goals.  She was told to do whatever she had to do, to raise revenue.  She knew that the clinic made the most money from performing abortions as opposed to family planning and birth control education, and she believed she was being told to increase, not decrease, the number of abortions performed in her clinic.  That went against everything she believed she had been working for, and that was what finally pushed her into action. She left Planned Parenthood and ran into the arms of the "enemy," the Coalition for Life.

Outside of Abby's clinic, there was a fence with a gate where Planned Parenthood employees and client drove through to park their cars.  The fence is symbolic in Abby's story; it's not the kind of fence you can sit on.  You must choose a side.  On one side was Planned Parenthood and on the other was the Coalition for Life and other pro-life individuals who would stand on the sidewalk and offer prayers, or try to persuade the clients going in not to go, that there were other options they should consider.

Out of all of the facets to Abby's story, the one thing that I found most compelling was her relationship with God.  She wanted to be closer to Him, but she wouldn't give up the one thing that meant so much to her, her job.  She truly believed she was doing good work and her family needed the paycheck she brought in.  She went from church to church, finding varying degrees of comfort and acceptance, but never finding her spiritual home.  She heard God's quiet questions and she wondered why, if she was doing good and she could take pride in her work, she couldn't tell her family about her job?  Why did she avoid talking about it with her mother?  Why did her pro-life husband, although he loved her, challenge her when she wanted to talk about things that happened in the clinic?  Why did she avoid telling people at church what she did for a living?  All these questions....

When we know we are doing what we are meant to do or following God's will for us, there is an inner peace that overcomes the questions.  Not that the questions necessarily go away forever, but they don't hold the same power.  It feels easier to let them go.  Abby didn't stop having concerns but because her faith was increasing she was better able to trust that God would answer them in time.  It's really hard to step out in faith, not knowing where the path leads, and afraid that it will lead you away from everything you know and all your places that feel familiar and safe.

Abby did just that, and I am in awe.

Her book is difficult, very difficult to read in places.  I cried with her, more than once.  But ultimately, in the end, it is a beautiful story of faith and redemption.  It got me thinking about a lot of things, in ways I never had before.  It made me question myself on what I believe, and why I believe.  I don't know Abby Johnson and will probably never meet her.  I borrowed the copy of Unplanned from one of my book club girls, didn't pay for it and didn't get asked to write about it.  But I have been moved and affected by Abby's story, and it's made me approach my faith and my beliefs in a new way and I wanted to share it.  I hope you will consider reading Unplanned, and letting it challenge you.

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