Forgiveness is most Christlike when it is given to the undeserving. -Jim George
Standing in the conference aisle with people bustling all around, a woman nervously approached our booth. She explained how she works at a pregnancy resource center and attends church but was confused by our ministry approach.
She wanted to ask, WHY?
“I’m just trying to understand so please help me. Why do you encourage the church to love on single and pregnant young women? Isn’t this promoting sinful behavior by throwing them a big baby shower with brand new baby items? I see young women that try so hard to stay pure and do the right thing by abstaining from sex outside of marriage … and then they see us honoring women that get pregnant while unmarried. Maybe it would make more sense to just give them gently used baby items instead of brand new?”
From where I serve, I get questions like these every once in a while. For the most part, people love and embrace the concept of loving people into the Kingdom. But sometimes I get different responses like once a crabby old man said, “That’s all they need, another handout …” as he went off on a tangent about the government.
Another time I was at a fabric store and the woman who worked there was measuring out my fabric asked if I was going to use it for a party. I answered her and explained it was for a big baby shower for single and pregnant girls. She stopped what she was doing and looked at me and said, “Why in the world would you want to reward them for their bad behavior? “
Another time, a woman met with her pastoral team at her church in Houston about possibly starting an Embrace Grace group. Her pastor responded, “This sounds like a great program and I’m sure they do great things to help these girls but we really want to be careful about this and how it might be perceived as honoring girls that have sinned.”
Insert facepalm here…
For a lot of people, it seems a lot easier to get an abortion.
You can just make the appointment and get it done, and just deal with the consequences of a broken heart later. You can stuff down all your feelings and emotions for as long as you can, never telling a soul as you start to crumble from the inside out. But hey, maybe all of that is easier than having to go through 9 months hearing comments and judgment like that… from Christians and pro-lifers.
Some churches advocate pro-life and tell people that abortion is wrong, but when a girl chooses life and resists abortion, they then turn their backs on them. They shake their head in judgment.
Meanwhile, the abortion rate is exactly the same inside the church as it is outside… because of how people might react.
What if we made the church the first place a young woman ran to when she found out she was pregnant? (Instead of away from because of shame and guilt.)
What if we stopped being so loud about what we are against but became famous for our love and what we are FOR.
Maybe then the world would look a lot different. It’s one thing to shout from the rooftops that you are pro-life, but they are just words without love – a clanging cymbal. We have to be pro-love in our approach to the broken and hurting. Pro-love saves them both – the babies and the mommies.
Pregnancy is not a sin. Having sex outside of marriage is a sin but all life is a miracle and a blessing from the Lord. A baby is always a gift.
For You formed my innermost parts; You knit me [together] in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks and praise to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.
And you know what else? As I serve in Embrace Grace and launch small groups in churches for these brave mommas across the nation, I have noticed something about how good God is. Sometimes when he wants to draw his precious daughter closer to Him, He might just use a baby to do it.
He might just bless them with the sweetest face they’ve ever laid eyes on so that they can get a tiny glimpse of just how BIG God’s love is for each one of us.
And when the sin of fornication (sex before marriage) leads to such radical perfection (a beautiful baby), God’s grace becomes the perfect invitation.
Unfortunately, when I invite these new moms to church, it’s almost always a struggle. They have this perception of what the class might be about. They think that we are going to go over all the things they have done wrong up to this point in their life. They think we are going to tell them how they are sinners and going to hell. They think we are going to rub their nose in how they have failed.
This is what unbelievers (and sometimes believers) think that church is.
The world thinks the church is about behavior modification when it is about a heart transformation.
And I know exactly what that feels like.
At 19, I had an unplanned pregnancy. I was filled with so much shame and guilt, I had convinced myself that abortion was the only way. Sitting on the cold table, hearing about how the procedure would take place, I ended up having an anxiety attack and fainting just moments before the abortion was to take place. At the last-minute and overcome with emotion, I decided to choose life. I didn’t think anyone would accept me knowing what I had done, not even my family, but decided it was a price I was willing to pay.
Me and the father of the baby chose to marry when I was 16 weeks pregnant. A man who led my now-husband to the Lord was like a father-figure to us and a pastor at a church a few hours away. We approached him and told him what our situation was and asked if he would marry us. His response was, “I can’t bless this marriage because you have sinned – I will not marry you.”
The shame we carried was almost unbearable.
I tried to go to church again but all my friends I used to talk to regularly, now wouldn’t even make eye contact with me. I knew people knew I was pregnant … but yet no one would even acknowledge me. People couldn’t figure out whether to say, “Congratulations” or “I’m sorry” so they wouldn’t say anything at all. I felt like my scarlet letter was on display for the world to see … so I stopped going to church.
In Embrace Grace, we want these young moms to feel like church is a refuge for their weary hearts.
What if we honored girls that choose life? What if we pointed each life to the foot of the cross and helped inspire a passionate relationship with Christ? I believe that we as a church, as a spiritual family, could help change the world. We can’t fix all their problems but we can point them to the one that does. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance.
The church can also create safe healing groups for women that have chosen abortion. 1 in 3 women have – they stay silent on the outside but on the inside, usually knows exactly how old that baby would be and what their birthday would be. A piece of their heart is broken but do not feel the courage to voice the healing that needs to take place.
Redemption is available on earth even while their children rest in heaven. That’s the extravagant grace of Jesus… and it reaches into the darkest place.
The grace of God shines brightest through the cracks of desperation and need.
And there is good news! I am seeing the tides change. I am seeing the church stop shooting at their wounded. I am seeing the church stop talking so much about the problem but more on the solution, and that’s God’s love. I am seeing the church open their eyes to people the way God sees them. We are loving people even when they look different from us and we have compassion for people we don’t understand.
Even the pastor that wouldn’t marry us 17 years ago, reached out a few years after that and said it was his worst mistake he felt like he had ever made in ministry. He asked for forgiveness and blessed our marriage. He even asked for forgiveness with my son, the one he rejected before he was ever born. Just this past Mother’s Day, I preached a sermon from his pulpit and he is one of our dearest friends and mentors today. God is moving and His church is awakening their hearts to a relationship and adventure with Him.
From where I serve, I am seeing young women surrender their life over to the Lord the night of their baby shower thrown by the church, because they are drawn to the goodness of God. I am seeing young women choose life because they know their church will gracefully accept them and they do not have to walk this season alone. I am seeing women that walk into church with shame and fear but walking out with confidence that God will equip them to be a great mom. I have front row seats to miracles.
We are invited to partner with God not because of how “good” we have been, but because He loves us so very much because we are His children. We are invited to be a part of the celebration that his children were once lost but now they are found – even if they are a long way off but because they have turned back home to their father. Because we are a family that doesn’t kick each other when we have fallen but gracefully helps pick each other back up again.
In fact, maybe that’s what the church is supposed to look like after all … a big family, compiled of unique, intentionally created sons and daughters, united by our unconditional adoption into the Kingdom of God.
From Carlos: Share this article with your friends and church leaders. Let’s get the conversation started and let’s get Embrace Grace into every church in America. Deal?