Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Courage of Conviction

“You did form my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb…you knew me right well; my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret…” Psalm 139:13-15

Note: I originally posted this on another site during the elections of 2012. I am choosing to repost it today on the 40th Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade to remind myself to give life to my convictions.

My husband and I spent last Thursday evening flipping channels between the Steelers/Titans game and watching the Vice-Presidential debate. We watched the game because our seven-year-old son is a HUGE Steelers fan. We watched the debate, not to help us decided who we might vote for, but mostly to see if anything exciting might happen.  If there was a bombshell that everyone was going to be talking about the next morning, I didn’t want to miss it.

Honestly, near the end I was about to slip into a coma.  Other than the vice-president’s strange demeanor, I saw and heard nothing that surprised me.And then it happened.

The moderator asked a faith-related question.  Basically, it was a request for the candidates to speak of their faith and how it guides their view of abortion.  I sat up a little straighter and leaned forward.  This, I had to hear.

Vice-President Joe Biden’s answer was exactly what I knew it would be, but hearing him articulate it was jolting, like a slap or a bucket of cold water in the face.  In essence, he said that he was personally opposed to abortion, but refused to impose that belief on others.

Hmmm.He has no problem imposing his belief about taxes on others.  He has no problem imposing his belief about healthcare on others.  He has no problem imposing his belief about Social Security on others.  But abortion is somehow different.  He says his conviction is strong, but he won’t promote it or defend it.

Is it just me, or is something wrong here?Is a conviction really a conviction if it never finds expression in your everyday life?

This is like keeping a person locked in your basement.  You never let him out.  You never talk about him.  You never let him share in anything you do.  But then, when asked about him in front of a television audience, you tell everyone how much you love him.
But I didn’t write this post to beat up on Joe Biden.  I wrote it to talk about the times when I have had to look to my own-self proclaimed convictions and whether or not they stood in conflict with my own behavior. Was I able to put my money where my mouth was sort of speak in every aspect of daily living?

I am the first person to tell you, I am far from perfect. There are times when I sin even when I know its wrong. I do the wrong thing even though I hear myself get upon on my soapbox and talk about how a specific behavior is wrong and then I still go out and do the wrong thing anyway. It’s a challenge I wrestle with constantly. Sure we all do things we shouldn’t. Take gossip, for example. We talk about how terrible it is to gossip and then we go right out and talk about the neighbor across the street or the woman sitting next to us in church. We tell our children not to lie and then we pick up the phone and lie to the telemarketer or bill collector. The challenge to live up to our convictions presents itself in the small,  everyday moments and then for some of us it comes in larger than life moments.

The challenge on whether or not I had the courage to live up to my convictions presented itself in larger than life fashion in 2007. I have always been pro-life.  In my Catholic high school, as sophomores, we were required to watch The Silent Scream, with our parent’s permission of course, and that movie convicted me of the importance of all life. But it is one thing to think you are pro-life and another entirely to give life to your words through actions. God has a plan for each of us and whether we are born with brown eyes, or freckles, or a cleft palate, or an extra chromosome; our life has purpose and matters. In 2007, I was mom to three wonderful, rambunctious sons, and my husband and I were thrilled to find out our fourth child, due in January 2008 would be a beautiful, little girl.  At our 18 week ultrasound, my obstetrician discovered Tessa had a birth defect. Through no family history or fault of our own,  she would be born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate.

I am not going to sugar-coat things. It was a hard time. There was talk from people about us considering abortion. It was not an option for me – at any point. I knew no matter what Tessa’s challenges presented, God planned her life out a specific way and for a specific reason. How could I cruelly end her life when she had done nothing to deserve a death sentence?

The first few weeks after she was born were difficult too, she had difficulty eating properly. The cleft prevented nursing, and even the specially formed bottles we were given weren’t helping. Eventually she was fitted with a Nasal Alveolar Mold(NAM) which not only helped to mold her tissues closer together(resulting in fewer surgeries later), it gave her a sort of false roof to her mouth, which helped her feeding. The device was, needless to say, not exactly a fashion accessory. People stared at her whenever we went out. Some people asked questions. Some people still commented on how beautiful a baby she was. And some people were cruel.

Although Tessa is fast approaching her fifth birthday, I hadn’t shared some of the encounters with strangers we experienced in those first few months of her life. I kept them all close to my heart and knew that there would be a time to share them. One day, Tessa and I were out picking up some formula at Target. I was waiting in line to make my purchases and Tessa was smiling through her NAM and giggling. A woman approached us and made the sound as though she were disgusted, like she was going to throw up.

After a moment, she tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Is that your baby?” I of course, proud mamma I am said, “Yes, she is my daughter.” The woman then proceeded to tell me that I was selfish for bringing her into the world. She told me that I wasn’t considering how hard her life would be, how she would be constantly ridiculed. Once more, she told me how selfish I was being because I wasn’t considering that other people would have to be forced to lie and be polite to her because of her deformity. She told me I wasn’t thinking about others when I chose to give birth to her.

For years, I kept this to myself. I didn’t even tell my husband about it. It hurt and her words stung when she spoke them to me and I froze in fear not sure how to handle it. Part of me wanted to unleash my Irish temper and tear into that woman. Part of me wanted to pray for her. Part of me wanted to hold Tessa close and run from the store. Today though, all of who I am wants to thank that woman.

The encounter all those years ago has stayed with me to remind me to have the courage of my convictions and live them out in my daily life the best I can. I still fail, but I am glad to have that reminder tucked away in my heart. And while most of us wrestle with the little convictions each day, the election brings to light some of the bigger ones, such as where you stand when it comes to abortion. Republican or Democrat or Independent, if you’re a Christian, you need to ask yourself a question.   If my conviction isn’t strong enough to fight its way from my heart to my lips, is it really a conviction at all?

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