A few weeks ago, during Right to Life week, our congregation said farewell to one of our oldest and most loved members, Grandma Millie. Her eulogy called to mind the way she lived her life, kind in a thousand small ways, faithful and devoted to the very end.
The last months of Millie’s life were a struggle as she was confined to her bed and in poor health. It must have been very difficult for some one who spent her life helping others, active and involved, to lose her vitality and her independence.
Yet she did not lose her ability to contribute, as she continued to pray for the congregation, to inspire us and to share her love for everyone in our church.
When I met Millie, it was because my family sat in front of her one of our first visits to the church. My son was then 18 months old, and he was busy the entire mass. He crawled in front of Millie, all over the seats, stacked the Bibles and chattered. I turned to apologize for the distraction during the Passing of the Peace, and Millie said she’d raised three boys, so she knew how it was, and that she was enjoying watching him. She said it with such a smile, and I was so grateful that this very elegantly dressed, elderly and dignified lady didn’t mind toddler craziness. It made the whole church feel friendly.
I loved seeing the photos of Millie’s life on display at her funeral, because when I met her, she was already frail and losing her mobility. In her younger days, she looked like Rosie the Riveter, strong and smiling, handsome and capable. Listening to the stories, it was so apparent that in her life God was in the details, meticulous and full of care, the mustard seeds of faith spent lavishly over her lifetime. I am sure when she entered Heaven last week, there was thunderous applause from all of the saints and angels, and I am sure she heard, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Millie’s life was well-lived, long and fruitful, an example to everyone who knew her.
The Right to Life means Millie’s life, however quiet, however ill was valuable and precious to God as well as to all of us in her final weeks and days. Pro Life means life in all of its stages, vulnerable and strong. The world would not have seen value in her lack of ability to contribute in the ways she had previously participated, using her capable hands and able body. The world doesn’t recognize the power of intense love, acts of kindness, daily prayers.
Her passing, and occasion of Right to Life week reminded me of when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, in London. She is the only child of my first marriage. When I found out I was expecting, her father was horrified as he had never wanted children and considered himself a “married bachelor” like the old European stereotype.
Our GP was at a loss, and in the UK – where life is definitely not sacred – the only thing he could think of was to send us to an Abortion Clinic, where there would at least be counselors used to dealing with unplanned pregnancies. So nearly three months pregnant, with my daughter kicking away, my first husband dragged me into an Abortion Clinic, intending to bully me into ending the pregnancy with the help of the counselors.
The clinic policy was to meet first with mothers, then with both parents to talk about pregnancy “options”. I explained how I’d always wanted children, how I was nearly 30 with a good job, married nearly 2 years. How I was excited about this child. How I didn’t care if she was planned or not.
The counselor called in my husband and gave a speech I doubt she gave very often. She shook her finger in his face and asked him how dare he try to end the pregnancy, when I so clearly wanted the baby to be born. How dare he bully me and frighten me into a terrible action I would certainly regret and suffer.
God bless that abortion counselor, and I am certain He put her in that place on that day to help me fight for the life of my daughter.
I was terrified of my first husband, yet I was given the strength to fight for my child every day of that pregnancy – when her father came home intoxicated and wanted to beat me until I miscarried, when he found girlfriends and never came home, when he refused to participate in her care during the first year of her life and left me home alone to deal with a newborn by myself.
Sometimes, as with my daughter, the Right to Life becomes the Fight for Life. We live far away from her father now, with my second husband and three more children. She is safe and wonderful, growing and vivacious. Every day I am joyful that she is here. We won the battle for her to exist, to be born, to survive her first year.
Sometimes, I still have to fight for her life. I have felt the presence in court, as I am battling for her safety, for her support, of a warrior angel. His presence is terrible, a drawn sword, a resolute and beautiful face, bare-armed and battle-ready. I fight for her right to receive care that I discern is right for her, to practice her faith, to stay with the family who loves her, to be loved and supported and kept safe.
Despite my earlier fears, I can face the judge and her father and a thousand lawyers if I have to, because God wants me to fight for life. Sometimes, being Pro Life means a battle, but we can rest and find peace knowing the War is won. The battle will shape us like a sword on an anvil. Once I was delicate and frightened but I know I am a formidable, strong, terrifying woman now, if I have to fight.
And this is what is needed. Pro Life means putting on the figurative shield, picking up the sword and marching wherever you are asked to march, wherever Life is threatened. It may be an elderly lady, the child of an unplanned pregnancy or a pre-born baby. It might be your own life, if you are not living it the way God wants you to, squandering its precious gift, spending your gifts wastefully.
But fight you must, until all the battles are won. God wants warriors, and he will give you the strength to walk out – or battle out – Pro Life.