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Thursday, January 27, 2011

The 2011 March for Life & the story the media won't tell you

I never thought that ventilating my abortion testimony to my friend LeeAnne one spring morning at a Starbucks would ever lead to this.  The testimony itself had always been in me.  It peeked out once or twice in the confessional and in therapists office.  It was also known by my friend, Kay at First Way since she was the one who motivated me to be of service to the abortion-minded by peer counseling at her Pregnancy Resource Center.
Alveda King and Patti Palmer

But it came vomiting out of me that one spring morning after I began toying with the idea of using it to get through to the women we were sidewalk counseling.  I thought, "there must be something in my experience that could tear down a few bricks from their walls here".  Another friend, Melanie, volunteered to help me work it out with pen and paper.  This I did over a few days, through tears and over many pages.  It seemed odd to me that this singular trauma was now confined to about 5 or 6 typed pages, but there it was in all of its technicolor ugliness.  I felt proud of my efforts.  I completed the mission.

Or so I thought.

Then the bargaining began. Though you will be pleased to know that I do not hear voices, I did receive a prompting coming from someplace within me to read the testimony to others who may not know how abortion actually hurts women. I don't mind public speaking, but this was a rather raw subject and I wasn't quite sure I could muster the courage necessary to deliver it. I told the Prompter that if an opportunity arrived in Chandler (a galaxy far, far away from my home), that maybe I would consider it. Prompter - which I now recognize to be the 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity - responded with an irresistible opportunity much further away than Chandler.

Payson is located about 75 miles to the Northeast of Phoenix and this is what called out to me over Twitter through a dear soul named Deacon Tom Fox. He and his pro-life group wanted to know how to get more involved in pro-life ministry and had heard about the sidewalk counseling efforts being formulated here in Phoenix.  He did not know, at that time, that I had an abortion story. I felt that I could trust this man and over a few phone calls we arranged what was to be the "almighty delivering of the abortion testimony" Payson.  He's not even in my Diocese for Goodness sake!  With testimony in hand and some other pro-life resources, I transported myself up to Payson a few summers ago and told my story to Tom, his wife, Dee and about 16 other virtual strangers. I blubbered through most of it.  These patient, holy people do not realize what was to flow from that summer day in 2009.

So, what God began in the confessional in 1996, here it was, continuing onward 13 years later.  The cogs and sprockets of healing sometimes turn indiscernibly slow.

I boarded my 737 bound for DC last Sunday, the newly released book, "Unplanned" by Abby Johnson in hand, thanks to my friend Sheila.  I was off to the March for Life with 12 others from Phoenix Silent No More to tell my testimony in front the Supreme Court.  "Is this for real?" I thought to myself.  As I have mentioned before, it is hard for one woman to share her abortion story.  But there were 11 of us that were equipped and flying here to do this.  Something much more supernatural is going on.

Tanya, Rebecca, Patti, Linda, Brenda & Carol
I need to say a special note of thanks to Debbi Gambert and all of the SNM Phoenix Ladies who became inspired after a Rachel's Vineyard retreat to make this trip a reality.  Karen O. led the RV retreat with Tanya and Richard working on team.  Margie, Monica, Linda, Brenda & Debbie attended as retreatants.  Debbi was the only lady who had ever made the DC journey.  She did so, solo, last year.  She was the Phoenix SNM Regional Coordinator then and she became our guiding light.  Somebody - I think it was Margie Cavolina - said "Hey, we should go the the DC March for Life".  This idea was a popular one and took me rather by surprise since this is my first year co-coordinating with Monica Jordan. Undaunted and inspired by their excitement, we begged like mendicants and raised enough cash to go as this large of a group.  Now that speaks volumes about this fine state.  I love Arizona, our faithful Bishop Olmsted and all of the Pro-Life friends including the Knights of Columbus who continually surround us with their support.

Getting my book signed by Abby 
Richard & Abby Johnson
I read exactly one half of Abby's book on my journey in the air to DC.  It was riveting.  She counts as her experience both the pro-choice and pro-life perspectives.  She mentions the varying degrees of sidewalk counseling – the lunatic fringe who galvanize the pro-choice efforts and the prayer warrior types who care about both baby and mom and captivated the hearts of some in the abortion industry.  We seemed to be living in a parallel universe...hers in Bryan, TX and mine in Phoenix, AZ. Needless to say, I could not put the book down.  This tome became the bookends of my trip as I met Abby Johnson at a book signing in the lobby of the Hyatt on Monday morning and then completed the reading on my way back to Phoenix. For anyone involved in Sidewalk Counseling or in Pro-life work of any sort, you need to read this book.  And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Wheels down in DC, I found my motley crew in the crypt church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Fitting! Covered in Our Lady's Mantle, (you'll hear more about that later), there we were among 10,000 other pro-life faithful.  St. Raphael is a very effective intercessor by the way. Thanks Candida :-)

From here on, the story gets Forrest Gumpish…

Viv, Monica, Linda, renda, Karen, Margie, Tanya & Debbi
After the Mass we were invited to a small reception in the suite of Janet Morana (Priests for Life) and Georgette Forney (Anglicans for Life) where we finalized morning rally plans and met a few more brothers and sisters who were in town to tell their stories. Father Frank Pavone and Theresa Burke (Rachel’s Vineyard Foundress) were there to meet and greet and I was warmly comforted by family environment that had enveloped that room almost immediately.  Though my stomach was completely empty from the day’s journey, I felt filled up as I looked around the room seeing our Phoenix contingency and the other men and women engaged in joyful conversation and anticipatory energy.  I found it profoundly ironic that all of us were here because of a stark & horrifying tragedy that united all of us.  Could it be that God was within our wounds? Continually healing?  Perpetually transforming?

The next morning we ate breakfast at the Billy Goat Tavern across from our Washington Court Hotel.  Cheapest breakfast near capitol hill, I’m certain.  Many of us were dressed 4 layers deep with clothing, hats, gloves, scarves and mufflers.  3 of us, myself included, made the ridiculous commitment to stand on the Rally Stage holding our “I Regret My Abortion” signs.  Ridiculous because it was only about 28 degrees and because we were to stand motionless for 90 minutes.  This had about as much appeal to me as a blood draw but I did it because Debbi’s gentle gaze somehow penetrated my resistance with something that felt like – “this trip was a gift; let’s really show our donors that AZ is here” .
Karen O, me and "Alabama Kristy"

So along with Monica, Karen O. and my new friend “ Alabama, Kristy”, I soldiered up to that rally stage.  On the mall, in front of a sea of about 30,000 human beings, here I am – advertising the fact that I regretted my abortion.  I do admit that I felt a bit like I was on an executioner’s block.  “There’s no more hiding this.  I have literally OUTED myself.”  Was this a good idea?  What would my parents have thought?  My brothers?  If there was any discretion about this part of my life before, consider it evaporated.  Actually, I think moments like this might be referred to as defining moments, but I’ll do some more thinking about that.

And then I relaxed.  4 Cardinals joined us on stage with the March's founder Nellie Gray and prayed.  They greeted us as they passed by and thanked us for our courage.  Wa?  They were thanking us!  How amusing!  A small crowd of empty chairs was behind me; they were eventually filled by 60 pro-life members of the freshmen class of congress.  Led by Eric Cantor I found it increasingly difficult to follow Georgette’s simple yet explicit direction to remain statuesque.  We met many of our elected officials as they filed around us to make it to their microphone moment. One guy (I forget his name and district) actually snapped a pic of Karen and I and told us to look for it later on Facebook! Jean Schultz (R-OH) introduced us to Trent Franks (R-AZ) when she learned of our  impressive AZ number.  “Hey Trent – here’s some of your people”.  Trent was eager to greet us and invite us up to 2253 Raeburn for a reception later that afternoon.  And it went on and on.  And it did, literally.  Give a politician a microphone, and they will use it.  Give 60 of them a chance to speak….and you’ll turn a 90 minute rally into a rally-a-thon in good order.

The March was scheduled to begin at 1:30pm. It was now 2pm and we were still on stage. I looked behind me and happened to notice a perplexed Georgette gazing at the March which was already underway.  Oh my...we are supposed to be at the front of that March.  Off we flew, down the steps, across the grass and over to the growing hoard of folks.  Run Forrest Run!!  What I describe next is nothing short of a miracle...we had to snake our way into the Marchers and make it a city block (a really, really long way) to meet up with the rest of our SNM group.  This, all so that we will make it to the Supreme Court Steps to give our testimony:  THE REASON WE FLEW HERE TO BEGIN WITH. 

Tanya, Carol and Viv
Margie, Rudy, Karen O, David, Monica
By the time we reached our group. We defined our next task as "Syncopation 101".   To anyone who has ever marched in a marching band, you will appreciate the word "cadence". It was lost on most of the group save for one or two of us.  The important part to understand was that by the time we reached Constitution Avenue we determined that the only way to stay UNIFIED was to link arms, chant and pace our steps with the chant.  So as we chanted WE WILL BE we stepped SILENT NO MORE step.  WE WILL BE (step) SILENT NO MORE (step).  It worked.  Before ya know it, we were joined by the cheering crowd as we made our turn and stood between the Capitol Building and The Supreme Court. It was unity that made our voices heard.  The same unity that Cardinal DiNardo mentioned in his homily on Sunday night.  

And to me, this was the most glorious moment. It was hard not to hold back the gush of emotion that I encountered right then and there.  The crowd parted like the red sea and they gave way to all of us to speak our truth. We made our way to the podium where another degree of freedom set in as we allowed the words to flow ceaselessly from our lips.  Every one of us - beautifully and eloquently - told our stories.  We were Silent No More...
 Father Frank and Georgette Forney
 Janet Morana and Karen
 Me, Monica, Richard, Tanya, Brenda, Linda Margie and Karen O.
Richard & Tanya
Brenda, Margie and Karen O.

I am grateful to these sisters and brothers: Debbi, Monica, Viv, Carol, Patti, Karen O, Linda, Brenda, Richard, Tanya, Margie and Rudy. Grateful for their courageous witness.  I think it was Viv who wrote an email to me later that said, "It switched from us being tourists having a great time, getting to know each other, to getting inside your very souls; feeling your pain and  sharing your emotions.  I'm a changed person for the experience."  

Patti and Brenda
There is a great need in our lifetime - right here and right now - to speak out boldly and strongly about abortion.  But we must do so with unity and with love.  We need to lock arms, plan well, fortify ourselves through prayer and sacraments and be willing to endure a little pain. (And if it's cold, dress in layers. Ha!)  But it will be worth it.  
Life always is. 
There is power in a Word.  Power in a story.  Power to change a life....and power to change a hurting world. Way to go AZ Baker's are the needed leaven.

Margie and Rudy

1 comment:

  1. Now I'm speechless as the tears well up after reading
    this post...
    RedCat's Mom (Robbie)