2021: the expanse

When I logged in and saw that my last post was in March, I freaked out a little bit.

I guess it’s been a while since I published anything here, huh?

There are posts I’ve begun these past few months and never finished. Posts about homeschooling. Posts about ministry. Posts about the politics of maternity leave or vaccinations.

There are posts I’ve dreamt up in my head, rehearsed in the shower or on a long drive. I’ve even recorded a few on a voice memo on my phone, thinking I could transcribe the best of my thoughts at a later time, when I felt like writing it all out.

But I don’t feel like writing. Not really. I simply don’t care as much about my own opinions as I did a year ago.

Possibly related–
For the first half of 2021, I forced myself into a literature fast.

Even though I’d recently accumulated a good dozen nonfiction books I was eager to read, I decided I’d read only fiction for at least six months. It was an effort to extract my mind a from the world of problems and solutions and embed it more deeply in human experience.

What resulted from this experiment was a sense of ideological ambivalence that I’ve rarely experienced in my life before. I’m maybe taking myself and the world a little less seriously these days. Or at least feeling a little less responsibility to have a strong opinion about it as I go about my business.

So, what’s new in my life?

In 2020, even in the midst of a pandemic, our family life remained fairly stable and unchanged. My husband kept working. We were already homeschooling. We stayed healthy. Etc.

2021, on the other hand, has brought our family a lot of changes.

First, in June, my husband resigned from his pastor position at a local church. There was no scandal or anything like that. It just didn’t work out.

We invested more than three years in a hard place. We wanted it to succeed. We fought hard. But, we lost. The church didn’t really want us and disagreed about what it needed. So we walked away.

To most of the people who watched it all happen, his resignation was not a surprise. Maybe it wasn’t even a surprise to us. But it was still hard and confusing and there’s probably more I’ll say about that at some point.

Then, a month ago, my husband resigned from his “day job.”

After 13 years working at a nonprofit affordable housing ministry, he’s now working for himself full-time. This is very exciting for our family. It’s something we’ve discussed on and off for a few years and finally felt it was the right time. But, as he’s the sole provider for our family, this is also a huge transition and a significant step of faith for all of us.

These big occupational and vocational changes have been upsetting. I don’t mean they make me angry or depressed or “upset” in the colloquial sense, but that they have rattled me a little bit. Shaken me up. Made me question where we should be and what we should be doing.

Maybe my husband’s work is only the tip of the iceberg.
Maybe it’s time for everything to change.

In some ways, here in 2021, our future as a family feels like a vast expanse of opportunity. We could go anywhere from here. But, the things I’m longing for most seem the most elusive–quiet and peaceful spaces, work I can be proud of, a slower pace, and the comforts of community.

Lately, when I feel like chasing a rabbit hole, I’ve been doing some research into my family history.

I’m tracing the roots of my family tree into old, distant places like Bohemia, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the West Midlands. I’m looking for photos and searching property and census records, scanning immigration and military records, and searching through Holocaust victim records (what?) to find out who I really am.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m suddenly interested in my ancestry. So much of our life is in transition that I’m feeling untethered.

I want to know where I belong.
I want to know who my people are.

Who are my people?

Theres’s probably a season of every person’s life when they start to ask these questions–whence have I come and to where shall I go?

And, even more so, what am I supposed to be doing along the journey?

Maybe there’s something about my 40th year that makes the questions more poignant. At this stage in life, it doesn’t seem to too late to make a change. But I get the sense the tipping point is approaching and the urgency is rising.

When I think about a new season for me and for my family, I think about buying a farm or a defunct Bible camp or a historic estate in the middle of nowhere, as if a few acres and some honeybees will give me the space I need to find “my work” and as if getting a dog will cure my children’s loneliness.

Dogs are easier than friends, I think.
And keeping honeybees could be more fruitful than songwriting.

But the thought of digging up roots, starting over again, building something from nothing, is terrifying. And I don’t want to do it.

I don’t want to have to walk away and move on to find a new place. I wanted this to be my place. I wanted to find my people here.

But I haven’t found them yet.

I’m very distracted these days. I try to focus on the task at hand. I try to be present with my kids, with my husband, with my friends. But my mind is somewhere else, trying to peek around the corner, into the expanse, to see what comes next.

I still can’t see it.

I wonder if I’ll ever get to write a book. Release a new album. Go back to school. Hike that big, long trail.

I wonder who my friends are. Whether people want me around. Who I could call at 4am if I needed them.

I wonder whether my kids are learning enough. Whether they’ll resent the way we’re raising them. If they’ll remember me at my best or at my worst.

I wonder if I’ll ever be any good at being married.

The whole point of this post, I guess, is to say I don’t really have anything important to say right now.

And to say that, yes, I’m still here. But I’m busy with a new family business. And I’m distracted by life’s biggest questions. And, while I do have opinions to share and stories to tell, I’d rather offer them in real time, in real life, with real people.

I’m just trying to quiet my heart, keep my head down, and walk faithfully in one direction until I’m pointed elsewhere.

Homeschooling: The Materials of Education

In my last post, I outlined some general information about how I organize our homeschool. Now, I’ll get into some of the specifics–the materials of our home education and what each child will be assigned for this school year.

This year, I will have a 2nd, 4th, and 6th grader, as well as a preschooler.

A note about preschool: I have no formal work for the preschooler, but I do keep some simple letter recognition activities and number games on hand so I can give him “school work” when he wants it. (My experience says that most younger siblings like playing along with school, so it’s good to have a few tricks in your bag.) One good goal for preschool siblings is to include them in as much of the group lessons as possible, even just in proximity and within ears reach, so they will more easily transition into full participation at some point. My three year-old will even fake his way through narrations during tea time, which is kind of hilarious.

Now–what do I actually teach?

I’ve uploaded a very detailed materials list for reference if that would be helpful. You can find a good digital version (to view online) here and a good printable version here. This list will change throughout the year. I consider it a map, not a rule.

To make it easier to understanding how this all fits into our school day, you can refer to my last post.

MORNING BASKET-
In the mornings, after the kids have finished breakfast and prepared for the day (and I have had a moment to myself for Mother Culture), we sit together at the table for our Morning Basket. This is a great way to begin the day by praying together, reciting Scripture, and singing songs.

I usually trade off days between Bible/Hymns and Folks Songs/German lessons. I usually have one designated Bible passage for memorization/recitation, a hymn, and a folk song per school term with some holiday-appropriate things thrown in, as well. I try to do a weekly Bible study with the kids but keep it short and simple.

(Sidebar: I don’t really know German beyond very remedial things so we do a lot of basic greetings and vocabulary, plus songs and rhymes and German culture, picture books, and history lessons. When the kids move up into about 8th grade, they can choose their own foreign language study and we will buy a language program for them to use.)

Includes:

MORNING PRAYERS

BIBLE-
– Recitation and memorization of long portions of scripture. (The same passages will be used for copywork and spelling/dictation exercises throughout the term.)
– Weekly group Bible lesson

HYMNS-
– Three or more hymns per year, one per term, memorized for morning worship and used for copywork throughout the term.

FOLK SONGS-
– Three or more folk songs per year, one per term, memorized and used for copywork throughout the term.

GERMAN LESSON AND SONGS-
– Remedial German lessons with picture books, vocabulary flashcards, coloring sheets, songs, and nursery rhymes.

INDEPENDENT WORK-
We jump into our most difficult work first. In addition to being the hardest mind-work, this is the work that might require my full attention with only one child. So, this is the time of day when the big kids bounce back and forth between working independently, sitting with me for tutoring, and helping with the preschooler. If all goes well, they can be done with this in one or two hours.

Includes:

READING
– Daily assigned reading- kids choose from a few options. These are often “stretching books” for them. They are sometimes more difficult than the books they’d normally choose for themselves.

COPYWORK
– Daily copywork- kids alternate between workbooks, scripture, poetry, hymns, letter-writing, etc. We begin cursive in 3rd or 4th grade.

GRAMMAR
– Izzy and Elsa do one or two lessons a week in Grammar, usually alternating between dictation exercises, spelling quizes, basic language lessons and sentence diagramming. Content for these lessons is taken directly from their reading assignments. We literally open whichever book they’ve been reading and discuss the grammar or use an excerpt for dictation/spelling.

LATIN
– Izzy does two Latin lessons a week.

PLUTARCH
– This is a once weekly independent reading for Izzy, a good hard lesson in classical literature.

FREE READS
– Each of the kids has a list of mom-approved “free reads” that they can read anytime and anywhere (when not otherwise engaged). I will often use these books as a calming measure if things are tense or as a distraction from twaddle books I’m not as excited to see them reading.

MATH
– Daily math lessons. I have never used a textbook or work book for early elementary. We have transitioned into a formal curriculum around 2nd – 4th grade. It’s been different for every child.

GROUP LESSONS-
I usually alternate days, with two days a week for Science & Nature Study and two days for History and Geography. This year, we’ll be focusing our first two terms on a “hard science” and then we’ll try to spend as much of the Spring term as possible outdoors, studying birds and conservation.

These lessons are done together, usually around the table or outdoors, in a very conversational style. We narrate our lessons orally as we go and then each kid responds with age-appropriate work. (After a history lesson, for example, Izzy might do a three sentence written narration in response. Elsa might write a sentence about what we read and draw a picture to illustrate. Edith might draw a picture and dictate a short narration for me to write in her notebook.)

Includes:

SCIENCE & NATURE STUDY-
– We have two science lessons a week, alternating between one “hard science” curriculum and a more nature-based study. We also consider any nature study done while hiking and nature journaling as a part of our science work.

IMG_2626

HISTORY & GEOGRAPHY-
– We have two history and geography lessons a week, alternating between a story-based world history curriculum and history-relevant geography lessons, and things like map drills, US states and capitals, and understanding landforms and topography.
– Starting in 4th grade, the kids begin their own Book of Centuries, which is their own record of world history.

A note about the book Pagoo: This is the third book we’ve used by this author, Holling C. Holling. His books tell a long-form story and work as a history, geography, and science book all in one. They have lovely detailed illustrations and diagrams. We use these books in addition to a formal science study. We usually draw the book out for most of the year, reading a chapter every other week or so, and doing appropriate science observations and mapwork/geograpy lessons as we go. Pagoo is about a hermit crab and tidepools, so we’ll use it to study the ecosystem of tidepools, crustaceans, the history and geography of coastal regions, etc.

RICHES and OCCUPATIONS-

Includes:

RICHES-
These are the really beautiful parts of education–art, music, poetry, etc. Sometimes we sit down to study these outdoors. Sometimes we sit at the piano or the record player. Sometimes we do it over tea or while learning something else like how to crochet. A lot of this is fluid. In a normal year, we would add as many live performances and museum visits as possible.

I choose one artist and one composer per term to study, plus a poet per child. And I choose a list of family read-aloud books for the year, but the list is very fluid and we don’t always keep to the list.

This year’s selections:

ARTIST STUDY- Titian, Leonardo, Rembrandt

COMPOSER STUDY– Wagner, Handel (Messiah), Mozart

SHAKESPEARE– A Midsommer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing

POETRY-
– Izzy Poetry Study- Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes
– Elsa Poetry Study- Alfred Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth
– Edith Poetry Study- Walter De La Mare, Eugene Field, Christina Rossetti

FAMILY READ-ALOUDS-
(Our Family Read-Alouds are often done either over tea or at bedtime.)
– The Wingfeather Saga III and IV, Heidi, Understood Betsy, Five Little Peppers and    How They Grew, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I, At the Back of the North Wind, The Vanderbeeks of 141st Street

OCCUPATIONS-
Three days a week, the kids are basically on their own to occupy their afternoons. This is the time for their individual lessons or skill-building. They can engage in reading, games, build something, or learning something new on their own. The goal is to put their education to life. If they need to, they can take a nap. If they want to, they can help me prepare dinner or (sometimes) do an extra chore for pay. Sometimes I let them listen to an audiobook or play an iPad game.

Izzy- can choose from things like Typing 1, piano lessons, Karate, art & handicrafts (carpentry, carving, sketching/drafting, book-binding), nature journaling, creative writing

Elsa- can choose from things like Typing 1, piano lessons, American Heritage Girls badges, handicrafts (painting, sketching/drafting, claywork, gardening), nature journaling, creative writing

Edith- can choose from things like piano lessons, ballet, handicrafts (bracelet making, claywork, painting, baking), nature journaling, creative writing

 

I do not run our homeschool on a tight regimen.

In some ways, the flexible nature of our school day reflects my own struggles with personal discipline and we would benefit from tightening things up a bit. In another sense, my ability to pivot in a moment and reorient our days is necessary and has kept us relatively at peace in the home and happily learning together.

Let me know if you have any specific questions about how this all works its way out.

What would you like to hear more about?

Considering Homeschooling?

With the COVID pandemic threatening to make traditional classroom education untenable this fall, a handful of my friends have recently asked for help navigating the world of homeschooling, just in case.

Instead of addressing them all individually, I thought it might helpful to publish a few things publicly here on my blog so they’ll be easier to share.

I anticipate publishing this content in 3-4 parts over the next few days.

For this first post, let me address some of my friends’ most pressing questions (And please forgive me if I didn’t do a great job proofreading this. I’ve been staying up super late the past few nights and I’m seeing double) —

“Where do I start?!”

When you start homeschooling, it’s really normal to obsess about “the stuff” of school. The material. “What will I teach!!?” you ask yourself. But, honestly, why you’re teaching and your goals for education are far more important than the materials you use. If you can pin down your “why,” it will be easier to choose your “what.”

If you have your “why” in line, you’ll be able to adapt any materials to your use. (Though some materials are obviously better than others!) Your materials and methods may very well change over time anyway, even with every child. These should change in response to the refining of your goals and your guiding philosophy. So don’t get too hung up on the materials of school first or you’ll miss the whole point of education—“missing the forest for the trees,” as they say.

Speaking personally, my methods of schooling have changed over the past few years as I’ve developed a more refined philosophy of education. I usually tell people I prescribe to a loose Charlotte Mason (CM) philosophy. (I say “loose” because I’m certainly not a purist.) If you’re interested in learning about Mason and her pedagogy, you can read some of her books here but there are some great books about her philosophy that are a little easier to digest, like this one. (And there’s a good primer here, too, if you just want to read something quick online.)

“But how will I know what to teach for science or math, for example? What curriculum should I buy?”

Many of the resources I use here at our home are what you’d consider “the Classics” together with what Mason called “living books.” I do use some modern Classical Christian homeschool materials, as well. But I apply these with a CM method.

I am a bit of a minimalist in regards to schoolwork and materials. Our school days are very book-heavy, with a lot of reading together and we do very little paperwork and very few worksheets, especially in early grades. The kids’ school “work” is mostly accomplished through conversation, in oral or drawn/written narration, which is a hallmark of the Charlotte Mason method. (I’d be happy to explain this concept further.)

And I try to give my kids ample time to work out their education and develop their own unique skills and interests in their unscheduled time. To that end, lessons are short and we don’t clutter our days with unnecessary busy-work.

For now, all of the lesson are done here at home with me (with John teaching most fine art technique and handling the bedtime reading). But now that Izzy is in 6th grade, his independent work is becoming increasingly more demanding and I may eventually have to outsource more of his lessons (like Latin, for example) with tutors, outside classes, or online classes.

I gravitate toward using older “Classics” but I’m not afraid of new materials. And I definitely avoid dry text books and picture encyclopedia types of books, opting instead for beautiful living books that are more humane and memorable. For early grades—prek through about 4th—you can truly teach an entire school year with little more than a collection of picture books and ample time spent outdoors. (Honestly, there are entire websites dedicated to it!)

Some of my favorite homeschool materials/resources.

Many of the books I use—as well as the subject matter I choose for art, poetry, and music, for example–are recommendations found on Ambleside Online, which is an online Charlotte Mason curriculum. I also love to steal recommendations from the book lists published by Read-Aloud Revival for my kids’ independent reading.

We use Singapore Math for our math curriculum. The Primary Mathematics series works best for us, but they do have a Common Core series that might work best for you if your kids will transition back into traditional school. (I don’t bother buying the textbooks until about 5th grade level but if you’re weak in math, go ahead and buy them.) In early years, I find it helpful to teach math conversationally, without workbooks or paperwork. I have never used a curriculum for k or 1st grade math. Edith has asked to “move faster,” so she will be starting a 2nd grade workbook this year so she can work independently.

If you’re looking for a packaged curriculum, I highly recommend The Good and The Beautiful. This will be our second year using one of their Science curricula, as well as a typing curriculum, and they have many more subjects. (We used their Anatomy curriculum last year.)

We use Learning Without Tears for copywork and penmanship/cursive.

Simply Charlotte Mason publishes some really lovely packaged curriculum, especially for artist and composer studies. They have a great elementary arithmetic program.

I like The Well-Trained Mind Classical curriculum offerings but have never used them as scripted. We use their history curriculum–Story of the World–and Grammar–First Language Lessons. (I use these books more a guide for what to teach, not how to teach it. I don’t follow the rules.)

Brave Writer is awesome, too, for developing writing and reading comprehension skills.

Khan Academy is probably the best free secular resource available online. It’s great for educational videos. And I love the math tutorials for times when I need extra help teaching something. (IXL is great for this, too.)

There are as many homeschool curricula available as there are stars in the sky. It can get overwhelming really quickly. Just focus on your goals and philosophy and choose something that you can imagine wanting to take off the shelf every morning.


What about testing and assessments?

We do not do formal testing. Instead, we do oral exams at the end of each term. These exams just walk each child through a few of the things we’ve learned throughout the term to gauge comprehension. I record the conversations and make detailed notes. And it helps me know what’s working and what’s not so I know how to move forward.

I will likely have the kids suffer through two or three standardized tests prior to HS graduation, just to familiarize themselves with the process, but we have not done it yet.

In the state of Ohio you can choose, instead of standardized testing, to submit an assessment of your year’s work. You just need a liscenced Ohio educator to assess the work–sometimes called a portfolio–and verify that your child has done “an adequate amount of work for their ability.” Every assessor is different, but we hire a woman who is a former homeschool mom. We create our portfolio of samples of the year’s work and she talks through it with us and asks a few questions and then signs off on it. She also offers any advice or suggestions we might need for the next year, if we want it. The school system itself will never even see your child’s actual work.

(We would usually submit this assessment to the Superintendent when we submit our official “Intent to Homeschool” paperwork to withdraw for the following year. But, for 2020, due to COVID, assessments are being waived.)

So how do we organize our days so we get everything done?

I’ll run through the basics of our day now and then my next post will have more info about the elements of our school day and what we study, specifically. (So if something doesn’t make sense yet or a concept is completely foreign, stay tuned.)

Click here to see a basic outline of our daily schedule.

Our days begin with rising and preparing for the day. After feeding the kids, I “excuse myself” from responsibilities for about 30-45 minutes so I can focus on what Charlotte Mason called Mother Culture. This is my time for feeding my own body, mind, and soul.

Our school time starts with a Morning Basket.

Then we move into Independent Work.

Then, there is hopefully a nice break before lunch for tidying/chores and resting or outdoor play.

After lunch, we do our Group Lessons, which we can all do together (and is best done when the 3 yr-old is sleeping).

Then we alternate days between Riches–which are often done during a shared tea time or outdoors–and Occupations, which the kids work on independently.

One day a week, we try to hike and do a nature study outdoors. (This is usually our co-op day.) To make this possible, we leave most Fridays pretty wide open but can adjust the day as necessary.

Also–we organize our school year in 3 12-week terms, roughly Labor Day until Memorial Day, with about two weeks’ wiggle room for holidays.

Tongues of Fire and the City is Burning

I can hear the crackling outside my window.
Between the police sirens and helicopters’ beating and distant voices yelling, I hear it spreading through the cracks in the pavement.

Fire.

It’s the fire that grows from pain and frustration bubbling over into anger and chaos and it demands to be heard.

Well, I hear it.
And I understand where it comes from. I always have.

(I’m serious. Please believe me.)

The racism. The injustice.
Yes, I see it.

It’s one of the reasons I’m here.

I loved you and I wanted to do something to help.
I prayed to be a blessing.
I asked for the Spirit of God.

Maybe not enough.

For what it’s worth, you should know that I almost joined you yesterday, early, before the sun went down. Before things got crazy. Before the cops pulled out the body armor and shields.

But I was too tired. And too concerned with right and wrong and “the appropriate way to solve the problem.”

So I stayed home.

Now it’s 2am and there are sirens nearby.
I am not afraid because I am not the victim here.

But now I know that I am also no help.
And I have no answers.

Today is Pentecost.
We should be on Fire.
Instead, the city is burning.

 

How To Survive At Home With Your Kids During the Pandemic

Congratulations!

The COVID-19 virus has officially been declared a “pandemic” and that means you’re now officially a stay-at-home parent.

Welcome to the party.

Let’s be clear about something here at the start–
Being with your kids around the clock is hard. Super hard. So hard that the next few weeks will make you wonder, at times, why you ever decided to have kids at all. They will annoy you. You will annoy them. There may be screaming involved.

But your kids are actually pretty awesome. And you are going to do a great job. (God gave you these kids; you were made for this.)

And this won’t last forever. (Repeat that as many times as you need to so you can sleep at night.)

Now I understand that some of you are in really tricky situations at this point. Maybe you are unable to work from home–or to work well from home–or you will have to take unpaid leave to tend to your kids. Maybe you are a single parent with no childcare options.

I don’t want to make light of your situation but I also want you to understand that, once you find a solution that works, this disruption could be an immense blessing for both you and your kids .

I hope you find a way to be home together.
I believe that “home together” is a great place to be, even if it doesn’t last forever.

So, whether you’ll be rearranging work schedules so you can stay home with your kids or are already home but not used to having the kids around, let’s talk about how to make the most of the next few weeks.

First, you can use this time to establish healthy family rhythms that the busy-ness of your normal lives don’t allow.

You can begin your days together around the breakfast table and share dinner together without rush and hurry. You can spend more time sharing things you love–things like reading, praying, playing, or hiking. If you’d like, you can share poetry or fairy-tales over tea or hot cocoa in the afternoon like we do.

You can incorporate your children into the daily responsibilities of home life.

They can take on more chores and household projects during the day. They can help prepare meals. They can help care for siblings. They can help you care for neighbors in need. In so doing, they will develop a better understanding for all the work that happens “behind the scenes” while they are usually at school or at play or doing homework.

You can give your children space to explore interests that are usually only afforded a fraction of their time.

They can deep dive into subjects they’ve only skimmed the surface of at school or research something they’d love to know more about. They can spend three weeks learning about whatever makes them excited to learn, whether it’s WWII airplanes or the plumage of waterfowl. Or, if they need to, they can use the time to catch up on math skills or reading assignments they’ve fallen behind on in their regular classes. 

And you can let them play hard.

Without “school tomorrow” looming over their heads, your kids can immerse themselves in a favorite toy or game that usually takes too much time to play or set up (or take down). It might be playing a game of RISK, building a Lego city, writing a short story, or sewing a skirt. Maybe it’s writing a new song or organizing a game of Capture the Flag with neighbors. You child now has time to learn a new skill like embroidery or carpentry. They can read in a tree all morning; they can paint on the back porch all afternoon.

Basically, for those of you who are now on an extended Spring Break, this is your chance to experience the best parts of homeschooling without the actual “schooling.”

It sounds awesome, right? Enjoy it.

And for those whose kids have formal academic work to complete at home during this time–via digital lessons or take-home work–this is going to be a hard couple of weeks. I won’t lie. Homeschooling is hard. (Especially if you will be working at the same time, as well.)

But homeschooling is also awesome.

And with a family rhythm that works for you and your kids, a lot of patience with each other, and a little more intentional time management, you might find that it’s much easier than you feared and you’ll be surprised to see how each day affords plenty of time for both the work and the fun.

Heck, you might actually enjoy it a little bit.

 

 

 

 

 

If you are interested in some tangible resources that can help you order your day so it moves along without too much fruitless boredom or frustration, the internet is a wealth of resources. And there are as many homeschool family schedules as there are homeschool families because everyone’s needs are different.

I’d be happy to help you find what you’re looking for if you reach out to me. I’m certainly not an expert, but I’ve done enough research and have enough experience at this point to at least know where to find the real experts.

 

When I Changed My Mind About Abortion

Growing up in the 80’s, we were taught that, in mixed company, a reasonable person never discussed religion or politics.

I didn’t listen.
I still don’t.

In high school, I loved to debate religion and politics, especially with teachers and fellow students who already disagreed with me. I was a devout Evangelical church kid with all the answers and one of my deepest commitments was to the pro-life cause.

One of my favorite t-shirts was from the Rock for Life campaign, which read in big bold block letters, “ABORTION IS MURDER.”

Gosh, I loved that shirt.

But I remember being in a big crowd of strangers one day while wearing that shirt and I was suddenly struck by the thought, “What would my shirt communicate to a young woman who had already had an abortion? Would she feel loved? Would she feel safe? Would someone considering an abortion want to come to me for help?”

This was the first time I changed my mind about abortion.
I stopped wearing the shirt. Even if I still believed its message was true, the shirt just didn’t make sense to me anymore.

Then, in 2000, I entered college.

Like most kids entering the world of academic thought, issues of ethics and morality became much more nuanced and complicated. I began to think more philosophically and less moralistically. I learned parts of history that made me question my fundamental beliefs about my country, my church, and myself. I asked more questions than I knew answers.

At some point, I got more interested in the social implications of my faith. My theology became more robust and holistic. My heart was softened toward the poor. I was sensitized to women and children in crisis. My eyes were opened to a world of struggle that I’d never known, didn’t understand, and felt helpless to address.

This is the second time I changed my mind about abortion.
I decided I felt uncomfortable judging a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy when I had no idea what circumstances had led her to make that decision.

I wanted to be fair, I wanted to be generous. I wanted to leave space for outlying circumstances that, but by the grace of God, I could one day face myself.

But then I changed my mind again as my conception of “choice” and personal responsibility shifted.

Being raised in Evangelical culture, sex outside marriage had always been posited as an issue of personal morality and purity. Now, as a young adult pursuing long-term relationships, the rules of personal purity seemed much more nebulous because intimacy just seemed so natural. And, far beyond any questions of “should we be having sex,” I realized there was a lot I simply didn’t know or understand about how our bodies are made.

A friend (who had recently become Catholic) turned me on to some books about fertility and family planning. Unlike the fear-based abstinence training of my youth, these books taught that the natural cause and effect relationship between sex and procreation is a gift, not a liability. I also started to believe that sex, though it had other purposes and benefits, was fundamentally tied to fruitfulness and mutual commitment, not identity or personal enjoyment.

Suddenly the practicality of abstinence outside of a lifelong commitment was evident. As a woman, I realized that this was how I could exercise my fundamental right to choose. While sexual activity can be a source of empowerment, so can abstinence. I should not be having sex with anyone with whom I was not willing to also share a child since pregnancy is an eventual, natural consequence of a sexual relationship.

Sidebar: To some of my peers, the thought of abstaining completely because you aren’t ready for a baby might sound absurd because your beliefs about human sexuality are different than mine or because it’s impossible for you to imagine a life without sex.

But, lean in close and I’ll tell you a secret–

A sexless life will not kill you.

And if you just absolutely cannot bear a sexless life, a box of 10 condoms will set you back a whopping $7.99 and, even without insurance, most women can get birth control pills for less than $20 a month. (For women on Medicaid, it’s free.)

Do you want to exercise your right to choose? Choose one fewer latte a week, buy the pill instead, and you can have all the baby-free sex you want.

(It sounds snarky, but it’s true.)

My mind had been changed. All these “pro-choice” vs “pro-life” arguments seemed silly now once you first establish the fact that babies don’t get made by accident. There were a million ways to not get pregnant, including simply not having sex or being smart about how you did it.

And, before you say it, yes, I did ask myself–“But, what about rape? She didn’t have a choice!”

Well, that’s a great point and I’m going to get to that in a moment so please standby.* The story’s not over.

A few years later, my mind changed again.
This time it was about the issues of late-term abortion and “the life of the mother.”

Though abortions after 21 weeks’ gestation make up only about 1% of abortions, they seem to be used as a rally point for both those for and against all elective abortion. Both sides will tell you that late term abortions are horrifying procedures that no one would undergo unless it was absolutely necessary. But no one seems to agree about what constitutes a “necessity.” And that is where the medical term “abortion” gets manipulated and politicized, emotions get crazy, and it gets hard to see the truth.

So, a few years ago, I starting asking questions.

Who are these women who are having abortions after 20 weeks? Who are these babies? What kinds of scenarios lead them to these desperate measures?

This is what I found:

In some places in the US, an elective termination in later-term pregnancies (in a medical facility) requires approval by an ethics committee to determine whether it’s “medically indicated.” The criteria is pretty strict. 

In some places, doctors are allowed to make termination decisions without hospital approval, especially if it is an emergency situation, especially before viability. (Think: the termination of ectopic pregnancies or cases of severe preeclampsia.)

A lot of this depends on the location, as state abortion laws differ across the country. And the viability of the child, in regards to the age of the pregnancy, is always a determining factor. With neonatal medicine improving and the goalpost of viability moving earlier in pregnancy, we are now talking nearer to 21 weeks than 24 or 25 weeks, which is what we would have used to determine viability twenty years ago.  (Basically, science is now on the side of the 21 week fetus.)

I have found almost zero instances in my (admittedly imperfect) research when it would be medically-indicated, for the sake of saving the mother’s life, for an unborn child to be aborted (i.e. terminated) after viability, rather than delivered through emergency induction or c-section. Earlier in pregnancy, a D&C or D&E procedure may be considered more safe. 

I have found many, many instances like these when second- or third-term unborn children are aborted because they either have a terminal illness that is deemed “incompatible with life” or because the parents have been advised that the child’s medical complications would be so severe that they are, basically, better off dead.

These are absolutely unimaginable scenarios, yet they happen all the time.

In a perfect world, these are decisions a patient makes with their doctor, under medical advisement. In some instances, a doctor or a hospital will advise a patient against termination. In those cases, the patient can seek services elsewhere either with a different doctor, at a different facility, or in a different state, just like they would with any other “therapeutive” (elective) medical procedure.  

Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics differ from other medical practices in that they offer elective abortion services within the bounds of local and state laws, apart from questions of medical ethics and viability. Yes, I’m sure there are some clinics where the practitioners are more ethically-minded than others, but their entire industry is built on securing elective abortion, regardless of circumstances. 

All elective procedures aside, it seems to me that the laws that exist to allow the termination of a pregnancy “to save the life of a mother” might (rightly) exist to protect doctors and patients in an urgent, emergency situation where their patient (the mother) is in crisis and hard decisions have to be made about where to turn their attention. (Imagine a doctor telling the husband, “She’s losing blood! We need to do something!” and the husband yelling, “Doctor, just please save my wife!”)

This late-term crisis scenario has always existed–because childbirth can be dangerous–but no one in their right mind would consider this scenario anything akin to an “elective abortion.” In these cases, it’s more an issue of legal protection than medical ethics or politics.

Yet, pro-abortion advocates continue to refer to emergency scenarios and medically-necessary terminations as just one more type of “abortion”–the clinical term for fetal demise–just to manipulate the political issue. And to manipulate the legislation.

And to manipulate you.

So, rather than going into the ethical dilemma, in particular, of when it might or might not be okay to terminate a late term pregnancy, let’s ask a different question for a second.

What makes some people decide to pursue a late-term abortion–which is difficult to secure and extremely expensive–and makes others, despite popular wisdom, carry their child to full-term and deliver a baby destined for difficulty or (sometimes immediate) death?

It might seem simplistic to call this out, but my experience tells me that religious faith has a lot to do with it.

Religious people believe in a Creator. They believe that life has purpose. They believe that the creator God ordains life and death. There is a moral imperative to let God be the one to determine the number of a child’s days.

And on a deeper level, people of faith have a philosophical and spiritual framework that provides comfort for their pain. And they bear the burden of infant loss, chronic illness, and special needs children differently because of it. Moreover, they have a community of faith to help bear the burden alongside them.

Now, there are certainly religious people who have terminated pregnancies, but there’s also a reason that most of the news stories we see about people electing to not terminate a difficult pregnancy are about people of faith. It’s a real thing. Radical faith makes you do seemingly “foolish” things.

But, wait. The “religious card” can be used the other way, right?

Aren’t religious people supposed to exercise mercy and kindness? If so, then why do so many religious people refuse to budge about abortion in circumstances like *rape? Or in situations where the mother is all alone? Or when she was pressured into a sexual relationship? Or when she already has children who she struggles to provide for?

These are reasonable questions, and ones that I’ve felt challenged by many times. After all, it seems very judicious to just say, as many of my peers do, “Well, I could certainly never do it, but I’m not willing to stop someone else from doing it.”

But this reasoning works if–and only if–you don’t believe that there is another life hanging in the balance.

Which is why I eventually changed my mind about the pro-life position.
I decided pro-lifers are not crazy. And I decided I might actually be one of them after all.

See, “to each his own” just doesn’t fly if you believe an unborn child is, in fact, a child–a child, regardless of their health; regardless of their future quality of life; regardless of the circumstances of their conception or their birth.

Yet, when it comes to an unborn child, we don’t often let ourselves simply acknowledge it as a “life.” That would make it too simple and we’d be forced to reckon with our responsibility to protect it.

Instead, we want to categorize the unborn as “potential life” which becomes a “real life” and then becomes a “viable life” with a certain “quality of life.”

We do this because it helps us negotiate our own complicated feelings and fears about the fragility of life. It puts something inherently un-tidy into tidy categories so we can feel better about it. In addition to unnecessarily complicating our positions about the unborn, it helps us dismiss the heartbreak of infertility, the pain of miscarriage, the trauma of stillbirth, and the burden of chronic illness by compartmentalizing them in “not quite living” things.

But the most staunch anti-abortion activists don’t do this with an unborn child. They believe that life is life. Life comes from God. And God does not discriminate or compartmentalize, so neither can we.

And this seems like a far more honorable position than the flippant “to each his own,” doesn’t it?

My experience also tells me that, far from being the woman-hating judgmental prigs that I’d been warned about associating with, many people who lean anti-abortion are actually pretty awesome. Many of them are healthcare providers. They are school teachers and social workers. Many of them actively serve the poor. Many of them volunteer in crisis pregnancy centers, at after-school programs for low-income kids, and donate many, many dollars to social service agencies that provide a safety net for vulnerable families.

And it turns out very few pro-lifers prescribe to a strict no-birth control policy. They aren’t anti-sex and they aren’t anti-sex education. (Many pro-lifers are supportive of comprehensive education about issues related to family planning and fertility.)

They are also super pro-adoption and many have adopted vulnerable children themselves, especially profoundly special-needs children.

I’ve seen my environmentalist friends speak with passion and disgust about using plastic garbage bags, about the evils of large game hunting in Africa, or starving polar bears in Alaska but, when faced with the possibility that abortion actually ends a human life, mum’s the word. It’s all “personal freedom” and “don’t tell me what to do with my body.”

But, if the numbers are true, even the conservative numbers, then we’re not talking about a couple thousands polar bears in Alaska, we’re talking about something like 900,000 abortions a year. (And close to 90% of them occur in the first 12 weeks, which means most of these pregnancies are not being terminated for the safety of the mother or the health of the child.)

That’s over 46,000,000 babies since 1970.

That’s 46 million children. Actual human children.

That’s a big deal. A really big deal. Which makes street protesters seem a little less crazy to me.

But where does that leave me?
It is time for me to pull out that “ABORTION IS MURDER” shirt and wear it to next week’s Planned Parenthood protest?

Probably not.
Because I believe that communication is just as much about the medium as the message and I’m not convinced the sidewalk protest is an effective medium.

So does this mean I vote for only pro-life candidates?

Not always.
Because it turns out that most “pro-life” politics in the year 2020 does not reflect a consistently pro-life position, nor the people who hold it. Not comprehensively, at least.

A consistently pro-life position honors the sanctity of life, the modern science of fertility and fetal development (which increasingly supports a pro-life position), and considers helping mothers navigate the realities of poverty, single-parenthood, healthcare woes, and adoption trauma (for mother and child).

When was the last time you saw a politician run on that kind of pro-life position?

Even within anti-abortion circles, people disagree about how to handle things like pregnancy from rape or incest, availability of birth control (and emergency contraception), or fatal health diagnoses. And, even in pro-abortion circles, most people still take serious issue with second- and third-term abortions and some would rather outlaw abortion entirely except in extreme cases. (Seriously, look at the statistics. We are not nearly as divided on these extreme cases as you might think.)

Popular media likes to place us all in dualistic categories of “anti-” or “pro-” abortion. And our politicians manipulate our fear of the uncomfortable nuance of the issue by forcing us to choose a camp. But this strict dualism doesn’t always exist in real life. Most of us know we don’t fit neatly into either political camp, but we also feel like we don’t have many options. We must either “side with the babies” and vote for pro-life candidates or “side with the women” and vote for pro-choice candidates.

So, does this mean I consider it all a loss and ignore abortion politics entirely because it’s such a cesspool?

Absolutely not. 
Because, deep down inside, I am still that 16 year-old evangelical, pro-life kid with the offensive t-shirt. It just took me twenty-some years to get back around to acknowledging it.

And elective abortions, while shrinking slightly in number, are still extremely prevalent. (Remember, 900,000 a year.) And we hear messages from celebrities and politicians all the time that any reasonable person would certainly believe abortion, for any reason, is somehow a basic human right and, ultimately, good for women.

And that’s a lie.

As a Christian, I believe that it’s necessary for us to obey the simplest of God’s commandments–including “Thou shalt not murder.” But I also have to obey the spirit of the Law of God, which demands I protect the vulnerable mother and child, as well.

Since neither political party, nor any one political candidate, corners the market on this consistent pro-life ethic, no one party or candidate has my loyalty these days. At least not in a comprehensive sense.

I allow myself the freedom to exercise discernment in who and what I support both as it relates to abortion, specifically, and women and children and families, in general.

Because a life worth saving doesn’t begin a birth.
But it doesn’t end there, either.

**Why does this matter? Is the abortion debate really worth engagement?

I know publishing this means opening myself up to all sorts of criticism and negative feedback. I have many friends and acquaintances that disagree with me on the issue, some very deeply. And I do not look forward to the backlash from strangers, much less from people I love and respect. (Ideological conflict gets more and more stressful for me as I get older.)

But I also think that any issue with this much political import is worth honest and deliberate engagement, both independently and collectively. And since the issue is being debated in our current election cycle, I thought it might be helpful for some folks to know that it’s okay to reconsider your position. It’s good and healthy to walk through the discernment process and even, sometimes, change your mind about an issue. Sometimes you’ll end up on the other side.

Sometimes, like me, you’ll find you are right back where you started.

For further reading, a few resources I’ve found helpful:

Abortion by R. C. Sproul- Not an easy read, but it’s short and a great primer for a reformed Christian perspective on the issue.

Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward For a New Generation by Charles Camosy- A pastor and friend recommended this to me last week when I said I was writing this post. I’m only about 1/3 through but I can already tell it’s pretty representative of where I stand.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler- A comprehensive guide to women’s reproductive health. This should be required reading for every young woman.

The Art of Natural Family Planning by Kippley- I am not Catholic and I don’t use NFP, but I found the Catholic paradigm of fruitfulness mind-blowing after the very shallow theology of the body and sex I was given in Evangelical purity culture.

The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality by Luke Gilkerson- This is how I taught my kids “where babies come from.” It does not address abortion, but it sets a strong foundation for the relationships between marriage, sex, and procreation.

Abortion statistics from the Guttmacher Institute.

Abortion statistics interpreted through a pro-life lens from the nonprofit Abort 73.

Democrats for Life– the pro-life wing of the Democratic Party. I’m not a Democrat, but these folks have been super helpful for understanding the issue from a liberal perspective. They also publish and share some great legislative information and suggestions.

Feminists for Life– a progressive voice in the pro-life camp. I’m not a feminist, but I’ve found this perspective helpful. (Historically speaking, feminists advocating for abortion is a fairly new phenomenon.)