How A Run Changed My (Pro)Life

I really need to rethink my Twitter feed.

Since I’m roughly 90 years old, getting a grasp on the Twitter and figuring out what to do with it has generally proved too much for me.  Right now, my basic philosophy is, “If you follow me, I’ll follow you back as long as your profile picture isn’t a. the default egg or b. featuring a mostly naked person.”  I don’t really seek out people to follow, since, again, I’m 90 years old and can’t figure out what the Twitter is supposed to do for me.

However, I have sought out a few people to follow.  There’s Jim Gaffigan, and Stephan Colbert, because I’m Catholic and I have a sense of humor, so that means I’m morally obligated to follow them.  Other than that, the only other people I’ve sought out to follow have been pro-life organizations and people.  Think: the usual suspects- Lila Rose, Jill Stanek, Live Action, Life Site News, etc. etc.

And they’re the Twitter feed people I need to rethink.

They’re good at using the Twitter.  They know how to lead stories to get you to click on their links.  They know how to rebroadcast tweets to get optimal attention.  They also, generally speaking, bring me the most horrifying and gut-wrenching chatter on my feed.  It’s so easy and tempting to read story after story of the most casual and illogical assaults on human life and end up banging your head on your desk, too miserable to even click over to Cakewrecks for a little uplifting diversion.

But every time I find myself hovering over the “unfollow” button, I force myself to remember what God was able to do to my stubborn heart in the course of a single run more than six years ago.

****

My parents, as all parents are responsible for doing, instilled certain values in me.  This is what conscientious parents do.

People who claim that passing along specific religious, political, moral and ethical viewpoints to children is “indoctrination” are either not parents, or else parents who aren’t thinking about the words they’re saying.  So I’ll say it here:  The world is not going to keep its religion, politics, morals or ethics from a child, so why should a parent?  By saying that parents should “let a child choose for himself” out of the gate, what you’re really saying is, “let the culture consume this child,” because that’s what’s going to happen.

The values of my youth included such things as: the efficacy and necessity of labor unions, a strong and honest work ethic, the artistic genius of British Comedy, and support for abortion.  In my house, a woman’s “right” to “control her body” was a non-issue.  In fact, unlike labor unions and the primacy of British comedy, the possibility that there was another option to a pro-abortion stance wasn’t even discussed.  I don’t think I was even aware that some people were anti-abortion until I was in high school.

Now, in addition to instilling values acceptable to the family unit, parents should teach their children to think critically.  At some point, the child is going to establish an identity of his own, and he needs to have the skills to be able to analyze new ideas and discern their worth.

I know.  This parenting gig is harder than Jim Gaffigan lets on.

So when the time came for me to begin examining the values of my childhood, there were a number of things in the way of an honest critique of abortion.

1. lack of opposing viewpoints.

Like I said, I don’t think I even personally encountered someone who identified as anti-abortion until high school, and then it was only one person.  There may have been more of my peers who were pro-life, but none that I could identify as such.  I more or less existed in an echo chamber, as far as life issues were concerned, and there was little to challenge my way of thinking.

2. image issues.

Anti-abortion activists were painted as religious crazies.  They were tools of the patriarchy.  They wanted to control every aspect of women’s private lives.  This was before the Internet, so this image was easy to maintain, when main stream media was King.  Now, with so many fantastic organizations able to circumvent traditional media outlets, they’re able to control their image and help people realize that anti-abortion doesn’t equal spittle flecked loonie trying to bomb the local Planned Parenthood.

3. contraceptive culture.

Like every other person brought up in a post-Pill world, the thought that sex wasn’t primarily for pleasure was a foreign one.  With seemingly endless birth control choices at our fingertips, if a human being would be so rude as to get conceived without the woman’s consent, abortion seemed like the obvious way to restore justice and sanity to a suddenly unjust and insane situation.

4. lack of personal experience/poor understanding of human development.

Again, before the advent of the Internet as we know it, images of fetal development were not as easy to come by as they are now.  Right this second, in the privacy of my own home, I can run a Google search and come up with hundreds of pictures of human life in all stages of development, learn that the heart begins beating at 21 days, and that from the moment of conception, a set of DNA, entirely distinct from either sperm cell or egg cell is present.  It’s a lot harder now to maintain the “fetus as a parasite/clump of cells/tumor/etc.” fiction than it used to be.

So for most of my life, my pro-abortion views were relatively unchallenged.  And then, two things happened.

The first was when a friend of mine told me about an abortion she had.  She certainly wasn’t my only friend who’d had one, but she was the first one who ever discussed it with me.  Over drinks at a restaurant, she told me about it, and couldn’t stop crying over something that she had chosen to do with her body to a clump of cells over 10 years ago.  I remember my heart breaking for her, not because she’d had an abortion, but because she was still so obviously shaken and sad about it.  I remember thinking that I could have just as easily been in her shoes.  I was sexually active outside of marriage, and had I gotten pregnant at that time, I don’t know if I would have viewed my options any differently than she had.

I don’t remember what I said to her.  I pray that even then, while I was still in a spiritual wilderness, the Holy Spirit worked through me to bring the light of Christ to her.  I don’t know, though.  But I do know that every time I hear someone condemning a post-abortive woman, and not the action, I remember the pain my friend still carries around, and I know that but by the grace of God I could be there in her shoes today.

The second thing that happened was I got pregnant with my first child.

For the first time in my entire life, I had a front row seat to the whole spectacle of human development.  I saw the grey shaped peanut floating in my uterus at 9 weeks.  I saw the little cursor light of a heart flick on and off.  And while that first ultrasound did not grant me the mystical bond with my child that I’d hoped for, it still made it shockingly clear that there was someone else in there.  Not a tumor.  Not a clump of cells.  There was another human life, and no longer was it just my body occupying that space.

This marked my departure from unexamined support for abortion, and the move to the lukewarm “personally opposed, but…” camp.  I knew I could now never have an abortion, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell someone else what to do.  It seemed like a safe compromise over a hot button topic.  I could condemn it silently, but not have to mark myself as an object for scorn by making a universal condemnation about it.

Fast forward three years, and I’m now a mother of two, and in the process of converting to the Catholic church.  Easter Vigil was six months away, and I knew there were some loose ends that needed to be tied up.

I knew, with every single cell in my body, that I could not join the Church, could not receive the Communion I was so longing for, unless I was in Communion with the Church.  I understood that the Eucharist was not a sign of working toward unity, like it had been in the Protestant theology of my past, but that the Eucharist was the fruit of a unity already established.  When I stood in front of the parish at the Vigil Mass, I would be professing to believe all that the Church taught, and then consuming my first Holy Communion would be the promise my body made.

There was no way I was going to stand in front of God and lie to Him with my body.  If I was going to enter His Church, I needed to be in Communion with what it taught, or else walk away and find a Protestant church whose teachings I could accept. Those were my choices.

For the most part, this wasn’t a problem. The logic and constancy I found in Church teachings were one of the things that drew me to it, even in areas many people find difficult, like an all-male priesthood and the prohibition on contraception.  Each time I questioned a Church teaching, as long as the questions were honest inquiries about the topic, and not defensive posturing, the answer I received was clear, rational, and ultimately pointed toward a respect for human dignity that was shocking.

The one thing though, the last obstacle between me and the Church, was abortion.  Why wasn’t “personally opposed but….” good enough?  Why did the Church ask that I make a universal stand against abortion?

This was what I was grappling with one beautifully sunny October morning as I laced up my shoes and got ready for a run.

I was training for the Disney marathon, which was three months away.  Ken and I were both planning on running it, and we had worked out a nice running schedule.  It was my morning to train, and I had a good eight miles ahead of me.  Eight miles at the slow pace I run meant I had a solid hour and a half to fill with the sort of thoughts you use to distract yourself from the insanity of eight mile runs.

I knew as I trotted off down the street that my constant companion for the next eight miles would be this issue of personally pro-life vs. universally pro-life.  I had been round and round with myself on this topic for months, and I couldn’t see any new way of looking at it.  Then, as I rounded the first corner of my run, and started up the first hill, I managed this small, inelegant prayer, “God, you’ve brought me this far.  You know what I’m wrestling with here.  I trust that You’ve brought me this close to the Catholic Church for a reason.  I don’t understand why abortion is always wrong, in every case, so I can’t give you my understanding.  But I do give you my trust and my obedience.  Maybe it’s enough that You know it’s always wrong, and it’s enough that I trust that.”

And for a few moments, my soul was at peace.  My mind was at peace.  There was just the motion of my legs, and the rhythm of my breathing, and the giant flocks of blackbirds whirling overhead.

Then, softly, gently, I could feel a series of questions rising up in my mind, like the first rays of the sun coming over the horizon.  I can’t remember the precise questions, or the order they were asked (and I tried.  Trust me, I’ve spent the last 15 minutes staring at my monitor while two children nap and three more watch kung-fu cartoons downstairs, but I can’t remember these particular details), but as I answered each one, I found my reluctance to declare abortion a universally evil thing receding.  Each question my guardian angel (?)  the Holy Spirit (?) asked me not only revealed the flaws in a philosophy that recognized something as bad, but resisted speaking out against it, but also gave me the courage to act on this new understanding.

By the time those eight miles were done, God had helped me move from “personally opposed but…” to completely, unabashedly pro-life.    If I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have believed it.  Once again, I was faced with absolute proof that God was a gentleman who valued our free will so much that He would never force us to do anything.  It wasn’t until I had given God my obedience in this area of Church teaching that He flooded my heart with the graces necessary to understand it.  Anything else would have been a violation of my free will.  But once I indicated with that act of will that I was open to His word, He moved me a million miles closer to Him in the course of a single run.

And so whenever I contemplate hitting “unfollow” on Twitter because I can’t take the awful news about abortion that keeps coming across my feed, I remember what God can do with a single act of will and an eight mile run.

And so I keep following, and I keep praying.

Cari Donaldson

By

Cari Donaldson is the author of the upcoming book Pope Awesome and Other Stories . She stepped through the looking glass when she married her high school sweetheart in a Presbyterian ceremony back in 1999. Since then, she and her husband have found themselves the parents of six children, and on the corporate gypsy trail, with transfers moving them from the Midwest to the deep South to New England. The most startling developments however, have been the conversion to Catholicism in 2006, and the discovery that blogging provides an excellent creative outlet. You can find Cari on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/clan.donaldson and Twitter at @CariDonaldson and here on Catholic Exchange.

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  • Micaela

    Nailed it. Again.

    My favorite part, which you probably weren’t going for, is this:

    People who claim that passing along specific religious, political, moral and ethical viewpoints to children is “indoctrination” is either not a parent, or else a parent who isn’t thinking about the words they’re saying.  So I’ll say it here:  The world is not going to keep its religion, politics, morals or ethics off a child, so why should a parent?  By saying that parents should “let a child choose for himself” out of the gate, what you’re really saying is, “let the culture consume this child”, because that’s what’s going to happen.

  • Eve

    Beautiful! Thanks for writing this! It is so inspirational! I myself am a cradle Catholic, raised in a very religious family, and I consider myself a strong Catholic. However, I still struggle with witnessing to others at my university (or anywhere, really), whether it be about God or my values (views on abortion, etc). I used to be more open as a teenager, but now, after encountering many different worldly views, I struggle with the temptation of ‘not offending others’. I pray for zeal to be able to serve the Lord whole-heartedly and to be a light to others, rather than hide the light in me! 

  • Beth (A Mom’s Life)

    Loved this! 

  • http://classicalcatholic.blogspot.com/ CC Jen

    Beautiful!  I too was “opposed to abortion, but…” until my son was born.  I remember lying in bed with my husband one night, with our small baby sleeping in his crib nearby, and discussing the atrocities of late-term abortions – it just horrified me on a whole new level!

  • http://www.clan-donaldson.com/ Cari

    Eve,
    I think that sharing a Christ-centered viewpoint with the secular world is one of the scariest things God asks of us.  I know it’s one of the scariest things He asks of me.  
    But as I can tell you through personal experience, it is so important that a Christian option be heard in the public sphere, unless people walk their whole lives down a path that does its best to drown God out.
    So I think your prayer is the perfect one- asking that Christ’s light shine brightly in all of us, and trusting that it will draw people home to Him.

  • http://www.clan-donaldson.com/ Cari

    Honestly, the parenting gig is a tightrope walk, isn’t it?  Walking that line between “instilling a moral compass” and “fostering critical thought”- both aspects are vital, excluding one at the expense of the other is dangerous, and we have to do it with little sleep and messy houses!

  • Terry

    thank you for a wonderful explanation of “signal grace”

    We are so truly Blessed.

    I want to share this opportunity to pray for the unborn May 4, 5 and 6, 2012
    http://www.saintmichaelthearchangelorganization.org/index.cfm

  • http://twitter.com/HouseUnseen Dwija Borobia

    I loved that part, too, Micaela!

  • http://twitter.com/HouseUnseen Dwija Borobia

    I love how those 4 things that prevented you from seeing viewpoints that were contrary to how you were raised are being overcome by accessibility to the internet.  Such an incredible opportunity.

  • chaco

    Hi Eve, How’s Adam ? [Sorry, I couldn't resist. - I asked a receptionist named Tina;  "How's Ike ? and it turned out that I wasn't nearly as entertaining as I'd hoped to be.] No, seriously; we all recoil at the thought of being persecuted for our christian witness. I’ve found it vital to always keep in mind; the centurion soldier at the crucifixion who, even after helping to crucify Jesus, said; ”…Surely, this was the Son of God.” Mt. 27: 54 .[Some translations read; "...this was a just man.".]  I use this to tell my kids; “Even if others reject you, deep down in their “Heart of Hearts”, they really respect your independant free will & integrity. – Whose love is better; people’s or God’s ?” We are made to be loved and this perspective is a “Mighty Sheild” against the pain from rejection. [Think of St. Stephen when God's presence overwhelmed the pain of being rejected; Acts 7: 55.]

  • chaco

    No one ! using the integrity & honesty of either science or reason, can “Look this statement in the eye” and defend abortion; “You were once a fertilized ovum / embryo and someone decided to honor your right to life.” From there, one can ask; “How many so-called handicapped people want to commit suicide ?” Of course people lacking a relationship with God are going to cave-in to peer pressure, it’s the only affection they know.

  • ruthsdaughter

    I LOVE you! Consider yourself hugged by a Catholic sister! Now if I could bring myself to go for a run…

  • http://www.martinfamilymoments.blogspot.com/ Colleen Martin

    And just another reason why running is awesome!  I loved how you said God is a Gentleman.  I’ve never heard that before, and it’s such a nice comforting way of viewing Him, especially to those who have trouble seeing Him as a Father figure.  This sixth pregnancy is your outwardly public sign that you are pro-life…so wear that baby bump with pride :)

  • enness

    Just discovered you…love, love, love this article!

  • enness

    Me too.  “Nature abhors a vacuum” as the saying goes — people need to realize that if they don’t impart their values, their children are not going to have a perfect, sterile, autonomous nothing; they are going to have everything else, no matter what kind of nonsense it is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shannon.candler Shannon Russell Candler

    Cari, I went through a similar conversion from “cafeteria Catholic ” to practicing Catholic and I also found the key OBEDIENCE!!  Obedience preceeds wisdom but as you said the choice to obey is always ours.  Thanks for another great article!

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/ Arkanabar

    My own conversion on this issue was brought about by the Blessed Virgin:  http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/2008/10/first-principles.html

  • Sarah

    I came across your post searching for Jim Gaffigan, of all things, but your story is seriously inspiring. While I’m already staunchly pro-life, your witness to how God guided your mind toward the truth gives me hope for a problem I’ve been having. Sorry to troll your blog, but this is a real answer to prayer. Peace!

  • http://twitter.com/byzcathwife priest’s wife

    a beautiful post! Thank you

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