My confession begins with a vague memory I have from long ago of a conversation my mother had with my older sister, Sara. Mom talked about Lila Rose, a homeschooler from California, who founded the pro-life organization, Live Action, when she was 15.
I have always had a flair for the dramatic, and the idea of sneaking onto dangerous enemy territory for the sake of a cause you believe in ignited a spark in my heart. That spark has developed into a deep passion for the prolife movement; a passion that has intensified over the course of my activism.
For many years I kept detailed journals. On July 27, 2008, I wrote about the first day I prayed outside an abortion clinic: “When I think of an abortion clinic, I think of a solitary building in the middle of a parking lot surrounded by a chain link fence with constantino wire on top.” I was surprised to see a nicely kept building with a pretty lawn in the middle of Louisville.
“I only expected to see MAYBE two women go in. But after ten minutes there was a steady stream.” I felt cold and shocked inside, especially when I saw a young girl come out of the clinic sobbing. Her hands were pressed over her ears to drown out the sound of our prayers. I wanted to cry, but I felt frozen.
The intimidating characters in bright orange jackets confused me at first, because I couldn’t tell if they were on the pro-life or pro-abortion side. I gradually understood that they were clinic escorts. Escorts are volunteers recruited by Planned Parenthood to impede any efforts pro-lifers make to try to help abortion-minded women. I admired one of the men in my pro-life group who started up a friendly and courteous conversation with a grungy looking escort. I thought to myself, “One day I want to do that.”
When my aforementioned sister, Sara, would come home for breaks, she would talk about how she sidewalk counseled for her college’s pro-life club, Shield of Roses. I decided that when I started at Christendom, I would sidewalk counsel, too.
But nothing prepared me for what sidewalk counseling was really like. The angry screams, the bitter words, the vacant, sad eyes, the crushed and ignored pamphlets, the fact that every single woman walked straight past me and through the doors of the abortuary. And I could not stop them.
Nothing warned me about the gnawing guilt I felt because I thought I was a failure at sidewalk counseling. Nothing readied me for all the Friday nights of my first semester freshman year, when I would go to bed feeling useless and helpless but knowing I had to get up the next morning and sidewalk counsel, no matter what. I was making myself physically sick. I kept inching closer and closer to a nervous breakdown.
I did not, however, have a nervous breakdown after all, thanks to the wonderful support I received from my sister and my best friends, but especially one person in particular: Libby. She is a beautiful woman with a gift for sidewalk counseling. She unofficially trained me in sidewalk counseling little by little every Saturday at the clinic, and then officially spring semester freshman year. She was a constant source of strength and inspiration to me on Saturday mornings.
Through her kindness and wisdom, Libby helped change my perspective on what my mission is as a sidewalk counselor. She explained that when I am counseling, I am accompanying Jesus to Calvary. She instructed me to be constantly in conversation with the Lord about what was happening at the clinic; to be constantly praying. She informed me that every woman was going to go into the clinic and it was not my fault. She told me I had to have the humility to accept God’s grace and let the Holy Spirit work through me. Libby helped me see that sidewalk counseling is not merely showing up at the clinic to try to give women better options; sidewalk counseling is a movement of love.
Instead of leaning against a street post agonizing as I waited for the next woman to walk by, I began to utilize every moment I had at the clinic. When I am not deep in prayer or counseling, I am talking to my fellow pro-lifers, or encouraging conversation with the escorts (some of whom I still find intimidating!), or smiling and saying “Good morning” to each passerby.
But the best part of all is what I have learned about God and His grace. When I was relying on myself, sidewalk counseling was a miserable torment, because I continually came face to face with my limits and shortcomings. But when I ask God for His grace to be a good servant and I let the Holy Spirit work through me, I am able to forgive myself for my weaknesses, because God immerses me with His strength. My most humbling and beautiful revelation is that I get to be an instrument of God’s grace. God, the creator of Heaven and earth, actually uses me, a hyper-emotional, crazy Italian, to be the living expression of His kindness and mercy.
What is more amazing than that?