Thursday, August 27, 2015

10 practical ways to respond to the Planned Parenthood videos

In light of the continuing release of videos about Planned Parenthood, so many people I know are very concerned but feel helpless and keep asking, "What in the world can I do?" I have been thinking about the answers to this question.

1. Promote Adoption and Fostering: 
This one is obvious. We need to be sure that women who find themselves pregnant know that their children will be cared for by others if they can't do it themselves. On one of the first from-the-left articles I read about Planned Parenthood I read a comment saying, "I don't see anyone lining up to take these kids that they supposedly don't want aborted." To which I say, you must be walking in the wrong community. On the day I first wrote this blog, two personal friends of mine publicly stated that they themselves would be happy to either support a woman that was afraid to have a baby, or to take the baby themselves.  Just today I read a post in Chicago from a foster care organization about an emergency case, and in the two days since posting the comments were flowing in of licensed families offering to take the child in. My church in the US gathered on stage all of the people in our community who were involved in adoption and the stage was packed to overflowing with families and children. They said from stage that the church would gladly facilitate the care, and if desired also adoption, of any child or baby. The outpouring of people that I have seen (including my own sister) get involved in fostering and adopting kids, all kinds of kids (brothers and sisters together, special needs kids, kids of all ages and ethnicity's, kids who just needed a family to care for them but could never actually be adopted, you name it) is super cool. 

2. Support young women: 
It's important not just to offer adoption but to also offer support for young women. This means we offer to support women who are pregnant and want to keep a child but need help. We pay medical bills. We walk with them through the process. It also means we teach girls how valued and strong they are, so that they aren't vulnerable to abuse or looking to some some teenage guy for stability, affirmation, or fulfillment. I'll link here to my own cousin and popular instagram mommy, who chose to keep her own baby, and who recently told the story of her own birth mother carrying her and giving her up for adoption. My cousin made her choices partly because she was raised strong and confident. I'm super proud of her.

3. Raise men, not boys:
I call for men who are strong and self-controlled, who see a woman as a valued person rather than something that can be used to fulfill his desires. I call for men whose first instinct is to protect and defend women and children and the vulnerable around them. I call for men who choose the difficult path when it is right, not the path of least resistance. I call for men that women can respect. I call for men who encourage strong women and women who use their gifts. We have an epidemic in the world and in the US and in the church of men who use women and simply act on whatever their desires are. Men, be different, and teach your boys to be different too.

4. Stop overvaluing external success
We should carefully examine the life we are teaching our children to seek out. Do young women in your church or community think that a woman pregnant outside of marriage has lost her future, her goodness, and her life opportunities? If so, what do you think they will do if they find themselves young, unmarried, and pregnant? Are we so emphasizing the "right path" that our children do not see grace and Jesus and life as greater and bigger than the importance of their own identity, future and self-righteousness? Do we so pressure our children to maximize their potential that they have to hide all mistakes that might hinder the best education and career? Do children know that you would be just as proud of them if they were 20 with a baby than if they were 20 with a fantastic scholarship and boyfriend at a great college? Ponder what we're saying to our kids at school, youth group, and in the home, and what we present as the goal of their lives. Make sure your kids and the kids around you know that you will fiercely love them and walk them through any situation they find themselves in.

5. Educate:
Sex education is super important. We all know the public education on sexuality is confused and contradictory, but are we stepping up to be on the front lines of educating kids about sexuality? We also need to teach about pregnancy. That means our own kids, the kids in our communities and churches, and outside of that. Girls and boys. Too often people feel awkward and so avoid thoroughly educating their kids on sex, sexuality, pregnancy, birth control, etc. They need to not only know what you believe, but also what is going on around them. We need to foster open conversation about when life and personhood begin. It wasn't until I had asked a lot of hard questions and thought through the beginning of life for myself that I settled into my own view of abortion, birth control, and the ethics of it all. Don't just say, "life begins at conception". You have to have reasons why you believe what you believe.

6. Research and support alternative local health care: 
Another thing we must do is to provide health care. One of the primary arguments being made in the media right now is that Planned Parenthood can't be defunded because they are the primary provider of basic women's health care services. I would agree with Ross Douthat that this is a flawed argument, but I think it's really important that we SHOW that it's a flawed argument. The question that we each must look into locally is whether or not there are clinics or doctors locally who provide women's health services, accept all insurance, and do not encourage abortions. I am in the midst of this for my area in DFW. I have found clinics but am trying to confirm that they provide gynecological services. This is key - we need to provide not just crisis pregnancy services but also gynecological services. If you find a good clinic, support it personally.  Also, even if they are supported, if people don't know about the clinics they can't take advantage of the services. You help them advertise to various communities and schools? Can you help people get to the clinic if they need rides? What about helping OBGYNs that want to extend their services to those who can't pay as much? Generally it's the middle and upper classes that go to personal OBGYNs. 

7. Defund Planned Parenthood
There are political methods too, and I absolutely believe we should stop funding Planned Parenthood in any way with tax dollars, because they not only provide a large number of abortions but they teach society that women's health, contraceptive services, and abortion must be intertwined, which is not true. Contact your representatives.

8. Live out a life that exhibits the beauty of sacrifice over success
Then there's the fact that many abortions happen not to people who are particularly vulnerable but to people who are doing well and a baby would change their plans, change their trajectory, perhaps be a burden in an already busy life. This is the result of  the general ethic of our society and what we value. Unexpected pregnancy is usually not convenient or comfortable, and those are the idols of our society.  How can we show to the world with our own lives that success and comfort are not the be all and end all? How can we show that there is life and beauty and love in sacrificing for others, in building families and choosing life even when it means delaying a degree or a dream or making less money?

9. Live in relationship to at-risk and vulnerable communities and sections of society
This is something I am so passionate about. We so often want to help people after they are already in tough situations, but it's pretty obvious people in tough spots rarely reach out beyond the people they already know and trust? It is so important that we be living incarnationally - the daily presence of Jesus within the broader community. The Christian communities of America often live very insularly, surrounding themselves primarily with people that are like them and are deemed safe and healthy people. Instead, why don't we identify areas of need or brokenness in our society and live and work and build relationships there now. Then, when hard things happen, we will be there and available for those who already know and trust us.

10.  Live out the gospel of grace
And - are we showing love and grace? Do we see that the baby on the table, the woman in the clinic, and the tech handling the baby parts are all equally made in the very image of God, deeply loved by God, and offered His grace through Jesus? We want abortion to end, yes, but deeper than that we want all things redeemed, all wrongs to be made right and all people made new and righteous in God.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A word on Planned Parenthood

I have been in Planned Parenthood twice. First, as a  senior at Bible college getting married in a few months, I had been doing some research on types of birth control but didn't know where to go about actually getting these various forms of birth control. I hadn't been to a doctor in years and didn't know the US medical system. And so, on my way back from the local grocery store I walked into Planned Parenthood because it had been there through all my college years and I figured from the name they must offer birth control. I picked up some pamphlets, saw a full waiting room, and left. I didn't know the reputation they had until I mentioned it to my mom on the phone and she attempted to not freak out while telling me she advised against going there and booked me an appointment with a gynecologist.

The second time was when I was living in Dallas and volunteering as a mentor/friend for newly arrived refugee families. I acted as a translator for one family several times, at a dentist and at a surgery. They asked me to meet them in a strip mall for another appointment, and when I got there it turned out they were headed into Planned Parenthood to get an IUD inserted. Again, the waiting room was full of all sorts of women of all ages and apparently a wide variety of ethnicities and socio-economic groups. One woman who was waiting told me she'd come there for birth control since she was a teenager. It was obvious to me that the refugee community on Park Lane was going to this clinic for women's health because it was within walking distance and covered under the state program for the uninsured and  low-income. My friends told me that they really wanted the IUD inserted because they had one child and were afraid that if they had another the mother would lose her part-time job.

I think about those experiences as I follow the news about the Planned Parenthood videos. Perhaps you're not in the USA and don't know what I'm talking about? It's nigh impossible to find a summary of the situation that's not very clearly taking sides, but here's one that The Atlantic put out after the very first video, and another from CNN, and one from the Washington Post following the most recent video. A series of stealthily recorded videos are being released one at a time, giving an uncomfortable look at Planned Parenthood's procedures. The videos are clearly an attempt to turn the public against Planned Parenthood and to prove that they are acting unethically. The questions raised include, is Planned Parenthood using fetal tissue without the mother's permission? Is fetal tissue from abortions being sold for profit? Are abortions being modified illegally so fetuses are actually alive when removed, thereby increasing their value to those who buy fetal tissue? Is Planned Parenthood lying to the public about their finances  and work, skewing the numbers to remove attention from their abortion services?

So - I suppose this is a dialogue with "the other side", because I'm having trouble finding anywhere where this is a conversation rather than one side simply defaming the other. I have another post coming addressing my pro-life friends, but this is where I ask the other side, "What would you have me do?" I understand the complexity of the issue. I am absolutely sympathetic to those who walk into the door of  Planned Parenthood. But I'm frustrated by the creative dancing around the issue I see from Planned Parenthood and the media, who are deflecting attention from those questions I listed above. I've gone looking for a rational response to the videos often find silence, or else headlines talking about "the Planned Parenthood hoax" or "misleading and highly-edited videos". I don't understand this, when full-length videos were often released simultaneously. I am frustrated because look, those who are okay with abortion should still be able take a hard look at Planned Parenthood and be sure they are acting legally and ethically. How can we have a healthy conversation if actual legal and procedural questions like these are asked, and the response is avoidance? 

One result of all of this is a movement to try to remove US government funding from flowing to Planned Parenthood. This isn't really new, but it has gained new energy because of the videos. For me, I absolutely support the movement, not because of the videos but because Planned Parenthood is one of, if not the biggest abortion providers in the USA, as well as one of the biggest promoters/defenders of abortion in general. The USA is about evenly divided on being pro and against abortion. Of course those who are against abortion don't want to support abortions, but even for those that are pro-abortion, I can't believe that you want government funding drawn from our tax dollars supporting a practice that half the country morally opposes! If you want to support Planned Parenthood, fine, do so without the public's tax dollars. I absolutely care about all of the other services being provided to women, things that my refugee friends and I were seeking. I am all for public funding of any clinic that doesn't provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood if they were willing to do so.

I also recognize, though, that legal measures can do only so much to affect a social problem. I recognize that it's difficult to discuss when one side believes we are discussing tissue and the other side believes we are discussing babies. Can we give each other the benefit of the doubt for a minute? I understand that you may believe a fetus is not a live human being, and if you believe this it changes the discussion entirely. I am not here to emotionally manipulate or to heap guilt, and so I use the phrase "fetus" here, but I ask that you try to understand the other side too.

Would you grant me the benefit of the doubt that I care about the women like me and my refugee friend that walk into those clinics, the women who provide the services, and the unborn, all of them? But do you understand that if I have looked at the question of where human personhood begins and believe it's in the womb, then I have the moral obligation to protect that life, just the same as I have to fight for the poor five year old around the corner or the sick elderly person in the nursing home, or the lonely teenager without a family? Just to be philosophically consistent, let alone obedient to my faith, my God? I know my framework is different than yours, but do you see the moral responsibility that hinges on the belief that there is life there?

I understand those who are frustrated with some of the methods of the pro-life movement, but look, I am someone who doesn't care about the "movement" and wouldn't participate in a lot of the methods. But ideas have consequences, and if I believe this is life, then what sort of person would I be if I were convinced to be silent, to not care, to watch these videos and be okay with it?  Planned Parenthood has called the videomakers "extremists", and yet there is no violence or even standing with signs - it is videos of what is happening. I care, ya'll. I want it stopped. Please, I ask, can we find a way to go forward that does not contribute to actively supporting the termination of what I believe is life? Can we move towards decreasing abortions in a variety of ways that we might agree on, because a woman who gets an abortion is not really a woman with a choice but a woman who feels she has no other choice?

I echo Sarah Bessey, whose voice to women I absolutely love: 
I am a pro-life Christian feminist. Christians have a long history of valuing the undervalued, saving the discarded from society, and welcoming the differently abled as icons of Christ. Our Jesus came to bring us life and life more abundant. So to us, life is sacred, a gift from God, precious. Every person carries the breath of God. We are made in the image of God.

I carry no judgement, how could I? This is incredibly complex and I offer only my deep compassion to the women who find themselves here. I carry no easy solutions, there are none. I make no promises and I write no screeds or manifestos or declarations or accusations.

I want women to be safe and I want babies to be born. I want all of the reasons why women abort to cease, to be healed, to be legislated right out.  So I want equal pay and decent healthcare for low-income women that includes contraception and supportive partners and a wide availability of midwives and supportive birth environments and real material support for children who are differently abled in mind or body and at least a year of maternity leave and on and on and on.

I echo Rachel Held Evans, who is no conservative:
 I squirmed on the couch when, during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, cheers erupted upon every mention of a woman’s “right to choose.” A lot of pro-choice folks like to say that “no one is pro-abortion,” but when celebratory concert series and festivals are organized around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, I can’t help but question the degree to which we have desensitized ourselves to the reality that abortion means the termination of, at the very least, a potential life, something that should never be celebrated with balloons and rock concerts. 

What frustrates me about the pro-choice movement is the lengths to which advocates go to de-humanize unborn children and sanitize the abortion procedure, reducing life to nothing more than a cluster of cells and the implications of pregnancy to little more than a choice. The word “fetus” is used instead of “child.” Efforts to encourage women to receive counseling prior to an abortion are stubbornly opposed. The argument is framed around the woman’s body exclusively, as if the fetus is inconsequential, and pro-life advocates are characterized as being “against” women’s rights. (Frankly, as a woman, and a feminist, I don’t like people invoking my “rights” to unilaterally support abortion.)

I echo New York Time's Ross Douthat: 
If a publicly-funded institution does one set of things you really like, and another thing that makes you morally uncomfortable, why are you constantly attacking that organization’s critics and telling them that they just have to live with the combination, instead of urging the organization itself to refocus on the non-lethal, non-dismembering portions of its business?....

To concede that pro-lifers might be somewhat right to be troubled by abortion...and  then turn around and still demand the funding of an institution that actually does the quease-inducing killing on the grounds that what’s being funded will help stop that organization from having to crush quite so often... Spare me. Tell the allegedly “pro-life” institution you support to set down the forceps, put away the vacuum, and then we’ll talk about what kind of family planning programs deserve funding.

I echo Ann Voskamp:

How can we be Pro-Human — regardless of the environment of the human?  How do we forge a way forward, that is the most authentically human — for both the human in utero and the human in a hard place?  It might be far more difficult, incredibly time-intensive, and profoundly challenging, but being for all human beings — is what it means to be authentically human...

Realizing that our voice about women’s abortions —  lacks authenticity unless we speak of male promiscuity.
How male promiscuity is about power and pleasure and no presence.
How male promiscuity is about sensuality and fertility and no responsibility.
How male promiscuity is about cultural instability....

Monday, August 10, 2015

My Favorite Granola Recipe

I have some heavy posts I've been writing and sitting on, but since I'm not quite ready to post them, I thought I'd start a series posting my most frequently used recipes.

I like to cook but when I was working in the US I was more reliant on fast, easy recipes for our on the go life. Now I have pretty much only locally-grown items available and I have to make nearly everything from scratch. That's a blessing because it's healthy and I get a lot of practice. I swear I will be an excellent cook when it's all said and done! It's also a pain because everything takes a lot of work and dang, I miss a lot of specialty items like good cheddar and feta cheese and almond butter and good chocolate chips and frozen berries year-round.

I love breakfast and so do my kids. This granola recipe is my go-to recipe. I make it once a week because even Isaac (the non-breakfast eater) is eating it daily. Usually Elly and I have it with homemade yogurt. Judah is allergic to nuts and sesame so I make him plain oatmeal.

Kacie's Granola (adapted from More with Less Apple Cinnamon Crunch Granola)
Makes 2 quarts
350 degrees

4 c. oats
½ c. coconut flakes (I have to buy a coconut at the market, have them grate it, and then roast ti when I get home)
1 c. finely chopped nuts (I use peanuts because that's all we can get here)
½ c. sesame seeds (could use sunflower seeds, if it was available)
½ t. salt
1 t. cinnamon

Combine separately and add:
½ c. honey
1/3 c. vegetable oil
½ t. vanilla

Mix thoroughly. Spread on 2 large greased baking pans and bake 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until lightly browned. My oven is unpredictable so I lower the temperature and keep an eye on it. If you were in a place where dried fruit was available, you could add some at the end and it would be excellent. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

10 Years

There are a few “nice” restaurants in town but we don't actually like the food there. Isaac was bemoaning that there is literally nowhere to go out on our 10 year anniversary date but I insisted that we had to take advantage of the uniqueness of life here instead of looking for situations that are like what we'd look for in the US.

And so we drop the kids off with friends and sneak away, giddy to be on an actual dinner date for the first time in... umm... a year. Our last dinner date was for real our last anniversary. We eat homemade pizza in the back of the old car we're driving, so old that you can actually see the ground through the floor at spots. The intimacy is in the conversation, because we can't even hold hands in this culture. We indulge in scandalous knee-touching when no one can see us.

Then we did what I'd asked to do – go to the old restaurant built like a pier over the water, where the food isn't good but the homemade ice cream is great. It had been rainy and gray so I nearly had us switch plans at the last minute, but the sound of waves is calming even if there isn't a sunset, so we went anyways, and then of course it was absolutely amazing. We sat on the pier with no railing because we are in a land with no safety standards. The sunset, the water, the canoes, the Papuan mountains looming in the distance... amazing. I thought it was raining because I saw the light of droplets falling into the water, and then realized the light was actually the occasional flash of a fish among the thousands swimming around us. A school would occasionally leap out of the water together.

We remember, remember our dating days in frozen Chicago, walking out among the first snow after all nighters at our respective jobs. Hundreds of cups of coffee and hours spent at Starbucks, and Isaac's nervousness to ask me, in that Starbucks on Rush, if I'd be his girlfriend. How a honeymoon road trip staying wherever we wanted felt so luxurious, in hotels that we'd now consider mid-range. That's the benefit of marrying young – everything is new and wonderous together. We remember our first downtown apartment, and second, and then the feeling of utter luxury of moving to Dallas and finding an apartment with both a washing machine and a dishwasher and carpet! We remember holding both of our children for the first time, family walks in the country, watching the rain fall on our porch.

 10 years is significant, a real marker. If we live an average lifespan, though, we are just getting started. Because people always change, marriage is sometimes about learning to love … again, because you are different and they are different and life is different. Who we were when we met was different than who we were when we got married. Who we were as newly weds getting settled is different than who we are now, in this stage of young children and ministry. Each stage has new challenges. What about when your spouse is deeply discouraged... for a long time? How do we find agreement on disciplining our children? How do we make a marriage that thrives in this season of small people? When we have grown frustrated with each other, how do we turn the tide back to tenderness?

 We have learned how to love and we learned again and we are learning again now. There are stages when it's easy and stages when it's harder. Right now is one of those really contented and thankful stages, beginning a new life in a new culture and language, united in purpose, feeling like we're always on this crazy adventure together, and when we're overwhelmed or lonely, thankful for having each other to cling to.