Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)
As Jazzminn slowly stepped onto the platform in the brightly lit ballroom, she could be excused if she felt nervous. She had no public speaking experience; indeed this was the first time she ever addressed more than a handful of friends. Even a seasoned after-dinner speaker might hesitate before appearing in front of six hundred well-heeled prospective donors. But even beyond the number of people, there was something in the layout of the great hall with its huge chandeliers, stately pillars rising up from marble floors, and floor to ceiling side windows that was overwhelming. The scale of the ballroom seemed further enlarged by an enormous overhead video screen behind the speaker and two lines of additional screens flanking the sides of the room. Magnifying and projecting bigger-than-life images of the speaker, these conspired with the vastness of the space to induce panic in anyone so inclined as to approach the podium.
The occasion was the annual gala banquet for the Miami Valley Women’s Center. Every year at the gala, one or two “clients” of the Women’s Center are asked to speak about the help they have received from the Center. For over thirty-five years volunteers and staff from the Center have faithfully served physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of women who are in crisis because of an unplanned pregnancy. Often a client who had chosen life for her child would be asked to speak at the gala about her decision and about assistance she had received through the Center: parenting classes, baby clothes, furniture, and the like. Occasionally, a client who had had an abortion would share a much different story – usually about a very dark journey of mental and sometimes physical suffering in the aftermath her abortion, but also about an emotional and spiritual journey of support, healing, and recovery she had received through those at the Center.
Attractive and fashionably dressed, Jazzminn’s appearance belied a hardscrabble upbringing. Born just before Thanksgiving in 1982 to an unwed mother, Jazzminn never knew her father. Her mother went from one relationship to another even as she struggled to raise Jazzminn and her sister. As Jazzminn entered adolescence, she discovered boys as they were also discovering her. And so it was perhaps predictable when at the age of sixteen she became pregnant. It was this seminal event in her life that brought her to the gala on a cool November evening in 2015 to share her story.
Jazzminn’s nervousness wasn’t simply due to the number of people in attendance, the imposing layout of the hall, or even that she had no formal speaking experience – it was that prior to this evening she had never shared her very private story in public. And so, as she stepped onto the platform while dinner plates were being cleared, she had many reasons to be apprehensive, if not terrified. Who among us would have the courage to share one of the most intimate and trying times of our life to an audience of hundreds? In truth, no one could have known the emotions she was experiencing. No doubt the warm hug from the Center director was an encouragement, as was the kind applause from the audience. Yet the fact that her voice was clear and strong and never faltered as she recounted her journey is a testament to an underlying strength of character that perhaps surprised even her.
Jazzminn spoke honestly about her unexpected pregnancy some sixteen years earlier – of her surprise, of her fears, and of her decision to turn to the local abortion clinic for assistance. Supporting her determination to end the life of her unborn baby, the clinic scheduled a date for the abortion and provided forms for her to complete and bring to her appointment. Jazzminn’s mom was opposed to her choice, apparently being the only voice in Jazzminn’s life speaking against it. She pleaded with Jazzminn to visit the Women’s Center before having an abortion. Although her mind was made up, on the day of the appointment she agreed to her mom’s request; and so, on the way to get an abortion, she and her mom stopped first at the Women’s Center. Jazzminn was met by several women who greeted her warmly and then listened non-judgmentally to her story. They asked about her decision, explained some of the physical and emotional risks of an abortion, and described various options if she chose life for her unborn child. Whether or not anything they said sunk into Jazzminn’s soul was unclear because her mind was unchanged and her heart unmoved. However, there was one thing that happened that afternoon at the Center Jazzminn would remember. Just before she left, the women at the Center asked her if they could pray for her. Among the many prayers that were offered up, one stood out, “God, please cause confusion at the abortion clinic so that this will not go forward.”
Jazzminn left the Center with her mom in-tow, and clutching her paperwork hurried over to the abortion clinic. Lost in her thoughts, she sat quietly in the waiting room until her name was called. When the receptionist looked over her paperwork she had a puzzled expression – something was wrong. Apparently Jazzminn had completed it with red ink, and not black as the clinic required. It would have to be done over, so she was handed a new set of forms. What happened next in her own words, “my hand froze and I could not fill out the new paperwork.” Despite her determination, a force greater than Jazzminn knew was at work in her heart. The prayers lifted up a short time earlier by those faithful few women at the Center had surely been heard by the Lord – confusion did indeed occur at the clinic and Jazzminn’s heart had been turned.
At this point in her talk, those in the hall applauded for the courage she had shown so many years earlier as an unwed teenage mom, and for the movement of the hand of God. The affirmation though was a bit premature because there was more to the story. Jazzminn did indeed choose life, but not as she had supposed for one baby, but for two! Yes, she found out after her decision that she was having twins. Twin girls as it happened, and who even now were beautiful sixteen year olds standing in wings. With tears flowing down her face, she finished her story as the girls came forward to embrace her by declaring that the girls were not only her children, but, “my best friends in all the world.”
This time the great hall exploded in joyous applause. Indeed, many happy tears joined with theirs. All of us who had the honor that evening of hearing Jazzminn’s story will long remember her as an amazingly brave teenager who defied the spirit of our age to choose life. There were many voices telling her to abort, yet she found the strength to reject the cultural pressures that would have had her kill her unborn child. When she made her decision for life on that fateful day, she had no idea of what lay ahead. Indeed the road would be much harder than she could have imagined – raising children, not to mention twins, as a single mom is uniquely challenging. Still, the reward was incomparable. Standing on the platform that evening was a moment for her to receive the accolades she so well deserved.
We celebrate Jazzminn’s story. Yet without diminishing it, I can’t help but reflect on another story, or should I say stories, that intersected with hers. These are the stories of the faithfulness of hundreds of women who have served at the Women’s Center over the course of so many years. At a time when many in our society have become desensitized to the pervasive culture of death that surrounds us, there are still faithful people who sacrifice their time and energy to support life. For the most part, these are not highly trained specialists, but simply ordinary Christians who possess a willing spirit to serve. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10). I believe that what these women did and what they do everyday at the Center is the definition of being “faithful stewards of God’s grace.” The names of those who prayed for Jazzminn that fateful day may never be remembered in our time. Yet their names are recorded in the accounts of the kingdom of heaven where their faithfulness is surely known.
The pursuit of virtue is nothing if it is not serving those in need. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) The volunteers and staff at the Women’s Center are not extraordinary people doing extraordinary things; nor are they ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Rather, they are ordinary people doing ordinary things and achieving extraordinary results through the power of God. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)
Saving two lives through the faithfulness of service and prayer is certainly one of these “greater things.”