Monday, October 18, 2010

love empowers II

 expectant teen moms

 These girls pictured above are all pregnant.

These girls are all going to become first-time mothers soon.

These girls are all teenagers.


The girls pictured below are already moms.

They all have one child.

They are also all teenagers.  

with their babies

What does that leave you thinking? What are you feeling toward them right now?

I learned I was pregnant when I was 16 years old. In one fell swoop I lost my virginity and got pregnant. (Join me in disbelief.) Every day of my senior year I got on a yellow school bus to ride to my 12th grade classes pregnant. My daughter Britt was born in March of my senior year of high school.

Four years after Britt's birth, single again, I got pregnant with Paige.  I wanted to find a way out of the shame of my second unplanned pregnancy as a single woman. I scheduled an abortion.  I canceled the abortion. I went to an adoption agency and met a family. I canceled the adoption plan. I felt crazy and afraid and ashamed. 

I'll pause here to ask the same questions.

What does that leave you thinking? What are your feelings toward me right now?

I believe our natural tendency is to fairly quickly choose one of two responses.

I'm not here to condemn anyone or their natural responses, I'm here to challenge our natural tendencies.

Do you feel pity? (That poor girl! Oh how horrible for her. What a shame! Her poor parents.)

Do you feel Judgment? (How could she be pregnant again? She is a slow learner. She is promiscuous. How could she consider abortion? She is messed up!)

It is very easy to choose to pity or judge someone.  It is entirely more difficult to choose to love them enough to work hard to meet them where they are and understand them. This is what is required to enter into relationship with people who are different from us. This is what is required in order to be love to those people we have very little in common with and to reach out to the hurting and lost among us. I am using pregnant teens as my example, but it could be anyone.

A song-writer/musician named Jason Gray said this:

"Both pity and judgment are too easy and are therefore the enemies of genuine understanding, which to some degree, requires that we enter into at least a portion of the struggle of those we would genuinely understand. But because that might be painful, and because we are allergic to pain, we flee to the less costly emotions of pity and judgment."

If you have ever experienced the judgment of a friend, relative, or acquaintance you know first-hand that judgment is both painful and counter-productive. Knowing that someone else thinks you are a loser doesn't do a lot to restore you.

If you have ever experienced the pity of a friend, relative, or acquaintance, you know first-hand that pity - while often rooted in genuine compassion - can also be counter-productive and rarely offers more than a pat on the back or a tender look.

In order to love and empower a Haitian woman  (or anyone stuck in despair/hurt) you've got to set aside your pity and set aside your judgment.  Pity won't do anything to help and judgment is not our place. (Matthew 7:1-3)

When it comes to Haiti I/we probably don't fully understand the cultural norms that put women at great risk for teen pregnancies. We do know women in Haiti daily face injustice at levels we cannot easily comprehend. When it comes to our own culture we often only see the symptoms of the hurting people among us. We rarely take the time to get beyond symptoms. Standing back and labeling the sin as the judge and jury does nothing to bring redemption.

God writes redemption stories. He writes them with the help of people. He used people like Mary Lakner who counseled me and helped me search past the symptom of promiscuity to get to the root causes. He used people like Merrill Porter who told me he loved me and thought no less of me. He used people at Crown College that said, "Yes" we welcome you to attend our private Christian college even though you are a divorced single mother of two. He used my parents who welcomed me back into their home.

For the Haitian teenage girls pictured above He uses people like Beth who offer hugs or new matching t-shirts or a cake on a birthday.  He uses people like Agathe and Winifred who spend time each week patiently teaching them how to care for their unborn babies even though they themselves are babies and don't listen very well.  He uses people like you, eager to love and serve - to give, to pray, to support, to encourage.

He is all about writing redemption stories.

Every person trapped into systems of injustice or cycles of desperation needs someone to believe in them - someone that won't give up.

For those of us that genuinely wish to help bring healing and restoration and redemption to the hurting among us, we're going to have to accept that it will require sacrifice.  It could be painful and disappointing. It will almost certainly be painful and disappointing. We need to be ready for a slow and laborious process. We may need to struggle alongside the people whom we don't really understand and then struggle some more until we finally come to a place of understanding and even empathy.

Truthfully, if we all stop to think about it, our closest relationships on earth are people who took the time to understand us.  The time they took did not necessarily lead to them approving of our choices or condoning what they saw.

The time they took just led to authentic relationship.  The authentic relationships led to feelings of being unconditionally loved and accepted.  Sometimes being unconditionally loved and accepted can lead us to Christ.  Once you've found Christ you've found a love that empowers like no other love.
God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted. John 3:17

Come. And let everyone who hears these words say, "Come." And let those who thirst come. All who desire to drink, let them drink deeply from the water of life, as a gift. Revelation 22:17


codeman said...

Thank you for sharing this Tara. I found out I was pregnant when I was 17... I too finished high school with a child at my feet... (or my breast...LOL) I agree with you, my closest friends are those who understood... they are the ones who taught me how to understand others in return... my heart goes after these girls in Haiti... we share the same love for them. I love you! -- Maria Whittaker

Mama D.'s Dozen said...

Thanks for sharing.

While I have not walked this particular journey, I do know the pain of being judged (and unjustly condemned) by fellow Believers. Oh. So. Hard.

When I see the pictures of the pregnant teen girls, I just want to bring them home and love them ... I want to teach them how to be the very best mommies that they can be ... I want to help them become the godly young women that God created them to be.

When I read your stories from Haiti, I just want to pack up my extra-large family and come join you as you love the people of Haiti. Yep. That's what I want to do. I think that our families could have a whole lot of fun together (in addition to ministering together). :)


Laurel :)

T & T Livesay said...

I forgot to note that we have the permission of these six young women to post their photos. They are all in Heartline's programs and trying to parent their babies! :)

lori said...

Wow, I am going to have to read this a couple of times to make sure I get everything there is to soak up here. So many quotable lines. This was incredibly encouraging to me right now in light of what I have been struggling with, so I thank you. I need to stop worrying, and just go all in. God is big enough to help me along the way in my journey to understand those that are so misunderstood. Thanks again!

T & T Livesay said...

Lori -
I think you are dead on with the questions you are asking ... press on!

Heidi said...

Beautiful - all of it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this Tara. I am challenged.

Anonymous said...

It is refreshing to look into these expectant/new mothers' faces and see life. I know about the dead, lifeless eyes of those mothers who surrendered their children for adoption and have gone to their graves with guilt and regret. I know about the pain and emptiness that adoptees live with, and many who choose not to live with it.

As an adult adoptee, I think you are doing a good work to preserve families who can be saved, and to love these women in ways they may not truly recognize until their own children are older.

Melissa said...

I, too, am an adult adoptee, and it filled my heart with more emotion than I can express to see these young mothers being empowered and supported to raise their own children...The smiles on their faces are such a stark contrast to the sorrow and pain I saw on the faces of unwed mothers in Korea who had no such support or empowerment and thus felt their only choice was to relinquish their babies...

I hope more folks get behind programs and support services that enable mothers to keep their children, and, as you said, to empower them to do so without judgment...

Patricia said...

Beautiful, powerful post, Tara. Thank you.

Ryan said...

Thanks for your transparency. Such a beautiful piece. Thank God for His beautiful redemption through the hands of His servants.

Thanks for service to Him, Livesays.

K said...

Thanks, Tara. I shared this with the staff at the pregnancy resource center where I work.

Sarah said...

I am close to your age and experienced no forgiveness from my family and church. I got pregnant when I was 15 in 1988. What was I supposed to do? I was already pregnant and stuck.That judgment only pushed me further from God.I love what you have said here.

Sarah in central Iowa

traveler said...

Unfortunately, I think it's too yearly time to become mom, being a teenager. Mother must have some life experience and be able to give some luggage of wisdom to their kids

Amy said...

Tara...thank you for being so real. While I've never had the issue you did, I do struggle with trying to love those that don't see eye-to-eye with me - every minute of every day.

I must respond to "traveler" - those teenagers have had more life experiences than I will ever have if I live to 100. Their wisdom of surviving life is 100 fold. Pregnancy was not their choice.

~Amy in WI

Lindsay and Ben said...

Those girls are SO beautiful! They are the reason I'm going to nursing/ midwifery school. They are the reason I want to go to Haiti. I love this post. I love your honesty and openness. This is just beautiful.

PS. My husband and I are planning a trip to Haiti around February-ish. I *hope* so much we get to visit Heartline while we are there!

Chapter Two said...

Thank you for sharing this, Tara. We are learning not only that love is needed when hurting but that love is needed when reaching out to the hurting. No wonder Jesus said love is the most important of commands. Anyway, thank you. And love to you and those you love.

Livia said...

A fascinating entry. I love sociology, and try to understand and have empathy for people from all walks of life. The topic of this post was a very personal one for me.

Let me just start by saying that I don't judge the girls, on many levels I envy them. As a nearly 30-year-old, who spent most of her life in various schools I have denied myself many things. I have wished to have a baby with my husband for a long time now. But I keep bowing to social pressure and taking the socially acceptable, not-judged course of action.

Recently books tried to explain why well-off Westerners are more psychologically messed up than people living in poverty in developing countries (eg.: Affluenza). The idea put forth was that Westerners are extreme materialists that always want more 'stuff' as a consequence of being brainwashed by commercials, etc.

I think the situation may be more complicated for a lot of people. We have many things we don't strictly need, because they are highly valued by society...but we lack other things that we really want, because they are devalued by society. And being a social animal, humans all so badly want to fit in and do the 'right' thing.

While those girls in the picture must lack many conveniences of life, they are not denying themselves. In fact, they probably dream of things they wish for and try to work for them. And their dreams keep life shining from their eyes.

On the other hand, we have the Prozac-fed Westerners who have more material riches than they need. Often these Westerners' actual needs/dreams are denied not by circumstance, but by social pressure that forces them to resist pursuing their needs. They cannot strive for their dreams, they must oppress, deny, exorcise their wishes to avoid being judged.

kate.m.v. said...


Thank you for sharing this. I completely agree with you. Although I do not have the same religious beliefs I completely agree with your words that judgement and pity are counter-productive and empathy and love and empowerment is the key. I try to live by this philosophy in my personal life and professional life as a community and youth worker.
- Kate

T & T Livesay said...

I have pitied and judged before and I will pity and judge again -- I am a jerk like anybody else!

But I am hopeful that instead of getting stuck there in those two responses - that I move toward that hurt person in front of me and not stay in the place I started.

I have experienced the transforming power of love. I want to offer it to others.

kapitonovih said...

Beautiful, powerful post. I love your honesty and openness. I hope to learn many interesting things from you in the following publications.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tara,

You continue to amaze and humble me with your posts, this one especially hit some sore spots within me and it is with tears in my eyes that I post this.
As someone who was sexually abused from the age of 5 in a permissive atmosphere, I grew into a woman who learned that love was based only on sexual gratification. I was not raised with faith and Jesus was just a man who walked the earth at one time, and I figured that men only wanted one thing anyway, so I walked blindly during my teens's, 20's and 30's. It wasn't until astute, faith-based, compassionate yet challenging counseling after the failure of my third marriage that I met Jesus for the first time and then God. Like you I had had children early & out of wedlock, out of GODlock!!! Unlike you, I have suffered the scars in every way of resorting to abortion, to weak to understand the loss to my soul at the time! I didn't have anyone to help me make decisions based on what would Jesus do!
I say all this because I know judgement up close & personal and what you are doing for these young mom's & mom's to be is phenomenal!!! What you are doing to shift perceptions of judgement and invite acceptance for the young women of Haiti is phenomenal!!!
Thank you for being there, thank you for being you.
kindness counts, K

T & T Livesay said...

8:38 AM Anon -

Thank you for your note. I am so sorry for the pain and loss you've suffered, thankful that you have found some healing and pray for continued and increased peace for you.


Anonymous said...

A challenging thought, but here's another. What about the Mother who can not have a child of her own and waits years for the call that a birth mother has finally chosen HER to become a mother. That is precious too. I do not mean to judge either you or these young women, simply to pose another side to the scenario.
I respect a woman, of any age, who cherishes her child. But I do judge a woman who doesn't. And I don't think age has a lot to do with it.

T & T Livesay said...

This post was about coming along side people in crisis with love in order to empower them. Nothing more or less. (at lease not in this particular post) Not arguing whether or not a first mom choosing to place her child with another woman is/is not precious. As long as we're on the topic... It can be precious for the adoptive mom but it is also incredibly unimaginably painful for the first mother.

Online Film ─░zle said...

Beautiful, powerful post.

Michelle :) said...

love your heart in this- so right on! thank you for sharing and spreading God's plan of restoration and community!

"Are These Kids All Yours?" said...

Amazing post!!! Thank you!!!


Thank you for writing this and for the ministry you are doing. I found your blog through Ben and Katie in Haiti. I,too, was a two time single mom. My first pregnancy happened before I met Jesus and was in the midst of my drug addiction. She was born healthy in spite of my destructive behavior and drug addiction. She is now 18 and such a joy to my life. The second one is 14 and a delight to my soul. I was able to keep and raise these two because of support and love from people like you. I hope some day to be able to participate in a ministry like yours to use my story to impact the lives of those in need. My story is at

Anonymous said...

Came to this post from a link on Rage Agains the Minivan's blog today. I really loved what you said here. Thanks for showing people that a teen mom can become something amazing.