Chapter Onesuddenly our whole
ONE FAMILY'S JOURNEY
When I heard the words, "Mom, I'm pregnant," I thought my life was
over. I thought that this was the worst thing that could ever happen to
us as a family. I have since learned that our life as a family wasn't
over, but it has been forever changed.
Katherine, a birth grandmother
WHEN OUR BEAUTIFUL twenty-one-year-old daughter came home from
college on a spring Sunday afternoon in 1998, it appeared to be her usual
drop-in-and-do-laundry visit. However, the real reason for her visit would
propel us on a path of emotional turmoil, hurt, and confusion that we never
expected to travel. We never expected to be here-not with her-not at
this point in our family's life.
After returning from church that evening, Kristy sat down at the kitchen
table and tearfully asked me to join her. "Mom, there is no easy way to tell
you this. I'm pregnant," she quietly said. "Eight weeks, I think."
Too stunned too respond, all I could muster was, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I took a pregnancy test and I have been so sick."
"Who knows?" I weakly asked.
"Sean does, but he won't speak to me," she said. "And Ray, Mom." It
turned out that our son had known for a couple of weeks.
"I didn't mean for this to happen," Kristy whispered through painful
tears. "I was foolish and careless."
I sat in dazed silence. This can't be true. I wanted to ask a million
questions. "How could you have allowed this to happen?" "What were you
thinking?" "What are you going to do now?" But I couldn't ask anything. Shocked,
I sat looking at our child-a profoundly hurting, desperately frightened young
lady-our daughter, our only daughter. My husband was yet to be told.
Just one hour earlier, I had been enjoying conversations with women at
church, encouraging them in their Christian walk and laughing with them
about family antics. All that seemed light years away now. Suddenly, it felt
like my world crumbled around me. I didn't have any answers for my
daughter at that moment. I didn't have answers for us.
After David arrived home, Kristy told him the news in the same hushed
manner she had told me. His response-one of numbed disbelief-was
similar to mine.
"As the news sank in," David recalled, "one part of me stayed in the
kitchen, feeling the nauseating pain of what our daughter had just told me.
Another part of me went away, thinking about all the issues and concerns we
all would have to face. What we had supported, believed, and taught throughout
our ministry-choose life-do the right thing-was no longer just a slogan
or statement supporting the pro-life movement. It was a pronouncement
that now touched us at the deepest, most personal level of our lives."
Some tense conversation followed. With nothing more to be said at that
point, and the feeling of helplessness suffocating us, we all went our separate
ways. Kristy, deciding not to return to school that evening, headed straight for
her room and shut the door behind her. David, needing time and space, left
to run an errand. I went to our room to prepare for bed. I could hear Kristy
crying through her bedroom door. My heart was breaking for all of us.
David and I struggled with awkward conversation as that devastating
evening finally ended. We attempted to sleep, but that luxury eluded us. For
the first time in many, many years, I literally lay awake all night. Questions
swirled around me. "What will be the future of this baby?" "What about
Kristy's future?" "What about ours?" "Who do we tell, and when?"
Over the next several days we went numbly through the motions of
returning to our work and carrying out our ministry responsibilities. Kristy
returned to college. The journey was just beginning for us.
telling the news
Because David was the senior pastor of a large church, we were in an
extremely difficult position. Our first concern, of course, was for our daughter;
but at this early stage, still in shock, other concerns quickly emerged as
well. David and I were both concerned how the church family would react.
Would they still want us to continue in leadership under these conditions?
Would they see us failing as parents? Would they still trust us? What would
it feel like to be the subject of gossip? Would we have the emotional and
psychological strength to continue meeting the demands of a vibrant, growing
church amid such personal heartbreak and uncertainty?
After many hours of discussion, weighing the pros and cons of how we
would proceed, we made a decision within the first weeks of learning about
Kristy's pregnancy to talk with our church board as soon as possible. We
did not want "the news" to trickle out, placing us and our church family in
an awkward position. Following the regularly scheduled board meeting, my
husband called me.
"It is time to come over," he told me. "I asked them to wait as we had
something to share."
I walked in the board meeting room and sat next to my husband. In a
calm manner, David related our news.
"For many years we have stood by you and your families in crisis. We
now face our own. We need to share with you tonight about a family situation.
Kristy just told us within the last several days that she is pregnant. We
want to apologize to the church for any embarrassment this might bring. We
will respond to whatever you ask us to do regarding our future leadership
here. All we do ask of you is that you allow us time as a family to regroup
and begin to work through the issues that face us."
As we turned to leave, some of the board members stood and walked
toward us. We were surrounded with words of encouragement, prayers for
wisdom, and hugs of support.
The following Sunday, I faced another difficult moment. I taught an
adult women's Sunday school class. Through the years, the class cared for
each other through various crises. We all had experienced God's provision
in trying and tragic circumstances. I knew the class's history of loving support
and maturity, but I still dreaded telling them our news. As the hour
drew to a close, I ended the lesson early.
"My friends," I told them. "We have laughed together, cried together,
prayed together over the last three years. It has brought healing to all of us.
However, I need to tell you that our family is now entering a place where
we have never been. Our daughter, who many of you know, is pregnant.
We wanted you to know so that you wouldn't hear the rumor and wonder
why I had said nothing. We don't know what the days ahead will bring. I
know that we have talked a lot and encouraged each other with the knowledge
that God's grace is sufficient. I believe that God will teach me at a
deeper level what that means in the months to come."
What followed here, just as with our earlier announcement, were
expressions of love, acceptance, and encouragement. What I had feared-church
gossip and rejection-never materialized. In fact it was quite the
opposite. Sitting one afternoon at a church luncheon, I talked openly with
one of our ladies about Kristy, assuming she had heard. She began to tear
up and said, "I didn't know that, no one told me." Kristy was well into her
sixth month by then.
riding the roller coaster
In the early weeks following the disclosure of this news, I felt as though I
had stepped onto an emotional roller coaster, and with every heart-stopping
curve I encountered a new or recurring emotion . guilt, grief, loss, anger,
rejection, fear, despair, hurt, sorrow. The ride jostled me from every side.
My husband experienced a similar emotional assault.
Guilt was the first emotion that rose to the surface as the reality of our situation
hit home. I felt as though I had failed Kristy as her mother. For a
period of time, guilt became my constant companion. My mind constantly
rehearsed: What went wrong? What did I do to cause her behavior? What
didn't I do? How can I fix this since I am to blame?
A close cousin to guilt is "if-onlys." If only I had been more attentive. If
only I had spent more time with her. If only I had allowed her more freedom.
If only I had not been so rigid about some things. If only I hadn't
smothered her as a parent. If only, if only .
David, too, was tormented. "I kept asking myself, would this have been
different if I had listened more-if I had been home more," David related.
"We knew during Kristy's adolescence that she was struggling with a lot of
issues. She kept her heart walled off from us, and I continually asked
myself, 'What if I had been more competent to reach her? Would we be here
dealing with this?'"
I think at the heart of a family crisis of this nature is the sense of loss and
the accompanying grief that follows. It was for us. One of our bedrooms
serves as the memory wall for generations of family photos. One particular
frame contains pictures of Kristy's growing-up years. When I walked into
that room and glanced at those happy, carefree, smiling faces of a three-year-old,
ten-year-old, thirteen-year-old, overwhelming emotions of loss and
sadness rose up within me.
Memories of happier days flooded me. I remembered the joy we had
watching our daughter's basketball games during her junior high and high
school days. I wouldn't miss a game. She was an assertive rebounder and
won county-wide honors. I recalled the excitement we all felt when she was
chosen from nationally conducted interviews as a counselor-in-training for
Kids-Across-America camps, a Christian inner-city program in Missouri.
Kristy has a heart for inner-city kids, and in those late high school and early
college days, God provided summer outlets for ministry both in Missouri
and Ohio. She was invigorated by living out her dreams. But now she was
traveling a different road.
Occasionally, I would sit down on the edge of the bed and cry-grieving
the losses-loss of the dream of what "should" have been:
Enjoying her college graduation
Watching her dreams of ministry emerge
Seeing the wonder of her falling in love with the right man
Planning a wedding
Anticipating the birth of a grandchild under happy circumstances
Our grieving was also for Kristy-for her losses and struggles-now
and in the future. In the midst of your own hurt, anger, and pain, you can't
help but feel fear and desperation for the child to whom you've given your
heart and life.
Although we knew we had the support of our church family, facing them
each week in ministry capacities proved to be difficult. David found stepping
into the pulpit each Sunday even more emotionally demanding than
he expected it to be.
"I felt that I had lost my credibility. It was very difficult to continue to
function in those early days. It was incredibly challenging to face the congregation
each week. How could I talk to other families about their spiritual
and emotional issues when we were facing such a mountain of concerns
within our own family? How could I help them when such deep hurt was
shackled to me?"
What engaged our imagination most during those early weeks of deep
pain and disappointment was the fantasy of flight. "Why don't we take a
sabbatical for a period of time," we asked ourselves. Withdrawing temporarily
from all our responsibilities was tempting to us. We felt that in so
doing we would have time to work through our issues and concerns with
Kristy and the soon-to-be born child alone and out of the public view.
We actually drove over to a neighboring community to look at available
housing. We knew that following through on that decision would ultimately
mean David would have to resign his position as the senior pastor, as our
church did not have a sabbatical option. This flight plan, however, was not
God's plan. In the midst of this fantasy of flight, a young pastoral friend of
David's, Jamie Johnson, dropped by his office. We now believe he was sent
there by God. In their conversation, this young pastor challenged David.
"You are not finished here," Jamie told David. "You are not going to
walk away from your calling. You are not going to end your ministry like
this. When you do finish, you need to finish strong."
It felt like a profound admonishment from the Lord to David. Calling me
after Jamie left his office he echoed his words, "We are not going to run
from this. We are not going to finish like this. Whenever we are done here,
we will finish strong!"
For families in crisis who also serve in leadership roles, finding a trusted, listening
ear feels out of reach. We felt, as do many other pastoral families in
crisis, that we really couldn't or shouldn't talk to anyone in the church. This
perception brought a deep sense of being very alone. Fears of betrayal, concerns
of a judgmental response, or loss of respect blocked that source of
After the initial shock of disclosure, I found myself desperately needing
to share what was happening in our lives. Talking with my husband was
helpful, but he was hurting too. I was convinced that a confidante needed
to be outside our church.
I contacted a local counselor, who was also a pastor's wife. I went with
great anticipation of hearing words that would sustain me in the coming
months. That didn't happen. I am not really sure to this day how the conversation
moved in the direction it did, but we spent almost the entire hour
discussing her challenging role as pastor's wife. Very little dialogue touched
where I was and why I was there. As the hour ended, she said, "Don't think
about paying me today, I just enjoyed our talk."
That was it. The session was over. I went out to my car and cried. I
needed an outlet for the whirl of thoughts and feelings inside of me. Now
who would I talk to?
I didn't realize at the time that God had always intended my support to
be from friends who were right there in front of me. There were Pat and
Robin Shadowens, a mother and daughter who had journeyed this way
more than a decade earlier. I felt drawn to them in a desperate need to
speak out loud the confusion I was experiencing. There was Marcia
Southerland, an incredible woman with the gift of mercy who just seemed
to know the right words at the right time. Then there was the time John and
Kelly Bayse and I met for lunch. They asked good questions about feelings,
thoughts, and plans for all of us.
What was amazing to me in those early days was the healing that was
beginning to take place in my heart. Their comments of understanding
began to quietly soothe open sores of woundedness and hurt: "We've been
there," "This is a detour, but you, David, Kristy, and the one to come will
make it," "Your pain will not last forever."