We humans regularly use our beliefs and personal experiences to make assumptions about the people, places, or organizations in which we come into contact on a daily basis. We make assumptions when we do not fully understand a situation. We have a tendency to build elaborate ideas of who people are going to be, or how things are going to go, rather than actually being in the moment of discovering what they truly are. We do this because we like to make sense of the world around us. It is a natural reaction to try to fill in the gaps of our understanding by making up our own story. The danger in making assumptions in this fashion is that we run the risk of pigeonholing those around us into a rigid, preconceived notion of what we believe to be true versus what reality actually is. Many times, our story is wrong and we have done nothing more than perpetuate a flawed misconception.
The Caring Pregnancy Center and its clients are not immune from the power of assumptions. Not one client is exactly like any other. Each one has his or her own unique story that defines them. Are there similarities or common threads at times? Of course. However, overemphasizing the commonalities only serves to limit what the CPC can, and does, do in its ministry from day to day.
“You go to the CPC?” That was the question often posed to me seven years ago when I first became a client of the Caring Pregnancy Center. When my friends or acquaintances learned that I had made the commitment to be a CPC client it often surprised them. It was hard to miss the stress placed on the word “you”. In their inquiry they were saying that I did not belong there. I did not fit the neat image of what they assumed a Caring Pregnancy Center client would be. I had one coworker go so far as to say, “I thought they just gave handouts to single moms on Welfare or with drug problems?” My personal life did not fit the mold of her assumption and she was confused by it. The services provided by the center are hardly handouts. You might notice that I called being a client a commitment. This is because clients must take ownership in the process. It is true that the items and classes provided to clients by the CPC are at no cost, but they are not free. The word free implies receiving something for nothing. You see, clients earn the help the are given. Clients take classes, hold down jobs, go to church, take their children to the doctor, volunteer in the community, and even, in some cases, learn English. All of these things are ways that clients seek to better themselves and their children. Material help is earned in this way, through the effort of the client seeking to improve the life of their children.
Even with this in mind, I would say the greatest contribution the Caring Pregnancy Center provides is not one of monetary value, and one in which the center gives without questioning whether the clients deserve it. This is the area where the reward does not have to be earned, it is truly given for free. What is the greatest commodity provided by the staff and volunteers of the CPC? It is all of those intangible things that our hearts long for as a member of the human race. It is acceptance, compassion, consideration, and unconditional love that transforms the lives of CPC clients far more than receiving diapers or baby food.
You might read that sentence and see it as a pretty bold statement. “That's awfully subjective,” you might say, and you would be right. The notions of acceptance and unconditional love are not exactly quantifiable, however, I feel comfortable making this assertion because I have evidence from my own unique story. I find myself incredibly nervous at the prospect of sharing my story so publicly, but I also feel that it is important to do so. I am not comfortable sharing my identity as the subject matter relating to my past is deeply sensitive for me. But it really does not matter who I am. It is the outcome of my story that matters much more than my name. As I said earlier, I became a client at the Caring Pregnancy Center seven years ago. My coworker who was surprised I was connected to the CPC assumed all clients at the center were single, unemployed, and had an education level not higher than a high school degree. I fit into none of these categories. Rather, I was a married mom of two children with a college education and a full time job. I came to the Caring Pregnancy Center because medical bills had left our family completely destitute and unable to even afford formula for my two month old daughter. My first introduction to the center was a kind voice on the other end of the phone as I sobbed in desperation about the inability to feed my own child. I felt sure that I was a horrible mother and that kind voice assured me that my financial difficulties did not define who I was as a mom.
What that kind voice did not know at the time was that my feelings of inadequacy as a parent did not stem for our financial struggles. I had a secret that I had been carrying for years. My secret left me feeling only negative emotions about myself. All I knew was guilt, shame, and self-loathing. I could not see myself as anything but a horrible mother because I could only see myself as worthless. At many times in my marriage I would secretly wish my husband would divorce me and take my children away because I thought they deserved so much more than I could ever offer. Eventually, I would share my secret with the counselors of the Caring Pregnancy Center, but only in the most limited fashion. I worried that if anyone truly knew the extent of what I was I would be judged, rejected, or dismissed. On the outside, people would look at me and assume that I had my life together, but inside I was drowning in a sea of despair and regret.
The turning point came on November 18, 2013. It may seem strange that I can remember the exact date so easily. This was the day I was freed from my secret. This was the day I experienced unconditional love from others so profound that I finally began to realize that I was worthy of being loved in this way and that nothing from my past could change that. By this time I had been a client for six years and had had two more children. I had long since learned that the Caring Pregnancy Center was a place that I felt safe and accepted for who I was. Though I had this understanding, I still put in considerable effort into hiding a significant part of my life. My shame consumed me and it was exhausting. I was at the CPC on this date attending the monthly Bible study the center offered, and I had come to consider it my favorite class. This particular lesson was on the introduction to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, commonly referred to as the Beatitudes. I had heard or read the Beatitudes many times, but for some reason they never particularly touched me in a meaningful way. On this day however, as the class facilitator, Nancy, read aloud I became overwhelmed when she reached Matthew 5:4.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
I felt as though a great weight had hit me. I could not contain the emotion overtaking me, though I tried desperately to maintain control. I kept my face turned downward as tears dropped silently onto the table. Even now, I feel overcome as I write this. I did not know what this feeling was originally, but I have come to believe that it was the Holy Spirit compelling my heart as if to say, “It is time to let go of the secret.”
“Why can we gain hope from these verses?” Nancy asked. I was surprised that I was able to answer when I was called upon, but it took considerable effort to do so.
“Sometimes the world feels so full of evil that it seems easy to become cynical or jaded,” I found myself saying almost automatically. “This passage reminds us that the world will not always be this way. Through God the dark can become light.” I do not know if it was the tears in my eyes, or the slight quiver in my voice as I spoke, but through her gaze I could tell that she could see the emotion that had built in me. The remainder of the Bible study passed without further incident. I noticed Nancy made sure to draw attention away from me; a small gesture for which I was incredibly grateful. The instant class was over I made for the door in a hurry under the guise of going to the bathroom. After composing myself, I returned to the classroom to retrieve my things. Before I could get that far I met Nancy in the hallway. “Are you okay?” she asked. I explained to her what I had experienced including the urging I had felt in my heart to “let go of the secret.” She took me to a private room, and with her encouragement, that's exactly what I did.
As I told my story, I was steeling myself for what I considered would be the inevitable reaction: rejection, disgust, and blame. For someone like me it is a common expectation. I expected blame, because the truth was that I blamed myself. You see, I am a survivor. I survived a violent sexual assault that left me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That was my secret. I carried the guilt and shame from my assault so long that I came to believe everything that my assailants had said about me. I was worthless. I was insignificant. I was unlovable. I was abandoned by God. I was hopeless. When I finished explaining what I had been through I braced myself for Nancy's response. I felt sick because of the look of horror in her eyes. I never wanted anyone to think less of me, and I was sure that was precisely what I had done. I stared at my lap, unable to look her in the eyes any longer.
“It's not your fault,” I heard her say as she wrapped her arms around me in a warm embrace. “Nothing you have said could change the way I feel about you.” I began to cry once more, but these tears were not the same as before. They were not the tears of mourning or despair. Rather, they were tears of the relief that comes with being comforted by someone you know cares about you. Yet, it was not just Nancy's arms that held me, but the Lord's as well. The consolation I had begun to feel in that moment was the reintroduction to the idea that I was lovable despite what I had been through. The Lord does not love me for what I have or have not done. He loves me simply for being me.
Over the next several months, the Lord used Nancy and the other ladies of the Caring Pregnancy Center to bless me in more ways than I can count. Nancy led me through a one on one Bible study that helped me to understand that God's plan for me does not begin or end with the tragedy I endured. The CPC has helped me to understand my fear and anger, shown me unconditional love, encouraged me, stood by me, and even helped me to find forgiveness for those who had hurt me so. It has not always been easy, but things are definitely easier. I still suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I still feel fearful and anxious at times. However, what has changed is that my fear and anxiety are no longer rooted in a soul rendering hopelessness.
The Caring Pregnancy Center will always hold a special place in my heart and the women there forever have my gratitude. However, the credit for my transformation and healing goes to the Lord. He is the master architect of our lives. He knows our hearts and what we need to thrive. I needed to be reminded of God's love for me. The CPC was just the tool He used. Whatever was broken inside of me, God led me to the ones that helped bind me back together again. My financial difficulties were the reason I made it through the Caring Pregnancy Center's door, but it was the intangible blessings the Lord had in store for me that kept me there.
It is here that I learned that I was guilty of making assumptions too. I assumed others would reject or blame me if they knew the truth about me. I assumed God had abandoned me. I assumed all the negative feelings I had about myself were undeniable and unchangeable. My assumptions had limited me to a very narrow, cynical, and sorrowful life. Making assumptions is the safe bet. It is so much simpler to presume we know the truth instead of investing ourselves to its discovery. How different could the world be if we were bolder and sought the truth wholeheartedly? Though I may never understand why I was hurt, I find solace in knowing that God does. After all, I am blessed. For blessed am I who mourn, for I am comforted.