How My Shirt Changed the Day
For the second time in a month, I had a conversation in the grocery checkout line that left me reeling. This time it began while unloading my produce and grinning at the two big-eyed, energetic young boys behind me. Their mom caught my eye and and she looked friendly as she inquired, “What is that?” The red cabbage in my hand? I thought. “I’m sorry, my produce?” She clarified, “I’ve seen that shirt on people around town, what is it?”
“Oh, it’s from an organisation that helps women get ultrasounds and see their babies. . .to help them stay healthy. They sort of hang out around planned parenthood facilities and help women want to keep their baby. You know, save a stork, since people say babies are delivered by storks.” I smiled as I made air quotation marks around the word storks.
It wasn’t the most eloquent or elegant thing I’ve ever said, but it was the grocery line, and it was moving pretty quickly. She looked engaged, so I was startled when she said, “Oh, so you’re against abortion, I get it.” Quickly I replied that I was pro-life and she said, “I thought it was going to be something cute.” I said the first thing that popped into my head, “Well, your little guys are awfully cute.” Her response stunned me, “Yeah, well, we planned each one of them. I donate to planned parenthood every year because I believe in science. I take them to the library so they can read more than one book.” As it was my turn to check out, I responded that her comment made me sad and that I, too, read more than One Book.
I wished them a good evening when I was finished, then walked to my car. Tears welled up in my eyes as a response whispered its way out of my mouth, “But planned parenthood cuts babies into pieces. How could anyone support that?”
More tears made driving blurry as I thought of all the things I could have said to that kind-looking woman in just ten seconds: “I believe in science, too. A baby has DNA from the time the egg and sperm meet, and its heart begins to beat at fourteen days. When someone ends an innocent human heartbeat, we call it murder, don’t we?”
The words of the song I was listening to pierced my heart:
“I try so hard..to turn away and not become
Another nail to pierce
The skin of One who loves
More deeply than the ocean
More abundant than the tears
Of a world embracing every heartache”1
A world embracing every heartache, I thought. Embracing pain under the name and guise of science, knowledge. And yet it is lack of Knowledge that blinds them, and they swallow the pill, not to kill the pain but to kill the child. . .to increase the heartache.
Then came the angry tears—for the second time in recent weeks, I had failed to share truth with someone in an adequate way. I was so unprepared in the moment to give that ten second reply, because I simply hadn’t thought to prepare any words to say if someone asked me. When I debated about what to wear in the morning, I hadn’t planned to explain my shirt if need be. I had gone back and forth and finally landed on my Save the Storks shirt because it’s one of my favourites, thinking that it was a bummer so few people ever asked me about the shirt. So, I didn’t prepare. I walked into a store minding my own business, and my shirt changed the tenor of the evening. One simple choice this morning opened up a conversation. . .A conversation that I wanted to have, but where I failed to say anything beyond, “That makes me sad,” when I had much more I could say. Much more I wish I had said.
How can I give someone food for thought if I’m not prepared with my own questions to counter theirs? I want to be kind, yet I also want to make people think. Not change their mind on the spot, but to ask something for their own mind to to close around, rather than simply making insipid replies to their questions.
Last time I was in that same grocery, I was totally unprepared for the conversation that sprang up in the checkout line. There was no way I could have known a question as simple as, “Where do you go to church?” from the cashier would lead to them telling me that they were in the midst of a gender transition. This time I could have been prepared for the questions, but I wasn’t.
Slow as I am, I’m realising that I should pray for the Lord to direct my mind and conversations before I step into that grocery—or any other grocery. And not only the grocery, but also restaurants and the sidewalks of my town; before I drive my car and as I prepare for each day. Perhaps, like the scores of other times I’ve walked into the grocery or worn this shirt other places, nothing will happen. But what about the one time in the midst of those scores when someone asks the question, when someone blurts out their hurt or their heart? To be ready in that moment means to pray before all of the moments that might be.