Hearts in the Emergency Room

How can we live day-to-day with our children in a world spinning out of control?

We were on our way home from the orthodontist – eleven year old Ben, eight year old Sophia sporting new rainbow braces, and I – when we heard the news of Springfield, Oregon, the latest casualty in the epidemic of teen shoot-’em-ups.

This time I could not hold back the tears.

This time my stomach recoiled as though my own body had taken a blow. As though finally – after Pearl, West Paducah, Jonesboro – the shock had subsided and the pain had begun.

I immediately flashed on the first time Sophia heard the news of a mother who murdered her children. Stricken, she turned to me, eyes filled with fear.

“Mommy,” she whispered, “How could a mommy do that?”

I wept that time too, because I already knew the answer.

We had been heading for it for two decades – since Roe v. Wade, then a triumph for someone like me: a radical feminist, pro-abortion spokeswoman. Back in those days I scoffed at the stodgy, moralistic opposition with their talk of slippery slopes and respect for human life. I just didn’t get it.

I get it now.

Now with a quarter century hindsight, I’d say the slippery slope turned out to be a perilous precipice. Once we had fallen off the edge, we were in a moral freefall.

But who could have guessed that in the next 25 years U.S. mothers would choose to end the lives of 35,000,000 children through abortion? Or that by 1996 the murder rate for infants less than a week old would double (Newsweek 12/2/96)?

The children who we spared, the children who happened to arrive at times when they were “wanted” or “convenient” or “affordable” – or those whose valiant mothers bore them anyway – they are now the children like Sophia, the children who want to know why.

And if your own children haven’t asked you why there is so much violence against children, don’t think for a moment it isn’t a question somewhere deep in their souls.

Though my own early years were far from ideal – neglected, poor, alone – I never remember being afraid for my life. As a latchkey kid (before there were enough of us to name), I pulled my key from under the mat. I rode my bike and rollerskated around Washington D.C. with a freedom my own kids – now “safe” in suburbia – will never know.

Can we even begin to imagine the toll it must take on our children to hear daily of violence against children – by strangers, by parents, and now by kids at school? And why are so many children now turning to violence themselves?

Clearly, we’ve taught them their lives are worth little.

Children are not too clueless to grasp their own unimportance in their parents’ scheme of things. First of all, we’ve given them a degree of freedom that signals we don’t really care. We’ve turned them loose in a permissive wilderness without a moral compass. Parents who’ve found fault with faith have given their children nothing else to replace it.

Making abortion accessible (no parental consent) and guilt-free – I once heard two teenaged girls in the supermarket discussing tomorrow’s abortion as though it were a dentist appointment – has planted the dangerous concept that it’s okay, even advisable, to terminate a life which might be inconvenient.

There is no inherent dignity in human life, as witness the content of our kids’ entertainment. While liberals obsess that Joe Camel promotes teen smoking, they flourish the First Amendment to defend rap music, video games and computer software which degrade and brutalize people – mostly women and authority figures – in gruesome detail.

Kids know they’re not important enough to keep their parents’ marriage together. Nor can they compete for mom’s time when career or a more affluent lifestyle beckons.

Yes, the Me-Me-Me Generation has done a bang-up job of convincing their kids that kids are expendable.

In 1989, Bob Dylan wrote:

We live in a political world
Courage is a thing of the past
Houses are haunted, children aren’t wanted
The next day could be your last.

I know because I’ve lived through them before: we are living in radical times. Times that call for a new counterculture – those willing to go against the flow, to say it doesn’t mean a thing if our pockets, our refrigerators, our gas tanks, our IRAs are full, if our hearts are running on empty. The Bible says, What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36 NIV) The future of our society depends on parents who will give their children a spiritual foundation. All too often, people like me who had to start from scratch to find out how.

Parents often ask how my husband Tripp and I have produced so many good children. I can only share the truth – that we haven’t done it alone. No, it didn’t take a village. Our faith in God has seen us through. Faith which goes beyond church on Sunday and grace at meals, to a more relational, sustaining approach

The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

That’s also a Bible verse, Isaiah 58:11. Myself, I didn’t grow up with the Bible. Yet in its pages my children and I have found goodness, guidance, and grace.

Words that bring comfort at times like these.

Originally published in the Marin Independent Journal, 1998