Mary sat in her office pondering the mission and ministry she had dedicated her life to for the past decade. A growing sense of frustration overwhelmed her spirit. Was she really making a difference? It had become a daily battle – the will to serve vs. the heart-rendering failures.
It was time to reconsider – was it worth it?
Mary served as the Nurse Manager of Refuge Crisis Pregnancy Center in Conyers, Georgia. Certified as a Sonographer, it was her job to meet with women, most of whom were abortion-minded, and provide a free sonogram and, hopefully, words of encouragement to carry their baby to term. “I am too young to have a baby,” “I cannot afford a baby,” “It’s just not a convenient time” – the list of excuses was long, and she had heard them all.
Ultrasound images had been a game-changer, but despite this amazing technology that unmasked the deceptive lies of pro-abortion advocates, there were still women who took their free sonogram image and left. And never returned. Mary grew weary with every loss.
Few people have a career that impacts life and death decisions. For those serving in these pregnancy centers, every client is an opportunity to save a life and serve another. So it was that on this Spring afternoon in 2006 that Mary struggled with the knowledge of the women who never came back. She consoled herself, knowing that many women had changed their minds based on a few minutes with her and an ultrasound machine. Yes, there were babies alive and women whose hearts were filled with joy and peace rather than regret, all because of what Mary was doing. Yet still, her heart ached for those who never returned.
Her mind raced back over 30 years when she started her nursing career. She had passed her nursing boards in August 1972, married her high school sweetheart in September, and immediately started working the night shift at Northside Hospital in Atlanta. She recalled wondering how the Supreme Court’s January 1973 Roe v. Wade decision would impact her job. It wasn’t long before she found out.
Though she was not required to participate in any abortion procedures, she was expected to provide post-procedural care. In February of 1973, one of her assigned patients was a woman who had had an abortion procedure the previous day. The “procedure” was actually just an injection of saline and prostaglandins intended to kill the four-month-old fetus. The doctor had told the patient it was just a blob of cells, nothing to worry about. In the middle of Mary’s shift, the patient started screaming. The injection had done its work, and she was in the throes of labor. The on-duty nurse was expected to handle it. That nurse was Mary. Helping the patient through the contractions, they both watched in stunned amazement when the “blob of tissue” proved to be a seven-inch long fully formed baby boy weighing in at about 6 ounces. The twenty-one-year old nurse, herself four months pregnant with her first child, struggled to clean-up the results of the procedure and calm the sobbing patient. She remembered holding the dead four-month-old fetus in her hands and thinking, “women deserve better, women deserve the truth.”
Her pro-life convictions never wavered after that day.
The memories of those first months as a nurse in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade came surging back to her, reminding her why, years later, she had taken an 80% pay cut to serve pregnant women in need. Though the emotional strain took its toll, she knew she could not walk away from her calling. Women, she reminded herself, deserved better.
One day, while sharing her struggles with her husband, he confessed his admiration. “I have long realized that whatever success I have had professionally, it has been for this purpose – to allow you to work in this mission field for 20% of what you could be earning at a hospital. Heck, we donate most of that money back anyway.” She laughed, grateful for his enduring support.
Her husband stepped away for a moment and returned with a book in his hands. The book, Loving God by Charles Colson, was opened to page 25. Her husband said, “I recently read this chapter and thought of you. Let me read it to you..”
“It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us. God doesn’t want our success; He wants us; He doesn’t demand our achievements; He demands our obedience. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of paradox, where through the ugly defeat of a cross, a holy God is glorified. Victory comes through defeat; healing through brokenness; finding self through losing self.”
The word “obedience” grabbed her attention and quickened her spirit. Yes, she would obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit. No matter the outcome, she simply needed to obey.
A few days later, Mary was standing outside her office when she looked down the hallway and noticed a young woman walk through the doors of the Center. She was holding a small baby and was accompanied by what appeared to be her mother. Mary recognized her as a client from the year before. The young woman looked in Mary’s direction and smiled. She and her mother had come to return items the Center had provided to help her through her pregnancy. The young mother grabbed her mom, turned, and pointed at Mary. “Mom, this is the woman who saved my baby’s life.” A tearful reunion followed as Mary got to hold the living, squirming fruit of her work nestled within a soft blanket.
Later, alone in her office, the tears flowed again as if washing away the weariness, purging the sense of purposelessness. She scolded herself, “How dare I wonder what usefulness I serve? How dare I complain about the many who turn away? I simply need to obey.”
Returning home, she walked in to see her husband sitting at the kitchen table drinking a glass of iced tea. Seeing her tear-stained face, he knew something had happened. A contented smile creased her lips. She confessed, “I am humbled beyond words. I just feel like falling on my face and worshipping a God who saves.”
Note to Readers: This past month marked the tenth anniversary of my late wife’s death. Mary McElhannon, known as Tootie to friends and family, found her calling as a wife, a mother of five, and a nurse and confidante to hundreds of young women. I share her story - a true story - as a tribute to her and all those faithful pregnancy center workers who serve pregnant women in need.