After a long weekend of trying to talk myself out of it, I finally answered God’s call to go to Austin on Tuesday and be a prayerful and peaceful witness for life. I sent out some prayer requests and on Tuesday morning set off for Austin with two adult friends and three teens. I felt a protective presence the entire time we were gone. From the moment we left the house until my head hit my pillow at 12:45 am on Wednesday it could not have gone more smoothly. There are many accounts of disgusting protestors and chanting, but I did not personally encounter any of that. I witnessed lots of orange-clad pro-choice protestors, even some that looked very intimidating, but I did not have any unnerving encounters.
We arrived at the Capitol at noon and meandered our way to the kiosks to register “For” the Bill and for Emily to register to give her testimony. We then walked towards the room where the hearings would take place and came upon a large group of Blues (pro life) standing and singing praise and worship songs. We joined in for a few minutes, but felt like that wasn’t our purpose. It was beginning to get crowded and I looked up to the next floor. Just overhead was an open area with railings and no people. We could still watch what was going on, but be in a more open and much cooler space. The testimonies wouldn’t begin until 3:30 pm, so we found comfortable spots along the railing and just quietly took in all that was going on. I began to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary silently and a few others were praying silently as well. More people began to gather around the railing and most were wearing orange. A woman had come and stood next to me to look at what was going on below. “That’s just creepy,” she blurted out at she looked at the crowd of blue singing praise and worship music. As I turned to look at who was talking, she turned to me and noticing my blue shirt put her hand to her mouth and said, “Oh, I’m sorry!” “It’s okay. I’m not offended,” I replied with a smile, “We live in America and you have a right to state your opinion.” She smiled back and we shook hands. She said, “I like you.” and we both returned to our own business at hand. I went on to pray the Glorious Mysteries. Once, when I looked up a woman smiled at mouthed the words “Keep praying” to me. We stayed here until 3pm shifting from standing to sitting and munching on our snacks and water. I was able to post to Facebook with the wifi connection, but it was draining my battery too quickly and we still had a long day ahead of us.
The hearings began at 3:30 and the crowd below shifted to the outside where they were streaming live coverage of testimonies to the internet. Shelly took the teens, and Emily and I stayed behind to make sure we didn’t miss her call to testify. Emily and I went back downstairs and visited with some other Blues. We met a Deacon in the Anglican church who referred to himself as a ‘reformed Catholic’ and soon discovered that he will be ordained a priest in a little over a year. Interestingly enough, most of our conversation with him was about our beloved popes: John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. We met a GOP reporter from Houston who was interested to hear how Wendy Davis blocked her pro-life constituents from her Facebook page and had removed their comments; thus silencing about half of those she represents. We met a Catholic mother and her small children who had just come from Mass and prayers at the Cathedral. Our next encounter was with a pleasant lady clad in an orange shirt. About 60 years old, she was looking for a kiosk on which she could register. We gave her directions and another Blue stepped in to tell her that there was an open kiosk just down the hall. I asked her if she was a religious when I noticed a cross and collar. She replied that she was a deacon in the Episcopal church. The Blue lady next to me questioned if she was also pro-choice? “Yes,” came the reply and she proceeded to tell us that her daughter was saved by Planned Parenthood 44 years ago. Emily and the Blue lady both shared their own stories of how they had been both physically and emotionally wounded by their choices 30 years ago, but it didn’t seem to have an impact. The exchange was a friendly one and the deacon thanked us for the helpful directions and went on her way. The Blue lady turned and looked at me with a look of utter defeat. I held her for several minutes and told her that all we could do was to share the truth with those willing to listen and then I repeated the story Fr. Jim had told in his homily on Sunday:
In a dream God told a man to go to a boulder at the bottom of a hill and push the boulder. The next day the man got up and walked until he came to the boulder. He pushed with all of his might on the boulder and continued to do so every day. After several weeks the man became frustrated. He had been pusing the boulder, but it hadn’t moved so much as a centimeter. That night he had another dream. He asked God, “Why am I pushing on this boulder? It hasn’t even moved? I’m not having any success and my efforts are futile.” God replied, “My faithful servant, your efforts are not futile. I only asked you to push the boulder, it is my job to move it. Look at how strong you have become. Your arms, your back, your legs and even your heart are all stronger from your pushing.”
I asked her if she would please try to see each person in orange as an individual–after all we do not know their stories or their hearts. She smiled and agreed with me and then we moved on. After this, Emily and I waited to get into the overflow rooms. She got in first and shortly thereafter I was able to join her. The testimonies were varied and interesting. Some lacked logic, like the pro choice woman who was born to teen parents. She claimed that it was unfair to force her parents to marry and give her up for adoption. Her argument was that they should have had the choice to abort. But, doesn’t that mean that she would have been killed in utero and thus, deprived her life and the very opportunity to stand before us that very moment? We heard from a pro-choice doctor that was against the bill and when questioned at length about fetal development and the ability to feel pain he responded by comparing the pain of being torn apart in an abortion to the pain of childbirth. At this point I witnessed 3 young orange-clad girls in their late teens or early twenties squirm in their seats and look at each other questioningly. I’m not sure what the older Blue lady told them, but they were listening intently to her. I believe she was explaining how an actual late-term abortion takes place. This was something that the doctor on the stand was unable to explain since he “personally does not perform abortions.” And so it went for hours. Many women testifying how abortion had hurt them and their regrets; other pro-life doctors standing for life and countering the arguments that abortion doctors would not be able to get admitting privileges; and even a mother with her 20-year-old daughter (who had been born at 22 weeks) testified to the fact that her daughter was viable and felt pain. Shelly and the teens had gone into another overflow room and texted for us to join them. We stayed until 7:45 pm when they called the next group of witnesses. As Emily’s name was not called, we headed out in order to meet our own 8:00 pm deadline for the 3.5 hour drive home. Emily was at peace since other women had shared similar testimonies and we all felt like we did exactly what we had gone to do: be peaceful witnesses for the unborn.
We saw the posts and pictures of the sea of orange outside the building. We could hear the chants whenever someone would come or go from the overflow room, but we did not witness the cry to ‘Hail Satan’ or the ugly posters that children were carrying (hopefully oblivious to what it really meant). We are pushing the boulder. It is up to God to move it.