My mom and I would both describe ourselves as introverts, though we express our introversion in different ways. As children, each of us was terribly shy. Mom eventually came out of her shell to become the beautifully relational person that she is today, good at reaching out to others.
By the time I hit middle school I, too, had started to break out of my shell but was promptly shoved back in by the cruelty of my peers, which seemed to vindicate the self-sheltered life I had lived up to then. I don't want to overdramatize my middle-school experience – I don't think anyone has a good one – but, I know with certainty that those years created the terrible insecurity and lack of self-confidence that I suffered from until a few years ago.
In high school I discovered my love for public speaking. And though I've certainly grown in my people skills over the past few years, I still feel much more comfortable speaking to an audience than an individual. So if you need someone to speak to a large group of people, I'm your woman. Mom, on the other hand, will want nothing to do with it. If you want someone to talk with you one-on-one, someone to chat with and listen to you, you want Mom.
Mom and I each began our active involvement in the pro-life movement as young women. Mom began by joining her parish's Human Life Committee. I can't really remember how I started. The movement became such a central part of who I was at such a young age that I can’t even remember what my life was like before I was actively pro-life. From the time I was old enough to understand what abortion was, my parents made an effort to invite me to join them in any pro-life activities in which they were participating. So by the time I entered high school, I had already done everything from attending prayer vigils, to picketing hospitals that performed abortions, to campaigning for pro-life candidates. In high school I took my first steps towards becoming involved in the movement on my own through participation in the school’s pro-life club and various opportunities that sprung from that.
Mom and I both like to get things done. We’re not happy unless we have tasks to accomplish and goals to achieve. So when Mom began her pro-life endeavors in the newly-formed Human Life Committee, she volunteered to do anything and everything that needed to be done. Being the relationship-oriented person that she is, Mom soon came to know the majority of pro-life activists in the area. Between her desire to do things and her friendly personality, Mom was soon doing work, not just for the parish committee, but for the pro-life movement throughout Long Island.
There was nothing she wasn't involved in, from picketing abortion clinics, to attending prayer vigils, to organizing pro-life youth conferences. But she says the most important thing she did was help to establish a pro-life pregnancy center. In only a year, six people – including Mom – had established Mother and Unborn Pregnancy Care Center, offering help and support to women in crisis pregnancies. Eventually, Mom had become so involved in the pro-life movement that she had to make a choice. She quit her job to become a full time pro-lifer.
As soon as I got to college I signed up for the Students for Life. Like Mom, I volunteered to do whatever needed doing. The group’s advertising director was shocked when I told her that I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. But really, the only thing that I wasn't participating in as a member of Students for Life was our weekly clinic outreach - praying at the abortion clinic in Pittsburgh. As a child I had been diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder.
Though I had largely overcome this disability by the time I entered college, going to the abortion clinic was one thing that I knew I still couldn't handle.
Back at home I had sometimes picketed hospitals that performed abortions. But holding a sign outside of a hospital in a nice neighborhood while surrounded by my family was a lot different than what I had heard about praying outside of Allegheny Reproductive Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For starters, I was already living seven hours away from my home and family, which have always served as my primary security blankets. I had adjusted well to Franciscan and was unwilling to engage in any stressful activity that would rock the boat. And praying on the streets of Pittsburgh in the dreary morning hours, right outside of a building where children were being killed, all while watching the sidewalk counselors, my friends, being bullied by the pro-choice escorts, was a very stressful activity.
Mom said, "Everyone was always so excited to have a young, energetic person in the pro-life movement. They encouraged me to try everything and I didn't have enough life experience to know what I was and was not good at, so I tried it all." That included public speaking. It didn't last long though, the thought of getting in front of a crowd always made her feel sick. She really did try everything though, even pro-life politics. There was an election in the Town of Hempstead and the pro-lifers needed a candidate. So Mom ran. But after the first candidate forum she began praying that she would lose, having realized that this was not her area of expertise. Her prayers were answered.
And then . . . Mom bought a bullhorn. After reading Joe Scheidler's instructions on how to effectively picket an abortion clinic, my mother, the woman who felt sick at the thought of addressing a crowd, went out and bought a bullhorn. And this bullhorn did not sit on the top shelf of a closet collecting dust. This bullhorn was my mom's faithful companion at every picket, every rally, every event. This woman, who blanched at the thought of public speaking, began to spend her weekends leading large crowds of pro-lifers in chants, prayers, and songs.
At the end of my freshman year of college I joined a "household." These primarily Franciscan organizations can best be described as Catholic, faith-based sororities and fraternities. The household which I joined, called Madonna of the Streets, has a uniquely pro-life charism. In virtue of this, all of our members commit to "come together in prayer once a month at the abortion clinic," along with Students for Life. So when I returned to Franciscan for sophomore year, I knew that I had to make good on that commitment. I finally did it. Public speaking is what makes Mom feel sick, going to the clinic made me feel sick. I even made the girl driving pull over at one point because I was so overcome with anxiety.
When we finally got there I joined a prayer circle that was stationed across the street from the entrance to the clinic. Every few minutes a commotion would arise from over there as a mother made her way into this horrible place. As the woman approached the clinic, a group of yellow-clad "Pro-Choice Escorts" would hasten towards her from one direction and a Rosary-bearing sidewalk counselor would approach from another.
The escorts would surround the woman, joining their hands in a circle to block out the counselor who would bob and weave about the circle, attempting to get into a position from which he or she could address the mother. The escorts would simultaneously engage in blocking maneuvers that seemed to come straight from a basketball playbook. A cacophony would arise from the noise made by the escorts attempting to drown out the soft-spoken counselor.
Then the mother would cross the ten foot line around the entrance to the clinic which the counselor could not legally pass. He or she would drop to their knees in prayer. As I watched this, though my body remained in the prayer circle, my heart was being pulled across the street. I had not thought I could even make it to the clinic to pray, so being a counselor had not so much as crossed my mind. But, before we headed back to campus that day, I approached a sidewalk counselor, my best friend, to ask if she could train me for that role. I, who suffered terrible insecurity, incapable even of introducing myself to another person, began approaching hostile strangers to offer them love and hope.
It's been said that "God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called." I love speaking to crowds, so I should be the one leading rallies. Mom is great at one-on-one interactions, so she should be counseling. But I've never led a rally and Mom has never counseled. The pro-life movement, by its very nature, will pull you out of your comfort zone. And when you open yourself to doing the will of God, you will find yourself doing things you never thought you could, things that are the exact opposite of what it seems you should be doing. But you will make a far greater difference by doing what He has called you to than you could by doing what you are comfortable with.