Tuesday, September 1, 2015

No Respecter of Persons

This is part 4 of my series "Cultivating a Heart Open to Life".
 A version of this post was first posted on The Gift of Giving Life 

“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” Acts 10:34

Before my youngest son was born my husband and I decided not to find out what gender he was. With our other two children we found out the gender at 20 weeks but this time, because we already had a boy and a girl, we figured that it would be a fun surprise. I was really fine with not knowing the gender until I hit 24 weeks. I was having a hard time feeling like this baby was “real” and I didn’t feel like I could bond with it at all. I constantly worried that I might not be able to love this child.

When I was about 31 weeks pregnant I spent the afternoon crying into my pillow. I poured out my fears to God and asked him if He would please let me know what the gender of my baby was. I told Him that if I just knew if it was a boy or if it was a girl then I would finally be able to love the baby, that I would be able to envision a place for it in my family, and I would be able to open my heart. I cried and I cried and when I was finally done I waited for an answer, for a vision, for a feeling, for… anything.

But nothing came.

I got up off my knees and started down the stairs feeling empty and sad. Then as my foot hit the bottom stair I felt a wave of peace envelop me and these words penetrated my soul, “ God is no respecter of persons… he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female…all are alike unto God.” (Acts 10:34 and 2 Nephi 26:33)

Those words took my breath away and as I stood on the bottom step, stunned. The spirit washed over me in waves and I knew that it didn’t matter if this baby I was carrying was a boy or a girl. I felt the distinct impression that in God’s eyes the worth of the baby I was carrying wouldn’t change if it was male or female.

All souls were the same to Him.

At that moment at the bottom of the stairs I felt, so clearly, the immensity of God’s love for ALL of his children. It overpowered me and from that moment on I chose to open my heart to this baby, no matter how it came—male, female, healthy, or sick.

Yet over the next several months I began to see that the world around me didn’t see things the same way. It was very obvious when reading the newspaper or listening to the conversations going on around me that the world was a “respecter of persons”. So often I heard things that made my heart ache.

One afternoon I read an article about how there are over 90 million females “missing” from the current expected populations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan because the sex-selective abortion of female fetuses is so common. In fact, in some countries it is actually illegal for a nurse or doctor to tell prospective parents the sex of their fetus after an ultrasound because abortion of females is so prevalent. Some of these countries are now facing major shortages of marriageable aged women.

This information made my heart ache. Yet the more I thought about it the more I realized, that with my obsessive need to know the gender of my baby in order to “love” it, I wasn’t all that different from those Chinese and Indian parents. Somewhere inside of me I placed value on gender and health and I was determining the worth of person based on what they could do and not who they were.

It is easy to look at parents in China and India with condemning eyes and wonder how a society could be so unequal that they would systematically deny life to a portion of their civilization. Yet I was appalled to learn that in the United States the abortion rate for fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome is 90%, fetuses with spina bifida is around 50% and, in general, abortion rates for fetuses with any sort of malformation or genetic disease is on rise. Our society’s attitude towards the disabled isn’t all that different from the attitudes of societies who selectively abort females.

Collectively, and individually, we often place value on human life and set qualifications to our willingness to bring children into our homes and our societies. This mindset hurts us so much more than we realize. There is a scene from the movie “The Boys Next Door” that illustrates my thoughts much better than I could ever explain. In it one of the severally handicapped men must testify before a Congressional committee and when he is unable to his social worker gets a glimpse of who he really is inside.

Here are a few of the words he shares:
“ I will not go away, and damaged though I may be I shall not wither. Because I am unique and irreplaceable and a part of you all. Civilizations are judged by the way they treat their most helpless of citizens. I am that citizen. And if you turn away from me you extinguish your own light, deny your own warmth. I am just a simple man. But I simply am, a man.”
The truth in those words is powerful and an important reminder that our attitudes towards those who need us the most-- the unborn, children, the disabled, the elderly—determine the strength of our society.

As Latter-day Saints our understanding of the pre-existence and the eternal nature of the spirit is truly unique and gives us a different view on procreation and birth than any other faith. For us, it isn’t a question of when life begins because we know that life begins—not at conception or at birth—but before this world was created. As Latter-day Saints we know that there are hosts of heavenly children who have earned the right to come to this earth to gain a body and who are waiting for their turn at mortality. We know that God’s work, and the earth’s work, will not be over until they each have had their opportunity for exaltation. Brigham Young taught that,
“The spirits which are reserved have to be born into the world and the Lord will prepare some way for them to have tabernacles. Spirits must be born, even if they have to come to brothels for their fleshy coverings, and many of them will take the lowest and meanest spirit house that there is in the world, rather than do without, and will say, “Let me have a tabernacle, that I may have a chance to be perfected.” (Brigham Young, JD 3:264)
For many people in the world the choice to prevent a child or to abort a child is solely a matter of personal choice and convenience. They have no concept of the eternal nature of the spirit or the throngs of faithful spirits who were faithful in their first estate and who have been promised the chance to come to this earth and gain a mortal body. They simply see preventing life as denying existence to the non-existent.

Yet for those who have a different understanding providing mortal bodies for the spirit children of God who were faithful in keeping their first estate is truly a privilege. As Elder Packer said, 
"When one knows the doctrine, parenthood becomes a sacred obligation, the begetting of life a sacred privilege." (The Mystery of Life, October 1983)
Satan would have us believe that bearing children is a burden, an inconvenience, or merely a decision of personal preference. This is because the creation of life--physical and eternal-- is the greatest glory of God and as Elder Packer taught, 
"The adversary is jealous toward all who have power to beget life. Satan cannot beget life; he is impotent. “He seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (Boyd K. Packer “Cleansing the Inner Vessel”

As Latter-day Saints we need to be ever watchful and make sure that we aren’t adopting the world’s attitudes and practices towards the creation of life. Many of the policies and practices in the world are unabashedly anti-family and anti-life. Sister Julie B. Beck has stated that, 
“… if it’s antifamily, it’s anti-Christ.” (source)
 It is our responsibility to seek out correct principles of the gospel, to counsel with the Lord in order to know his will, align our will with God’s, and make wise and make faith filled decisions about our families. Choosing to keep our hearts open to life—all life—is not easy and it often requires that we make sacrifices. Yet it is those choices that often bring the most joy and that create a culture of life and light.

In her book “The Year My Son and I were Born” Kathryn Lynard Soper wrote about giving birth to a son with Down Syndrome. Soper often remarked throughout the book how she hated it when people told her that she must be a really special woman to have God send her a child with a handicap. I love her perspective, she said:

“ I wasn’t special. I’d bet none of the other Down Syndrome parents considered themselves to be special either. And what about all the mothers throughout history who were so frightened of Down Syndrome that they abandoned their babies to institutions, or left them to die outside village walls? How about modern-day moms who chose abortion. Nothing special, just a bunch of scared women…

… Having a child with Down Syndrome didn’t automatically grant those women compassion and goodwill. Whether the diagnosis came prenatally or postpartum, each of them had to decide whether to welcome her baby into the family. Each of them had to decide whether to open her heart to change, to difference, to hidden beauty, and unsung warmth. And each of them consciously or not said yes. Yes, we will love him. We will love her.

… Maybe some parents of children with Down Syndrome have the key to life. But if so, the club is hardly exclusive. Everyone who walks the earth faces the same choice: to love, or not. And everyone who chooses love receives the same rewards, although it comes in different packages. Mine happened to be a slightly cross-eyed little boy sitting in the center of our family portrait, which hung in the center of our hearth, which stood in the center of our home—right where we wanted him to be.” (Pg. 309-310)
God is no respecter of persons. Each life, no matter how it comes, is precious to Him.

Like I mentioned in my post “A Culture of Light or a Culture of Darkness” one of the first deviations from God’s laws is the creation of hierarchies between men and women. I very much understand hoping for a boy or a girl or for a healthy baby, and I don’t think those are unrighteous desires. Yet I think when we put value on human life, if we respect one type of life above another, if we are only willing to welcome spirits into this world if they are planned, healthy, or of the “right” gender we being to extinguish our light; the light of Christ.  In his own words Christ said,
" And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me." Matthew 18:5
This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but after all my nights of pleading with the Lord to know the gender of my baby I was surprised that when I held that little baby in my arms for the first time I didn’t even check to see if I had a boy or a girl.  All I knew was that he was just a precious life, with a divine mission to fulfill, given to me by God to teach and nurture. Once I met him I knew that I wouldn’t have traded him for the world.
“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
 2 Nephi 26:33


  1. I cannot tell you how much I needed to read this today. I had a very intense discussion with women who think very differently than I do and I left feeling wounded and weary. But your post reminded me that truth is reason and truth is eternal. It makes sense on every level and from every angle and it gives me courage to carry on having those hard conversations. Thank you so much, Heather, for your own courage in writing, for your humility and vulnerability in sharing your personal experiences, and for your deep thinking on these complex topics.

    1. Erika keep up what you are doing! You are doing great work and it is so important that a more life-affirming voice be mingled in among all the rest :)

  2. Thanks for this post! All my life I've been prepared to love more people in the way that Christ loves all. I have a sister with Downs Syndrome. That was a start. Then I was faced with infertility. That opened my heart even more. Then I needed a hysterectomy and even though I am still so sad for that, I feel like my heart has grown 100 times larger for all children everywhere. I sometimes hear people say that they could never love a child that wasn't their own biological child, but guess what, you can and that love can be even greater than you can imagine!

  3. Thank you so much for these series of posts! I had a baby about five days ago and while I know we want to have more children, the prospect of going through 9 months of pregnancy again makes me wither inside a little. But this series gives me strength and hope. So thank you for that.

    1. You are welcome! And I think it should just be a rule that you aren't allowed to think about the idea of having another baby (or make decisions about future babies) while you are pregnant or until your baby is at least 3 months old :) It takes time to heal, physically and emotionally from something so big.

  4. My heart hurts so bad that we live in a world that kills the unborn. I love the thought that God is no respecter of persons. He loves each of His children!