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While I visited my parents over Thanksgiving, they played an audio recording that I had never heard before. The hourlong recording was a collection of some of the most momentous times in their life: their wedding ceremony, my cries as a newborn, my first words, my younger brother’s early mumbling as a baby, and me as a toddler, speaking in sentences, singing, and dancing.
Those recordings made me tear up, particularly as I heard the wonder and joy and love in my parents’ voices as they spoke to my brother and me. I heard my mother laugh out loud as she played with me after I was born, and heard my squeals of laughter in response to my mother’s raspberry blows. I heard my father sing “Jesus Loves Me” to me when I was barely a year old, and me babbling along to the tune. Their gentle voices were so comforting and familiar, even though I don’t recall any of these events.
In one section of the tape, my 2-year-old self called out to my father urgently, “Abba! Abba! Abba!” And when my father responded, I told him I had pooped my pants. “Oh dear,” my father said in Korean, faking sternness: “What did you do? Silly girl!” But the little girl in that audio wasn’t at all ashamed, confident that her father would take care of the stink in her diaper and wouldn’t love her any less even though she’d made a mess.
After listening to these long-forgotten interactions with my parents as a child, I thought about my own relationship with God our heavenly Father. Perhaps because I grew up with the pressures of being a pastor’s kid and missionary’s kid, or perhaps because of my own inherent sinful nature and personality, my relationship with God has always been loaded with a heavy sense of personal responsibility and shame.
As much as I know in my head that my salvation is gained by grace and not by works, part of me still loudly berates me with accusations and demands: Why am I so weak in the flesh? Why am I not doing more for God? Why do I chase so many things other than God? Why do I still worry over stupid, vain things? Of course, those struggles also include convictions from the Holy Spirit, a necessary process of sanctification. But when I probe deeper into why I feel so much shame and guilt, I recognize that much of it comes from pride—an ungodly expectation that I should be more anointed, more holy, more accomplished than others.
Listening to my parents’ delight and pride in my brother and me, even when I soiled my pants, even when my brother salivated everywhere, reminded me that this—this!—is how it’s supposed to be between God and man. He created us in His glorious image, and crafted everything in the universe—the sun, the stars, the clouds, the vast oceans, autumn leaves, coral tulips, colorful peacocks, delicious bacon—for our enjoyment and fruitfulness. He literally moved heaven and earth for us, and as He looked upon His creation, He smiled with contentment.
We lost a lot of God’s original intention for us since the Fall. I heard that in the audio recordings, too: the first glaring signs of sin in me, as young as I was, as I bullied my little brother. I must have been about 3 years old at the time, and as my mother tried to tell us stories, I refused to share the book with my baby brother. I was a jealous sister who didn’t want to share any of my parents’ attention.
My brother too, already showed signs of disobedience. My mother had given him some bubble gum, and warned him not to swallow it. (“The gum will blow up into a balloon and fly you away,” she fibbed.) A few minutes later, he had swallowed the gum. Later, my mother, noticing he was no longer chewing, asked, “Song, where’s your gum?” He remained silent. I gleefully tattled on him: “Ha! He swallowed it! He swallowed it!"
Genesis Chapters 3 and 4 replay over and over again with every new human being born into this broken world. And of course, as all parents know, it doesn’t get any easier as the babies and toddlers grow up to be teenagers and adults. When their kids disobey, they grieve and discipline them, because they want nothing but the best for them. Our perfect Father, too, grieves constantly over our stubborn willfulness and stupidity, and He allows us to suffer the consequences of our mistakes or convicts us through His Spirit so we can learn and grow and flourish. But like most earthly parents, no matter how much we fall, He continues to love us fiercely, sweetly, unconditionally.
Perhaps this is why, in God’s infinite wisdom, He implanted His fatherly love into human parents on this earth. It’s a visceral, powerful reminder of His heart for us: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
We may waddle around in stinky diapers, pinch our siblings, and be willfully disobedient. But God our Father desires that our intimacy with Him be so deep and unshakeable that we can still humbly, yet boldly, walk up to Him, tug at His hand, and say, “Abba, can you help me be clean?”