The last thing I expected from my mother’s Bible study group was grace.
I was 17 and pregnant at the time, and I hadn’t been to church for a while. I’d declined every other invitation to these sorts of gatherings, but this time was different. These women – these church women – were hosting a baby shower for me.
It made no sense. After all, I had walked away from the faith of my childhood because I wanted to do things my own way. And look where “my own way” had gotten me: Pregnant. A high school dropout. Alone.
The baby shower was wonderful, and I was amazed how my mother’s friends truly celebrated my child. Then one morning, as I thought about the love of these women, I wondered if God still loved me, too. Their example showed me that He did. Their love pointed to His. And so, six months along, I wrapped my arms around my stomach.
“God,” I prayed, “I have messed up big time. If You can do anything with my life, please do.”
Fast forward 10 years. In 1999 I became one of those women as I helped start Hope Pregnancy Center in Kalispell, Montana. We began by providing free pregnancy tests and counseling. When dozens of young mothers began choosing life for their children, I knew we needed to do even more to help them.
In 2002 we started a Teen MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) program, and I’ve been working with other women to love and support teenage moms ever since. I currently lead a similar program in Little Rock, Arkansas, where I now live with my family.
Just like those Bible study women who joined together to support me, many women in our church volunteer together to help the teen moms in our community. Mosaic Church is a multi-ethnic, multi-economic congregation in inner-city Little Rock, and the young moms who come to us range in age from 12 to 23. They have so many needs – physical, financial, emotional and spiritual – and each one has a story that makes my heart ache.
As more women from the church and surrounding community joined our efforts, I discovered that we were more than co-laborers. We soon became friends. And just as the teen moms were diverse, our leaders were, too. Each week felt like I was learning as much as I was teaching. And what was the No. 1 lesson? That we were so much better together than we were on our own. It’s a message that’s been echoing through my life for years.
What else have I learned?
Teen moms need us. We can offer diapers, baby clothes and even parenting classes, but what a teenage mother needs the most is us. She needs our compassion, our inspiration and our love. There are some young mothers who come to our meetings regularly. Others pop in and out, depending on the circumstances of their lives. Yet they all know that when they need a hug or an encouraging word, we will be there. Our care is something they can depend on in a world that’s often difficult and undependable.
Teen moms need the diversity of our lives, our seasons and our gifts. I love being a cheerleader, but with 10 kids of my own, my mind is often preoccupied with so many things. That’s why I’m so thankful for my friend Ms. Jan. I often refer to her as my brain. Ms. Jan is great at organization, she is full of wisdom and she helps me understand African American culture. Not only is she a great help to me, but she also speaks effectively to many issues that young moms face. Because all of the program volunteers work together, the young moms benefit from our combined contributions.
Teen moms need to know that we’re a lot alike. As the young moms see us working together, they recognize that we have one important thing in common: We are all mothers. Whether we’re 16 or 66, we each have a mother’s heart. When we’re all gathered together, age, race, social and economic status no longer matter. We share, we pray, we learn and we give from wherever we are.
I imagine that those church women who first demonstrated grace to me are surprised by what God has done with my life since. Likewise, I’m in awe of how God is working in the lives of the young moms I’ve been honored to serve. I’ve been working with teenage mothers for 17 years now. The scared, young moms I first reached out to now have teenagers of their own, which leads to my last point …
Teen moms need us to be faithful in the everyday moments. It can feel overwhelming to consider all of the young women who need love and support. Serving young moms is an important part of being pro-life, and we as a community need to have a heart for them. We can ask God to open our eyes to the young mothers around us – those we can help today. This may mean offering a kind word to the pregnant checker at the grocery store or purchasing a package of diapers to drop off at the local pregnancy resource center. It may mean inviting a teenage mother to lunch or helping with a baby shower. There are many ways to care for those God puts in our lives, our days and our communities. Small steps of faithfulness can have a lasting impact.
How is God asking you to serve? Maybe by volunteering with a group of women. Maybe in small ways in the midst of your busy week. No matter how you serve, know that every act of kindness and care is helpful to a young mom. Something that may take 20 minutes from your day can make a big difference in her life – and in her child’s life. Our efforts do matter. And we can do it better … together.