Last year a woman approached me at a pregnancy center conference. She had heard me speak a few hours earlier. She seemed very concerned and shared how she was struggling with some of the things she had heard me say. She said, “I see young women at my church who strive to stay pure and abstain from sex before marriage. It’s so hard, but they are doing so well at putting God first in every area. But then there are the girls who have sex before marriage and get pregnant. And you’re saying the church should throw them a baby shower and honor them for choosing life. Isn’t that saying it’s okay to do what they did? Isn’t that condoning sin? How is that fair?”
That’s when I heard a whisper in my spirit about the story of the prodigal son. In Luke 15:11–32, Jesus tells an unforgettable story. A father has two sons, and the younger son asks for his share of the inheritance early. The father divides the property between the brothers and watches the young one leave home.
“Christianity isn’t just about accepting Jesus into our hearts and then coasting through life until we die. No, salvation is just the beginning.”
The younger son takes the money and sets off toward a distant country, where he wastes it on sinful escapades. Before long, he loses his share of the inheritance and ends up working in a pig pen, hungry and alone.
Filled with shame, guilt, and remorse, the son heads home with his head hanging low. By that time, he is willing to endure his father’s punishment or scorn. He is sure even the worst scenario would be better than the lousy life he has been living. With every unpaved, rough, and rocky step he takes, he thinks of what his father might say to him and wonders if he will be rejected.
He thinks about the mess he’s gotten himself into and hammers himself with regret.
If you’ve heard this story before, then you know that punishment is not on the agenda that day.
A party is.
Verse 20 says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
The father had been waiting for him and recognizes his son even from a long distance. He doesn’t hesitate but runs to his son with outstretched arms. He doesn’t greet his son with reminders of all the things he has done wrong; he doesn’t discipline or chastise him. The father gives his wayward son a giant hug and kisses him. He is so glad to see his son has finally come home. The son feels undeserving of his father’s love, but it does not deter the father from lavishing love upon him.
Then the son’s jaw drops as the servants of his father’s household throw him a celebration fit for royalty. He had never expected a warm homecoming like this. Even after all he has squandered and wasted, the father is delighted to see him again. He wants everyone to celebrate!
But one person isn’t in the mood.
The older brother is in the field working. When he comes closer to the house, he hears a big party taking place and asks the servants about all the commotion. As soon as he learns what it is, he becomes so angry, he does not even attend the banquet to see his brother. He cannot understand how his father could be celebrating after all his younger brother has done. Blinded by a bitter heart and the inability to forgive, he doesn’t see beyond his brother’s irresponsibility to the redemption and healing happening right in front of him.
Leading in Embrace Grace, I see beautiful daughters who are walking that tiresome, difficult, jagged, and unpaved road back home. They certainly don’t think they are worthy to be a daughter of the heavenly Father, but they are drawn by the idea that maybe—just maybe—if they work hard enough, they might be a servant. With the noise of shame and regret drowning out all hope, they assume church will only highlight their sins and past choices.
But miraculous healing occurs when they do not receive the rejection they expect. Many women do not know that God never cruelly yells at His children. He never talks down to them or rubs their noses in their wrongdoing. It tends to surprise an unmarried mother when she is welcomed into the family of God. If the church opens the doors to community, she learns about a Father who runs to her, even when she is still “a long way off.” She learns about a heavenly Father who wraps his arms around her, kisses her, and draws her near.
As a young woman processes this God who expresses unconditional love for her, she is blown away to be invited to a celebration in her own honor. Max Lucado offers an excellent picture of grace in one of my favorite quotes: “The difference between mercy and grace? Mercy gave the Prodigal Son a second chance. Grace gave him a feast.”
It makes me consider which is the greater honor, that God throws a celebration for each of us when we return to Him or that He entrusts us with the privilege of throwing a celebration for others when they return to Him.
What a pity that the older brother missed the precious opportunity to partner with his father. The father didn’t throw a party for him, but it could be that the father felt he could bless his oldest son even more by inviting him to help host a celebration for someone else.
Through Embrace Grace, the church has an opportunity to throw a single and pregnant mom a few parties, like the baby showers and Princess Day. Baby showers are thrown by churches all over the nation, celebrating the lives of babies who will be born and change the world someday. People come with gifts specially chosen in the moms’ favorite colors and patterns for her baby. It’s a beautiful celebration of life. At my church, the baby showers are my favorite events! We honor thirty to forty moms at one big party twice a year. Hundreds of church members attend, and each table designated for a mom is stacked so high with gifts that the moms can barely see the stage! At the end, a pastor speaks, shares the prodigal son story, and makes an altar call. Time after time, we have seen women give their lives to the Lord at these baby showers. It is more than just a party here on earth. It is a party in heaven!
“No one can conceive life without the consent of God, the author of life. The baby is not a sin. A baby is a miracle.”
Princess Day is another event in the Embrace Grace curriculum that celebrates each single and pregnant mom and the end of the Embrace Grace experience. A make-up and hair team from the church come and volunteer their time to help make the mommas feel beautiful on the outside. Then the Embrace Grace leaders crown each mom and speak a blessing over her, reminding her that she is a daughter of the Most High and beautiful on
the inside. They remind her that God has made her strong. They tell her she is a Princess Warrior, equipped by the King of Kings for any battle in her future. They remind her that she is a fierce woman in God’s Kingdom, propelled by the wind of His Spirit. The celebration ends with a beautiful dinner. It is a memory we hope will be sealed in their hearts forever.
Christianity isn’t just about accepting Jesus into our hearts and then coasting through life until we die. No, salvation is just the beginning. It’s the invitation to live a kingdom life in which we love with words but also with actions and truth. We can play a significant role in His plan of redemption by celebrating all who return, knowing they are back where they belong.
How many times have we forfeited the opportunity to celebrate our brothers and sisters, even while they are “a long way off ”? We are invited to partner with God in welcoming others home not because of how “good” we have been, but because celebration is in our DNA. We are His children, and this is what His family does. Our whole life is a dance; we are designed to celebrate God and celebrate others with love. We get to partner with heaven and receive and give grace, loving extravagantly.
Not everyone is ready to do that. Just a few weeks ago the Embrace Grace staff received a message from a pastor who has completed one semester of the Embrace Grace curriculum. He explained that he would like to move forward with the next semester of new moms but only if we agreed to a few adjustments.
His stipulations were that we would “never use the word decorations or party and never wrap any presents.” He didn’t want his church community to know what they were doing for the young mothers: “to give the wrong message in any way that we are celebrating a baby born out of wedlock.” He wanted never to “say babies are ‘a blessing from God’” or to “tell a lost girl she is a princess.”
He wanted to keep the baby showers and Princess Day activities off the church’s emailed and online publications, suggesting that these changes would protect his church community from “heartbreak.”
But the changes he suggested would only perpetuate the shame culture in the church. No wonder the abortion rate is the same inside the church as it is outside the church. Practices like these do not improve the statistics.
Needless to say, the Embrace Grace program declined the opportunity to partner with this church. When a woman who has an unplanned pregnancy is brave enough to try church for the first time, we hope it can feel like a homecoming and not a prison sentence. Shame doesn’t make someone want to do the right thing. It makes people want to run away, hide, and isolate.
But God’s love doesn’t work that way. It is a magnet that pulls hearts toward Him.
No one can conceive life without the consent of God, the author of life. The baby is not a sin. A baby is a miracle. All lives, no matter how they got here, should be celebrated. Through the simple act of throwing a party, prodigals might finally feel like they have come home.
Once an Embrace Grace momma was so overwhelmed with the number of baby shower gifts that were just for her, she stood about ten feet away, temporarily paralyzed by the church’s generosity. She had missed quite a few of the classes, and the leaders were having a hard time connecting with her. But in that moment, everything changed. She had her hands over her mouth, with tears streaming down her cheeks.
She kept saying over and over, “I don’t deserve this. I don’t deservethis.”
The truth is, none of us do.
by Amy Ford
Discover your place in the pro-life movement. What if we lived in a world where every woman with an unplanned pregnancy always felt empowered...
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