Maddi Runkles, teen-mom-to-be, recently made national news when she was banned by her Christian high school, Heritage Academy, from walking in her graduation ceremony. Why? Because she’s pregnant and chose to keep her baby. You can read her very own account of this from the Orlando Sentinel HERE. Maddi Runkles and her story have touched me at the deepest level.
June 4, 2017
I’ve been thinking about you a lot. You’ve been the topic of conversation in the faculty lunchroom. We stand with you. By all appearances, you are an involved, hard-working student with leadership skills. But you’re human too. Now, the trajectory of your life has shifted and you’re going to be a mom. Unfortunately, your school is punishing you for that.
Maddi, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry on behalf of people who call themselves Christ-Followers, yet would treat you in such a fashion. Being a student at a Christian school, I am sure you have learned all the accounts of Jesus and His interactions with sinners. I am also sure that you know that He treated each one with dignity, respect and grace. Each time, His kindness and mercy were the foundation upon which renewal was built. The woman at the well in John 4, the woman who anointed Jesus in Matthew 26, the woman caught in adultery in John 8…all of them received tenderness and mercy from the Lord. And so should you, dear one.
You see Maddi, I was you 26 years ago. The circumstances were a little different for me though. I went to public school, but I was in a youth group at the church where I grew up. But then, I wasn’t after it became known that I was pregnant. And it wasn’t just that I was banished from my youth group. That was bad enough. The real blow was that no counseling, or help, or grace, or encouragement was offered by the leadership. Then there were the parishioners. Many of them spent a whole lot more time talking about me instead of to me about how they could help or pray for me. One woman even humiliated my beloved grandmother at a women’s Sunday School luncheon by speaking ill of me and my child in front of a roomful of women. It was embarrassing and painful, as if my situation wasn’t difficult enough. However, like you, I also had wonderful and supportive parents, for which I am very grateful.
These slights and insults hurt my feelings deeply and I began to feel anger and resentment towards “God’s people”. This eventually caused my hurts to creep into an unsettled anger and frustration towards God too. I wondered why He would allow “His people” to behave this way and began to doubt that even He had tenderness towards me. But that was wrong thinking on my part and I implore you not to make the same mistake. As a result of my ill-feelings, I lapsed into a period of some years where I held God at arm’s length and wanted nothing to do with “those people”, or church, or God for that matter.
What I didn’t realize back then is that sometimes God’s people don’t do a very good job of representing Him. And frankly, I have been both the recipient and the perpetrator of that kind of mess in my lifetime. However, I eventually found a church where grace, mercy and Jesus’ love were the foundation of the message and at the heart of the people there. I learned about true grace, that restoration is possible, and that God’s love for us is not conditional.
What I didn’t realize back then is that sometimes God’s people don’t do a very good job of representing Him.
This is not to say sin is glossed over or ignored at my church. Accountability is important. However, broken and sinful people (which we all are) are never cast aside and left to figure out what’s what on their own. Addiction, unplanned pregnancy, and any number of other things that might cause people to be ostracized are actually inspiration for a variety of support groups and ministries at our church.
My advice to you? Find a place like that, Maddi. Find a community of faith that will love you and your precious son and encourage you to regroup and be restored. Find people who will support you as you seek Jesus and move forward with dignity. I pray that you don’t allow the hateful and not-very-Christlike ways of some to color your opinion of Christ Himself. No failure, no mistake, no poor judgement is beyond the reach the cleansing blood of Jesus and His desire to love you and show you grace.
A very kind retired pastor, who wasn’t even a member of my former church, started a young adults’ group. He did this specifically so that I, and another young couple from youth group who were teen parents, would have a place to go and connect in a small-group setting with other believers. I will never forget his kindness, which played a significant role in my restoration.
Maddi, I wish you could see me now. My baby girl is all grown up and a college graduate. I am happily married to a man who adopted her and has been the only father she’s ever known. I am a high school teacher and God has provided me the opportunity every one of my 13 years of teaching to minister to young women like you. Girls who have had babies, or are pregnant, or have had abortions have sought me out because they knew they could talk to me. For that reason, I’m not shy about my story. I ask Him every September to show me who I need to see. And He does, every single time.
Don’t be ashamed of your story. Tell it. Explain the hard truths that you learn while your story unfolds. Share how God redeems and restores. Let it be a means of pointing others to Jesus. Use it for God’s glory, because that is what He wants. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy and your mess will become your message in His hands. Your choice to acknowledge and accept responsibility is touching millions of people. We see you. We support you. We are praying for you. And maybe, dear Maddi, the lives of unborn babies will be saved because you took a stand while taking a fall.
And maybe, dear Maddi, the lives of unborn babies will be saved because you took a stand while taking a fall.
I am praying for you and promise you that the words of Revelation 21:5 are true. Rock-solid truth is found in them:
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
May God abundantly bless you as you move forward, eyes fixed on Him. May your parenting be guided by His wisdom and may your heart be healed and restored as you move on into a future filled with hope.
Yours in Christ,