I’m CSPC member Kay Simmons, and this is how I’m living deeply.
I was the reigning Miss Carson Newman College 1982, which made my out-of-wedlock pregnancy even more humiliating. It’s one of those situations where you don’t know how you’re going to react -how it feels- until you’re in the middle of it. I went home to spend the summer with my parents in Auburn, Alabama, but I didn’t tell them. I couldn’t tell them. My dad was a Christian whose heartbeat for his family was deep and strong, but he was a very hard man to live with. Given the dysfunctional family he grew up in, his own life was something of a miracle. He wanted the world for me and my brother, but he also lived in fear of being humiliated by us. He was extremely hard on us- wanted the world for us, but just had his own ‘demons’, I guess, that he often wrestled with. My parents had already been through a really hard time with my brother getting into trouble, so I felt pressure to make them proud. I excelled in school, was active in extracurriculars and church activities. They would’ve been devastated to learn I was living a duplicitous life. That summer, my then-boyfriend Mike was calling me long distance every night (he had to wait till 11pm, when the rates went down!) to check in. Regarding my (really, our) pregnancy, Mike was willing to do whatever I wanted- he knew I was in a precarious place with my dad. From my perspective, it was something that needed to be taken care of. Even though I’d been strongly pro-life in theory, once I was actually in this crisis, I wasn’t thinking, ‘This is a baby. This is a child living in my womb.’ No, I was panicked and focused on how to get out of this so nobody would ever know. I made up my mind. Mike gathered money together before I went back to school and made an appointment for me to have an abortion once I returned to Carson Newman for school in the fall.
Mom and Dad took me back to Carson Newman, spent the night with friends, then came back the next morning to say goodbye. Later that afternoon Mike came and took me to Knoxville to spend the night with him, because my appointment at the abortion clinic was the next morning at 8:30. The next morning, at about 7:45, a half hour before we were to leave for the clinic, his phone rang. I knew in the pit of my stomach that it was my dad. He didn’t even have Mike’s phone number, so I don’t know how I knew- but, somehow, I knew. The bitter taste of adrenaline crept up in my mouth and I began to tremble. Mike answered the phone. Sure enough: ‘It’s your dad.’ So I picked up the phone and just sat there. I couldn’t even speak; couldn’t say anything. Daddy hung up the phone and called right back: ‘You’re pregnant, aren’t you?’ (My mom had had suspicions when I was home that summer.) And I said, ‘Yes.’ As soon as that ‘yes’ left my mouth, every bit of pressure that for weeks had been building was released. I cannot explain it. Suddenly, it evaporated. I had no reason to go through with an abortion at that point. My whole reason for doing it had been that I just could not physically tell my parents I was pregnant. God used the one man I couldn’t tell… to save the life of his first grandchild. That God would do that for me -create this way out, spare me this horrific choice- shows the depths of His kindness. He knew that if I had an abortion, there would’ve been two lives lost, because I wouldn’t have survived it. Back to the phone call – my dad responded, ‘I’m leaving right now to come pick you up.’ That was only the second time in my life I said ‘no’ to my dad. I told him I wasn’t coming home; that Mike and I were going to get married. Then he wanted to talk to Mike, who Dad proceeded to ream up one side and down the other for a half hour. After that he talked to me some more, including, ‘You understand this child is going to be a bas***d.’ It was horrible. But I didn’t budge and told him I wasn’t coming home, and he hung up. Three weeks later, my parents came to Knoxville for our wedding. And from the moment they arrived, I felt totally rejected by my dad.
Two days before the wedding, Mom and Dad came to Mike’s mother and stepfather’s house. This was the first time I had seen them since I talked to Dad on the phone. My mom hugged me. Dad walked in, took a seat, and that’s where he stayed. He wouldn’t look at me or talk to me. (Ironically, Mike’s dad, who lived in North Carolina, wasn’t going to come at all. Mike had longed for his father’s approval all his life, but he wasn’t going to come. So my dad, who was totally being a horse’s patootie, took it upon himself to call Mike’s dad; ‘You need to be here for your son.’ Then, when Mike’s dad got there and saw the way my dad was treating me, he confronted my dad! If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be hilarious!) Leading up to the wedding, the wife of the pastor who was marrying us called me to say, ‘I think you need to know this. Your dad said he just can’t walk you down the aisle.’ More rejection. But I told her, ‘I don’t expect him to.’ At this point I was numb and crushed. I told myself, ‘Just get through it.’ The day of the wedding, maybe three hours before we were going to head to the church, my dad knocked on the door, came in, sat down, then pulled me down to his lap, hugged me close, and we both dissolved to tears. He told me he loved me (which I desperately needed to hear), we went to the church, had the ceremony, said our ‘I do’s, took pictures, and life began. Today, 41 years later, we have four children (8 counting their spouses, which I do!) and 17 grandchildren. One sweet highlight of those years for me was when my dad stood and sang, ‘Amazing Grace’ acapella right before Mike walked our daughter down the aisle to meet her groom. One of many memories that remind me of the mercy and faithfulness of God.
I was raised in the Church, so I knew what to say, knew how to play the part. I was raised to perform, so I got very good at it. But I began to be confronted with my sin and to wrestle with whether I was truly a Christian. Had I even been fooling myself? Mike and I had gotten married on September 4, 1982, and our son, Josh, was born March 18, 1983. (I love that the name Joshua means ‘YHWH is salvation!’) From college student to wife and mom, yet little did I know the biggest change was happening INSIDE of me! I met with the pastor who married us and told him I didn’t know if I was really a believer. He asked me some questions: ‘Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe if you confess and repent, He’ll forgive you of your sins?’ And, I mean, I could answer ‘yes’ to all those things, but inside I wasn’t sure. Then a pivotal moment came on Father’s Day 1983. We got home from church, I put Josh down for a nap, Mike and I sat down to eat lunch, but I couldn’t put food in my mouth. I just couldn’t eat- I looked at Mike and said, ‘I’m not saved. I’m not a Christian.’ He responded, ‘Well, what do you want?’ I told him I wanted to really be saved! So it was very special that I was with Mike when I prayed to receive Christ. I still remember it so vividly- I prayed, Mike prayed. We had lunch and after Josh woke up, we took him over to Mike’s mom and stepdad’s home. I will never forget riding to their house. Everything looked different. The leaves and grass were greener. The sky was brighter. Vibrant color everywhere. It was amazing and beautiful. I understood what the late Tim Keller meant by ‘God’s beauty is the beauty I’ve been looking for,’ and I truly knew it (knew Him!) for the first time. A journey that began with sin and the deep shame of my out-of-wedlock pregnancy had led to this new place of indescribable joy!
The Sunday at CSPC when James shared about he and Rosie getting pregnant while they were dating, it resonated with me so powerfully. He shared how the Church embraced them, loved them, and walked through that with them. This is how the Church -how we- should be! It brought back some very sweet memories for Mike and me of Mount Olive Baptist Church here in South Knoxville. Mike had grown up in that church. But I was 360 miles away from where I’d grown up and no one knew me. It would’ve been easy for the folks at Mount Olive to reject me. In 1982, it was not an acceptable thing -not just in the Church, but culturally- to get pregnant before marriage. I was so shame-ridden and embarrassed. But I started going to this church with Mike; and Mount Olive, they just welcomed me in. They didn’t make me feel less-than or judged at all. I didn’t feel like when I entered the room, everybody stared and started whispering. Instead, they embraced me. Mike’s friends, most of whom had already married, invited us over. The wives included me in shopping trips. They even gave me baby showers! I felt so loved by the whole church. Mike’s mom is a woman of strong faith and a prayer warrior. She had never heard about Jesus, but God saved her when she was 35, and she did not look back. She and several other ladies (one of whom is a long time CSPC member!) prayed together regularly and were prayer warriors for us. So when James was sharing about the church that he and Rosie were a part of, it just brought it all back. Mount Olive was a good and gracious gift from God to me!
It wasn’t like we got married and then it was all unicorns and rainbows. (Is it for anyone?) We’ve been through some really tough stuff. About 20 years ago, in a very fractured period of our marriage, God carried and fed me with His Word. I lived in Isaiah 61 for months, especially verse 10: ‘He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.’ I repeat to myself often that God clothed me with salvation. When He looks on me, He sees His Son. During that low point in our marriage, I told Mike, ‘You know, if nothing changes, it’s okay, because I know now when Jesus is all I have, He is all I need.’ And so I think that probably is the takeaway of my story. After performing for much of my life, it’s very refreshing and freeing to finally not be performing anymore- because I am fully approved and fully accepted in Jesus. It took a lot to get me here -to the point where ‘the love of Christ controls me’ (2 Cor. 5:14). But I believe it and, by the mercies of God, walk in it daily. I experience that freedom worshipping with CSPC, and I love seeing women encouraged, trusted, and given opportunities to use their gifts to serve the Body. (Also, everyone is encouraged to ask questions!) In our brief time as members, Mike and I have been well-cared for by the CSPC staff and our Sunday school class. Mike had open heart surgery in February and this church body loved us as if they’d known us for years! We have only been here a couple years, but we’ve felt more freedom, joy, rest, and hope than we’ve felt in a long time. God has lifted from me the shame that -41 years ago- paralyzed me with fear, fueled my dad’s initial rejection of me, and produced a need to ‘perform’ in both of us. My dad went home to be with Jesus in 2016. Under that gruff exterior, I loved his heart. I still do. And I’m thankful he’s no longer burdened by the weight he carried his whole life. I’m happy he’s free from that now- free from shame, perfectly and forever.