• “What Does it mean to Empower Women?”

    “The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”

    ~ St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

    Pope John Paul II once described women’s unique capabilities as “feminine genius”.  In his beautiful “Letter to Women” written from the Vatican in 1995 before he addressed the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, he went on to describe women as “having a particular and special sensitivity to the human person”.

    Further he said,A woman is strong because of the fact that God has entrusted the human being to her. It is this awareness of this entrusting that makes her strong.

    From the Vatican, 29 June 1995, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

    What a beautifully true sentiment. Women are strong. Women are resilient. Women are capable and always have been. The modern women do not seem to comprehend her own worth. Her own value and capacity for fulfillment and achievement. It is there. And has been.

    “I do not wish to give (women) a first place, still less a second one- but the complete freedom to take their true place, whatever it may be.” ~ Elizabeth Blackwell

    Pioneers of women’s rights knew it and fought for it. They shine a light to the world about what women could accomplish and should be recognized as. Fully functioning equals. Integral, valuable, resilient and full of promise.

    It seems today a lot of what is churned out in the name of feminism is contrived, stony, and intolerant. Independence is pushed at the cost of connection. Self-sufficiency at the cost of nurturing. Toughness is encouraged as a replacement for tenderness. To terminate a child held in the womb is decreed a right.

    No! This is a serious distortion on womanhood, and we all suffer as a result.

    Again in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement. — Blessed John Paul II Redemptoris Mater (46)

  • A Day in the Life

    There is a right time for everything:

    A time to be born; A time to die; A time to plant; A time to harvest;
    A time to kill; A time to heal; A time to destroy; A time to rebuild;
    A time to cry; A time to laugh; A time to grieve; A time to dance;
    A time for scattering stones; A time for gathering stones; A time to hug;
    A time not to hug;
    A time to find; A time to lose; A time for keeping; A time for throwing away;
    A time to tear; A time to repair; A time to be quiet; A time to speak up;
    A time for loving; A time for hating; A time for war; A time for peace.

    What does one really get from hard work? 10 I have thought about this in connection with all the various kinds of work God has given to mankind. 11 Everything is appropriate in its own time. But though God has planted eternity in the hearts of men, even so, many cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 (TLB)

    What does a day in the life of a pregnancy services center look like right now? We all know that every day things are changing. For good or bad the sun continues to rise each morning and continues to set each evening. What is constant if not the sun? And deeper than that is the desire to live, to breathe and be vital. And how can these needs be met in times like these? Lovingly, creatively and without pause.

    Each morning the lights come on and the first order of business is cleaning. Music on, gloves on, and armed with Clorox we walk from room to room, door to door wiping down desks, counters, sinks, light switches, doorknobs, chairs, keyboards, phones and finally the coffee pot! Floors are swept while joe brews. Computers are turned on and the door is unlocked ready to welcome those in need.

    The first family comes in. Mom cradling a sleeping little girl while her other two children cling to her pant legs. She stands within the blue square on the floor as asked while I look up her profile. Diapers size 2, 3, and 5. Blessed with wipies I can hand out two packs to her grateful smile. Cereal and fruit? Yes! Now for some clothes. Explaining that our boutique is temporarily closed I pick out 3 or 4 summer outfits for each of her children and fold carefully into waiting bags. Big brown eyes smile at me from behind mom’s leg as I offer little blue teddy bears that were just donated.

    Another knock on the door and a masked head pokes in. Upon seeing the woman and her family the new client waits without to help us maintain the social distancing. I finish up with this young mom and she leaves inviting the other family inside and the process starts again.

    Another woman comes into the center uncertainty etched on her young face. She’s hoping for a pregnancy test. She has missed her period and is just feeling off. Can we help? Her boyfriend is waiting in the car. The nurse takes her temperature and gives her a mask to wear in the consultation room. She sits down with the nurse. She’s not sure when her last cycle was but feels sure she’s pregnant. The nurse helps her with a urinary test and gives her the news. They sit together for a long while talking.

    Families come and go. Several women come in alone asking for formula and one is hoping for a stroller. We all stand apart from one another smiling in hopes the welcome is felt. I help a happy father carry out a high chair and a nice exersaucer, his smile of thanks warm and genuine.

    The doors and counters are wiped down again and again. Several calls asking if we are open or closed because of the virus.

    The nurse finally comes out with the young girl and I am asked to set up an ultrasound 2 weeks from now. The smile is hesitant and wavering. And after she leaves the small Next Step team sit down in a larger circle to separate and pray. The young girl is happy to be with child but young and unsure. She thinks her boyfriend will be happy but what if he isn’t? So we pray. For peace and comfort for the girl and for the health of her and her unborn baby and we pray we’ll see her in two weeks for her ultrasound.

    In the back we are gloved up and donation bags are unpacked and soft little onsies are sorted into piles by size. Warm sleepers are stored in winter boxes and colorful summer dresses are hung up. More coffee is made as envelopes are stickered ready for mailing. Thank you cards are written and plans are made.

    The day starts to wane and we do final wipe downs of the office. We close the doors and say our goodbyes. A lot of families were helped today. A lot of smiles were seen. I feel good about our day. It was a good one despite the ever changing landscape outside. We’ll do it all again tomorrow and feel blessed at what our ministry brings to the community and to our own lives.

  • Blog

    My Mom

    “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”

    From The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh
    by A.A. Milne.

    When I was roughly 10 years old one of the neighborhood moms called to me from her driveway as I meandered up and down the cracked sidewalk in front of our house in Kent. I was uncharacteristically on my own that day rather than trailing my older brother around or stealing off into the woods with the other neighborhood kids as was a typical afternoon for me.

    I reluctantly stopped and leaned on my old red bike at the foot of her drive. I did not care for her. For some unexplainable reason she had always made me feel anxious and wary. She had three kids. One was a boy a little older then myself and the other two were girls a bit younger than I. We played together on occasion coming together naturally as neighborhood kids do on those long Summer days when everyone is outside until the street lights come on (mind you this was the 80s). Though I cannot say we were friends. Just kids in the same proximity and both with the same need for someone else to make the game or make-believe venture more fun.

    That day though I was alone and stood warily waiting to see what – we’ll call her Mrs. Gunn – wanted. What she said was this, “Hey you. You aren’t allowed over here anymore. I’ve had three kids come to me to tell me you are using the “Eff” word. That’s despicable.” She snarled these words at me and waved me away like a fly. I remember standing stiff with shock and being annoyed that my lower lip was trembling a bit.

    What? The “Eff” word? That was the biggie. I knew what it was because I’d heard my father often uttering a colorful string of words that included this one in the driveway under the car or in his shop. But I had never SAID it out loud! God would have heard me! In fact I was a rather quiet kid (at that time…) who said very little let alone the “Eff” word!

    I remember finally getting back on my bike and peddling quickly away from Mrs. Gunn her wild eyed face still vivid. I tossed my bike on our driveway and galloped inside my house. My mother was in the kitchen and I went straight to her. It was then that those hot tears seeped out of my eyes and down my cheeks. I hiccupped my way through the terrible scene with Mrs. Gunn assuring her I’d never in a million billion millennia said THAT word and my mother listened with her arm around me. Now my mother was a quiet woman. Always around. Comfortable and soft. She had green eyes and curly hair. She colored with me a lot and her pages always looked so beautiful and brilliant.

    After I finished telling her what had happened she patted my arm and walked to the phone hanging on the wall in the kitchen. I watched as she dialed a number and then delivered what I still remember to this day as the most awesome verbal takedown of anyone ever. Mrs. Gunn didn’t know who she was messing with. That was it. I have no idea what Mrs. Gunn said back but I know what my mom said. And her ferocity was a sight to behold.

    Mrs. Gunn never said a word to me again after that day and in fact neither did her children much. I was content. Riding my red bike, playing with the other kids, and reading my books. And life moved on. But thirty-four years later I still remember how my mom had my back.

    May is the month celebrating mothers. Those beautiful and gritty beings who at once are gentle and constant but also fierce and protective. Mothers will sacrifice their very selves for their children if they need to. There is nothing like the love of a mom.

  • For I know the plans I have for You!

    ”Some days she has no idea how she’ll do it. But every single day. It still gets done.” – Anonymous

    In mid-April I had the privilege of “attending” the Virtual Heartbeat Conference put together by Heartbeat International – the most expansive network of pro-life pregnancy resource centers in the world. The event was to be held in Seattle which, for a small nonprofit with not a lot of funds – an absolute plus. Long story short it was scrapped – sort of. However, they decided their information was too valuable not to share. So they went virtual. And it worked. It was a fantastic experience and as a ‘first timer’ I was blown away by the sheer amount of prolife voices coming together. It was humbling. And to think I am one of them – yea.

    Over the next few weeks or so I’ll try and share some of what I learned and what I hope to embed in our own center here in Lynnwood. One of the talks that made an impression I had not initially chosen to attend. And it was just chance I stumbled into the ‘workshop’. It was titled “Empowering the Single Mother” and it was presented by Shannon DeGarmo, author of a few books including “Ignite”, “Single Moms 101” and “The Bounce Back Woman”. Shannon’s talk centered on the inner workings of a single mom. What goes through their mind as they go about their day? The night? What thoughts occupy their waking and sleeping minds? How do those thoughts impact them as people and as mothers?And lastly how can we as people of faith who minister to the unborn, the unplanned, the alone – help?

    I’ll start with some shared statistics that are as startling as they are heartbreaking. I looked up some as well and this hit pretty much up and down the board – these are from

    80% of single parent homes are led by single mothers and a third of those live in poverty. That’s a big number.

    4 out of 10 babies are born to unwed mothers and two thirds of those are born to moms under 30 years old.

    13.9% graduated high school and 34% have a college degree. Those numbers by contrast are awfully small.

    But even deeper than those numbers, for me, were the revelations about the psychological and neurological impacts on these girls.

    In general, single parenting aside, only 2%-4% of women think they are beautiful and three-fourths of women with low self-esteem engage in negative behaviors.

    The effects of low self-esteem are far-reaching and hard to break free from. Socially withdrawn, self-neglect, not trusting themselves, and an expectation of little or no improvement in life to name a few. We know this – as women, as mothers with daughters. The consequences of low self-esteem can be devastating in so many ways. So now picture those same negative thoughts running rampant through the mind of a young single mother.

    A whopping 75% of single moms scored in the mildly depressed range. What can we do? Relationships matter. What we think of ourselves matter. What we think our children think of us matters. How can we help?

    There were some beautiful verses that came to mind that touched on this –

    ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” – Matthew 10:29-31 NIV

    “For I know the thought I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV

    How can we live these words for those among us who are alone yet never alone? A child can fill in holes and bring light to her mother’s eyes but she is but a child demanding of her mother at all times.

    The isolation of single parenting is profound. I can say that with much certainty as I was once a single parent myself. Happiness hinging on a child is an unrealistic burden. The realization you are not whole can make it hard to move forward.

    You are not meant to do this on your own. We say that on our Next Step website. We are not meant to be alone. Now more than any other time in recent history has the ability to connect with others been so wholly needed and so wholly absent.

    If you know a single parent – reach out.

    If you are a single parent – reach out.

    Peace be with you all

    H Vasquez

  • You are fearfully and wonderfully made and what you do matters!

    For you formed my inward parts;
        you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

     I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
        my soul knows it very well.

    Ever wonder what your dollar truly does when you donate to Next Step? Here’s some beautiful news.

    Next Step is completely and 100% donation run. There is no Next Step if there is no you. So what does that mean?

    It means every time you send in monetary or material donations you enable someone in need – who otherwise would go without – to be helped. Simple as that.

    Over the last few months as I have settled into this wonderful, chaotic, ever-changing, emotionally charged and spiritually nourishing “job” I have spent a lot of time looking at your names. Praying for your families, and thinking of ways to make sure you know you matter. To me. To Next Step. To our clients and their children.

    To that person who sends in a $20 check each and every month – you provide on average a pack of 30 diapers, a pack of baby wipes with a bit leftover for a big bottle of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. To the single mom who is between paychecks – that matters.

    To our Angels who give monthly – your giving makes sure we have a few kinds of formula available each week to that struggling family. The average 12.5 ounce can of powdered Enfamil costs $15-17. That’s money that family may not always have. Your gift matters.

    For the partner who gifts us with a $250 check – well you just paid the Snohomish PUD bill that keeps the staff and clients warm and dry and the Comcast Business fee to run our database as well. That matters.

    For the family who sends in $50 a month as part of their commitment to our purpose – you provide a bouncy chair, a baby bath and some stuffies to a women helping to raise the child of her 17 year old daughter. That matters.

    For the several families who gave us $100 gifts this year – it adds up my friends  – you just provided the yearly Ultrasound Machine maintenance and repair ($828.75 a year) so that this wondrous technology is in good working order when that very young woman comes in uncertain and determined not to cry as the reality of the very real heartbeat of her baby on the monitor fills the room.

    The list goes on and on. Running this center costs money. Providing a livelihood for myself and our tiny band of dedicated staff costs money. Keeping the building safe, warm, and lit costs money. Being able to buy office supplies to print resources and handouts for our families’ costs money. Being able to keep our doors open when all others are closed – costs money.

    And you provide.

    In 2019 Next Step served more than 2,470 clients. We had 250 patients come to us asking for confirmatory pregnancy tests. We were able to offer 150 patients an OB ultra sound to see their child and we were able to provide more than 2,250 clients with material goods such as diapers, formula, wipes, clothes, baby accessories, maternity items, food and cereal, books and toys, bath kits, blankets and more. That’s a lot of families in our community who were helped by you.

    In the first few months of 2020 you have already provided for almost over 400 families! 70 of those were for pregnancy tests with 24 of them obtaining an ultrasound. 6 of those who obtained an ultrasound came in and marked abortion-minded or abortion-vulnerable.

    6 lives potentially saved. Because of you. And that was just since January 1.

    You matter. What you are able to share and donate matters. We could not do this without you. We ‘live and move and have our being’ here doing His work. And so do you.

    Thank you.

    For in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)

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