I Am ProGrace: How Qualitative Research Helped Shape the ProGrace Approach

Today, I would like to introduce you to Lacey Mason. Her work as a qualitative researcher has given her a front row seat to creating meaning through methodical questioning and active listening for some of the biggest brands in the world. We were first introduced because we were looking to conduct our own research at the pregnancy organization Denise and I led.  That was nearly 13 years ago and her work has been foundational to how we talk about the woman’s experience when facing an unintended pregnancy. Now, she serves as our Director or Program Experience.   

Tell us about your perspective on abortion prior to your work with ProGrace:  

My first memory of encountering abortion was when I was a freshman in high school. At that time in my life, I was the classic, earnest, teenage Christian, new to faith and heavily influenced by a conservative Evangelical perspective. I was also attending a very affluent and very secular private high school. I felt pulled in a million directions on a daily basis. I was good friends with a group of older girls, seniors. One day one of them called me to say she and another friend would be coming to my house the following day for a sleepover. They would arrive around noon. I was surprised and a bit confused. She later revealed that she was taking our friend to have an abortion that morning and they needed a place to hide out until she recovered. She couldn’t go home out of fear that her parents would find out. At that point in my life, I think I knew what abortion was, but had never encountered it and was completely naïve to the realities involved. I knew something scary was happening. I knew we might all get in trouble. But I also knew it was important to be there to help my friend. I did not tell my mom. I did not tell anyone. I think this was the moment my tension around abortion was first conceived. 

What were your tensions around abortion before becoming ProGrace?  

As I got older, I never wanted to engage on the issue of abortion. It seemed like everyone had very strong opinions that led only to anger and conflict. Even if I had wanted to speak into the debate, I couldn’t because I could not sort out my own mind and my own perspective. While it seemed everyone was on one side or the other, viewing the issue very cleanly in black or white contrast, it all felt very grey to me. As a Christian, it did not feel right to compromise the life of a child. Also, as a Christian, angry postures and hateful rhetoric felt equally wrong. At that time, I wasn’t even thinking about the actual people involved. The issue lived in a very conceptual, theoretical space for me, one that I had no interest or motivation to engage. 

Where did you first experience a shift in your own perspective? 

Well into my career as a qualitative research consultant, I began to feel a desire to use my skills for a Kingdom purpose. I remember asking God to involve me in some way in His work in the world. Shortly thereafter, I received an invitation through a personal connection to conduct research on behalf of a Christian organization in Chicago. I was thrilled until I found out it was for a pregnancy care center, and they wanted me to help them understand the emotional experience of unintended pregnancy and abortion. My heart sank. I felt sick. I remember thinking, “Oh God, anything but this.” However, their intentions seemed good, and the natural curiosity of my researcher’s mind got the better of me, and I went ahead with the research. That’s when everything changed. 

Through that research I had the opportunity to sit with women and listen to their stories about what it was like for them to experience an unintended pregnancy. They were shockingly honest about their fears, their grief, their struggle and their hope. They told me stories about wanting to keep their pregnancies, and what it was like to experience the pressure and reality from support structures that didn’t agree. They shared with me the guilt and shame they felt over becoming pregnant and the destruction it waged on their sense of self. They told me about fractured relationships and how they were processing the reality of what it would mean to raise a child with no support, no resources, no job, no money, and no hope. They also shared with me stories about what happened when they did encounter someone who cared, who supported them regardless of their situation or decision, who extended love and grace without conditions, and who helped them to reimagine what their lives could look like. I conducted this research to help Angie and Denise make changes in their client services model for the pregnancy organization they were leading at the time, but the most profound impact of that project was the change I experienced. I learned that this is not a theoretical issue or a topic for debate. These are real people with real lives and real needs. I came to learn that all the political rhetoric and fighting were not happening on the level where the issue actually exists and that, honestly, all the conflict is largely irrelevant when you bear witness to the lived experience. I came to see abortion and unintended pregnancy, for the first time, with Kingdom eyes and Christ’s heart. 

Tell us what this shift in perspective has meant for you.  

When your perspective shifts in this way, it opens your mind to start asking a lot of questions that primarily center on how to support women facing unintended pregnancy – not on how to legislate abortion in America. When your perspective shifts, you start to consider how Jesus would respond and how He might expect us to respond, as well. As such, from my perspective, a major shift in the way Christians respond to this issue is paramount. The Church has historically maligned abortion yet is also known to be unwelcoming and unsupportive of women who are pregnant outside of the traditional family structure. To this I lovingly say, “You can’t have it both ways. ” As God has continued to call me to co-mission with Him in this space, it is my sincerest desire to invite Christians into the practice of compassion, to understand this issue from the inside out, and to respond with grace in such a way that no woman experiencing an unintended pregnancy would ever have to feel the kind of shame or despair that forces her to consider abortion. The same grace first extended to us through Christ should also be extended to her, that she may know how dearly loved by God she is and that not only her child’s life, but her life as well, is valued in the Kingdom.

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