Abortion,  Catholics Do What?,  Culture of Death,  Evangelization,  Pro Life

What ongoing conversion looks like, in spandex

Well, that was a little weird…I never imagined the post I’d finally have to disable comments for – after all the crazy, controversial, hard to swallow stuff we’ve discussed here over the years – would be about pet parenthood. Internet, you so crazy.

It’s worth noting, I think, that when something is so controversial, has become so much of an aptly-named cultural sacred cow that you mustn’t dare to question it lest you become the target of vicious ad hominem attacks…you’re probably on to something.

Know what I mean?

(Oh, and just an FYI, if your diatribe is so incoherent/caustic/profane that I wouldn’t let you say it to me in my living room…it’s getting deleted.)

Anywho, I plan to revisit the insanity that is the fur baby phenomenon sometime at a later date, because there’s a whole lot more there to unpack, but for now let’s sail into more civil waters and talk about race relations and climate change.

(Just kidding.)

What I really want to talk about is how I spent the end of the day yesterday publicly debating the death penalty with a 50 year old man at the gym, and how surprising it was for me to find myself arguing not for capital punishment, but against it.

(Gosh, this one’s going to be touchy too, isn’t it? Forging ahead anyway.)

So there I was, stretching out after a vigorous 2.5 mile stroll to the tune of back-to-back episodes of Flip or Flop when the conversation of another gym goer and his personal trainer became so animated I couldn’t help but listen in. I probably could have refrained from commenting if only the gym rat in question hadn’t seen fit to illustrate his enthusiastically pro death penalty position by turning, making a gun out of his thumb and pointer finger, and pretending to shoot me in all my spandex-d pregnant glory while loudly asking his dumbfounded spotter,

“What about now, is it okay if I shoot her and her baby? Now do I deserve to die?”

They probably didn’t count on me joining in on their very public discourse at that juncture, but let me just say, he picked the wrong pregnant woman to mess with, and on the wrong day.


I raised a sweaty eyebrow at him from my precarious position on the mat and unleashed the full force of my motherly hormones.

“Excuse me, do you think it’s appropriate what you just did there, using me and my unborn child as a prop in your ridiculous argument?”

Crickets, then hysterical laughter masking the obvious panic in both their eyes. (Especially the gym employee’s, I might add. Don’t worry buddy, I won’t report you. Wink.)

“Furthermore,” I continued, building up steam, “the conversation you’re having? It’s crazy to suggest that shooting up everyone on death row is going to contribute in some way to the healing and rebuilding of our broken culture.” He had been listing off mass murderers and terrorists of recent notoriety, Holmes and Tsarnov being his two final entries.

He chucked at me and guffawed a patronizing you don’t want to be debating philosophy with me, sweetheart.”

Oh, hell yes I did.

“Is that right?” I returned sweetly, cocking my head. “You probably shouldn’t have invited me into the conversation the way you did, then.”

We went back and forth for a good 10 minutes, trading statistics (he was vvvvvery excited to point out that bullets cost only .$35 cents a piece when I asked him what was the value of a single human life) and concepts of the soul, morality, divine justice and the price of vengeance.

I don’t think I changed his mind, and he certainly didn’t change mine, but the last exchange between us will haunt me forever.

“What about the person whose duty the execution itself will fall to? What about the burden on his or her soul, to force an innocent third party to take a human life at the instruction of the State? What about the cost to their soul?”

“Doesn’t matter,” my trigger happy friend shook his head emphatically, “the animal forfeited his right to life when he did the crime. Now he has to die.”

“But,” I persisted, “there’s a difference between a concealed weapon carrying movie-goer taking him out during the killing spree (dear God I wish that had been the case) and a prison official flipping a switch 3 years after the fact. One is self defense, the other is another murder.”

“Hell no it’s not,” gym guy shouted, “it’s vengeance! Justice is ugly!”

And then I pointed one swollen finger to the ceiling of the gym and shook my head slowly back and forth, “not His justice.”

He laughed and waved me off and I returned my foam roller to the pile and started to walk away. But I stopped and turned to him and left him with one final zinger,

“My dad’s a card-carrying NRA member, just so you know. I know how to shoot a gun, and I wish to God someone with a concealed carry permit had been there in the audience that night, to take down James Holmes when he opened fire in a theater full of innocents. But there wasn’t. Killing him now, 3 years after the fact, and calling it justice? That’s not self defense. And it doesn’t bring any of his victims back to life.”

He waved me off and gave me a thumbs up and said something about the Second Amendment and we parted ways, and I dazedly wove my way through rows of weight training equipment to the exit.

It was a weird ending to an even weirder day, and as I slipped behind the wheel of my mini van to drive home, maneuvering my growing belly as I turned the key, the adrenaline draining from my tired body, I couldn’t believe that I’d said the things I’d said.

One, because public discourse with strangers at the gym isn’t exactly my forte, especially while visibly pregnant. But more than that, I was shocked to discover that the things I’d said to him were truly coming from my heart and not just my brain.

Because, you see, up until a year or two ago, you’d have found us both on the same side of the argument: his.

I thought about how transformed this particular area of my heart had become, even now in my thirties when my opinions and worldview were fairly well-shaped, and how unlikely it was that I’d actually done a complete 180 on the matter.

College Jenny would not have recognized mother-0f-4-Jenny, let’s just say that.

Justice has always been easier for me to swallow than mercy. But the older I get, the more I see how desperately I depend upon the later, even while more naturally identifying with the former.

Most of all I thought about all the conversations I’ve had with friends and strangers alike about the issue of abortion, particularly the “hard cases” involving rape and incest. Their arguments all hinged very much on a warped understanding of justice, a very real – though misdirected – “eye for an eye” mentality.

“If I could be won over to the side of mercy for the most heinous criminals, there’s no pro-abortion apologist who is beyond redemption,” I found myself almost whispering in the silence of the car.

Truly, none of us are beyond hope, not until the very moment of our death.

Such is the wisdom of our Mother the Church who calls us to ongoing, lifelong conversion, both in matters to which we readily give our allegiance and to the harder things, the ones that cause us to wrestle and struggle and catch our breath in frustration. Where there is resistance to the wisdom of the Church, there is room for the Holy Spirit, just so long as we leave the door open.

God, help me leave even the tiniest crack. You’ve done more with less, I can see that plainly now. (And also, at least for the next 3 months? Maybe fewer opportunities like that one, because I don’t know how good it was for my blood pressure. K, thanks.)

ocean mercy


  • Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    I take back what I said about us being best friends if we lived in the same town…..we are probably TOO much alike to get along. If I was in this situation I would have done the exact same thing. (However, I’m never in this situation because I don’t work out…..) Well done Jenny. I think the death penalty is an issue that comes in last for a lot of Catholics. But you’re right, never too late!

  • Mary-Kate

    I think you should read the story of Claud Newman. It may give you another perspective on death and life after.

  • Susan

    Wish I had your guts. You are right on. And, I, too, have changed a ton! College Susan is nothing like now-Susan. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long!

  • Cami

    So proud to stand beside you as a Catholic daughter. This made me imagine one of my kids in the future, going down a darker path in life and my hopeful heart waiting for the Lord to call back His prodigal beloved… Only to have a group of people decide my child is unforgivable and should die. It’s hard to believe but you are right… We are never too far into sin to be healed and forgiven in the eyes of God.

  • Lillian

    I’m with you, girl. Rapists and murders do deserve to die… But so do the rest of us, because the wages of sin is death. Jesus is all about mercy, and we should be too.

  • Hannah

    Yes! You have put into words the very shift I have felt in my own faith journey – the desire for mercy (given and received) far outweighs the thirst for justice. It is a matter of love, and what better way is there of showing real love, God’s love, than in acts of mercy!

  • Isabelle

    Faced with that level of pig-headed self-righteousness, I think rage would have turned me into a stammering mess of confused arguments. You go, impressively self-possessed lady!

  • Ari

    My college-self would not recognize my current self either. However, as a practicing Catholic who is anti-abortion, I really struggle with also being anti-death penalty. I know 2 people who were murdered. I also knew the murderer. I am really torn. The only thing I can think is that he will have his whole life to repent, since he was not given the death penalty. However, I have read studies that prisoners who are not given the death penalty to not participate in personal growth/education programs at nearly the same rate of those who are faced with imminent death. I’m not saying it’s right for the state to kill someone. I’m not saying it’s even a deterrent for would-be murderers. It’s just a teaching I really struggle with, perhaps due to my strong sense of justice.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      I totally hear you, it’s such a struggle. My husband shared a case with me where the death penalty was sought specifically because the prosecution believed the murderer – a hardened psychopath – would be more receptive to conversion on death row. I’m so justice-oriented myself that I was really, really shocked after that conversation at the gym. I can’t say how differently it might have gone had I a personal story or connection to work through.

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