The following story is written by Abby Johnson, founder and CEO of And Then There Were None, and is an excerpt from Because of Our Fathers by Tyler Rowley, a new book that tells the stories of 23 Catholics whose fathers led them to Christ.
September 3, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – I remember standing at the top of the stairs, looking down at the water below me. The pastor had told me it would be warm, but I was still nervous to get in. Even as an eight-year-old child, I knew that walking into that water meant something special. I had prayed the Sinner’s Prayer and had given my heart to Jesus. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but I knew I didn’t want to go to Hell, and I knew that I really did love Jesus. The pastor had told me that if I really wanted Jesus to be in my heart, then the next step after the prayer was Baptism. I really did want Jesus to live in my heart.
I stepped in and surprisingly, the water was very warm. It felt as if I were stepping into a bathtub. My pastor was already in, helping me get situated in the water. It felt weird to be in the water with all those clothes on. The pastor asked me if I had accepted Jesus into my heart. I said that I had. He asked me if I was ready to be baptized and make it public that I was a Christian. I said yes to that too. “Then I baptize you, Abby, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I held my nose and fell backward into the water. As I came up, I wiped my eyes and saw my dad standing at the top of the stairs. He was beaming, smiling from ear to ear. Everyone in the congregation clapped, and I climbed up the stairs. I gave my dad a hug and realized that now it was his turn.
I watched him go into the water and come up, and I felt such relief. “Whew, now Dad and I will be in Heaven together,” I thought. I didn’t really understand that my dad was already a Christian. He had simply never been baptized by full submersion, and that is required in the Baptist faith. A sprinkle as a baby won’t cut it for the Baptist church. My dad had been raised Methodist, and by joining the Baptist church, he had to be fully submerged. So we decided to do it together, Easter 1989. And that’s my dad. He has always been beside me at the important times of my life—his faith was an example of the faith that I would one day strive to have.
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That’s the example my father has always been for me and my mom. He has been the epitome of provider, protector, father, and husband. He showed me how a husband should love his wife. He showed me how a father should love his children.
My dad has spent his career as a mechanical engineer. He’s not only wise but also very intelligent. I grew up believing that I could do anything I put my mind to. Education was vitally important in our home. My dad wanted me to research on my own, make decisions on my own, and find my own path. I’m sure he and my mom never guessed that path would lead me to the doors of Planned Parenthood.
Looking back, I can’t even imagine how hard my eight years there must have been for my parents. They had to strike a delicate balance: always being proud of me and, at the same time, hating my work. This strong work ethic that I received from my father must have felt like a double-edged sword at times for him. Yes, he wanted me to believe I could be anything, but never, ever thought I would want to be an abortion facility director.
My dad has always had a very strong faith but is pretty reserved. My mom is the one who wears everything on her sleeve. After I had worked in the abortion facility for eight years, my mom had become exasperated. One night, after a phone call with me, she let her frustration out. She said to my dad, “She is just never going to get out of there. I don’t understand how she doesn’t see what she’s doing.” I wasn’t there for the conversation, but I imagine that, after hearing my mom’s outburst, my dad slowly looked up from the paper, took his reading glasses off, and set them on the table beside him before replying, “God has promised us that she will return to Him. Scripture tells us that as long as we raise our children knowing the Lord, then they will always return. We may not be here to see it, but we have to trust that it will happen.”
Just one month later, I called my parents to tell them that I had just left the clinic for the last time. They were on vacation, but I didn’t want to wait to tell them. I called and asked what they were doing. “Driving around Estes Park,” my mom said. I asked her to put the speaker on so that Dad could hear me while I gave the big news.
“I quit my job at Planned Parenthood,” I said. It was quiet for just a few seconds before I heard my mom exclaim, “Are you serious? You quit!”
Then all I could hear was laughing and crying and what could only be described as joyful noises in their car. It suddenly got quiet again, and my dad spoke up. “Abby, do you need us to send you money?” That was my dad, the perpetual provider. Even through all the excitement, it was as if my dad sensed what could be coming. Leaving my job, my friends, my steady income—it would come with a cost. And while I knew he had to be beaming with pride that his prayers had been answered, he never stopped worrying. He never stopped being Dad.
I’m proud that my dad has been able to see me grow into the woman he wanted me to be. I’m proud that he can see that the strong work ethic he instilled in me is now being used to proclaim life. No matter where I have been in life—being baptized as a child, graduating from high school and then college, working at Planned Parenthood, having my children, sitting at the premiere of my film—he has always been there to support me. He has loved me so well throughout my life, and I pray that the faith that I have watched him live out will be abundantly evident in the faith that I share with my children.