On 61 Main: An interview with Judy Williams, Healer

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?

– Proverbs 24:11-12, ESV

The entranceway of the Northern Berkshire Pregnancy Support Center (NBPSC) matched the adjacent storefronts; hollowed out of the main building there was space to unbutton a coat, shift a shoulder bag, or nervously shake off second thoughts before reaching for the door handle. Facing a short flight of steps inside, I paused to watch the shadows of footsteps that have climbed up before me: some anxious and quick, others halting, hesitant. I quieted my breathing to listen to the whispered worries and unspoken doubts that were still palpable in the air. As the shadows disappeared into the layers of past reality, I walked on to see what they had found.

A field of lemon lavenders danced through each of the five rooms at NBPSC. The warm fragrance matched the gentle decor gracing the walls, and sweet music dusted the atmosphere with a sense of calm. This place of peace is a humble tribute to God’s penchant to work miracles, especially the kind where He reclaims a space for His active work. To be honest, I have not always believed in the signs and miracles of God being worked in the world today. But healers are yet among us: on that day I found them at 61 Main Street in North Adams.

Judy Williams greeted me with a tired but enthusiastic hug, her day already filled with more than a Friday morning can reasonably accommodate. As the Executive Director for the NBPSC, Judy is responsible for overseeing all of the center’s services; on that day it included looking after lavatorial complications. But the presence of the plumber simply reminded Judy that two years ago the center didn’t even have a functioning bathroom. God’s favor can often be seen through provisions of which only He could be the source. The nationwide Care Net network estimates a time frame of eighteen months from start to finish to open a pregnancy center; NBPSC opened in seven. Three rooms needed new floors, doors had to be boarded up to create a wall, and the whole center needed painting. Insurmountable obstacles remind us to hold our Father’s hand, and Judy let God lead her so closely that her trips to the post office would be amidst tears of happiness and relief as God provided for yet another check to cover a month’s expenses to be waiting in the mail. One Sunday a carpenter in Judy’s church came up to her and asked if he could help out in any way. Judy found the voice to tell him, “Yes,” while her enraptured heart sought the expression of humble thankfulness towards her God. NBPSC has the gracious touches of the body’s provision; God will have His way.

The phone in the front room started to ring, and Judy jogged over to take the call at the receptionist’s desk. As she began to speak animatedly with the caller, joking about plumbing woes, I remembered a phone conversation Judy spoke of that took place when the center had first opened. A young woman named Callie had called to see if she could help out, a request well-received in a ministry run by volunteers. Callie didn’t know quite how she could help, but as the conversation continued, Judy began to understand why she had phoned. Hurting hearts can believe that helping others may fulfill their own need for help.

“As it turned out, I wasn’t able to let her volunteer because she isn’t healed,” Judy told me. “She can’t help others yet if she’s still deeply grieving about her own situation.”

Two and a half years ago, Callie was raped. She felt sick, alone, and wished to bury her pain out of existence. But hers was a pain that would be used greatly for God; hers was a pain that would be known in a most public way. When she missed a period, her fears were confirmed. Callie nervously told her husband that she was pregnant, and that the child was not his. Her husband could not hide the wretched pain that this information provoked in him; he did not want to keep this child. Callie’s friends counseled her to abort. When her mother brought her to the doctor, he told Callie that she had two weeks to decide if she wanted to terminate her pregnancy. Callie’s mother regretfully remembers telling her daughter, “It’s up to you.”

The possibility of giving her baby to an adoptive family helped Callie decide to continue her pregnancy. At six months, however, Callie and her husband saw the small, beautiful form of a little girl – their little girl. Callie’s husband couldn’t dismiss from his waking and dreaming consciousness the soft, delicate person the ultrasound had showed them. He wanted to be her dad.

Little Bethany is now two years old. She is alive, and she is gorgeous. Callie’s pain is being transformed into saving grace for many other Bethanys yet inside their mother’s bodies, but there is also no disguising the real hurt in her family. While walking down the street with her husband, who is white, and her daughter, who is half-black and half-white, strangers’ glances and whispers constantly remind Callie of something she has asked the Lord to be able to forget. The rapist is still not caught, and Callie fears encountering him every time she leaves the house. He knows what she looks like, but she cannot recall his face.

The wooden floors creaked as Judy walked with me from the front room to the counseling room, pointing at furniture and television screens along the way, saying, “They were all donated. Everything was donated.” As I flipped through literature on the bookshelves in the counseling room, Judy explained how clients have the opportunity to “earn while they learn.” Points accrue as each young mother continues to visit the center and go through lessons. Such a program encourages the young mothers to have ownership of purchasing items for baby, as the center’s internal economy allows points to be used as dollars at the Baby Boutique; none can find a more favorable conversion rate!

Pint-sized dresses and miniature shoes for adorable baby feet lined the shelves of the Boutique. The circular racks and shelves were all filled, and a volunteer named Susan is milled about, keeping the sunny room in order. “We only accept clothing and shoes that are very fresh,” Susan told me while attentively folding and refolding a gingham button-down boy’s shirt. “I won’t accept anything I wouldn’t use for my own children.” Rimless glasses showcased Susan’s bright, honest eyes, and colorful stones on her wrist caught my attention. She calls her bracelet a life bracelet, because the colors of the stones tell different stories of how Jesus has given us life through his sacrifice and resurrection. A volunteer for seven months, Susan already refers to her clients as friends, and has seen them transform from anxious, fearful young women to mothers who are comfortable breastfeeding in front of others. As Susan was shared stories of her friends that come in regularly, my eyes fell on a crib tucked away in a corner of the Boutique. “We accept mostly clothing items because it’s all we have space for,” Susan regretfully chuckled. “But we’ll hold on to a few furniture pieces for girls like Meagan.”

Meagan walked through the doors of the center at five months pregnant, five months very pregnant and homeless. She had been hiking the Appalachian trail with her boyfriend when they found out about her pregnancy. Since they were transient, Susan’s first conversation with Meagan involved where she could stay in one place to raise a child. Susan suspected Meagan’s boyfriend wasn’t going to remain in the picture, as theirs was an abusive relationship.

“I hope we’ll receive a few more things that we can set aside especially for Meagan,” Susan said. “It will take one more thing off her list to worry about!”

I thought perhaps Susan’s mind was on Meagan’s cystic fibrosis. The disorder can lead to an early death, yet Meagan – so young, so strong – was only concerned that in giving her child life, it would be a life fraught with pain. Susan’s eyes, flush with sensitivity, searched my face for understanding as she spoke of Meagan and the pain that lingered in her own heart whenever she thought of all the young mothers. “After the child is born, we continue to welcome the young families here. The center is a second home for them, it’s not going away!” Susan said with a soft smile. It is the great pleasure of the healers at the center to nurture the whole family long after the crisis has passed, into a fullness of healthy life lived together.

I left the Baby Boutique and entered the final set of rooms. Judy’s office doubles as a board room, and a small kitchenette off to the side hummed with the sound of brewing coffee. Judy apologized for a nonexistent mess, explaining that they hadn’t been able to straighten up since the board’s late meeting the night before. It seems that Judy is not the only one in her family to manage superhuman amounts of work and emotion.

“My poor husband!” Judy sighed. “He has to be up at three in the morning, and he was here until 8:30 at night.”

Judy pointed out her husband in a framed photo of her family that sat on her desk. Three generations cheerfully smiled back at me.

“These look like your grandsons, Judy, but you can’t possibly be old enough to be a grandmother!”

After enjoying a flattered laugh, Judy happily told me about her two grandsons. The older is seventeen years old and a senior in high school.

“Seventeen years old? You began directing the pregnancy center in Bennington seventeen years ago, right?” I asked. The number had lodged itself in my mind and I thought the congruence was curious. But God doesn’t often exclaim, “What a coincidence!” when watching His children. His utter intentionality renders any event or happenstance a non-accident: seventeen was also the age at which Judy’s eldest son found out his girlfriend was pregnant.

It was a conversation Judy never expected to have. Seven months prior she had accepted the position as Executive Director at the pregnancy center in Bennington, VT. Seven months prior she had linked herself in an obvious way to working towards counseling young people who faced life-changing decisions, young people who were other people’s young people, not her own. Judy had prepared to take on more responsibilities in a visible position at the pregnancy center; she was not ready for living in the conspicuous role of “mother of the son.” Compounding this fear were worries of what kind of reception this news would receive at church.

“Do you notice how this story is all from my perspective?” Judy sighed, shaking her head in frustration. “I was selfish, thinking about how my son’s situation would affect me.” Judy looked back at the photo on her desk. “I’m so proud of my son. He and his girlfriend worked through some tough times. They came to us and asked for help. Now my grandson is going to college next year! I’m a very proud grandmother!” The frustration of the moment disappeared as a huge smile warmed her face. She excitedly started to tell me about her grandson’s plans for the future and the good friends that he surrounds himself with. I nodded in response, trying to write down all the details as Judy bubbled with affection. The person in front of me positively glowed, her spirit so incredibly whole. In my notebook I scribbled four words: “A healer is healed.”

I closed the front door behind me and walked down the hallway in a fog of feelings. I had driven to North Adams that morning hoping to catch a story of the center’s healing and its place in the local community. As I went down the stairs, however, I thought of Callie holding Bethany’s hand as she jumped from step to step; I thought of Meagan balancing the wooden crib, navigating the narrow stairwell. I turned the doorknob and a rush of crisp air flooded the entranceway. I lingered on the sidewalk for a few moments thinking of Judy’s daughter-in-law considering the prospect of her unexpectedly early marriage. The threat of pain surrounding crisis pregnancies is real, and so is the promise of joy that new life brings. These women’s lives, so beautiful and full, give meaning to the center and its work. On 61 Main Street these women have encountered present-day healers who give them choices they never believed they had.

Moved by God, the young mothers find their way to the center and unexpectedly work a healing ministry of their own. Hungry for grace and ready to receive, these women’s lives have shown Judy, Susan, and so many others glimpses of God’s power and provision. Praise be to God who is tirelessly working grace into our lives, born and preborn.

 

Bianca Brown ‘14 is a political science and Asian Studies double major from a suburb of the city. Back for her second full but final year on campus, she is excited to see the new life God is bringing to the greater Williamstown area.

 

Photo credit: jpkwitter from morguefile.com

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