HELP BEYOND EMPATHY

Embarrassment and shame shrouded her. And loneliness enveloped her even after she reached out desperately for help.

She remembers that feeling eight years after her unexpected pregnancy as a 24-year-old single, Christian woman.

And, God willing, Columbus resident Lindsey Vanzant wants to spare local young single women with unplanned pregnancies all that pain — and join others in showering them with love, support and prayer.

That’s part of the idea behind the new Embrace Grace support group launching at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road.

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“I didn’t know anyone to help me or to point me in the right direction for resources,” Vanzant said of her discouraging experience in North Carolina then.

She called a large Christian church in Charlotte. She told them she was worried and needed help. A female church staffer told Vanzant the church had no structured ministry to help her — and said goodbye.

“That has haunted me ever since,” said Vanzant, who considered an abortion before she moved back to her hometown of Columbus and found open arms at Community Church of Columbus.

Vanzant, now a happily married mother of three, including her son from that challenging experience, will be a volunteer as Community Church of Columbus members Maria and daughter Hannah Westbrook lead elements of Embrace Grace, a national nonprofit ministry. Maria Westbrook, a staff member at Pregnancy Care Centers of South Central Indiana, heard about the ministry at a Christian conference she attended last year.

The opening words on the outreach’s website at embracegrace.com speak volumes:

“Most churches advocate life and discourage women from getting abortions. But once a brave and courageous girl chooses life, a lot of times the church then steps away and has nothing to offer her for support at that point. She is then left with nine months of being scared, worried and feeling alone.”

Maria Westbrook came home and suggested the support group — and especially the promotion and marketing of it — become her daughter’s senior project at Columbus North High School. Hannah Westbrook embraced it, especially because two of her peers experienced unplanned pregnancies and got no real, tangible support from Christian churches. And she knows there are others locally who had the same experience.

“My heart goes out to them,” the student said, praising Embrace Grace’s promotional materials for compassionately “really tugging on your heartstrings.”

But the group aims to reach far beyond empathy. For example, a few weeks into the local group, organizers hope to host a baby shower for participants. So far, two young women have expressed interest in the group.

The Westbrooks and Vanzant figure there are more local, single and pregnant young women battling everything from resentment to fear. They also hope other local churches could launch their version of Embrace Grace to spread the love and mercy.

“So far, when I have presented the idea to others within the Christian church, they have responded with enthusiasm,” Maria Westbrook said.

Organizers say the toughest challenge has been to publicize the effort in places where young girls can discover a free option to help them.

“I know that many of these girls often are unchurched,” Maria Westbrook said. “So the church may never normally be a place they would even think looking toward for support in their situation.”

All say that the group can complement the work of other local help such as Pregnancy Care Centers.

“I think the thing that this group especially offers is the idea that the girls can directly share their experiences with one another,” Hannah Westbrook said.

Through that connection, organizers say the young women can give one another hope that their new life growing inside can bring them a new life of emotional and spiritual growth.

Vanzant sees that as a real possibility, since she eventually experienced that herself.

“For me, I was not excited about my pregnancy at all early on,” Vanzant said. “If I had had someone help me find a way to celebrate my pregnancy (and baby), that would have been a big help.”

Finding help, support

What: Embrace Grace 12-week support group, meeting weekly. Included will be themes of God’s love, hopes and dreams for participants and an element “to make sure that you know that your dreams are not over,” according to the ministry’s national leaders.

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays beginning this Wednesday.

Where: Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road.

Information: Maria Westbrook, 812-341-1365 or columbusembracegrace@gmail.com.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.