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Pro-life leader Jeanneane Maxon on hearing God

Before she received a grim cancer diagnosis, Maxon felt God telling her to slow down and go home


Jeanneane Maxon Facebook

Pro-life leader Jeanneane Maxon on hearing God

By her mid-30s, Jeanneane Maxon had attained stature and respect as a leader in the pro-life movement. She graduated valedictorian from Westminster College and then got a law degree from Boston University, one of the nation’s elite law schools. After a season as a litigation attorney for a top firm, she became general counsel at CareNet, one of the nation’s largest pro-life organizations. From there she became vice president and general counsel for Americans United for Life (AUL), which is sometimes called the law firm of the pro-life movement. At the height of her success, amid some ongoing health challenges, she felt God calling her to quit her job and return to her family in Texas.

Just a week after she and I had this conversation, Maxon became ill and was hospitalized. She learned she had an aggressive form of brain cancer that needed immediate surgery. She’s now receiving care in Dallas from doctors and her family. She has received an outpouring of support and prayers via social media, using the hashtag #TeamJeanneane. In our interview, Maxon talked about her accomplishments as a pro-life advocate and the call she felt to return home.

Talk a little bit about what you’ve done here in Washington D.C., for the past few years. I have just been so fortunate. …It’s been a really exciting four years at AUL, in particular, because we have seen so many state laws go crazy passing across the country. More laws [have passed] in the past four years than you would have seen in the entire previous decade, so much so that the pro-abortion movement is completely up in arms. We get a lot of negative media coverage on it—that there’s this stealth organization Americans United for Life that’s causing these laws to get passed all over the country. We certainly see that as a compliment. Then of course, very recently, to have been involved in the Planned Parenthood video project … was really an amazing high point of my career.

What was AUL’s involvement with those videos? David Daleiden came to us back in January of this year seeking pro bono, strategic advice as to how we can best utilize the videos to actually make a difference in terms of taking action against Planned Parenthood.

You took on David and his organization and provided counsel, and then the videos hit, putting you in the eye of the storm. We were very pleased to see within weeks of the videos being released, all the congressional investigations and the state investigations. Usually August is dead in D.C., I was told. This was the busiest August of my life because their first video released in July and then continued throughout August. We spent a great deal of time investigating and responding and looking into the allegations that surfaced in these videos.

And now you’re leaving your position with Americans United for Life completely voluntarily. You haven’t been fired, there’s been no scandal, and you’re moving back to Texas. It was a really hard decision because I love what I do, and I feel like I’m really contributing, and I think we are contributing. Most importantly, I love the people that I’ve gotten to meet during my course, both at CareNet and working with Americans United for Life. But it ultimately was a personal decision. D.C. is a very intense environment. I miss my family a lot, and honestly … I never was one of these people that envisioned my life [as] solely this career woman. I always wanted to be married and have a family. In my mid-30s it still hadn’t happened yet, so I wanted to position myself in a place where maybe that would still be an option for me.

I just began praying about it, seeking advice and counsel from family members and friends, and ultimately decided that this is the move that God’s calling me take. I decided to do it without knowing what the next step would be, but knowing that I would probably be able to take on some contracts and still maintain work within the pro-life movement.

There was another factor in that decision as well, wasn’t there? A little over a year ago now I had a pretty serious cancer scare. In June of every year, AUL runs a phone-a-thon where senior staff calls some of our biggest supporters just to thank them for their support. About that time a year ago, I had come back from a brief vacation with my sister and her family and had a sore throat. I thought, I better go get this checked out before I have to start making phone calls because I didn’t want to lose my voice. … They immediately saw something and said, “You need to go get this looked at.”

Being [in my] early 30s, that was something I just wasn’t expecting at all, and it was a little shocking. I started the process, and we learned that I quite likely could have thyroid cancer. So then I had to make the decision, “Do I just have the thyroid removed?” because the tests were inconclusive. The risk of dying with thyroid cancer is pretty low, but still, who wants to go through that whole process? I ultimately decided with my doctors and my family that the best option for me was to have my thyroid removed. As a result of that, even though it avoided me having to deal with the cancer issue, I had to go on medication daily, and that’s a hard adjustment.

That started triggering additional health issues, one of which was constant headaches. This is just not a job that you can do well when you’re getting a headache every single day. That was a hard factor to confront, that my health had reached a place where I needed to make a hard decision.

The cancer scare, the desire and the need to achieve a bit more balance in your life, and your health all contributed to the decision. But it still had to be a hard thing. I cried for three days straight when I told Charmaine [Yoest, president of AUL]. … You try not to cry in front of your boss and be emotional about things, but you know … I just have loved it so much. AUL has invested in me just as much as I’ve contributed to them, and all the people I’ve met have invested in me just as much as I’ve contributed to them. You feel like you have this debt that you can never be able to repay, and at the same time you’re forced to do something that you don’t necessarily want to do in terms of having to move on from relationships and move on from a job that you love. But ultimately I do feel like it’s what God called me to do. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it.

How did you get to that level of assurance? It’s a process. The first thing was, I’d always said, “God’s call for me to come to AUL was so strong. If I’m going to leave, it has to be pretty strong,” and I really felt like it came to a point where I had no other options. So that was that, but I still wanted that comfort of knowing this is God-directed, and this just isn’t life circumstances and that I can have a pity party over it. So I started just to ask and pray that God would give me some confirmations that He really still has control and that allowed me to have that trust that He’s in charge of the next step, as well.

I was at a pregnancy center banquet in Florida giving a keynote speech and afterwards this pastor came up to me and he’s like, “I don’t ever do this, I just feel like God’s calling me to tell you that whatever you’re going through right now that He has a lot of compassion on you and that you should just trust Him that He really is in control of this.” That was kind of a huge one of those great moments where it’s like, “OK, God, thank you for that.”

This guy comes out of the blue. I didn’t know him. He didn’t know my story, other than what he had heard in my speech, which I didn’t obviously talk about this in my speech. I just talked about AUL and some of my other experiences.

How did you react? I was totally in shock. Then of course, when you’re single like me, you have to have really good Christian girlfriends that you run stuff by. One of my very, very good friends, who I believe has a very close relationship with the Lord, I had asked her to pray about it. The neat thing, with the people that I confided in and asked them to pray about, were people who love AUL as much as they love me. So I didn’t feel like I was going to get compromising advice. I felt like they were also going to consider AUL’s interest as well as mine, and when they all came back and said, “I do feel like God’s saying it’s time to move on, and that this is best for you,” that was just a good, really good reassurance for me.

Once you made the decision though, you still probably had to deal with not only doubts in your own mind but also some skepticism from others. Yeah, like, “Why would you do this? You’re crazy.”

How did you process all of that? One interesting thing that happened is the day I resigned, I found out that my college, [Westminster College], awarded me with the young alumni of the year award. … It’s a secular college, so I’m really proud that they were willing to do that, and I think that means a lot. That was just more reassurance of having a sense of completion, a sense of accomplishing what God called you to accomplish in a position, to get some outside recognition. The fact that it happened the day I resigned, just as a little bit of an extra, I think, encouragement and boost was really neat. …

It’s hard to explain when you’re a Christian. You feel a sense of God to do something different, and then you have that peace when you’ve made the decision, which I really do feel. Spiritually, when I pray, when I talk about it with people who are believers, I still do feel that peace, so God has given me that. But it is hard to explain from an outside perspective of people who wouldn’t understand.

Listen to Warren Smith’s full conversation with Jeanneane Maxon on Listening In.


Warren Cole Smith

Warren is the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. He previously served as WORLD’s vice president and associate publisher. He currently serves as president of MinistryWatch and has written or co-written several books, including Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan To Change the World Through Everyday People. Warren resides in Charlotte, N.C.

@WarrenColeSmith

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