From the Pain of the Ashes of Death to the Power and Artistry of Life—Julia’s Story
LLDF held its Annual Benefit Dinner on Saturday, November 17, 2012. In a departure from years past, this year’s benefit was held in Santa Clara, California, at Our Lady of Peace Church, a facility that—from its bustling atmosphere—is apparently put to frequent use in worthwhile causes.
In another departure from years past, the program began at 3:00pm with a conference on current pro-life legal endeavors with presentations from LLDF staff and host attorney, Kevin Bedolla. The conference room was filled to capacity with approximately 50 people attending. LLDF Legal Director Katie Short shared her insight on current legal action, including the lawsuits challenging the HHS Contraception Mandate and the unique arguments LLDF has been able to bring forward in those cases (see article). Executive Director Dana Cody spoke about LLDF’s work generally, including the upcoming Law of Life Summit in Washington D.C., and the newest attorney training on health care decision making (See [relevant page numbers]). LLDF Staff Counsel Rebekah Millard discussed some of the behind-the-scenes work LLDF does day to day, sharing some success stories of cases that settled through the use of strategic demand letters. The conference concluded with a question-and-answer period, in which the guests asked insightful questions that generated excellent discussion of the current issues and ideas going forward.
Following the conference, most guests were able to attend Mass before returning for the Benefit Dinner.
Upon entering the room for the Benefit, guests were met by a stunning 20×20″ oil painting featuring symbolism of the Trinity (the Father, the Word, and the Spirit). The painting was donated for auction by artist (and the evening’s keynote speaker) Julia Holcomb.
The evening got underway with an invocation by Father Jose Giunta, the Pledge of Allegiance led by one of LLDF’s founders, Col. Ron Maxson, and introductions of the Board of Directors by long-time Chairman John Streett. Executive Director Dana Cody introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Julia Holcomb. With tears in her voice, Cody recalled hearing Julia’s story on the radio—a story of redemption from death itself.
In a quiet, yet beautifully powerful way, Julia began her story. She recounted the gradual breakdown of her family beginning with her father’s abandonment, and her parents’ divorce when Julia and her siblings were young. Following some devastatingly traumatic events including death in the family and a second divorce, their family stability dissolved. The trauma proved overwhelming to Julia’s mother. As teenagers disillusioned with family, Julia and her sister embraced rebellion.
At 16, Julia met Steven Tyler, lead singer of the rock band Aerosmith, backstage at a concert and became intimately involved with him. As a teenager from a broken home, the excitement of being in this relationship, traveling the world, and living the celebrity lifestyle was all that Julia could see. The relationship led to Tyler becoming her legal guardian, asking her to have a child with him, and later asking her to marry him.
Julia was well into her second trimester when their relationship became strained. Tyler entertained second thoughts about their marriage after talking to his parents and to his grandmother. Eventually, Tyler went on tour, leaving Julia—now more than five months pregnant—alone in their apartment without prenatal care, without a driver’s license, without even money for food. But they were in daily touch by phone, and eventually, Tyler told Julia that he would send a friend of his to help Julia get some groceries.
Julia remembers letting the friend in, but the next thing she recalls is waking up, alone, in a smoke-filled apartment. She discovered that both exits were blocked—the back stairway was engulfed in flames, and the lock on the front door was jammed and immovable. Into her mind came a commercial she had seen—“Learn not to burn”—that described an empty fireplace, with the flue open, as a good place to go if one were trapped in a burning house. Julia crawled to the fireplace in the bedroom and curled up on the marble floor. Over the fireplace hung a painting, “Jesus, Light of the World,” that had belonged to Julia’s grandmother who had been a school teacher for many years, and always had this painting hanging in her classroom (even refusing to take it down when asked to do so by school authorities). This painting recalled to Julia’s mind that God is approachable and merciful. In that moment, faced with the terror of dying, she spoke the words to a song she sang as a child in Sunday school: “Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.” (Psalm 31:5.)
When she awoke in the hospital, having been rescued by firefighters, Tyler was there and told her the doctors were afraid she would not survive, and also feared permanent brain damage. Yet miraculously, Julia survived without serious injury.
She was recovering well when Tyler and a doctor approached her and told her she should have an abortion. Julia was shocked. Into her mind came the thought, “You had better resist.” She had always been docile and gone along with Tyler’s ideas—but this idea she resisted, arguing with Tyler for hours. The argument ended with Tyler’s ultimatum: have the abortion or the relationship would be over.
Not knowing her rights, or what she would do or where she would go if Tyler turned her out, Julia eventually gave in, as many other women have. Research has shown that up to 60% of women who choose abortion experienced coercion in their decision making; they are made to feel that there is no other choice available.
Julia was immediately taken to another part of the hospital for the procedure. Just before he injected the saline solution, the doctor told her “Be very still or you could be killed.” Julia described the agony of the hours that followed, and the lies she was fed: “It’s not a baby, it’s a fetus.”
She came home with Tyler after it was all over, but she was not the same person. Her happy, bubbly personality was gone. She would wake at night in terror. Tyler brought her the only thing that survived the fire—the painting of Jesus the Light of the World. It was covered with soot, but the soot wiped off and the painting was intact.
As time passed, and Julia did not recover from the trauma she had undergone, Tyler spoke to her about his own guilt. He told her the baby—a boy—had actually been born alive and the nurse “had to do something.” Julia described her thoughts on hearing this, “This is the United States, how can that have happened?” She felt betrayed by all the lies she had been told. She learned then what her later experience confirmed, that every abortion leaves a trail of victims, not only the child, but the mother and the father as well.
Their relationship never recovered. Eventually Julia left Tyler and returned to her mother’s home.
Her mother had undergone personal healing. She had married again, she and her husband had a little boy, and the family had begun attending church. Julia attended a week-long church camp on the Oregon Coast where she enjoyed the beauty of the ocean, and the fun of campfires on the beach. It was at this camp that Jesus took hold of her life. She saw the wholesomeness, the joy and happiness of the young people she was with and wanted what they had. Her friends shared Jesus with her, and she accepted him as her Lord.
Julia’s life was transformed: she broke off her old friendships, was baptized, learned to pray, and began attending church where she was encouraged to read and meditate on God’s word. Her mother helped her earn her GED and her first job. She became active in the youth activities of the church. She gained confidence, and enrolled in college. That is when she met a wonderful Christian man, her husband-to-be. Julia describes her husband as her hero: he has never judged her for her past life but values her for who she is. Together they have raised seven wonderful children.
Julia never wanted to talk about her past relationship with Steven Tyler. It was Tyler himself who made the matter public. In fact, Julia’s son first learned of it by seeing the story in a magazine—including a photo of his mother with Tyler. At that point, Julia shared the entire story with her children, through many tears. Her teenage son came to her at the end of the evening in which he had heard it all, and wrapping his arms around her said, “Mom, I love you and I forgive you.”
Now, Julia shares her story with the power of experience and the passion of conviction. She is a living example of the beauty that God can bring from ashes of death and despair, and she inspires each of us to take heart as we seek to bring the message of hope and life to our culture. About discouragement, Julia said that there are many things that look like lost causes, but, she points out, “People thought I was a lost cause. God is bigger than our worst sin.” She spoke of God’s invitation to embrace life, to embrace conversion. As she expressed it, if she could accept that invitation, so can our nation.
The evening closed with remarks by Father Samuel Leonard, who shared enough of his own inspiring story to add the perfect close to the evening. Before becoming a priest, he and his late wife had raised a large family of their own. When his teenage daughter was faced with an unplanned pregnancy, the emotions of anger and fear threatened to take over. But then God met Father Leonard and told him to love her just as he had been loved, and God gave him that unconditional love for his daughter. At each step of the way, God not only provided for the Leonard family, but for the daughter and her little one as well. Father Leonard ended with a powerful admonition to “give with that unstinting generosity that God has shown to us.”
This year’s Benefit was an opportunity for LLDF and its supporters to reflect on the challenges of the fight against the culture of death, and also provided the opportunity to recharge and recommit to remain in the fight to build a culture of life.