Shortly after my conversion to acceptance of the Christian faith, the Lord put me into a situation with a Catholic friend who asserted that women who got pregnant did so out of carelessness. The correct use of birth control would prevent unwanted pregnancies. Outraged by her claims, and still ardently pro-choice, I hotly asserted that pregnancy can happen even with birth control, and that six years ago, it happened to me. She knew I didn’t have any children, so I admitted that I had had an abortion. It was the first time I had told anybody at our church. To my anger, my friend, instead of recognizing the error in her logic, had the audacity to act sympathetic toward me, as if I had been injured by this action, and she suggested that I find healing at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. Oh, I wanted to smash something on the ground at that moment! How dare she suggest that my actions had been wrong? I hastily made an excuse to leave and tried to ignore her. But, as part of the Body of Christ on earth, my friend kept ministering to me, in spite of my barely concealed rage. She emailed me a link to a Rachel’s Vineyard website, then, thankfully, she dropped the subject. Now, I am curious by nature, so I visited the web page and began reading on the links to medical evidence that the fetus felt pain during the abortion procedure. In anguish, I began to question the pro-choice position that the first trimester fetus is a clump of tissues and is not a baby until it is born. Then, I read so many women’s stories about the damage caused by abortion. The Lord softened my heart enough to hear their pain because in the past I would see such stories as anti-choice advocates’ lies and propaganda. Then, our Father opened my heart to my past, and I saw my history in a new light.
I had had an earlier abortion at the age of 16—after having had sex for the first time. Within 6 months, I developed severe allergies. Two years later, I developed an eating disorder and had a nervous breakdown. Ten years later, within the space of a month, I made two serious suicide attempts and had to take a leave of absence from teaching to get intensive outpatient psychological counseling. Although these are all symptoms common to post-abortive women, I didn’t make the connection. I just thought that my entire life was a mistake—I was so completely a failure at marriage and love that I felt I should be “erased”—like a wrong math calculation or failed experiment. I also thought at the time that this was God’s will for me and when two suicide attempts were unsuccessful, I was ashamed of my failure. Yet the Lord again reached out to me, this time through a phone call with my sister, who listened to me without fear and didn’t try to talk me out of killing myself. The space she gave me to speak the unspeakable and the love she showed me then was of divine, not human, origin, and I began to allow myself other options. Although I didn’t feel God’s presence with me then, I now know that he was with me the whole time, bringing me the help I needed through an outpatient program when inpatient programs turned out to be unaffordable on my teacher’s salary. After this treatment, I became functioning again, but the suicidal ideation and raging self-hatred continued to descend on me infrequently but unexpectedly over the years.
I reflected on these things as I read women’s stories that were frighteningly similar to my own. Just a mere 5 days after my conversion experience, I wrote the following in my journal; I think it shows how God leads us through darkness only one step at a time and how only the truth can set us free:
I am aware of a yearning in my abdomen, an absence. I am afraid that I will mourn over my abortions. I am afraid to lose control like that and feel any buried pain there. I am afraid to be judged about them. What if I was wrong about God’s will for me then? What if my abortions were not right, but wrong? To bear such guilt—I am afraid. And I am arrogant too—not wanting to be humbled or admit a mistake… I see my resistance to submitting to God’s authority and truth in my life, the God beyond all my ideas of Him. Now here is where the conversion experience made a difference. In the past, I would have probably stopped there, but now I knew that Jesus could save me from my sins, and so I prayed the following prayer: “Lord Jesus, I ask you to make the truth known to me about these abortions and to give me the strength to bear the truth in your Name and to show me if there is a way you want me to help others deal with this pain, no matter how embarrassing or stupid it might make me look.” After praying this prayer, I received more insights from our Father. I wrote “I see the sinful nature of what I did, I never asked God what was his will for me with regard to the abortions—I just held onto my will and said it was God’s will…I never gave God a chance—never made a space for a will that might differ from my own—too afraid to let go of control—not trusting that the outcome is always better by being obedient” (May 5, 2001).
As I pondered on these things, the Lord, in his infinite mercy, began showing me myself as I truly am, yet He also gave me the grace to see it and accept it without self-hatred and to surrender it all to him. So many good books were given to me in that time to help teach me to see God as he really is and not how I wanted him to be. I learned that he was both much more merciful that I had ever hoped, but more exacting than I had feared. I read somewhere, probably in Paul’s letters, that our sin is the only thing that is truly ours, thus it is the only thing that we possess that we can offer to God in sacrifice. “A contrite heart you will not reject, O God,” according to Psalm 51. Our money and our possessions are all gifts he’s given us, therefore, when we give those to God, we are only giving him what is his in the first place. The only thing we own is our free will, and this is what we must offer our Father again and again, for, as I was learning, his will is indeed better than my own. He is someone I can trust. He does have my best interest at heart. I hadn’t known that before. Probably because I had been unable (or unwilling) to understand Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Now I knew that God’s way was the way of my real happiness. As St. Peter says, “Where would we go, Lord, for you have the words of eternal life?”
The Lord began changing my heart. Whereas, just 2 months earlier I had a “Keep your laws off my body” sticker on my car, now I signed up for a weekend Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. I had just read that “The proper attitude to begin prayer with is fear and reverence at the power of Truth to compel us to obey, even at the cost of our lives.” Well, in such a manner, the Truth kept after me, and I found myself acknowledging all of my sins before God and asking his forgiveness. This is a prayer I prayed 2 weeks later, certain now that I had sinned with my abortions. “Father, forgive me for these sins. I do not deserve your forgiveness as I am not an especially good or valuable person, but your son, Jesus, says that all I have to do is ask and I shall receive, so I humbly offer my sins to you, my own true offering, and I ask you to forgive the evils I have done and allow me to serve you in truth and love for the rest of my life, in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, granting me the courage to stop whining and to embrace your cross of sacrificial love” (May 20, 2001).
God’s power kept working on me miraculously all summer, so that when I finally attended the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat, the soil of my heart was ready. There were two especially powerful insights from that weekend that I want to share with you. One is that my first inclination was to hold onto my sin. I came to see this as a subtle form of pride and arrogance—a way of being “better than” others by being capable of greater sin, and worse, a pride against God, as if my sins were bigger than his capability to forgive. The second insight was that it is essential to seek God in community—the body of Christ, his Church, and to speak the truth in community and to allow the community to minister to me. To date, the last time I experienced suicidal feelings was the first night of the retreat. I was filled with grief at the magnitude of what I had done. Me—who can’t even kill a spider—had killed two of my own children. And in my grief, I turned to the counselors and then to the priest there. Instead of harboring my self-hatred, I allowed it to be seen. And in the light of other’s compassion, it melted. And then, during confession, I was healed of this heavy burden I had been carrying around for 18 years of my life. I knew I would spend the rest of my life atoning for my actions, but Christ had forgiven me. I can’t convey the deep sense of relief and joy that washed over me then, coupled with a burning desire to heal all the sinful parts of my life, so that nothing would separate me from the love of God. And now, 14 years later, my life continues to grow in love, and I am freed from the heaviness and darkness that were my traveling companions all those many years.