The desert is not a dwelling place; it is only a path, a road on which one comes to know the merciful love of God. Everyone who seeks God must pass along it, since the experience of the desert is closely related to the deepening of our faith in His mercy. (GOF:pg131)I was asked to give a talk at one of these post-abortion healing retreats recently, and this is what I said...
When my brother died unexpectedly at the age of 25, many people came to the wake. Though I was destroyed by my beloved brother's death, I was holding it together until the mother of a high school friend came up to hug me and whispered in my ear, "I lost my brother when we were both very young too. We're praying for you all." I wept openly in relief on her shoulder.
I held a handmade sign at the 2003 March For Life that read, "24 years later my choice hurts me still." This was before there were hundreds of "I Regret My Abortion" signs. Two women came up to me tentatively and, in utter amazement asked, "Is that your story?" I said yes. They broke into tears and gushed, "Ours too! Oh thank you!" and we hugged.
When someone has suffered through precisely what we've suffered, no matter whether it was our own choice or not, our hearts swell with relief, gratitude and comfort. This, to me, is the best kind of consoling: BeenThere, DoneThat.
That is what God offers us all. After all, He knows how it feels to lose a child, too.
And it's why these retreats are so very needed and it's good that you're all here.
I was 20 when I had my abortion. My daughter would have turned 34 later this year, probably already having made me a grandma by now.
These words stop me in my tracks. I still find it surreal and impossible that it's my life I'm talking about.
But when the veneer first began to crack, in 1999, 14 years ago, I couldn't even utter the word abortion without being unable to finish the sentence. I recall trying to talk about it to the one person I could trust, a priest friend, and being unable to speak out of sheer anguish and shame. He was the youth group director, and my then-9-year-old son adored him, couldn't wait to be old enough for youth group and we'd choose him to be his Confirmation sponsor 6 years later.
Why, out of the supposed blue though, did my veneer start to crack? I'm not sure. I'd started attending scripture study a few years before, and had become the then-youngest lector at my church, and God spoke to me through His Word in those experiences very often in eye-opening ways. But I never truly could bring myself to face the abortion. It never clawed at my insides to get out, it slept quietly. I know I couldn't ever have addressed it while my mom was alive. It just wasn't an option. My mom loved me and was the most devout Catholic I knew, and I long ago decided it would kill her to know. She passed of ovarian cancer in 1985, four years before my son was born. Nine months before my brother died.
I'd thought that that was the worst desert possible, for me. But I was wrong about that too.
I really think, knowing my obstinate self, that perhaps I was really so intent on controlling my own destiny, I just got so good at stuffing it down inside, for 20 long years.
The reason I started to face it came from outside myself. I think it was the only way it could. I'd felt compelled to address my shame, after 20 years, strangely, because I'd met someone who projected a similar shame, a similar vulnerability, and wanted him to know that even highly-put-together-looking people have shameful secrets they're terrified will get out and destroy them. I know now that God put that person in my life as a kind of "project:" to help him deal with, and heal over, his shame (which I believed was abuse at the hands of his own father), by helping myself deal with my own, and then, most importantly, to help even one woman deal with, and heal over, her own sad history of abortion.
Even still, it took me 4 years of waffling to even go on a retreat like this one. I talked with the retreat director on and off for a year before actually going. I was terrified. I truly thought my life would be a wasteland if I let this secret out.
I thought surely my business career would be ruined if colleagues knew my secret. Just when it had really started to be wildly successful. The Fortune 500 world wouldn't understand or accept my remorse.
Fellow parishioner friends no doubt would shun me: "How can she proclaim the Word up on the altar? How can she be a Youth Group volunteer? What a hypocrite!" That was my immediate social circle. I thought I would lose it altogether.
I feared my son would be shaken and horrified. To know that he could have had a sister, or worse, to fear that, had she been born, HE might never have been? And if his classmates heard from their parents, "Hey, isn’t that the mother of your classmate?" I'd have to deal with that too. It took me three years to tell him about it; he was only 12 at the time, and I still hadn't committed to going on the retreat yet!
My father was still alive, and would probably disown me and not only never speak to me, but tell the rest of the family who'd say, "See? We knew she was evil." He was very critical of anyone not 1,000% Catholic, and had long been a "picketer" outside his town's abortion clinic.
My high school friends, my best friends in the whole world, I feared would not be close to me anymore. There had been rumors, when we were in high school, of "other" girls getting pregnant and having their abortions, in our Catholic school. WE were the "good girls", the National Honor Society, drama club, AP-course taking girls, we would never have had abortions, ever. I feared I'd lose my best friends.
It truly was a desert I thought I was about to enter and live in the rest of my life. I backtracked, for over 3 years.
It strikes me that, for the Israelites wandering 40 years in the desert, it not only seemed a lifetime, but for some, perhaps all, it really was.
But something kept at me. Somehow I just became unable to stay quiet at some point. I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper, March of 2002, spilling the beans, saying, "I still cannot stop asking myself one question, 'If it will make a difference, how can I not write? If my story can help even one woman decide to have her baby and keep it or give the child to a couple dying to adopt, then it will all be worth it.'"
Little did I realize then, there was much more to the reason I started to move out of the desert.
The retreat in late 2002 was painful, but in the same way it was painful when my friend's mom told me she too had lost her brother. I wept in anguish and grief and sorrow that weekend, but in grateful healing. Others had BeenThere,DoneThat, and God was taking me back. And that was all that really mattered, because I could only finally forgive myself, if God could forgive me.
After that, it sounds like a cliche, but I was a changed person. A humble, but purposeful, unafraid person, and here's why: I soon started "sidewalk counseling" at the abortion center nearest me, thinking that was going to be my only contribution. Within one month of that, all of the following happened: I was asked to tell my story on a local TV show about post-abortive stress disorder and the healing I gained from the retreat. The local paper interviewed me twice for two different articles, and I was recruited to become Connecticut State Leader for SILENT NO MORE. I took the Amtrak “LifeTrain” to that year's March for Life with twenty-five fellow parishioners and 500 more from our Diocese. And I was invited to write a column for Catholic Exchange.com which lasted 3 years.
One year after that month, I was invited by a total stranger I've never met on the other side of the country to be co-blogger at After Abortion blog, which has since received almost 600,000 visitors and even in hiatus, receives a couple hundred visitors weekly who average an hour's stay each time, reading, usually folks googling for help with searches like "damage after abortion", "depression after abortion", "husband doesn't understand after abortion."
THIS is why I am unafraid: I didn't seek ANY of this out. I was content to be quiet and unnoticed by the world. I would have preferred it. But God clearly dumped all this in my lap and said, "See what I've been waiting for you to get busy on?"
He was patient with me, but wanted me to do all this. There was no doubt in my mind. And he made my son understanding and forgiving of my shame too, so it all made me able to be unafraid.
So I had literally no choice but to move on and move quickly, to do all that God was asking of me. I was grateful and humbled by it all. I could really do something to make up for what I'd done, even just a little, to make some good come out of something so bad.
It was God's grace and his mercy to me that both allowed me and noodged me to do all that. But don't think anyone else has to do what I did, going as public as I did. He asks all different things of each of us, in our healing. Most folks just quietly pass on His grace and healing to those around them, like family and friends, through their own goodness and recovery.
Since my healing road out of the desert began, I am calmer, I sleep very well, I complain less, I live with a lot less, and am just more trusting, even though soon after I started sidewalk counseling and the online column, I became seriously ill for several years. I clearly know now that I was being attacked, by satan. Not a single doubt in my mind that satan was livid at all I was being asked to do. I truly again felt like Job, who was deprived of all, including his health, as a test by satan of his faith. So... I basically told satan to Flip off!
I've thankfully recovered from it mostly, but my illness prevented me from working and forced me to close my business, tap the IRA and all savings, sell my home and some prized possessions like my Baby Grand piano and my pool table against my wishes, almost be homeless, then live at a friend's house for nine months while I got a part-time retail, bottom-of-the-barrel job just to have some money coming in, eventually go full-time, manage to qualify for a low-rent apartment, keep my only possession, a 200,000 mile car, on the road (hopefully for another 100,000 miles), live the past four years without health insurance, and still be living paycheck-to-paycheck without any savings for retirement or another car, so I'll have to work till I die, most likely.
In prior years, this would have me contorted into sleep-deprived KNOTS with worry. But I'm convinced now that, had I not been ill those many years, I wouldn't have had the time to blog, to do all the stuff God asked me to do. I got ill, I think, so that I was forced to take my eye off working for a living and really devote my time to do what God was thrusting upon me.
And through all of this, God has not abandoned me.
When I was just $20 short of being able to pay the rent a couple years ago, and that was after counting up $10 worth of pennies, nickels and dimes in my change tins, I scoured my place looking for that lost $20—you know, the one you stashed and forgot in a jacket pocket or sneaker sole that you always find a year later? I scoured every coat I had... nothing. I finally asked St. Anthony for help—to help me find that $20—then I looked in my old leather business briefcase, unused for NINE YEARS, and in the very last zipper pocket, I found not one, but FIVE $20 bills!
To get my son's car on the road, donated from a relative, we needed an extra $1,000 we just didn't have, to repair it and insure it. I'd been throwing out old papers, found a stash from two years before and was about to toss it, when something made me sift through it. I found a money order for $1,000 I'd made out to my son but never gave him. NO expiration date on it, and the bank said it was good and honored it.
The bottom line is: God is so good... He won't abandon any of us. So though I have no way to survive if and when I ever can't work again, I just am not thinking about it. I'm trusting Him to look after me, just as He has been doing, all these years. I'm doing what He asks of me, and I'm doing all that I can do for myself to survive as I should, and the rest is in God's capable hands.
The desert I've already been through, makes anything else pale in comparison.