it’s summer, and i’m definitely down to posting once a week at best; that’s plenty for right now. i have been in the midst of typical refuge nuttiness, which i am trying to really embrace as the glory and beauty of real community together. life in the trenches, healing, growing, learning, giving, stretching is hard and wonderful work, and sometimes i wake up and say “well, i guess this is what you asked for, isn’t it?” right now we are working the 12 steps together at our wednesday eve house of refuge. i have been integrating material from several different sources into a workshop-y format that is refuge-style & have been amazed by the small & big shifts many are making as we focus on this season of intentional change (if you are at all interested in the personal journaling/processing material, let me know and i’ll be glad to share it with you). at the same time, it’s been kicking my butt! but i can proudly say i have taken some hard relational steps to shift some unhealthy patterns that i’ve been stuck in for the past 3 ½ years (well, longer than that, but planting the refuge definitely magnified them). real love doesn’t always look like what we’ve been taught. i believe an important mission of the church is to teach nuts and bolts kinds of ways on how-to-become-a-more-loving-human-being-in-relationship-with-yourself-and-God-and-others. anyway, i’m thankful for my courageous friends who aren’t afraid to go to hard places and be honest about their bullsh*t; they make me want to keep moving closer to God, closer to me, closer to others & find out what that really means. well, that’s a brief check-in on me. i appreciate your readership & am glad that somehow through the carnival craziness you are being challenged, gaining courage, and finding some weird hope here and there.
it’s time to pick up with another contribution to the “out of the darkness” series. if you are just now reading, you catch up on previous posts here. i have been wanting to write this post for a long time about “the A word.” not adultery. the other flaming A–abortion. it was recently inspired by this video on my friend craig spinks site, recycle your faith. it was such a lovely piece but i was so disturbed by the comments that were shared on youtube in response. yes, i know it’s a hot topic and creates much controversy and there are people whose full-time jobs and lives are to advocate against it. but i think what bothered me so much about it is just how stinking mean some of the comments were. i mean how could “have an abortion=burn in hell” be anything in the same realm as loving like Jesus?
so i wanted to bring a personal story to the table. i’ve already shared a piece of it here. it is not painful anymore for me to talk about, so i am not going to use a different name or use the exact same format as the other out of the darkness interviews. i’m just going to tell you what it has been like for me over the years as a christian woman who had an abortion when i was in high school. and though i have been speaking publicly & writing about it for the past 12 years, there are some that don’t know this part of my journey. i am guessing high school & college friends who link to this blog through facebook will wonder how they never knew. but for those of us who have had abortions, we can probably all say how easy it is to try to hide, to keep the truth of our stories buried, to try to forget, especially in the church where the topic comes up more than anyone who hasn’t had one probably even notices.
i am not going to get into the politics of it; it’s just too complicated and i believe completely unnecessary in the moment. the part that i want to address is the fall-out from it & how terribly easy it is to keep it hidden in the darkness, especially in church.
when i was 17, the summer before my senior year, i found out i was pregnant. it was of course devastating and scary; the worst part for me is that my mom had my brother when she was 17 and i had seen how much she struggled & scraped to make ends meet after not going to college. in the moment, my boyfriend wanted to get married and have the baby and try to figure it out. his parents had recently become christians and they were good people but very unsure on how to help. i felt a lot of pressure to not repeat the pattern my mom had and to get an abortion and move on with my life. there were so many crazy iterations of what to do and what not to do in the moment, but in the end i went through with it. i found a doctor who performed a DNC, broke up with my boyfriend a few weeks later (his call, not mine), stuffed as far down as i possibly could (and it can go down deep) the shame and pain of what had just happened, entered into my senior year of high school filled with a great sadness that no one had any idea about, and was crowned homecoming queen a few months after that.
looking back, it was completely nuts. but in talking to many other women over the years who have had abortions, the patterns are usually similar. it starts with great fear about what to do. anger at ourselves for ending up there in the first place. then in some way, shape, or form, making the decision to go through with it. all of the shame and ickiness and pain of the procedure and the aftermath. pretending it didn’t happen and moving on with our lives. and then over time realizing that it’s very hard not to think about it every day and hate ourselves more and more with each passing moment.
for me, it wasn’t that hard to hide. i had become a very good hider at an early age, keeping the peace and making sure everyone around me was happy with me. i am the classic good-girl. and most good girls (and i think especially “christian” good girls) are hiding something, not necessarily specific acts like an abortion, but usually there are hidden negative feelings, inappropriate behaviors no one knows about, self-hatred, and deep insecurities. so like so many other women who have had abortions, i hid, pretended it never happened, and did my best to blend in the christian world. i graduated from college, went straight to graduate school & a full-full-full-time job, got married, and continued to do everything i could to “prove” to myself (and sometimes overtly, often covertly, to God) that my decision wasn’t for no reason. i was going to make something of myself, dammit! inside, though, my heart was filled with unforgiveness and shame. my husband had no idea this was part of my story; there was absolutely no way i was going to tell him and risk being ditched, especially after keeping it from him for a nice chunk of years. i couldn’t for the life of me accept Christ’s forgiveness; i could spout out about it for everyone else, but when it came to me, in the deep places of my heart, i always felt dirty, shameful, and unforgiveable. this played out subtly in all kinds of ways—in my relationship with jose, myself, and God. i pulled off what looked like real relationship, but somehow i always felt separated, unworthy, distanced, unable to really receive anything good.
so i worked harder, tried harder, hid harder. it actually wasn’t that hard to do, and i always say my dysfunction brought me great success in the church! i honestly think if i hadn’t ended up in a crazy women’s group my dear friend was facilitating (check out her recent book—church on the couch: why the church needs therapy, it’s really excellent!) i might not have ever come clean about the shame i was hiding in the darkness. but somehow, through a wacky move of the Holy Spirit & a burst of a temporary fleeting moment of not protecting myself like i was so used to, i ended up saying it out loud to another woman in my group. then i told jose (it was one of the most powerful moments in our marriage). then i told the group (they were always the most amazing listeners). what was once hidden was brought into the light, and i felt shame’s power begin to be broken. then i started the brutal hard work of letting God into all the emotional and spiritual collateral damage that was not just connected to the abortion but to my unhealthy patterns that surrounded far more than just that one decision.
it took me well over a year to even say the word “abortion” (i would call it the ‘A’ word). i remember my friends being so proud of me when i could say the real word. i began to stop lying when i went to my yearly OB/GYN appointments and they asked questions about how many pregnancies i had. i began to scare people who were used to me being “nice” with my honesty about how i sometimes felt about myself, about God. and over time, i began to feel more free and integrate the reality of what had happened into my story. as i began sharing it more openly i have been continually amazed by how many other women out there share the same experience. the thing we most often have in common: the shame and pain of hiding, the way it affects our relationship with God & others & ourselves, and never really being able to talk freely about it in safe places.
part of this out of the darkness series is really focusing in a reminder for all of us what we can learn both personally and corporately how to both be safer for people who are desperate to come out of the darkness and also to find hope for ourselves when things hidden are ruining our freedom and peace. i feel passionate about reminding people that there are real people, with real stories, real struggles, real hearts behind the hot topics of abortion and homosexuality. and when you are talking about these issues, please do not forget that someone sitting right across from you might have had an abortion, had a girlfriend or partner who had one, or be gay. i can’t tell you the number of times i have been in christian circles (or my kids have been victims of christian-school-craziness-related-to-this-issue-and-it-really-stinks-when-your-mom-is-the-person-they’re-talking-about) where there is a blatant disregard for the reality of other’s stories. remember, assuming is dangerous. and i know so many women who are afraid to say something for good, good reason.
here’s what i always, always hope for the body of Christ—that we’d be a safe container for the messiest, ugliest, scariest part of people’s stories and experiences, in the way that Jesus was concerned with people’s real stories and taught us that when we are poor in spirit we will see him. that the “high places” which have been culturally constructed by churches, by christians, would be smashed down and we’d be willing to live in the place where grace seems to pool the most—the low places. abortion is a low place in people’s experience. and left unhealed, hidden, festering, it is probably causing trouble in the ways of love. every person’s experience is different, and i would never want to make assumptions for anyone else, but i think i can confidently say this: there’s lots of us in church. in your neighborhoods. in the places where you work. in your families. we don’t wear a big A on our chest, but many are scared to share their story because of shame; we are afraid to put it out there for fear of being rejected, judged, fixed, or pressured to come up with all the right answers. every person’s experience is different, and i can only speak from mine. but the greatest healing in my life came from a safe place to be honest, reckon with the damage from my past and how it was messing with my present, and have some other people who loved me unconditionally despite. through them, i met the real Jesus, the healer, the restorer, the lover of those that felt the most unlovely.
please be kind with my story. and with others you hear along the way; it might not be about abortion but about a myriad of other things that cause shame & hiding, not just in “the church.” and if you haven’t told yours yet because you’re just too afraid, please know you are not alone. beauty can come out of ashes. and for most of us who have come out of the darkness & into the light, that beauty starts with telling the truth in a safe, hope-full place. sometimes that’s enough.