to the woman who’s had an abortion

posted in: on being a captive set free | 4

It happens every January. The anniversary for Roe v. Wade approaches and my feed fills with abortion-related headlines. Given my various affiliations since Facebook’s founding, the content ranges from the vehemently pro-abortion to the vehemently pro-life. It affects me different ways each year. I often evaluate how God would have me steward my story of his grace; I wonder if he intends for me to join as a voice in the pro-life movement, to speak of the evils of abortion from experience. But each year, I haven’t engaged. I haven’t yet found my voice here.

But today, I want to speak to you, my sister in Christ who bears the invisible scars of abortion. I want to share a little more of my story, because I wonder if you feel the conflict too. And I wonder if you might be encouraged to know you’re not alone, that you’re not crazy, that there’s hope for the both of us.

It’s been 15 years since my abortion. Now I’m married to a wonderful man, we have three beautiful children, and I’ve got seven years of walking with Jesus under my belt. But, some days, I feel like I’m playing house. Some days, I’m 16 and laying in a sterile room, staring at an ultrasound screen, wishing I’d looked away, that oval forever etched into my memory. I have a life now that I never could have imagined, but some days, I’m 16 and running home while blood trickles down my legs. I’m staying home from high school hangouts pretending to be sick. I’m hiding, hoping no one will find out.

Some days, I wonder if I’m still hiding.

So when abortion takes the mainstage, I feel a little like I want to slink down in my seat. Does everyone see right through me? The scorn and judgment are palpable, even if they’re imagined.

In the past, I’ve never understood why it affects me this way. This is no longer a secret I keep. I’ve welcomed the opportunity to celebrate God’s rescuing grace, to use my example as Paul did to point to God’s abundant mercy for the chief of sinners (see 1 Tim. 1:15-17). I’ve experienced ever increasing measures of healing and freedom and yet there are days when the pain is as fresh as yesterday. It’s like an open wound, and the headlines like an unrelenting salt shaker. It’s frustrating to know what’s true, to believe that in Christ I’m forgiven, whole, and healed, and then still get caught in the haunting cycles of shame and regret.

Abortion as sin and trauma

Abortion is sin, plain and simple. It’s a grievous offense against a holy God, deserving of wrath and condemnation. Our only hope is to repent and believe the gospel. When we’ve done so, we must stand firm under the assurance of pardon: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). There is now no condemnation left for us (Romans 8:1).

We’ve believed this truth, and we must fight to continue to believe it in the face of our doubts and Satan’s accusations. This is the truth that sets us free, the only solution to our deepest problem: we can’t pay for our sin, but because of Christ, it’s been paid in full.

The thing is, though: abortion is sin, but it’s also trauma. Sin requires repentance; trauma requires healing.

Sin by definition devastates body and soul. Abortion takes a knife to our image-bearing nature as life-givers. And no one walks away from a knife fight without being at least a little mangled.

I wonder if we can be too quick to apply the truth of justification like a bandaid, hoping it will stop the bleeding. This truth is salve to our wounds, but does it reach a wound covered by layers of homemade bandages? Doesn’t it just end up infected?

I’ve been afraid to admit the shame that still so often haunts. Afraid to confess the memories. Afraid to consider the far-reaching implications of this sin from 15 years ago. Because, really, I should know better by now. I believe that Jesus has paid for my sin, that I’m his beloved daughter, that this sin doesn’t make me forever unclean. So when something triggers the pain, I’ve pressed down the doubt, sealing it with platitudes.

I’ve been limping around, covered in bandaids.

And while the bandaids were meant to assuage the pain, instead they kept it just beneath the surface, disguising the infection festering beneath. I couldn’t figure out why I always felt so angry. Why I struggled to feel nurturing towards my children. Why I flew so quickly to rage and activism in the face of perceived injustice.

Is this true for you, too? Maybe it looks differently. There are many ways unacknowledged pain bears fruit in our lives.

These issues aren’t solely the fruit of my abortion. The reality of my story and many others is that abortion is only one small piece in a large, broken puzzle. Sin’s destruction is vast and sometimes there’s no clear trail back to the source. Figuring it all out is not the point.

The point is this: we don’t have to be ashamed of our need for healing. Jesus didn’t despise those who needed healing, body and soul.

He gently asks, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6) And maybe we just have to respond, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

The process of healing

I can’t give you a formula for healing; it might look differently for you than for me. I can only invite you into the process and assure you that the God who’s given us Jesus has given us everything we need for life and godliness; he won’t abandon us now to figure out the rest on our own (see Romans 8:31-39, 2 Peter 1:3-4).

With the help of a biblical counselor, I’ve started welcoming the memories alongside the truth. I let them sit in my heart and mind, all messy and misunderstood. I ask Jesus to meet me there. I ask him to be my courage, to give me grace to face what I’ve feared, to know his presence and compassion. And here I find room to honestly grieve the effects of this sin in my life–my own sin and that done against me. I grieve the way my brokenness has crept into my marriage, my parenting, my relationships with others; the ways I’ve wounded others acting out of my own pain. I confess and repent of the sin it surfaces–not confessing the sin of the abortion over and over again hoping to pay penance, but seeing that there are more and more layers there: my misplaced hope, my arrogance, my fear of man.

And, faithful as he’s promised, God sends out his word to heal (Ps. 107:20). Scripture shines light on these places I’ve kept hidden in darkness. It convicts and assures, beckons and comforts. The truth of my justification is not a platitude but my deepest source of hope. The more God reveals my sinfulness, the more glorious the cross of Christ becomes, the more abundant his grace towards me, the more comforting the assurance of salvation. Here, I’m reminded that God is a compassionate Father (Ps. 103:13), that he is near to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18), that by Christ’s wounds, I am healed (Is. 53:5).

As I live nearer to my brokenness, I live more dependent on grace. I find courage to share these struggles with my husband and trusted members of my church community. Their compassion, kindness, and reminders of truth further Christ’s healing in my heart. When I hear the gospel preached and receive the Lord’s supper, I’m further assured of his forgiveness, and in this weekly means of grace he’s continually healing me.

This process hasn’t made the memories stop completely, but I’ve noticed they feel less haunting. I’ve noticed that I’m slower to condemn myself for them, and quicker to bring them to Jesus. I’ve noticed that they can be an occasion to marvel at grace, not to slink in my chair or yell at my kids.

Forgiven and healed

When Jesus forgives the sins of the sinful woman in Luke, he assures her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (7:50). This benediction is reminiscent of his encounter with blind Bartimaeus, who wanted only to see, but found the eyes of his heart opened as well: “Go your way; your faith has made you well” (Mark 10:52).

This parallel helps us see the connection: Jesus is the source of both forgiveness and healing.

Dear sisters, We don’t have to spend our lives as wounded women. But being healed doesn’t mean pretending the scars don’t exist. I pray we’ll have the courage to face them, to know the depths of freedom offered in the gospel. And I pray that as we do, we’ll help the church be a place where women like us can come out of hiding, that together we’d find both forgiveness and healing in Christ. We come to him needy; he gives abundantly.

on paddling upstream

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Simple living is all the rage these days, and I’m afraid I’ve jumped on the bandwagon. There is something in particular about this season of, “More, more, more!” that sets me on a mission of, “Less, less, less!”

Books like Simplicity Parenting and Organized Simplicity started me down this path several years ago, inspiring a life built around people, not stuff; space, not clutter; purpose, not busyness. Recently, Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect caused me to pause and evaluate where we find ourselves these few years later. Does this stuff, this pace of life, this trajectory, honor God and serve our family and others well?

Perhaps we have lost sight of what’s important?

Please hear me: These books only go so far. “Simple living” is not the gospel, nor is it the only expression of biblical obedience. These books have many shortcomings, and I’m interested to explore further this intersection between the gospel of Jesus Christ and a minimalist life. Another day.

Today, I’m thinking about this online course I took a couple of years ago. It used the metaphor of “paddling upstream,” calling you to a counter-cultural life. But rather than offering a pattern to follow, the course gave a new definition of the simple life: “Living holistically with your life’s purpose.” Basically, a simple life is one where your choices and actions align with who you are and what you value. So the course walks you through the process of determining those things: Who did God create me to be? What do I care about? What are my callings and responsibilities? How do they all fit together? You create a purpose statement that becomes your grid for evaluating decisions you make. Does this align with my values? Does this continue me down the trajectory I’ve determined is right for me and my family?

As with all the books on the subject, this course only goes so far. It requires discernment to glean what is true and helpful and reject what is not. It requires the truth of Scripture and the wise counsel of biblical community to help us sift through our own biases and our culture’s lies. But as I look at my purpose statement hanging on my office wall, I’m reminded of the definition and clarity I felt upon completing it. I’m reminded of how it aligned Jordan and I and helped us to better understand each other. And I’m reminded of how easy it is to lose sight of who God has created us to be and what he has called us to do.

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I love new years. And firsts. And Mondays. And this course was just revised and updated. So I’ve decided it’s good timing for a refresher. Want to join me? I’d love to hear what you’re learning as you process what it means to live holistically with your life’s purpose. And I’d love accountability and camaraderie as we consider how to navigate a Christ-centered, counter-cultural life. Let me know if you sign up. 🙂

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Humble Roots

posted in: Books, quality reading | 13

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It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Hannah Anderson’s writing. Her book, Made for More started an important conversation for me, one that began to expose the ways I defined myself in relation to people and responsibilities and expectations. She took me back to the beginning, to that moment God breathed life into humanity, and dared me to see myself as created imago Dei first and foremost. She gave me permission to consider who God created me to be, to shed the shackles of expectations and performance and to live in the freedom of the imago Dei redeemed.

She’s basically my B.F.F.

This conversation about life lived from a place of wholeness has been joined by other great authors since then. (And a really great therapist, because it turns out, when you open the door to living courageously, it’s like opening the door to an overstuffed closet: junk starts to fall out.)

When I joined Hannah Anderson’s launch team for her latest book, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul (Moody Publishers, released Oct 4, 2016), I expected to love it. But despite reading her intention to continue the conversation she began with Made for More, I wasn’t prepared for it to further the conversation I’ve been having in my head. (And with my husband, because I’m not completely crazy.)

I had just returned from two weeks in Nepal. Two weeks of dream-following without kid-smothering. Two weeks of reading books and actually hearing myself think. Two weeks of intake without much output. So naturally, I arrived home with no luggage in sight but with plenty to unload on this husband of mine.

I was telling him about something like self-compassion or healing or something equally self-helpy, ideas that would have always made my stomach turn. He responded with raised eyebrows. I could tell his stomach was turning, too. I attempted to explain:

I’ve spent the past couple of years gaining a familiarity with shame and its resulting codependency, trying to understand the pathway to emotional, relational, and spiritual health.

That sounds all clinical, so I’ll spell it out like this: I’ve known for awhile that I live plagued by shame, constantly beating myself up for my perpetual not-enoughness. And I know I’m not alone. Brene Brown’s TED talk on shame has been viewed over 6 million times. She calls shame an epidemic in our culture, thriving in secrecy, silence, and judgment. The antidote, she proposes, is empathy. When we vulnerably take the risk to share our imperfections, and we are met with empathy–someone saying, “Me, too”–shame will begin to lose its power over us. And the way we will find the strength to be that vulnerable is by living from a place of worthiness, by believing we’re enough.

The trouble with this solution and others from a secular or generically spiritual perspective is that they neglect to address the problem of sin. Rather than looking outside of us for a Savior, they point us within ourselves for acceptance and worthiness. The problem is, If I try to convince myself that I am worthy, I know it’s crap. It’s like I’m back in the garden, suddenly aware of my nakedness. I’m exposed as the fraud I am. I can tell myself that I’m enough, but I know deep down that I am completely unworthy. Not enough, never enough. And so the shame continues.

The solution to shame is not believing that I’m enough, it’s believing that Jesus is enough. If He really took all my sin and shame upon Himself to the cross, then there really is no need for me to carry it around now. On my own, I am unworthy, but now I’ve been ransomed with something more valuable than silver or gold–with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). I am declared worthy; Christ in me is enough.

If God is the only one who can condemn me, and He doesn’t because I am hidden in Christ (Romans 8:33), then the problem of shame has been dealt with completely. I am free to be vulnerable about my weaknesses and failures because my acceptance is not dependent upon their approval. (1)

This is just bringing you up to speed. Despite landing here last year, these truths have been slow to get inside of me. I find myself living for the approval of others, desperately trying to keep up with their expectations and demands, real or imagined. I’ve sent my representative (2) out into the world, living life the way others think I should. And when I prove that I cannot live up to the impossible standards set before me, the cycle of shame continues.

And despite knowing that Jesus bore my shame, I continue to try to live life without Him. I am running ragged, trying to be all things to all people, exhausted, anxious, and weary.

But enough is enough.

So I’m trying to explain all of this to my husband who is patiently trying to follow the stream of consciousness of someone who has been traveling for 48 hours and is unloading two weeks worth of thoughts. Understandably, he’s struggling a little. He understands the need to release the expectations of others and to live before the face of God. But what about when we don’t live up to God’s standards? Aren’t we to take our sin seriously? How can we #embracetheimperfection, when the imperfection is our sin?

I think it’s more like embracing our humanity, I said. It’s acknowledging the reality that we are human and we are going to fail, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we do. It doesn’t mean sin doesn’t matter, but it does mean that because we are fallen, our continued struggle with sin keeps us dependent on grace. We don’t get to outgrow our neediness.

And, let’s be honest: the shame we feel isn’t always related to sin. It’s often over the fact that we can’t do it all. This flies in the face of our prideful self-sufficiency. We are ashamed of our limitations.

This is where Hannah Anderson enters the conversation. Her book, Humble Roots invites us to consider our human limitations as an invitation to humility and, ultimately, an invitation to rest from our frenetic lives. She contends, “Humility frees us to flourish as the human beings we were made to be: to celebrate the goodness of our physical bodies, to embrace the complexity of our emotions, and to own our unique gifts without guilt or feeling like an imposter” (12). These frequent sources of shame and unworthiness become unlikely places where dependence, gratitude, and worship can grow.

She writes to help us learn to humbly accept our human limitations, and this brings us full circle to what Brown calls the antidote to shame: vulnerability and empathy. We despise vulnerability, because it exposes our weakness and failures. But when we embrace our human limits, Hannah writes, we don’t have to pretend to be like God. We can vulnerably allow ourselves to feel the breadth and confusion of our emotions and experience grace there (114). We can vulnerably enter into the uncertainty of our limited knowledge and understanding (131). We can vulnerably risk using our gifts and sharing them with the world (152). We can vulnerably pursue dreams that may never come to fruition (165). And as we do that, we will experience freedom and rest in the One who humbled Himself for us (57). We will be free to stop hiding and will be able “to say to God and others, “I am not enough, I need help” (186).

I’m sure it’s not the end of the conversation, but Hannah’s voice is an important addition.

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As part of Hannah’s launch team, I received two copies of Humble Roots in exchange for my honest review. These thoughts are my own. I highly recommend her book and have a copy to give away! To enter, just leave a comment below. The winner will be selected and notified on Monday, October 24th. [[The giveaway is closed. The winner is Emilie!]]

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(1) Heather Nelson’s book Unashamed is an excellent companion to Brene Brown’s work and Hannah Anderson’s book. Highly recommend!
(2) I first heard this language from Glennon Doyle Melton’s book, Love Warrior. While I wouldn’t endorse her theology, her writing is refreshing.

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