“This will be my secret forever…”
These were the words I often repeated to myself whenever topics like abortion, Planned Parenthood, Pro-Life and Pro-Choice ever came up.
One such moment happened when I was riding in the car with some fellow female pastors to a women’s church conference.
In the course of a conversation one of them said “I don’t know how someone could have an abortion and live with themselves. That person is a murderer. Period.”
I sat in the car in silence as their comments felt like daggers in my heart. Not only had I had one abortion before I met Jesus, but several. And was now co-pastoring a church campus alongside my husband yet no one knew this big part of my story besides my husband.
A sick feeling started to overwhelm me for the rest of the car ride. I felt shame mixed with wanting to scream and stand up for myself. All of these secrets waiting to be exposed is a recipe for an emotional disaster.
Sometime later, my sister-in-law was running a gathering of female leaders to pray and seek God together before her upcoming conference centering on the topic of freedom. During our time together, we were instructed to write on a postcard something Jesus had us set free from. Going through the motions, I wrote about depression and other things that are more widely accepted within church culture. As we went around the table and shared what we had written, I read my card with confidence as an overcomer. Yet when everyone was finishing up, one of the women had the courage to share something extremely vulnerable.
In the moment of her sharing, I felt the Spirit of God wash over me and whisper “You need to share your secret.” I tried to swallow, but my saliva felt like a million rocks blocking my throat.
With every ounce of courage I had, I spoke up and said “Wait, I need to say something.”
I then unloaded about having an abortion. I hoped that in this place of vulnerability, that the other women present would extend forgiveness and mercy for this young girl who made a mistake in her past. As I shared my secret sin, I felt a huge weight come off my heart. The women surrounded me in prayer as I wept and struggled to share.
The next morning I got coffee with my best friend Gracie. We sat together and I decided to tell her the whole truth. The whole experience of every abortion, every anxiety, shame, fear and depression that marked the last 8 years of my life. Later that evening, my sister-in-law asked me if I would be willing to share that night at a women’s ministry event about what God had been setting me free from. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I just told people my secret for the first time yesterday, I didn’t know if I had the courage to share to entire room full of women.
My body shook like a leaf on a tree as the words came out of my mouth on that stage during the event. Afterwards, we offered prayer to anyone who needed prayer. Shockingly, I ended up praying for 10+ women that had had an abortion and had never told anyone until then.
The following week, I decided to share more of my story with a blog post which resulted in hundreds of comments, messages and emails from women and MEN. So many Christians living with this secret. So many non-Christians wanting nothing to do with church because of the shame of their past. I responded over and over again offering prayer and reconciliation as I was still on my own journey to freedom.
Fast forward a few years, my husband and I moved to Orange County, California to plant churches called Salt Churches. They are micro churches that are heavily focused on The Great Commission of reaching people with Jesus and making disciples. With these small, intimate communities that these micro churches foster, there’s really no room for secrets. There is no pulpit to hide behind, so to be true to my commitment to vulnerability and authenticity, my church knows my abortion story as I continue to learn to share this part of my past.
Yet as I realized how many women were reaching out to me regarding this topic, I once vented to my husband “I don’t want to be the ‘abortion’ pastor!” But one morning in prayer, I heard God say to me “Just love these women the way I have loved you.”
The hard truth is that too often people and even leaders in the church say flippant comments about abortion in everyday conversation or on social media without knowing that abortion is the secret story of many in their immediate community. So I am trying to reflect the same grace to others that I needed to hear in that car ride years ago.
So that is what I am trying to do. I am trying to build a church that is a reflection of a Savior that forgives EVERY sin. A church community that is a place of freedom from every shame and bondage. A place where every person’s journey can contribute to the process of healing of those around them as we all become more passionate followers of Jesus. While it isn’t alway easy, my hope and prayer is that my story can be a catalyst for needed but uncomfortable conversations to be had. Conversation where people take off shame and step into purpose and total and complete freedom.