If you have had an abortion, this may be hard to read. If you have not, but consider yourself a Christian, please read this with a heart to hear the message I am attempting to relay. May God be glorified above all.
Many stories are floating around about women who, against all the odds, delivered babies deemed terminal. There have also been stories from women, in willful defiance, celebrating their abortions.
I have not seen many stories shared like mine.
Abortion is one of the church's greatest shame and dirtiest secret; we are conditioned to be silent. However, healing is found in the light, not the darkness.
17 and a half years ago, on June 26, 2001, before I was legally allowed to get my ears pierced without parental permission, I had an abortion.
I was eleven weeks and four days along and the ultrasound tech who confirmed my pregnancy before the procedure commented on how "lucky" I was. Had I waited three more days, it would have been too late according to Colorado law at the time.
It was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I knew how to prevent pregnancy, I just never thought it would happen to me. I believed that a baby was growing inside of me, I did not think of life before birth as just a cluster of cells. If we are honest, no one really does, we all know what is in a woman's womb.
When we were younger, my parents had taken in a couple of unwed, pregnant moms with no place to go. They didn't just preach against abortion; they put their money where their mouth was and opened their home to women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. They taught us about the sanctity of life...from womb to tomb.
Several years before I had been sent to a Christian behavior modification camp in Canada after running away from home. In my mind, I was sent there because they did not approve of the boy I was in love with and wanted to control my life.
I was a child and so reasoned like a child.
When I was brought back home under the threat of another year "in the program," I was sent to a Christian school where I fell in love again and resolved to just bide my time until I could escape from under my parents rule. When I found out that I was pregnant, I was terrified.
Still a child, I reasoned like a child.
I resolved that I would not be sent away again. I set my convictions and morals and beliefs to the side, locked them behind a steel wall in my heart. I set my God aside, thinking if I did not look at him, acknowledge him, I could pretend he wouldn't see. I tried to push him there, into a corner of my heart, pull the blinds, and hide him from sight.
The director of our local Planned Parenthood met with me personally. She spoke of my future, my beauty, intelligence, and potential. She explained the procedure clinically but commiserated personally, in that she too had an abortion when she was around my age. And then, when she was ready, some years later, on her own time and her own terms, she had another baby.
She talked with me, not at me.
She treated me as an equal; she was earnest and kind, nothing about her was scary or threatening. She had no malice in her eyes; she truly believed the words she said, she believed she was helping. She was not evil.
The next available appointment wasn't for a week. For that week, I held onto my resolve by the tips of my fingers. The Bible tells us that the Lord will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can stand, instead he provides a way of escape. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Looking back now, I see where he was faithful to that promise.
Three times I was offered a way out during that week of waiting, three times I ignored them.
- My mom came into my room and asked if I was pregnant one night, she noticed I hadn't marked my period on the calendar, I lied.
- My best friend offered to talk to my parents with me, but I said no.
- The boy said I didn't have to do this as we read the long list of potential complications, even up to death. I grimaced and said it would be fine. I was resolved, and when I decide to do a thing, I do it.
I regretted it before it began.
Trembling, I forced myself to lay down on that table. Clenching my fist, squeezing my eyes shut, I stayed there by will power alone. When it was over, and I opened my eyes, the nurse walked right past the bed, carrying a canister that held the evidence of my choice, my shame. As realization dawned of what I was looking at, the devastating weight of my choice rushed over me like a landslide. My feet had not yet touched the floor, but it was already too late to take it all back.
It could not be undone, though I would have given everything to change my mind.
I can still see the room, still smell the antiseptic. I can still hear the sounds and the hairs on my neck stand up to think about it. The whole scene is burned into my mind, even all these years later. With just a whisper of remembrance, I am transported right back there. I am 17 again, trembling on the crinkling white paper sheet.
But, you see, what that lady didn't prepare me for was the crushing regret and shame.
The utter brokenness and devastation I would feel afterward. She didn't prepare me to hate my reflection and reject the boy whom I had loved. She didn't prepare me for the years spent seeking to drown out the demons that tormented me, or tell me how to stop dreaming about a little blonde baby with blue-green eyes. She didn't tell me how to build a future while being crushed under the weight of this secret when my head whispered "unlovable" to my heart.
When she spoke of my future, she didn't warn me that just two years later, after men, drink, and drugs failed to cover the shame, I would try to kill myself.
But, even as I sped toward the top of the overpass in the dead of night, Jesus was still with me. Though I had tried for two years to silence and gag him, to fight my way through the blinding regret, carrying my secret shame alone, he was there; he carried it with me.
I didn't realize until recently that he was always there.
He was with me in that room, he wept over me, over my baby. He held me tight as I fell apart.
"I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
He was with me at the parties, the mornings after. He was there when I woke up with bruises on my throat and breasts, confused and scared. He was there when I bent my head over a line of coke, he interceded for me, kept me alive against all the odds.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love." (Jeremiah 31:3)
He was there when I sobbed on the bathroom floor and as the joy drained from my eyes. He held me in his arms and whispered truth to my broken heart.
"I have called you by name; you are mine." (Isaiah 43:1)
He saved me on the bridge that night, and he continues to save me day by day. But the scars from that day are still there. The shame threatens to bubble up in moments like these.
Church, I am one of yours, your sister in Christ.
I am the daughter of the King, whose Son's sacrifice on the cross covered over my sins. I am redeemed, set free, wholly loved, and set apart for such a time as this.
Fight against abortion, yes! However, please, I beg of you,
- empty your pockets and your hands of the rocks.
- Watch your words, your posts, your pitchforks,
because, with each calloused remark about damnation, each meme calling us a baby killer or murderer, you may just be drowning out the gentle whisper of the healer to one of your sister's hearts.
You cannot in one breath condemn us to hell and in the other profess love for one of us. Christ's sacrifice demands more from us than this.
Jesus' blood covers over a multitude of sins...including mine...including yours. May truth covered with grace be the language with which we speak, forgiveness be the blessing we offer, and redemption through Jesus be the very breath on which our words rest.
For years I sought redemption by working with crisis pregnancy centers and abstinence organizations. There is not one woman, regardless of her beliefs who goes to her death bed without regret, without sorrow for what might have been. Moreover, when that day comes and the words from the past play in her mind, these women will remember your reaction.
Your words from today will tell her later to whom she can turn with her shame.
Will it be you?
Will you be able to extend grace to her then, because you extended grace today? Or will your words haunt her in the quiet night, suffocating her hope for redemption?
Is there a woman in your life, even now trying to gather the courage to stand naked in her shame in front of you? And, are you showing her that you will cover her with the cloak of grace or are you showing her your hands filled with stones?
My sisters, one in four of you are carrying this burden. You do not have to labor under its weight alone, I will stand with you, and beside you, and behind you. I will stand in front of you as the stones fly, because I know I have been forgiven and set free. (John 8:32)
Because my Redeemer bore the brunt of the blows, he has already paid the price. I pray you too will find healing through the love of Jesus. I pray you also will learn to listen to the Only voice that matters, the One who knew all your sins and shame and chose you anyway.
You have already been forgiven and healing is offered, you need only accept it.
"God only know what you've been through.
God only knows what they say about you.
God only knows the real you, there's a
kind of love that God only knows."
- For King and Country "God Only Knows"
Shawna Downs thank you for so vulnerably sharing your story with us. We pray it helps others, as it has helped us have compassion for those who have walked a similar path.
Shawna is wife to James and momma to 3 plus a bonus daughter. Several years ago, James and Shawna founded a nonprofit shipping ministry to serve missionaries, church planters, and crisis relief groups. Together with their children, a cat, and a dog they transport goods from Florida to the Caribbean on board their boat. She is equal parts teacher, deckhand, administrator, cook, captain, engine room helper, boo boo kisser, and storyteller.
Above all, she enjoys telling people about Jesus and that if God can use her and James, he really can use anyone.