Making her way to the front of the room, Eliz felt her heart pounding and her hands trembling as she reached the podium. It wasn’t the size of the audience that intimidated her””relatively speaking, it was a small gathering of 25 or so for an evening church service. But her body was reacting to what her heart already knew: At this moment, she would bare her soul, the part of her life she had primarily kept hidden in deep shame and secrecy for decades, despite becoming a Christian years ago.

Her healing had finally begun months before when she dared to share her story with a small group of inmates at the Chicopee City Jail, a detention center near her hometown, where she ministered weekly. Knowing her audience there would not judge but instead relate to her pain, welcome the honesty, and grow from it, she risked unmasking. And there was an immediate payoff. “I remember walking back to my seat and one of the ladies touched my arm and said, ‘Thank you so much for sharing that with us.’ I then realized it must’ve helped her, and it was the right thing to do.”

But her church was different. This is where her peers and pastor only knew her as a faithful church attender and leader. What would they think once they heard her secret? How would they respond once they knew her past shame? But her pastor had cultivated a church culture that spoke of grace and safety, so she pushed those intrusive fears aside. Compelled by the hope that her story could heal others, she broke the silence.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. “”James 5:16

Seeing the Value of Life

“In 1970, abortion became legal in New York State,” she began. “At that time, I had no idea that this would be of any interest to me.” But that year, she began to get sick to her stomach on a daily basis, which eventually landed her at the doctor’s office. “I hardly knew anything about being pregnant or babies, and my dysfunctional family hadn’t told me anything about sexual relationships either,” she prefaced. Pregnancy wasn’t on her radar””or the doctor’s. He ordered a number of x-rays to figure out the problem, but the truth didn’t surface until she took a test under a different doctor’s care. The doctor advised her and her mother who was with her to terminate the pregnancy, citing likely deformities in the baby from all of the x-rays. And because she was too far along for a regular D & C, he recommended she go to New York City for a saline abortion. Her mother quickly agreed.

“My mom and I went home and I made arrangements to take the train to NYC and walk to the address that I was given. When I arrived there, I was surprised that it was not a hospital, but looked more like a really old clinic,” she remembered. “The abortion was physically painful, and I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen to me. The nurse took the baby away right away, and I was not allowed to see it. Before I left, they packed me up so that I wouldn’t bleed, and I walked back to the train station.” The ride home was painful and desperately lonely.

When her mom picked her up, she warned that she should never speak to anyone about the whole ordeal as it would bring shame to the entire family. The man responsible for the pregnancy acted like he never knew her. And within a few weeks, she was dismissed from her job. Every interaction exacerbated the humiliation and shame she already felt. “I believed it was all my fault and I should’ve known better,” she admitted. “It was all just so horrible.”

Yet when she later married, she confided in her husband about what she had done. But when she got pregnant only a year after their first child was born, he also convinced her to have an abortion because they couldn’t afford to raise a second child so soon after the first. “I agreed, I’m not sure why, and I had an abortion at a clinic in Springfield,” she confessed. “It was an easier process, but nonetheless scary. It wasn’t until much later that I saw all this as the devil’s work in my life.” 

It would be many years later when God began to open Eliz’s eyes to the true value of life. Sadly, it came through a tragic miscarriage she had during her 7th month of pregnancy. Though she very much wanted the baby, her daughter died in utero and the hospital helped her deliver the dead infant. “But they coded the medical procedure as an abortion, not a miscarriage!” she frowned. “It was all the same to them in the medical community and they didn’t care either way. But for me, I was devastated by the loss. I realized the only difference between this tragedy and the other two abortions I had chosen was simply my attitude toward the child,” she explained. “Suddenly, I understood that life has value whether or not the mother, the hospital, or even our legislators see it. Life is valuable because it comes from God as a gift.”

She concluded her message with a simple explanation and challenge: “It wasn’t until I was working with the women at the jail in Chicopee that I finally felt that I could discuss my past. The Lord convinced me that I had been forgiven and that sharing my past might help some of them with their fear and shame. Now I’m willing to share with you so that you might know how important discipleship is for the women facing possible abortion or after an abortion.”

After the service, a woman from the congregation pulled her aside.  “I was in awe that you would share that in church. I see you in a whole new light””and it’s a good one,” she encouraged. Later, the woman disclosed that she, too, had an abortion story, but hadn’t felt free to discuss it with anyone else except her daughter. In fact, three women out of that small evening service admitted similar experiences with abortion and agreed to work through the healing process together as a small group. Eliz was amazed at the goodness of God working through her willingness to come out of hiding and speak truthfully about her past, the lies of the enemy, and God’s beautiful, redemptive power. Her pastor, Tracy Johnson, also noticed the impact. God was on the move in their humble, Springfield Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). But so much more was to come. Her voice had set the ripple effect into motion.

*Join us for Part 2 of this series next week to hear Pastor Tracy’s perspective on Eliz’s testimony and empowering people to become disciple-makers of life in Jesus.