Escaping Shame: My Unexpected Journey, by Michelle Schaefer
I’m honored to have my dear friend, Michelle Schaefer, share with us today. Over the past couple of years, the Lord has called her on a journey of healing, and she’s moved from a place of deep remorse to a place of joyful restoration. I admire her honesty in telling her story, and praise God that over the past few months many other women have joined her on this road to freedom. Please read on, and please share this post with others who might also be hurting. If you’re going through some of the same things that Michelle faced, email her at the address given below – I know she’d love to hear from you.
Staff member in children’s ministry of my church.
Advocate and protector of children in crisis.
Nurturer to the core of my being.
These are my roles, God given. I celebrate them all this Mother’s Day.
I’ve been living out this Christian life for the last 12 years working for God, pouring myself out to His service, and trying to be so good for Him. I have been blessed with an incredible family, loving, supportive Christian community, and a job I am passionate about. Yet, something was amiss in me over these years. I had a yearning for something that felt unattainable in my life. I felt distant from God and unsure about why I could not draw into an intimate relationship with Him. I felt like a failure. I also felt very alone. I had many wonderful, beautiful friends but yet I felt they barely knew me.
The thing that separated me from being fully known by others was shame. And that shame primarily stemmed from a decision I made 25 years ago when I was in college. During that season of life, I was far from God and making most of my decisions blindly, out of desperation to be loved and cherished, to feel beautiful, and to have a sense of power and control. I was a good student, a hard worker, and had always played by the rules as far as the world could see. On the private side of life, I was very intimately involved with the men I was dating. I became sexually active out of a very naïve mindset at the age of 16 when I started dating my first boyfriend. That behavior quickly became something I was very comfortable with as it gave me a sense of security in my dating relationships.
So, at 19, in a new relationship and the start of a new school year, I discovered I was pregnant. Immediately, fear and panic took over. “How can this be my life? I cannot be this person to everyone who knows me.” I had no strong feelings on the pro-life/pro-choice debate. It was something that was complicated and for other people to worry about… until this day. And I knew only one thing: I could NOT be pregnant. I went to a Planned-Parenthood clinic for counseling and a referral, but honestly, I had already decided that I wanted this pregnancy “terminated”. The clinic counselor reassured me of everything that I wanted to believe: that it wasn’t really a baby yet, just a blob of tissue; that the procedure would be simple and low-risk; and that after it was over I would be able to move on with my life and forget about all of this. My boyfriend was supportive of whatever I would decide to do and so the decision was made. Days later, I made the scheduled trip to the abortion clinic. On that fateful day, I thought I was about to escape my shame. I was so wrong.
For 13 years, I pushed away thoughts and emotions about my abortion. That became ever so much more difficult after my son and daughter were born. And then, when I came to faith in Christ, it was the knowledge of my abortion that sent me sprinting to the foot of the cross. And every year on Good Friday I was a weeping mess of repentance, trying SO hard to own the forgiveness that He promised but I had such a difficult time receiving. And so it went for 10 more years of my Christian faith. Guilt, shame, isolation. In 24 years, I had told my secret to a total of 3 people, one of which was my husband. The silence on this topic was ever upon me and only pushed me further into my shame.
But then in the past 2 years, God reached into that dark place and nudged me, ever so gently, and said very clearly, “It’s time.” Time for what? I had no idea what I was getting into the day I took that bold step and set up a time to meet with one very loving, wise, godly friend. I thought I was going to take a couple of hours of her time, tell her about my “past” and listen to her words of wisdom about how I could finally let this thing go. What I did NOT know was going to happen, was I would sit on her couch for 6 hours that day, sobbing out my story as a floodgate opened and unleashed 24 years of pain, shame, guilt, and self-condemnation. It was devastating. And then, for the first time in a long time, I came alive again.
Moving forward from that day, one difficult step of obedience at a time, I have attempted to trust God and follow His lead as He has healed and restored my life. There were days early in this healing journey when I was certain I had lost my mind. To be talking about this thing after keeping it a secret for so long could certainly lead to no good. Right? Oh, so wrong! I started talking to others that God brought into my life for this season. As weeks passed, I found a Bible study curriculum on the topic of post-abortive healing. That study was a miracle to me. I decided to do the study along with a couple of other post-abortive women God had assembled into a healing community. The study had 8 chapters and each chapter brought new understanding, healing, and a hunger for more. That journey was the most life-changing experience I have had in my Christian walk. It was difficult, painful, and incredibly exhausting work. But by the end of the study I was walking in a joy and lightness of spirit that I did not think was possible. That lightness came through the channel of grief.
Grief, you say? That doesn’t make sense. You are right, in the world, it doesn’t. But in God’s economy, it makes perfect sense. God has a way of taking us back to move us forward and turning us inward to move us out. And, yes, that same God can turn grief into joy … ashes to beauty. That’s our God. The world has convinced so many women that the life they carry is not a life. Yet when that life is ended at the hands of the woman assigned by God to love, nurture, and protect it, that woman knows something significant and dark has happened. The world says, “It was nothing, just a blob of tissue.” Yet she knows it was something. The world says, “Why would you be sad? You chose this.” Yet she feels sadness that she must stuff away because it does not belong. And the world says, “You cannot grieve what you chose to destroy.” And she submits, because it’s logical. But God can invite you into a new way of viewing things, a new way of valuing that life, an opportunity to love that which you thought you never could. And that is where the joy and healing comes, my sweet friends.
If you are a post-abortive woman, perhaps Mother’s Day is bittersweet for you. It is for many. Or perhaps your bittersweet day is the anniversary date of your abortion. I want you to know something… there is a way to joy. The self-condemnation and guilt you accept as consequences of your choice – God does not want those for you. He wants healing and freedom for you. He wants you to come alive again. If you have not taken a specific healing journey with either a group or a counselor that walks you along the path to freedom, consider this your invitation from God to do it now. It will be so worth it!
This Mother’s Day, I rejoice in the gift of all 3 of my children, 2 here on earth and 1 in Heaven. They are ALL an important part of my life.
If you’d like more information about post-abortive healing, resources, groups, and curriculum, or possibly just to share your story with someone who understands, please contact me by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to help you find what you need in your geographic area.
Thanks so much for sharing your powerful and moving story, Michelle. Next up: Michelle shares some practical things we can do to lovingly support the post-abortive women in our churches and communities.