My family and I went to Mass this morning. My husband and I were both raised as Roman Catholics, and are raising our son the same. These days, we’re getting to Mass about twice a month. Not fulfilling our weekly obligation, but as the home manager, I am doing my best.
Growing up, things were different. My parents made sure we attended every Sunday. There were no options. Unless you were dead, you went to Mass. I remember thinking it was a drag and looking at my watch through most of it. That and trying to keep from laughing while my brother picked down feathers from the jacket on the man sitting in front of us. But I also remember feeling great on my way out the door. I didn’t contemplate why I felt that way, I just did. Maybe it was because I knew my obligation was done for the week, or perhaps the Holy Spirit was working its magic. But I do remember practically skipping out the door when it was over. Once we made our Confirmation, my parents let my siblings and I decide if we wanted to continue attending regular Mass on Sunday. It became easy to find excuses not to go once I started working. Then college. Then a relationship. As a young adult, there were times when I attended often, then not again for months. I would feel a little guilty when I didn’t go, but I also knew God would take me anytime I chose to return, without judgment.
The Decision that Changed my Life
Then, life got a little more complicated. I became pregnant at 18, by a very troubled young man who I thought was going to be my future. But deep down I knew better, and that he would mean a lifetime of problems if we stayed together. I made the decision to have an abortion. I can’t possibly summarize here what thoughts and feelings went into that decision, I can only tell you it was truly agonizing. Life-changing. That decision defined me and messed me up for almost twenty years. And I am deeply regretful.
I can’t remember how long it took me to go back to church after that event because I buried the abortion memories for a very long time. They were too painful to recall. I had committed the gravest of sins, and I couldn’t face God. When I finally did try to return, all I could do was cry during Mass. Tears would overwhelm me and I remember trying to hide my face and push down those ugly sounds we make when we’re trying to hold back tears. I was crying for so many reasons. I had broken God’s heart, I had broken my mother’s heart, and my own. So, I stopped going to church again, and tried to push through life with the weight of a thousand broken hearts on my shoulders.
It’s amazing how you can push things down in your psyche so you don’t have to deal with them. The human mind is a master at self-preservation. And so, for the next several years, that’s what I did, pushed it out of my mind. My professional life was going well, I had met a great guy who would eventually become my husband, I had money, a great social life, things were pretty good. On the surface, it appeared as though I had it all. But I couldn’t enjoy my life or my success, because when it was quiet and I was alone, God and that precious baby I gave up would sit down right next to me. No matter how I tried to pretend my life was good, I was extremely and deeply unhappy. That decision I had made years before was coloring everything I touched in a very powerful, very sad way. Was it a boy or a girl? Would he or she have looked like me? Could I actually have had the baby and been ok? Why wasn’t this child’s life more important than mine? Why wasn’t adoption even considered? On top of all of that, I had married my husband, who, after two children and a prior divorce, was certain he didn’t want more kids. It seemed I had given up my only chance to be a mother years before. My discontent and sadness could no longer be hidden, it was pouring out of me, and honestly, I didn’t think I could go on living.
And then, one day, I went to back church. But not on purpose. I was attending a friend’s wedding rehearsal, as I was one of her bridesmaids. As the priest was giving his closing remarks, he said he would be available to hear confessions before leaving. Something stirred in me. This was it, a sign, my chance. It was time to talk to God once and for all. I knew the God I was raised to believe in would forgive me, but it required a great amount of courage to face him, which I wasn’t sure I had. But the stakes were pretty high. If I didn’t take this chance, I wasn’t sure what would happen to me. I couldn’t continue my life as it was.
I approached the priest as everyone else filtered to the back of the church and asked him to leave to hear my confession. As I was the only person requesting, and it was a beautiful summer evening, he asked if I wanted to talk outdoors instead of in the traditional confessional booth. We began to walk outside and I felt my face begin to distort as I tried to keep my composure and hold back the tears like I had done so many times before. By the time we made it to our destination, I was sobbing and my legs were weak. He asked me to trust the Lord and give my confession. I can’t remember my exact words, but somehow, I finally managed to get it out in broken pieces of language. The priest was patient and kind. He absolved my sin in Jesus’ name and reminded me that I was still deserving of love. We prayed for my baby, and I cried some more. I remember the setting sun, the gentle breeze, the trees full with leaves of the deepest summer green. I was finally breathing again….
My life began again that day. I still longed to be a mother, but my self-shame and hatred were relieved. I could live again and give myself fully to my relationships. I could enjoy life, and the success I had achieved. As my personal penance, I offered to speak at several meetings for Project Rachel, an outreach of the Catholic Church to families affected by abortion. I shared my story of how I had ruined two lives, and my long and lonely path to forgiveness. I shared how I had made things much harder for myself by running from the very thing that saved me, God’s grace.
I was blessed more than a thousand times throughout the course of this story. God gave me the will to get through the worst decision I will ever make in my life. He gave the will to live when I was sure the world would be better without me. He surrounded me with love, in the form of people who continued to love me when I couldn’t love myself. He put that priest directly in my path, to show me the way out. He died to give me the chance to say I’m sorry.
God even found me worthy enough to be a mother, if you can believe that. Talk about forgiveness. Some days I still can’t believe it. But I can hear my son upstairs right now on his video game, just as sure as you’re reading this. He’s real. I still get overwhelmed with emotion when I think about how much I love my boy, and how God loved me enough to share him with me. So now, one of my jobs as a parent as I see it is to make sure my son knows the Lord. To make sure he knows he is always loved, no matter what, and that forgiveness is there for him when he needs it. To give him strength when I can’t. To love him when he feels unlovable. Life is harder today for kids than ever before. They need God. I simply can’t imagine my life without my relationship with God, and for this, I thank my parents. I think about the kids that suffer because they are different or they’re bullied or think they have done the unforgivable. This really weighs on me as a mother. I wonder if they know God. Do they know how loved they are? Do they know forgiveness? Do they know there is nothing they could do that could make their parents not love them? God-less families seem to be growing in number. Some of these people are my friends. I love them but I don’t understand them. I am so grateful my parents gave me a foundation through which to know God and I feel a great responsibility as a parent to do the same for my son. He can choose how or if he worships as an adult. But I have to give him something. What if he can’t talk to me or his Dad about something? What if he needs help we can’t give him? I need to know I’ve built him a shelter, just in case. ❤️ Karm
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You are brave, beautiful, and so very loved. Thank you for sharing this tremendously touching story of God’s love, grace and forgiveness. He is so amazing. As I sit here in tears, I realize just how blessed I am to have the people in my life that I have. xo
Thank you Susan, this was the most difficult piece I’ve written, but it’s helped me heal. I still cry when I read it. I’m so touched it moved you too. Thank you so much for your love and support ❤️ xo Karm