Last weekend I attended a Rachel's Vineyard retreat in Southcentral PA. If you are like me, you may have never heard of them before now. I didn't either until 2012 when a director from a local pregnancy center in York shared a RV brochure with me. I have to admit when it was given to me, I was angry. Furious to be more precise. I had just shared a snippet of my personal experience with abortions and next thing you know I'm getting these brochures in the mail. I was incensed that this woman would "assume" I needed one of these so called healing retreats, after only hearing a small portion of my story. Who did she think she was anyway?
Would I, a leader in a local ministry dare to go to such an event, and open up to complete strangers about such personal information? Emphatically No. However, I was speaking from pulpits, at retreats, and other such events and speaking openly about my personal story. Why would this make me so angry? It was obvious, that I wasn't as healed as I thought I was. I knew more work needed to be done, but I just wasn't sure I was willing or ready. I certainly wasn't going to go to one of these RV retreats, that was out of the question.
The truth is, God had been bringing these painful memories to the forefront for months and although angry and afraid, I was willing to obey Him. After all , God had proven over and over again that anything he asked me to do, was for my good and his glory. It was also during this time, I'd gotten an abnormal pap smear test back and my doctor wanted to explore for possible uterine cancer. It shook my theological Wheaties unlike anything before. It was commonly known that women who had abortion procedures were more likely to end up with cancer, infertility and a range of other health both mental and physical problems later on. I had also begun to remember forgotten abortions and it would take my breath away when another would surface. I began to question my ability to recall with any certainty, how many I actually had. It was traumatic and in a way I felt as if I deserved to suffer from my choices, forever!
But God would change all of that. After an exploratory procedure and further blood work it was discovered I did not have cancer. What a relief. But it did nothing to sooth my battered soul, that was haunted with the reality of my choices. One day while driving to a retreat center in Halifax PA to speak, I distinctly heard the voice of the Lord tell me to name my children. This caused almost a sudden panic and nauseousness within me. Here I was on my way to share the goodness and redemptive plan of God, expressed through my personal life story with 60 or so women, and now I had to recall every abortion and then name these children? I didn't think I could do it. I would find out shortly why not. It occured to me that I believed I was NOT allowed to grieve my unborn dead children, because I was the one who murdered them. Through a series of scriptures and time with God, I realized this was not true. I indeed needed to grieve them and claim them as my own. So with only a couple of hours before I was to speak, I started to write the year of their conception in my Iphone. Then as time went on, almost in a frantic state I began to name them. I wish I could say this was a soothing experience. It was anything but that. I had no idea why God wanted me to do this before I started speaking but he did. It was down to the wire and I was an emotional wreck.
I named them, or at least the ones I could remember. But something within me said "thats not all of them!" I had to proceed with only a hour before my time at the pulpit, I needed to pull myself together. I did. I prayed, I consulted my notes. I prayed some more, ran to the dollar store and bought some cheap Mardi' Gras type beads, one necklace for every woman and I headed to the meeting room, with bated breath wondering what God would do.
I spoke (with permission ahead of time) for almost 2 hours. The beads, were to remind each woman who chose to take one what God had done for them during that meeting, the names were for me to speak outloud as a closing piece for my talk and I would end up praying and listening to many of the women there for hours and hours into the morning hours. Some friendships came out of that time, some that are dear to me today!
Not very long after the retreat I began to notice a little boy at the daycare our youngest Caleb attended. He was so cute, dark hair, big deep brown eyes and for a reason unknown to me, just couldn't take my eyes off him whenever I saw him. I also felt very sad and just couldn't pinpoint why. This went on for a couple of months, until one day I finally understood. A young woman walked into the daycare as I walked out. Seeing her with "this little boy" knocked" the wind right out of me. She is the sister of an exboyfriend of mine. One who got me pregnant and told me in no uncertain terms, its me or the baby, you cannot have both. The little boy, looked like him! Maybe even looked like our little boy would've, had I not aborted him! It took everything I had but I made small talk and then exited the building. I sat in my vehicle and tried to catch my breath, mind reeling and heart racing. I thought for the first time ever " Is this what our child would've looked like?" - I began to cry the most bitter tears, the most broken tears. For the next several weeks, if I saw her pull in before I did, I'd wait in my vehicle with Caleb, in an attempt to avoid making contact. It didn't always work.
The one day it was "field trip day" for Caleb's class. It was apple and pumpkin picking season and we were so excited. We arrived at the childcare center and made our way to the back of the building where we were to line up and wait for the bus that would transport us to the farm. As soon as I turned the corner... I saw this little boy latched onto the thigh of ....... His Grandmother. This was the mother of my ex-boyfried and she was the one who took me to the abortion clinic to have our child extinguished. She did not see me, and I turned around right away, grabbing Caleb's little arm and walking away as fast as I could. I would've run, but I knew too many people at this place and it would draw attention to me. I told little Caleb we would drive and meet them there. I'd convinced myself that I need the drive time to pray, gather my thoughts, reign in my emotions and then I'd be fine to face her for the first time in almost 20 years. I got my phone based GPS set and started to drive. Somehow I put in the wrong location and ended up 10 minutes east of the farm. I ended up at Long Level past Wrightsville PA. When I realized what I had done, I made a UTURN in a panic and sped back to the location. I was so worried we'd miss the tractor and my poor lil bubby would suffer because of me being a coward. We arrived at the farm only to find the tractor had already loaded up and was out of reach to run too. Caleb began to cry and all I could say was I am so sorry, I'll make it up to you! We got back in our vehicle and I began to weep and hit the steering wheel in total frustration. I called the childcare center and told them what happened and they let me bring him back, so I could go to work. I cried out to God to help me, because I was broken over this and I just couldn't put myself back together. I felt like an absolute failure. My emotional reaction was definitely over the top and I knew it. As I wiped the snot from my face and tried to regain my compsure, I got a phone call from a friend Sarah. She told me she and her daughter, one of Caleb's friends was going to Raab's farm the very next day for pumpkin and apple picking and would we like to join them. Such a God moment! It was salve for my soul! He knew what would happen and he'd prepared for it, for both Caleb and I!
So we did go the next day and had an awesome time.
I did end up seeing my ex's mother at the childcare center many times, and the first time was uncomfortable, but before we met face to face something wonderful happened. I'd prayed and asked God that our first face to face be perfectly ordained by him and that I would have the peace and joy of him when I did. One day I pulled into a spot at the center and was drawn to a van to the right of me. I got Caleb out on the right side and quickly glanced at this "vehicle".. on the back seat lay a church bulletin from a local church and a bible. This was a church that I had not yet spoken at for the ministry I worked for at the time and at first I didn't think anything, until I took several steps towards the door. I heard the Spirit of the Lord say "this is her vehicle, she follows me!" -I gasped in disbelief and joy, thinking she wasn't a believer when she took me for the abortion. Thank you God, we have common ground. I'm ready to see her"!" A few minutes later after dropping Caleb off to his class/or picking him up don't recall, I ran into her! It was a brief reunion, a hug and kind words were exchanged. It was enough! Everytime thereafter I saw her, I couldn't help but wonder if she was "healed" from this awful time. I wondered if she missed the first grandchild, that her son and I aborted. I began to pray for her and for her heart. To this day we haven't spoken beyond the niceties, I am willing, when and if the Lord leads.
Around this same time and over the next 12 months or so, my friends in ministry kept telling me of a woman they were convinced I needed to meet. They told me she ran Rachel's Vineyard on the east coast, and that was enough for me to avoid her at all costs. I should add that I was in the same room with her at a pregnancy center banquet one evening, where I first saw the LIFE BALLET, and by the time this event was over, the last thing I wanted to do was take the chance that this woman who was trained and skilled to help post abortive mothers, meet me! I was raw with emotion from the ballet, that depicted the journey of conception, abortion and healing. It just so happens the same woman who gave me the RV brochurch also invited me to this Life Ballet. I hesitantly decided to go, knowing I was being lead by the spirit of God.
So at the ballet, I sat at a table with a bunch of people who thought I was the "bees knees" and spoke about post abortive woman, in a way that cut right through me. They weren't speaking ill of them at all, but they were talking "shop" and often included me in the conversation, since I was a ministry leader. I guess it never occurred to them that I might be one of "those" women! Why would it? I certainly didn't look post abortive.. or did I?
Well in the Spring of 2013, one of my volunteers handed me a scrap piece of paper and tolds me to call this person about setting up a "mentoring group" from their church. This woman that I had been avoiding was in black and white on the piece of paper, along with her phone number. Little did I know her boss gave her a piece of paper too, with my information. We both knew it was time to meet. Although I am sure she wasn't avoiding me! I called her. Left a message and boy was I glad she didn't answer! I was very business like, but honestly I felt like I was gonna cry. I was calling about helping homeless mothers and children not about my abortions, but in my spirit I knew God had just put the two pieces of a puzzle together and avoid no more could I!
It wasn't very long until we met at the Central Family Restaurant and as soon as I saw Joy, I knew in my spirit, we would become fast friends. With the Holy Spirit, these things are evident, easily! We both talked and talked and talked and shared our stories. We spoke very little of the ministry and her churches needs... we skimmed it sure for good measure, but the time was spent connecting! She mentioned Rachel's Vineyard, but did so in a way that would invite me to attend as a MINISTRY LEADER, like other mutual friends of ours did. I knew that was her angle, but I also knew she meant it FOR ME! This time it didn't make me angry, it scared me! She dropped the topic quickly, but the seed was planted. I would later find out she is affectionately nick-named the "Hound of Heaven" - This beautiful short 5'2 (maybe) dark haired, big personality, beautiful woman knew what brokenness looked like and it was alll over my face!
Our relationship would develop over the next 9 months or so and then October of 2013, she came right out and asked me if I would come to a retreat. I agreed and the next one was in November 2013. I didn't end up going to that one, as I got laid off from my job in ministry and so we agreed to postpone it until the dust settled. I would attend the March 2014 retreat!
March 28, 2014 came before I knew it!!! The days prior too were chocked full of anticipation and excitement, fear and eagerness. What happened during that weekend I will never forget. The staff and the other retreats were all amazing people. The format and exercises, scriptures and events were perfect. I'd never seen anything quite like it and doubt I will again. I'd love to go into specific detail about the retreat but I don't want to deter from anyone's experience who may consider going. I will say this, it was safe, loving, practical experience, that left me exhausted and healed. We did some heart-wrenching work, but we did it with the help of trained and licensed professionals, clergy and lay persons. Everything was planned and I didn't have to worry about anything except remembering a simple code to unlock the door to my room!
It's been one week since I attended the retreat and I can say with certainty, that I am no longer bound by my own shame. In John 8, the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery was told. The people wanted to stone her, as was the law of the day, Jesus could've condemned her but He did not! He told her "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more" - For me the Rachel's Vineyard retreat wasn't about NOT HAVING ANYMORE ABORTIONS... I'd stopped that over 9 years ago. It was about Throwing Down the Stone, I'd Stoned Myself with for years!
What a gift this experience was too me, one I'll never forget! Thank you to all the workers and adoration crew for making this a place of being set free and healed!
My name is Tammi and I am the Mother of 11 children!