Beauty From Ashes
My story begins when I hit rock bottom. I was a junior in college, working as an intern in Florida. Traveling home for the Thanksgiving break, I went to several parties with my friends. I connected with a guy who was nice, good looking, and from a good home; I knew him through mutual friends but not well. We began flirting and it progressed. I had never gone home with someone I had just met, but I was so inebriated I refused to leave. I woke up the next morning lying next to him feeling so ashamed, barely able to recall the night but knowing full well we had sex.
I returned to Florida to finish my internship, trying to forget. I spent my first Christmas away from home. After work, I decided to attend a candlelight Christmas Eve service at a nearby church. Not knowing when the services were held, I discovered one had just ended. A kind family I didn’t know invited me over for dinner once they realized I was alone. Looking back, God was clearly pursuing me, even though I felt so far from Him.
When my internship ended, my mom flew to Florida to drive home with me. While on the road, I began feeling sick. About halfway through the ride, the pieces came together – I hadn’t had a period in over a month, and I felt nauseous and fatigued. I didn’t want to believe I was pregnant, but if so, I decided I was going to keep the baby because that’s how I was raised. I even debated the topic of abortion in high school, concluding I could not understand how anyone could choose an abortion. Fearful of my parents’ reaction I remained silent, hoping my mom wouldn’t pick up on my frequent stops to the restroom. By this time in my life, I had become very skilled at covering up any signs of sin.
I returned to college a couple weeks before the spring semester. Out of the blue my phone rang, and I recognized his voice which caught me off guard. He asked if I was in town, mentioning he thought about me. I knew I was going to have to tell him so I asked if he would come over.
While rehearsing what I planned to say, my phone rang. My mom wanted to know how I was doing; then she shared what they ate for dinner, what the dog was doing, and all the usual things. She mentioned bumping into a girl I had known since the 4th grade at the grocery store. My mom said she was so surprised to find her walking in with her baby strapped into the seat of the shopping cart with another one on the way. She told me, “You know, Mandy, I got into my car and stopped to thank God that none of my daughters have experienced an unwanted pregnancy.” She told me she was so proud of me and was praying for this semester. I thanked her and told her I needed to get ready for my date while quickly hanging up.
Shame and guilt washed over me like a tidal wave, and my heart thumped so hard in my chest I thought I would go deaf. I was in a spiritual, as well as an emotional battle. Seeds of doubt began to be planted in my mind. “Well, it looks like you can’t tell her now.” My phone rang again. It was my oldest sister who sounded a little upset, so I probed.
She expressed concern about my family’s reaction to me going out with a guy of Hispanic origin. She expressed her fears I might not be accepted, asking me a haunting question, “Mandy, don’t you want children who will look like you?’” Fear set in on top of intense guilt and shame, increasing my feelings of being alone. Could I really go through with this pregnancy?
I felt threatened again, “There’s no way you can tell her now.” In a matter of hours, two of the people I needed most were eliminated from my circle of trust. Unknown to me, my sister was a volunteer at a Crisis Pregnancy Center in Houston where she helped counsel women and my father sat on the board of the same organization.
I looked at the clock. He would arrive in an hour. As I put on my makeup I looked down at my belly. Scared out of my mind, I tried to think about anything else. I picked out what I was going to wear. I thought I felt better but not really. What felt like an eternity turned into a blink of an eye. The doorbell rang.
Even though I had rehearsed, I was a nervous WRECK. Sitting on the couch I quickly outlined the events to confirm he recalled them as I did. I finally told him about my pregnancy and my intention to keep the baby. Initially he supported my decision because he also was raised in a home which valued life. But later in the evening after leaving my place and meeting up with friends, he called with questions, “Are you for sure you’re pregnant? . . .And you’re sure you want to keep it?” There it was. The question that changed everything.
And my spiritual enemy danced in delight that he had crafted the scenario oh so well to intimidate me into changing my mind. NO! I quickly shook my head, angry with myself for entertaining the thought. I grew very upset, shook as the tears burned down my face, hung up the phone, and ran to my bathroom. I sank to the floor and buried my head in my hands as the tears fell like a faucet. I thought I was prepared to walk the path alone, but I didn’t think it would be without my family, let alone the guy who had helped get me here. What on earth am I going to do?
In retrospect, I believed lies, leading to my devastating decision to have an abortion. Whether or not I kept the baby, I believed I would be “damaged goods.” I believed no one would love me if they truly knew my past. I believed the lie I was getting what I deserved. Yes, I partied a lot in high school although I grew up in the church. I remember hearing girls in youth group share their testimonies and thinking, “Well, they did all those bad things and they turned out okay.” After I lost my virginity in high school, I broke the vow to save myself for marriage according to God’s design. Instead of asking Him for forgiveness and receiving His ability to give me a new start, I thought, “I just blew the only goal I had, so I guess it doesn’t matter.”
Fueled by lies about myself and God, we located an abortion clinic and he accompanied me. My “counseling session” led me to a room where I followed through with the procedure. Walking out, I pleaded, “I don’t know where we go from here – whether we walk this path together or go our separate ways, but I do know one thing … If you EVER find yourself in a situation like this again, DO NOT EVER let another woman go through what I’ve just been through. EVER. PROMISE ME.” We were silent as we drove back to college. That was the worst day of my life as I cried out, “God, how did I get this far from You?”
I knew a day would come when my parents would find out, but I didn’t think it would be so soon. I prepared a response if my mother questioned me about financial withdrawals. And, over spring break she asked. I gave my answer and it seemed to suffice. A few days before I headed back to school, she questioned me again because my answer didn’t add up. Suddenly I was unprepared, and I confessed. Filled with anger, disappointment, and shame, she explained we were going home where I would tell my father what I had done because there was no way she would. Terrified, I went home to face my dad.
Trembling, I told my dad about my pregnancy and abortion. Expecting to hear ridicule and criticism – it was quite the opposite. He walked over, wrapped his arms around me, and wept. In that moment, my Heavenly Father gave my earthly father the love and mercy I so desperately sought. I will never doubt my Heavenly Father’s love. I’m convinced I am alive because of my earthly father’s loving response.
Isaiah 61:1-3 describes trading “beauty for ashes.” I believe God’s Word says He takes the ashes of our lives and creates beauty when we offer our brokenness to Him. What beauty came out of my experience? It is my understanding the guy who impregnated me did, in fact, find himself in the same place with another girl. This time he married her, and they have a family. Lives have been changed and saved out of this one decision. I also have opportunities to share my story and have seen women set free through God’s Spirit. As for me, I am forgiven and made whole through the grace offered in the blood of Jesus as I have fully made Him the Lord of my life.
“. . . to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;” Isaiah 61:3