In my culture, when a man gets married, he gives a goat to his bride’s family. It is a way of saying “thank you” for preserving the daughter’s chastity. When my older sister’s husband presented his goat to our mother at our home in Nigeria, he said, “I found your daughter at home,” which meant he knew she was a virgin. I saw this as a little girl and told myself those words would one day be repeated for me.
When a religious sister visited our village, though, my plans changed. I felt that God was calling me to become a nun instead. My mom told me that it would happen if it was God’s will. While I waited, I decided to be as good as possible, trusting that God would protect me and answer my prayer.
My Darkest Night. After high school, I began to look for a job so that I could help support my mother. I asked my cousin, who lived in the city, to see if he could find work for me there. But instead of a job, he invited me to be his family’s housemaid. I agreed, hoping that eventually he would find me work. He kept promising to find me a job, but he never did.
Eventually, I decided to go home and try looking elsewhere, but my cousin refused to give me money for transportation. Then came the darkest night of my life. My cousin’s wife had gone away, and I woke up feeling a hand touching my body. It was my cousin. I screamed, but he covered my mouth, held me down, and robbed me of my virginity.
The next day, I felt as if the universe were jeering at me, telling me I had lost my honor. No longer a virgin, I was convinced that no religious community would accept me. Whatever I did, whether I fetched water or went out to the market, I felt exposed. I kept replaying the ugly scene in my mind and blamed myself.
But I also couldn’t forgive God for allowing this to happen. Where was the One I had worked so hard to please during my childhood? Was this my reward for being good?
“I Still Love You.” Since God didn’t seem to care, I decided to destroy my life. I began to sleep with other men as a way of punishing God for keeping silent when I needed him the most. But each time, I would return home crying and filled with guilt. Then I became pregnant and had an abortion—my first.
The abortion went smoothly, but on my way home, my eyes caught sight of a dirty, smelly gutter. Just then, I felt as if I heard Jesus saying, “That is where you are now, but I can take you out, if you allow me.” I shook it off and went on my way.
I got pregnant again, but my second abortion didn’t go as smoothly. I left the abortionist’s office in pain, with my child still in my womb. A couple of days later, I miscarried, and I was sick for nearly a week afterward. I felt tortured, as God’s voice kept getting louder: “I still love you in spite of all of this.” He seemed to be everywhere, even in my dreams. I cried constantly—I still couldn’t imagine being loved by the God I had been hurting.
“Come Back to Me.” In March 1998, Pope John Paul II visited my country. I made the trek to a Mass where he presided, but I couldn’t get close enough to see him, and it made me feel sad. That night, I thought to myself, “If you feel this way about not seeing the pope, just think of what it would be like not to see God in heaven.”
As I journeyed home, feelings of shame about my abortions overcame me, and I considered killing myself. In the silence, I heard Jesus again: “Why do you want to die? I am the river of life; come back to me, and drink freely.” He was speaking to me, but I couldn’t bear to answer.
Then one Sunday, I had a kind of vision at Mass. During the consecration, I pictured the Church looking like Noah’s ark—and I was the only one left outside. My heart broke; I couldn’t live like this anymore. I decided to come forward to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Though I hadn’t been to Confession for a long time, I told Jesus how sick I was of my sin. I asked that my soul would be healed through my receiving him.
After I received Communion, my heart finally fell silent. In a flash, I relived my most painful moments, but I never felt God condemn me. Instead, I felt back at home! Since I couldn’t raise my face to his, he bent down and took me in his arms. Tears flowed as I heard him say, “This is not necessary now. I am here; we can talk.”
It was then that I realized that God was my heavenly Father. Instead of punishing me, he embraced me and told me not to worry.
I Forgave Him. I began to share my story with priest after priest until I met a bishop at a retreat. Finally! Someone whom I thought had the authority to absolve me of my abortions. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he told me that I never had to cry again for a sin God had forgiven already. Finally, I forgave myself and begged God to help me forgive my cousin. Though forgiving him felt like trying to break a rock, God’s grace was at work in me, and the gradual process of healing and forgiveness became possible.
My heart was even softened enough to visit my cousin and tell him that I forgave him. He was in poor health following a stroke and could barely speak. But he kept asking God to bless me. I thanked his family for their time and left, finally feeling free.
He Brought Me Back Rejoicing. So in the end, God did find me, the lost daughter, and brought me home rejoicing. What, then, can I offer to such a merciful God? I have offered him my life as a religious sister.
At last, my husband found me at home.
*Blessing Mmachi (a pseudonym at the author’s request) writes from Nigeria.
Reach Women with Tenderness
“God still loves you.” “I’m here; we can talk.” Simple reminders like the ones Blessing Mmachi heard can make all the difference for a woman in crisis. Through Word Among Us Partners, more women in need are hearing this message.
The Partners team prays for these women, sends free copies of the magazine, and distributes copies of After Abortion to postabortion healing ministries (booklets available upon request from [email protected]).
A director of one ministry told us, “The After Abortion booklet has been a very useful tool. I use it when I meet a woman one-on-one, and I encourage her to begin working through it. I may never see her a second time, so it is helpful to know she has something to fall back on.”
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