What is Rachel's Vineyard Retreat Ministry?
mourns her children; she refuses to be consoled because her children are
Putting Lives Back Together (The Record March 1 2013. Click here for full article)
Eleven o’clock at night. Everyone in the house is fast asleep. The telephone rings. Jenny Shier is slightly startled, but answers the phone with, ‘Hello, this is Jenny speaking’. Nervously, the caller says ‘Hello’, then hangs up. Jenny Shier goes back to sleep with mixed feelings. On the one hand she is disappointed that she was unable to help the caller any further. But on the other hand she is pleased. The woman whose nervous, scared voice she heard has just taken the first courageous step towards healing. This is a common occurrence for Jenny Shier in her work as the state director of Rachel’s Vineyard, a non-profit, volunteer-run organisation that offers grief counselling to women suffering from the trauma of abortion. Mrs Shier often receives telephone calls from women who are desperate for healing, some of whom have suffered from the pain of their untold secret for many years.
“It takes a lot of courage because they’ve kept their secret for so long and they are afraid of being judged, but they are not judged at Rachel’s Vineyard,” Mrs Shier said. “When people have an abortion they try to put it behind them and try to suppress it. It takes five to 20 years for some people to actually seek help … I’ve even had people who have waited and suffered for 40 years before coming.”
Rachel’s Vineyard began in Western Australia in 2009, and currently holds two weekend retreats each year. The retreats are purposely limited to a maximum of five participants. “I find that a small group very quickly bonds and they become very supportive of each other,” Mrs Shier said. “Everybody gets enough time to tell their story, to do their grief work and anger work, so that’s why I deliberately keep them small.”
Although the retreat participants are primarily women, the work of Rachel’s Vineyard is aimed at anyone affected by abortion. “Husbands, boyfriends, grandparents and siblings come to our retreats,” Mrs Shier said. “Post-abortion stress negatively affects relationships, it can affect bonding with future children and [cause] problems with existing children that people don’t often realise.”
Rachel’s Vineyard was the brainchild of Dr Theresa Burke, an American Catholic psychologist. In 1986, Dr Burke founded the Centre for Post-Abortion Healing, one of the first therapeutic support groups for women who had had an abortion. Eight years later, Dr Burke published a 15-week support group model for counsellors, titled Rachel’s Vineyard: A Psychological and Spiritual Journey for Post-Abortion Healing, which she soon adapted into a format suitable for weekend retreats. In the United States, without any form of financial or advertising support, Rachel’s Vineyard quickly became a grassroots national outreach.
The success of the retreats led to more and more requests for the program in other American states. By 2000, 35 retreats were being held around the country. In 2003, Rachel’s Vineyard became affiliated with Priests for Life in the US. There are now more than 700 retreats held each year in 25 different countries including Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, France, Spain and Portugal. More recently, the organisation has held retreats in Singapore and Penang. It is estimated that Rachel’s Vineyard is supported by the efforts of more than 8,000 volunteers.
It’s been hailed as the most successful treatment for post-abortion trauma and stress, and its work overseas and in WA is widely applauded. “You can see the healing in relationships starts to happen on the retreat between people, and that’s a very positive thing,” Mrs Shier said. “There are young women who have suffered for many years, from their teens, who, following the retreat, have got their life back on track, have gone to university and finished their degree, and got on with their lives. “Others … feel comfortable going back to church. They feel they can go back to their church community and not feel ashamed or guilty. “People feel they are welcome back and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Unlike other forms of counselling which rely heavily on what is called ‘talk therapy’, the retreats held by Rachel’s Vineyard adopt a different strategy. “There are no lectures, talks or teachings,” Mrs Shier said. “It is an ‘experience’ of God in the context of one’s suffering and grief. “We engage the whole person, very gently, and that enables them to be able to tell their story later on in the retreat.”
The small group setting also helps to build friendships between the participants. “They grow together, almost like they’ve known each other for a long time, because they’ve all been through a similar experience … it’s really powerful,” Mrs Shier said. “[Dr Burke] found that the majority of victims wanted to join with others who had suffered the same loss and thereby end the isolation and secrecy.”
Participants are also invited to the Sacrament of Reconciliation on the Saturday night of the retreat. On Sunday, a memorial service for children who have died through abortion is held, followed by a special Mass of Entrustment for them. For Jenny Shier, volunteering her time to contribute to Rachel’s Vineyard continues to be rewarding.
..... “I’ve seen [people] change over the course of the weekend,” she said. “They walk in at the beginning of the weekend, all very scared … When they leave on the Sunday after lunch they look years younger and they’re happy. “I’ve learnt an awful lot from the women because they suffer in silence and they try to get on with their lives, but this secret that they try to ignore won’t let them have any peace. “The human condition is exactly the same now as it was in biblical times – people need healing and Rachel’s Vineyard provides psychological and spiritual healing.”
I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU Isaiah 49
By Susan Gliko
It is Sunday mass and we are singing, I will never forget you, My people, I have carved you on the palm of My Hand, I will never forget you, I will not leave you orphaned, I will never forget My own. Would a mother forget her baby? Or a woman the child within her womb? Yet even if these forget, yes, even if these forget, I will never forget My own.
These words from scripture, put to music by Carey Landry, used to cause a deep ache in my heart; for I once tried to forget the child within my womb, my child lost to abortion.
Abortion is a deeply traumatic experience and was so for me back in 1989. When I was in my crisis, my mother was gravely ill. I had no one to turn to, and those I did reach out to all said abortion was the best choice. I chose abortion because I felt it was my only choice, which means I had no choice. I went against everything that I believed in thinking it would spare my mother in her fragile condition.
To this day, I do not remember the actual taking of my child’s life. It was so traumatic that I left my body. Afterward, I remember thinking that now I had to pretend nothing happened and that I was fine, when in reality something horrific had happened and I was not fine. I was forever changed.
In order to continue to function and survive this trauma, I did what most all women do--enter the phase of denial. Women literally go through a time of forgetting the child within her womb; it was tissue, it was a blood clot and it was not yet a child.
This denial may last for ten, twenty and even many more years. Denial often manifests itself in many seeming unrelated ways, such as panic attacks, nightmares, difficulty in relationships, suicidal tendencies, start of or increase of drug and alcohol use and abuse and also reenactment in the form of repeat abortions. These are all symptoms of Post Abortion Syndrome.
The walls of my denial started to crumble and fall after my mother died in 1994. I started to cry and just couldn’t stop. This deep grief was welling out of me, and I was having a hard time getting a grip on myself. I started to have panic attacks that were so bad I had to be medicated and nightmares were becoming a common occurrence.
All the denial in the world couldn’t change the underlying truth of how God created women. Children are literally and scientifically carved into the very fiber and being of a woman. There has been scientific research noting, that at the moment of conception mother and child begin to communicate on a hormonal level and this information is permanently recorded in the mother's brain.
I could no longer forget my child. I was acknowledging my longing and love for this child, who I was never able to hold to my breast, keep safe in my arms, and keep close to my heart. I wanted to dignify the reality of this precious one.
I finally found relief for this deepest pain and loss of mine through a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat. The mother child bond was reconnected and I was able to dignify my child through a memorial service and Mass. I am now able to keep close to this child in prayer because I know this child is a part of the communion of saints now living in the Lord.
So, now when I hear the song, Isaiah 49, and they ask the question, “Would a mother forget her baby? Or a woman the child within her womb? The answer is no, she might be able to forget for ten, twenty and sometimes many more years, but the truth and reality of the child is carved and recorded permanently into her every fiber and being. She will never forget her own.
Susan N Gliko is a married stay-at-home mother of four living children. She is also the state coordinator for Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats in Montana.
2. COMPASSION, FORGIVENESS AND HEALING
I need your compassion, as do many other women like me. I am a post-abortion woman. At the age of 54, I am finally confronting the damage that three abortions have done to me. I was one of the lucky ones: I did not suffer any physical damage to my cervix or womb. But the extent of the emotional, mental and spiritual damage in my life is quite overwhelming to me. Here is a bit of my story – my history, my recovery and my healing.
At 18 in the 60’s, I was sexually active and terrified that my parents would find out how I was living my life. I got pregnant and the father was long gone. I didn’t even know his last name. Now what was I supposed to do? Like many young women at the time I did two things. I got drunk, and I had an abortion. That seemed to be the answer in those days. That answer (that choice) scarred me for life. It changed me forever.
Unbeknownst to me, I spent the next six years running from the anguish going on inside. My drinking and my promiscuity increased dramatically; I discovered some of those wonderful hippie drugs we all loved; I started a deadly relationship with food and yo-yo dieting, and I fell in love a dozen times and couldn’t make one of the relationships work. During this time, I did meet the man of my dreams. He was perfect – well, almost. He had one flaw – he was married. So in 1974 when we wound up pregnant, there was only one easy choice – another abortion. I was so drunk the day of that abortion that I do not remember any of the details. That day is a fog to me except for one feeling that has remained – a deep pain.
For the next 11 years of my life, my coping tools all got worse – the drinking, the promiscuity, the food problems, and two marriages falling apart. Then, several things happened that began my long, slow journey of recovery and healing. God blessed me with a son in 1981, and in 1985, God gave me the gift of sobriety. My sobriety eventually led me back to my Catholic faith, which I had abandoned in my college days.
But my return to my faith did not occur until after I had one more abortion. In 1991, my married friend and I were pregnant again. This time I was sober. This time I wanted to keep the baby. I was given a choice – the baby or him. I was angry and hurt. But after so many years of craziness and foggy thinking, I caved in and had my third abortion.
For 36 years I was an ardent pro-choice advocate until circumstances of one fall day in 2003 again changed me and the course of my life. Neither of my vehicles was available to me, so I couldn’t go to my regular church for Sunday Mass. I went to a church closer to home, and after Mass picked up a church bulletin. There was a small box ad about Rachel’s Vineyard post-abortion Retreats that gave a web site address (www.rachelsvineyard.org). Being the good computer junkie that I am, I jumped online to the web site. I sat there reading through the site sobbing, with tears streaming down my cheeks. I knew in my gut that it was time for me to deal with my abortions.
I finally attended my Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat in April 2004. There are no words to describe this profound experience. What I write about it is fairly superficial detail. Thirty-six years of denial, shame, guilt, pain, sadness, and anger came to an end. I was shown how to look at the abortions through new eyes. I shared my experiences with 10 other post-abortion women. This was the first time I had ever told anyone about this part of my life. The acceptance and love and forgiveness offered to me began my healing. I faced my three children, named them and asked for their forgiveness. Through the miracles of this weekend retreat I know that God has forgiven me, and I am on my way to forgiving myself.
My healing is a process, a journey just begun. I made my dead children a promise, which I quote in full “I promise you that I will no longer be silent about you. I will not hide in shame or guilt. I commit to turning our pain and sorrow into something good and positive. I will find a way to honor your existence and your deaths. I will let Jesus guide me in memory of you.”
I am discovering many ways of keeping this promise. I shared my story with my family. They were all unbelievably caring, loving and supportive. Again I am blessed. Not all post-abortion women get such positive, compassionate responses. Some have families who do not want to hear their stories, who cut them out of their lives, who get angry and mean. That is not what we need for our healing. I pray that all families try to understand the depth of the pain of the post-abortion woman and find compassion.
One of the joys of my retreat was the discovery that I can use my God-given talents for writing and speaking to keep my promise and to, perhaps, help others understand the difficulties of the post-abortion journey. So I am writing letters to editors and articles such as this. I am speaking out when appropriate. I walked in a 2004 Memorial Day parade in memory of Luke, Grace and Benjamin. I proudly wore a T-shirt that says “Women Regret Abortion”. I will share my story openly and freely. I will not hide in silence, guilt or shame any longer.
Since my retreat, I am a changed person. I am different today than I was in March 2004. I am forgiven and free today. How has this happened? What is different in me today – how do I know I’ve changed?
A metaphor for the process I’m going through dawned on me one day during my morning prayers. At 18, I was a whole, beautiful mirror. My glass was totally shattered into millions of pieces when I had the first of my three abortions. When I arrived at my RV retreat, I was like a shattered mirror. I brought all those broken pieces of glass to my retreat – the painful shards wounding me spiritually, emotionally & physically. The very action of going to the retreat acknowledged how broken I was.
The retreat process helped me to lay all my brokenness at the feet of Christ. I was able to ask Christ and my children for forgiveness. The mercy and love of Christ helped me to name and claim my wounds. Christ gave me a frame for the broken pieces of glass. At the retreat, I began to put the pieces of my broken mirror back together inside that frame.
The early part of the process was really painful. I had to pull all those broken pieces of glass out of my soul and look at them. This is hard and painful work. With Christ’s love all around me, comforting me and guiding me, I was able to do this work.
I returned home from the retreat with my broken glass pieces and the frame of Christ’s love. Since then, I have been laying those broken pieces in their proper place inside the frame. This is slow work. Sometimes I get a piece in the wrong place, and have to work on it some more to find where it belongs. Christ’s forgiveness and mercy hold all those pieces in place. And the rewards for the work are splendid. Each piece that is put into it’s right place looks beautiful and makes the rest of the growing mirror that much closer to whole again.
My work on my remaining brokenness has been twofold. Honoring the promise that I made to my children to make something good come out of our pain, I have been speaking out – through my voice or my pen. Each time I talk or write about my abortions and my healing another piece of my shame and guilt is cleaned off and fit back into the mirror in the frame.
My second effort is interior work – quiet, prayerful work. This is harder for me; silence is still difficult. I am so used to living with external noise (TV, radio, computer) to drown out the internal pain that quiet is hard sometimes. As my wonderful retreat facilitator recently reminded me, “there are many quiet, personal, slow, interior steps which must be made too. These are the deep ones, which knit you together and make you
into a garment of warmth and safety for spreading God's love and forgiveness onto others.” So, I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to do some real inside work.
God has been gracious enough to give me a few objective glimpses of the woman I am today. I am forgiven and free. I am free of the shame, the guilt, the self-torture, the self-loathing that I carried for so long. I am free from many of my old behaviors and reactions. I am not taking things as personally or critically. I do not worry nearly as much about my living son. I am free to love more openly than I have been able to in many years. I am free to listen, to learn and to speak my truth. I am free from the chains of my abortions.
What a blessing this journey is. I don’t think my mirror will ever be perfectly whole again. My abortions did change me forever. But even with a crack or two or a few missing pieces, I am more beautiful today than I’ve ever been. Thank you Jesus! And thank you Holy Spirit for guiding my pen, once more, as I let other post-abortion women who are suffering know they are not alone and that there is healing and forgiveness for them, too, in Christ.