This week’s guest blogger is Vanessa Behrens. She is a center manager at Hope Women’s Center’s 5th location in Maricopa, Arizona. She is also a ProGrace partner, advocate and friend. Today she shares her experience with learning a new language to talk about unplanned pregnancy and abortion.
ProGrace is the language I have been looking for my whole life.
Growing up around many domestic issues and abuses close to me, I was set on helping others and finding not just safety for women, but rest for their minds and souls. I hoped that caring for others would give them peace and hope – the peace and hope I was searching for myself.
When I went into this work, something was missing.
Right out of high school I went into Advocacy work at the YWCA. My work was that of empowering women coming out of sexual assault, domestic violence and childhood traumas. As I was leading groups and serving women, I felt something was missing. It seemed real hope was lost. I watched how empowerment sometimes came by labeling men as the problem. The “anti” mindset didn’t sit right with me. I was without my own faith in Jesus at the time, but deep within me I was searching for something more.
Finding my own personal faith and hope in Jesus Christ, I later recognized faith and hope were the missing links. I attended church and for the next 20+ years I was determined to work hard at encouraging women to find healing through Jesus. I worked in any outreach area that consisted of hurting women. My heart found its own healing in the truths of the Bible. I surrounded myself with older godly women who mentored me on my journey of marriage and raising children. In the churches I attended, there still seemed to be an “us and them” that didn’t feel right. At times, I identified more with the “them” than the “us”.
I was asked to attend a gala for our local pregnancy center in Iowa and was overjoyed to have found a group who was extending faith and practical help to women and teens in need. I still had small children so I couldn’t work or volunteer at the center, but I was asked to pray for their post-abortive classes. I received a list of initials of women going through the 9-week class called “Forgiven and Set Free” and committed to praying for them. I was so thankful for such brave women to come together for healing.
Over the years, I would continue to pray for the groups, donate items, and shop at their second-hand store. It was one of the places I tearfully said goodbye to before we moved to Arizona in 2009.
My search for a model that fit all the missing pieces
Arizona brought new possibilities and our new church had a pregnancy center where I began volunteering. It was amazing to be able to help women in person. I was asked to meet with the women facing an unplanned pregnancy. I started feeling the pressure around me swell to save babies. I completely wanted this, but I wasn’t comfortable with the harshness I would hear in the community about ‘those women who abort’. We implemented Care-net and I was finally seeing something that was also missing. A consideration of love without expectation to “change the woman’s mind”, as well as a real kindness and listening ear. It felt more comfortable to me to allow the woman her own thoughts and listen.
Becoming the director of this pregnancy center years later I visited many other centers to find the perfect match to model all the missing pieces. I couldn’t find one that completely put my heart at ease. Every center was great, but I still felt there were missing pieces. I couldn’t reconcile my devotion to the traumatized women in my life and the expectation of my new Christian world to fix them and make them “better”. Better choices were expected and if not, it felt there was an underlying condemnation for them to “get better”. I felt like I couldn’t take sides of helping the baby or helping the woman. My inner conflict said I couldn’t put an expectation on the woman without being able to walk with her longer than a pregnancy test and maybe a parenting class, if she would come. My heart cried for the baby that might not be born and I couldn’t change the reality that many would not.
What happened when I was introduced to ProGrace
Three years after directing the pregnancy center, I partnered with Hope Women’s Center. Hope walks alongside the woman, listens, and journeys with her when facing crisis, trauma or hardship. Hope empowers her, as the YWCA did. Hope is faith based, so real hope and love are given, as with the pregnancy centers. Hope is there for any woman, allowing her to find healing from any decisions she has made in her life. I could now reach out to all women, all backgrounds, from all life issues. Training with the Hope Women’s Center was putting all my missing puzzle pieces together… and then ProGrace was introduced.
ProGrace has been the language I was missing. I was not able to articulate that Jesus is our model of loving and caring for others. It seems so simple and I share my long journey with you so you might see that when this language of ProGrace was missing, the pieces didn’t all quite fit together. The amazing work of the YWCA is empowering and caring. The church is invaluable. The pregnancy centers are fighting a great fight and are much needed. The Hope Women’s Center is embracing all women and teens. And now with the ProGrace training, I understand how to explain what I do and why.
A conversation without shame.
At every ProGrace conference I have attended in three years, both sides of the issue of abortion can honestly have a conversation without shame. At all three conferences there has always been one or more brave women saying they too have had an abortion, and they felt safe enough to admit it outloud. At each conference, I have watched real conversations, real searching for Jesus’s way of love and truth, real grace extended without taking a side. Both sides can come together and fight the good fight. ProGrace is the language of the Bible, of Jesus, and it has allowed me to find peace in helping both the woman and the baby thrive.