Salvation through faith

Picture of David Ahern

David Ahern

David is the editor of The Majellan

A woman’s rights over her own body versus the rights of the unborn has been one of society’s most contentious issues. The line in the sand has long been drawn, and proponents on either side refuse to give an inch.

Jessica Lockhart, in her book, ‘The Woman at the Tomb’, describes her experience of having an abortion and her ongoing battle with bipolar disorder. Jessica’s book, the title of which comes from the story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ, is testament to the healing power of prayer.

“Ultimately, faith has saved my life and today I am much better at trusting the real presence of God, even when I enter into the agony of depression, anxiety and mania,” says Jessica, who chose Mary as her confirmation name. “Most mornings I wake with a sense of dread and self-loathing. My first prayer of the day usually happens in that moment when I ask God to lift me out of the ‘Pit’.

“And the great miracle there is that God does. He lifts me up! Just as faith was essential in bringing me back to the fullness of life, lack of faith, a terrible crisis of despair, actually played a central role in my decision to abort my child and attempt suicide.

“I don’t know what it was that turned me to the spiritual exercises that rescued my faith in 2015 …  just a small voice, a whisper really. I think that’s how I’ve come to recognise when God is speaking to me. God calls me gently.”

Jessica, a mother of two from country Victoria, says having the termination was no easy choice. “I have two feelings about what I did,” she says. “Sometimes when I think of the aborted child it puts me on my knees with horror at such a grave and faithless act (let me be clear this is a judgement I reserve for myself and do not cast on any other woman who has made a similar decision).

“But sometimes I have days where I wonder, did I not spare that child? I’m not the mother I try so desperately hard to be. My living children will be psychologically damaged by the daily fails, most of them minor but some of them not, that come with having bipolar and borderline personality.

“On the days when I am well, I say to the child, ‘I’m so sorry for not loving you’ and on my worst days, the days when all hell reaches out to crush me, I say, ‘you are safe from my failings as a mother.’

“My bipolar II and borderline personality diagnosis came during my second pregnancy and gave me a huge amount of relief in the general context of my life. But a diagnosis is not a cure and there is no easy fix for a lifetime of untreated mental illness. The depressive episode I was in at the time of my third pregnancy was what drove my decision to abort.”

Support of family and friends has been “huge,” says Jessica. “I am often gobsmacked at the extravagance and love God has shown me through placing certain people in my life. It can be very hard to walk with someone who experiences depression and mania. Actually, truth be told, I can be a total pain in the you-know-what! Somehow, I am always surrounded by these incredibly generous and loving people who just make life more liveable.

“My husband and I, both together and separately, have been to hell and back in the last six years of our marriage. But through prayer, I have become absolutely clear that our marriage is one of the deep, God given gifts of my life.

“We both struggled with my decision and he supported me as much as he could. But we are vastly different people and until he read my book, he didn’t understand the true cost of what I did. In fact, until I wrote my book, I don’t think I did either.  

“My girls are old enough to have memories of some of my worst moments. Every day, I live on this earth is a bid to make it up to them. They are God’s most precious gift to me and I worry myself sick that I am failing them utterly.”

While it is easy for others to forgive, sometimes forgiving yourself is far more difficult. “I try to live the regret and remorse I feel in the light of God’s mercy,” Jessica adds. “I am a sinner who has been shown astonishing grace. Any forgiveness I could try to cobble together for myself could only pale in the blaze of God’s awesome love. So, I try to rest in that.

“There is much shame and despair around abortion. I wasn’t stricken with guilt because I am Catholic. I felt guilty because I went against my conscious. But there is the possibility of grace after what I did.

“I certainly still wrestle with the demons that beckoned me to the abyss. That battle is won but not finished. As for not being so hard on myself I think I have to be. How else am I to enter the narrow gate? It’s Christ’s prerogative to be gentle with me. And He is.

“While I believe abortion to be wrong, I also believe that safe surgical procedures should be available to women who feel they need to make that bound choice. I know there is a conflict there; a tension between these two positions and I have to live with that.”

Writing the book has been cathartic but for Jessica the mental health issues continue. “For me living with bipolar and borderline personality disorder is like living with a mental rip. That sense of molecular separation I undergo in almost every part of almost every day of my life is agony. I didn’t write my book in order to preach about sin or abortion or redemption. I wrote it in a bid to enter more fully into the mystery of that agony. And to share my hope for salvation.”

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