Janine: A life for a life

Hello, and thanks for stopping by to celebrate Mother’s Week with us here. On Monday, we heard from Kristin about how God led her from being a successful Ob/gyn doctor to being a happy, fulfilled stay-at-home-mom

Today, we are so privileged to hear the testimony of another dear friend of mine, Janine. Can I invite you, dear reader, to read all of this amazing story? Especially if struggles with rape, abortion, or depression are troubling you as a mother or wife. There is hope; there is help; and there is unconditional, unchanging love waiting for you. I know this post is a little long, but I wanted to include it all because it is so helpful and encouraging. You will be glad you took the time to read!

Janine, your friendship and example mean so much to me! Thank you for sharing with us a glorious display of God’s grace and redemption. 

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Who’s hands are these? Will all the water in the ocean wash this blood from my hands? No, instead my hands will stain the seas scarlet, turning the green waters red.

I can remember reading this scene from Macbeth aloud in my tenth grade English class.

There was something so profound in that scene – the thought of one selfish, horrible decision swayed by emotion and weakness that now haunted this person with unthinkable guilt and shame.

Little did I know how profound one quote from Macbeth would become in my own life and how I would one day repeat those words over and over again in my mind.

There are moments in your life when events will change you forever; they can be words or decisions. The act of another person or your own. But this moment has the power to help form your beliefs whether they be true or false. They seem to go down deep inside and can slowly destroy you, or better yet have the power to heal you by bringing life, peace, and joy.

I grew up in NY in an “American Christian” family. My parents were married in a Lutheran church where they baptized all seven of their children, of which I am the youngest. I believed in God, and I knew about Jesus. Because I was baptized, I was taught that I was safe and going to heaven. I stopped going to church by the time I was eight.

When I was in tenth grade, my English teacher (the same one we read Shakespeare aloud with) shared a time in her life when someone had jumped into her car to attack her. She said she had used the heel of her shoe to strike him in the head to get away from him. I remember thinking how scary that must have been, but how brave she was to defend herself in such a way.

Two years later on January 4th, a dark rainy day, while running errands for my mom, I remember walking to my car feeling like someone was watching me; I even looked around to see if anyone was there. When I got to my car I saw I had left my car unlocked and grumbled to myself for being so careless. I visually checked the car once I got in. A second later the driver side door opened and a man holding a box knife grabbed my wrist and pushed me into the passenger seat. I was trapped in the car for about forty-five minutes.

This is when I remembered what that tenth grade teacher said about how she used her shoe to defend herself, but unfortunately he had me remove my shoes. I had to beg to keep my innocence and my life.

I walked away with my life.

In just forty-five minutes the act of another person changed my life. It brought fear and depression to a once vibrant life.

When I was twenty-one, I met my husband, Jerry, and we were engaged at twenty-three. Jerry was an Italian Catholic, but he was very angry at the time with God and claimed he no longer believed in Him. I would cry and plead with him to please believe in God. I wanted to be in heaven with him. Remember I believed as long as you went to church and were baptized you would go to heaven. Little did I know we were both on the path to hell.

Titus 3:4 But after that the kindness and love of god our Saviour toward man appeared.

My first experience of hearing about the gospel and God’s mercy was in counseling with the pastor who was going to marry us. Since I never made my confirmation or communion I had to take classes with the pastor and fulfill these requirements in order to be married in the Lutheran church.

We met in his office once a week for about 4-5 weeks. At one of these meetings I remember him explaining to me what had happened to Jesus and how he was persecuted, beaten, and then hung on the cross. I remember tears coming to my eyes as I began to cry asking him, “How could they do that to him? He was there for them.”

At that moment I believe I would have been ready to accept Christ into my life as my Savior; but, unfortunately, the pastor responded by shaking his head and saying, “I don’t understand why they did that to Him either.”

I completed my classes, made my communion, and was eligible to be married in the Lutheran church.

Four years later we were living in Georgia and had a beautiful three-year old daughter, Amanda. The rape that happened when I was seventeen was now finally catching up to me. We had moved away from all family, friends, and familiar surroundings. On the news every night there would be a story of a gang initiation rape and murder. Jerry was working from 11pm until 11am every day and it was just me and Amanda all night. I was becoming very depressed and fearful. I would wake up every morning thinking “OK, we made it through another night, no one broke in.” I became so depressed that I was now thinking very seriously about suicide. One morning those thoughts were so strong that I woke Jerry up and told him I needed help. I went for secular counseling for about 2-3 months, put a band-aid on my emotions, and moved on.

Then in July of 1994, I became pregnant. We were so happy and eagerly awaited our new addition. In October I received the phone call that every expectant mother dreads. My blood work had come back; there was something wrong with the baby.

I was told that the results indicated I had a very high chance of delivering a baby with down-syndrome or spinal bifida. I needed to go in for an amino fluid test. I was scared to death but had the hope that maybe I was pregnant with twins (a very big dream of mine) or maybe it was a mistake similar to what had happened to my sister. With her, the tests had been proven wrong and she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. So I had hope!!

Hope turned to heartache with a painful decision we needed to make. The baby had severe kidney damage and hydrocephalus. The doctor walked into the room with this statement, “If you were my wife I wouldn’t let you have this baby.” We had family calling Jerry advising, “You can’t have this baby – it’s selfish – it’s wrong to do! It’s wrong to bring a child into a difficult world with deformities.”

I was scared… And I was a coward. Jerry was a confused young man and also scared, not knowing what to do – but he did want to protect the woman he loved. We were facing financial difficulties on top of everything.

So we made a selfish horrible decision swayed by emotion and weakness – to abort.

On November 15, 1994, I became a murderer! I became a woman I despised! I was now looking at my own hands and seeing blood that couldn’t be washed off. “Blood enough to turn the green waters red!”

Here was yet another action of my own that was going to change me; take me further down the road of despair and unrest, with a complete lack of peace or hope.

Matthew 11:28-30 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 

My search for forgiveness began! I didn’t want to go to hell. But how could I not? I was a murderer! Didn’t murderers go to hell? Hadn’t I heard quoted from the Bible one time words that I never forgot – “A life for a life?”

I would need to give my life for taking a life, right? I didn’t know what that verse meant. Did it mean that I would have to die? Did it mean that I would need to take my own life? What did I need to do?

We moved three months later and with the new change once again I fell into a deeper depression. I was unable to leave the house. I was terrified that someone was going to attack me or Amanda. I would drive to the stores to go grocery shopping and then would not be able to get out of the car. I can remember feeling like everything was so dark and terrifying. I was becoming bitter and angry. I hated the man who raped me. I hated the doctor’s that counseled me with the pregnancy. I hated myself for the things I did.

Still searching for answers, I sought help from our Lutheran Pastor. But he left me with no hope, turned his back, and never spoke to me again.

Then we began attending the Mormon Church. They all laid their hands on me and prayed for me and told me that because of their prayer and the laying on of the hands I was now forgiven. But that gave me no sense of forgiveness or peace.

All the while, going over and over again in my mind were the words “a life for a life… a life for a life.”

We found the courage to have another beautiful baby girl, Briana. What a precious gift she is! But the whole time I was pregnant, and then for about the first six months of her life, I was sure God was going to punish me. He was going to take this baby from me. He was going to allow her to have health issues. One way or another God was going to punish me for taking a life. It would be her life for the life I took.

About that time, my sister went on a retreat back in NY and heard the gospel – she said she’d found Jesus! I didn’t understand what that meant, but the happiness she expressed, the way she talked, the look in her eyes… I wanted this!

My marriage had begun falling apart. Jerry and I were moving further and further apart from one another. I was thinking about divorce. The weight of the abortion was constantly haunting me. We needed this retreat and I wanted to go. But in order for me to go, Jerry was required to attend first and then two weeks later I would be allowed to attend.

After quite a bit of arguing and threatening, Jerry finally agreed to go. So off he flew to NY.

Four days later I went to pick him up at the airport and there I greeted a different man. The same husband didn’t get off that plane and come home to me. A man with a calm sense of peace came home. He was so different from the man who had just left four days ago – he had become a new man. And once again… I wanted this!!

Spouses were asked not to share too much of what went on during their stay, for the benefit of the impact on their spouse who would later attend. So with very little knowledge of what this transformation was in my husband and not really knowing what to expect, we packed the car and Jerry drove the girls and I to NY.

The retreat started Thursday night after saying good-bye to Jerry and being on my own for the first time in my life. We were led to a room where we had a devotion and then were told for the rest of the night to take a vow of silence and just spend time with God. This wasn’t what I had expected. I didn’t want to be alone with God! I didn’t even understand what
that meant. I was miserable.

Friday we went to about six different sessions and everyone was really emotional – I think I must have looked like a deer in the headlights watching these people and listening to their testimonies; and again I was miserable. Throughout the day one young lady started coming up to me asking me these questions:

“So do you know Jesus?”

“Yes” I said.

“How long have you been friends with Jesus?”

I stayed silent and thought –“She’s crazy!”

“So, how often do you talk to Jesus?”

Silence! But in my mind I’m screaming “She is crazy!”

I wanted to go home. I hated everything about this retreat! I was now actually angry at Jerry for making me come to this thing!!! I hated the crazy lady’s questions! Not only because I didn’t understand them, but there was something in it that was making me sad! I was missing something, something very important.

Then at another session the leader was saying how God loves you and sent his Son to die for you. I remember sitting there thinking these people are so lucky – that they were loved that way… And I wished that I could be worthy to be loved that way, too.

Well Saturday evening this same young lady and another woman ended up sitting on either side of me during dinner and they started asking me questions. Before I knew it I was telling them about my abortion.

Our conversation continued down the hallway as we were led to yet another talk. This one was different though. We were asked to write on a piece of paper a sin or a problem in our life that we were dealing with and then, one by one, we were to walk forward and nail that piece of paper to a wooden cross. When everyone was finished, a pastor came, and while he was speaking he tore off each piece of paper and placed them in a bucket and then proceeded to burn them. We were told that Christ suffered the wrath of God and Hell for our sins and we were to leave our sins at the foot of the cross. The session was over.

Everyone got up and walked out of the room quietly – except me! How could I leave my child there? How could I get up and not think of him again? If I don’t suffer for the rest of my life, if I don’t carry this burden, for the rest of my life, doesn’t that make me even more evil? Doesn’t that make me a cold-hearted person? How do I get up and leave?

And then here came those two women! Each one sat at my side, asking me what was wrong. Why wasn’t I leaving? I told them, and they held me, cried with me and then went on to explain that Christ, yes Christ, went through all that suffering, all that pain… the cross, for ME!! FOR ME! He knew back then what I was going to do; He knew two-thousand years earlier that I was going to abort my son; and He loved me so much that He came and suffered for all my sins and for that sin, too, so that I could be forgiven and spend eternity with Him.

And finally, finally, I had a peace wash over me! I realized then that God did love me that much. I now knew I could be forgiven.

But I still wasn’t ready… I still thought “It can’t be this easy. There has to be something more I need to do.” Not long after I returned home, the Lord led us to a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church, and it was there that I heard those same words spoken back to me when the pastor said, “Maybe you are one of those people who think the gospel is too easy; maybe you think there is more that you have to do. No, just believe! Just believe that Jesus Christ is enough and surrender to Him alone.” And so I did. I bowed my knees and acknowledged that Jesus is Lord and Savior, and that his death and life was for me.

It was indeed a life for a life – His life for mine.

Now, my life has not gotten easier since embracing the cross. But the difference today is that my trials are not without meaning. I have my Lord and Savior with me – and I know that trials are His work in me. I have moved from hating the man who raped me, to forgiving him. This was a very powerful moment in my life when I had to fully surrender the hatred and bitterness and realize through the Holy Spirit, “Who am I to hold onto these feeling when I have been forgiven a greater travesty?”

And when I did let go… Wow! It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I went from being a fear-based person to now living with the hope and peace of Jesus Christ, who dwells within me. I have not arrived at being perfect or going through my days without fear creeping in. What I do have though is God’s Word to guide me in all things and with that knowledge I know that whatever comes my way, I can rest in Him.

Psalm 27 is a psalm that brings me comfort, and I have held onto it as my own.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 

When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.

Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. 

For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock. 

And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD. 

Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.

Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. 

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.

Teach me they way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. 

Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty. 

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

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