“When I was 17 years old, I had sex on the first day of my senior year of high school and got pregnant.”
If that were the first line of your story, could you tell it? This is, in fact, the story of my old friend, singer/songwriter Rachel Wilhelm, and she’s telling it here today on my blog. If you are wrestling with shame because you’ve conceived a child out of wedlock or you were conceived out of wedlock, please read this post. Thanks, Rachel, for your fearless vulnerability.
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When I was 17 years old, I had sex on the first day of my senior year of high school and got pregnant. I was a pastor’s kid, and since my parents always had a high view of appearances, my mother was particularly mortified at what this would do to her.
Pregnancy in its seemingly unnatural form — out of wedlock — is a situation that no one quite knows how to handle. It’s eventually very outward, so it’s shameful because you’re unmarried and you’ve been doing something you weren’t supposed to — but at the same time, babies are fun, right? So you feel this mixed joy and pain, but you don’t know where to place any one emotion.
My particular demon was the emotional abuse I endured from my mother after my pregnancy. All the way up until my child was ten years old, I heard that my main sin was that I “got pregnant.” You really, truly have no idea how sick I was of those words. From the beginning of my child’s life, I was wedged between weird feelings of love for my son and awkward feelings of shame over how bad I should be feeling about it. My mother had a way of making sure those awkward feelings of shame stayed front and center.
I lived at home with my mother for a period of time after having my son, and I was told constantly, if not daily, to serve her in some way because I “got pregnant,” because I “owed” her. My horrendous act was paraded around the house to get me to clean, run errands, and shell out the little money I had. It literally made me a physical and emotional slave to my sin.
Paying for it
No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake it. I knew God forgave me, but I was always paying for it. Even after I met and married my wonderful husband years later, my sin was still a running conversation with my mother. And when an argument arose or a favor was needed, it made its ugly appearance nearly every time.
I was even told things like, “Well, you would’ve had the same baby with your husband if you hadn’t had sex with that other guy.” Really? To say the least, it took me years to unravel the tight hold my old sin had on me.
Don’t get me wrong. I always loved my son no matter what. But again, there was this taint when it came to all of those good things mixed up with the bad teenage pregnancy. There were no separate boxes for the love of my child and the hatred of my sin. My son was always thrown into this sinful soup, and I had no way of mentally separating him from the broth.
As a result of the guilt under which I lived, I didn’t embrace motherhood fully. I struggled with feeling like my child was my little brother rather than my son. It was like getting pregnant was my identity, and I was forever trying to live it down or avoid it, waiting for the years to go by so experience, good deeds, and love for my neighbor would eventually counteract the vile work I committed years before.
Six Words that Opened my Eyes
Then one day it dawned on me. Call it an epiphany. Call it God speaking to me directly. Call it a miracle. Yes, it was a miracle. The sentence, “Getting pregnant was not a sin,” entered my mind. It just entered. I didn’t read it anywhere. I didn’t hear it anywhere. I just thought it. Well, it certainly wasn’t me.
The seed grew, and the Scriptures I read soon after watered it:
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127: 3-5).
The truth hit me: I had spent years of my life feeling guilty for something that was not a sin. Yes, I committed a sin when I had premarital sex, but my sinful act produced something – someone – beautiful. And I saw that these were two separate things. One was my own sinful act, and the next was God’s gracious gift to me. Again, the Scriptures affirmed it:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16).
Then that means I got lucky — actually, God favored me.
Yes, He favored me.
Despite my sin, He chose to grant me a grace, a beauty, a life, an entire blessing.
This child changed me. God used this child to mold me into His child. And I felt joy. I knew this was true about me. About my son.
A few days ago I was talking with my now 17-year-old son about his past. Our past. And I said, “No, I shouldn’t have been having sex. But God gave you to me.”
He said, “So technically, I should never have been born. I wasn’t even planned.”
“Oh son,” I said, “you were planned. You were exactly what God intended. I know this more than anyone. God Himself is the opener and closer of wombs. He put you there.”
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Love this. Thanks so much for your transparency, Rachel. What a beautiful story of God's grace!
You will certainly be helping many by your transparency and hope of God's grace and love.
Proud to know you and your entire beautiful family. 🙂
Thanks for sharing my soul sister. This is one of the many reasons why I love you so much and appreciate you and your friendship more than words can say. Thank you for being you! Hugs~
Thanks for sharing! I love your story and findings, and I also had a thought. So many times if someone has premarital sex, people think if it as sin, but don't place as much shame on it as teenage pregnancy; I disagree with those people because premarital sex is premarital sex, whether or not someone gets pregnant.
Rachel is an amazing woman of God and has overcome a great deal. I am so proud to call her not just my sister in law, but my sister in Christ.
Interesting point. Either way, whenever we try to correct or control with shame, regardless of the sin, it's toxic and it undermines the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in people's lives.
Rachel, I got goosebumps when you shared your epiphany (which I believe was a word from God to you) along with the scriptures that confirmed that word. God does love you wildly, and what you call, "my sin," doesn't even exist in his eyes. I'm so glad that you found a way to forgive yourself.
This is a beautiful picture of the restoration and freedom given by God's grace. Thank you so much for sharing this.
that is so beautiful!!! God bless you!
So glad to see you sharing your story. There are many women who need to know they do not need to be ashamed and that Christ has freed them.
Josh, I'd love to see this published on Boundless! And I'd love to see Rachel's husband write a follow-up from his perspective, particularly to counteract perspectives like this: http://www.boundless.org/advice/2013/where-can-i-find-a-virgin-girl-to-marryJust my two cents…
I'm glad you shared this, Rachel, but even more glad that you have received God's forgiveness and grace. This is a reminder to me that we must continue to preach the gospel to ourselves.
Does that mean that every Christians is free to have premarital sex?
Do you think that's what Rachel is trying to say?
No, the way she puts it as if it is okay to have premarital sex, since GOD is always forgiving. Having premarital sex is wrong, so why do it in the first place? Just because GOD is always forgiving, does that mean we should take HIS love for granted?
Your comment reminds me of people who hear about the unconditional forgiveness offered by Christ and respond, "So I guess you're saying you can just go out and kill somebody and ask forgiveness, and everything will be okay."No, Rachel's not saying that, and I think it's evident from reading her piece that she doesn't intend to say that.
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My best friend went through a similar situation in high school. Thank You for being brave and sharing your story. What a Blessing to others you will be . God Bless You!!
Anonymous maybe you should read the article again. It clearly stated premarital sex is wrong. We all fall short of the glory of God. Fact. Remember if we confess our sins he is faithful to forgive us these sins. It is not possible to live a victorious Christian life while mired in guilt and condemnation. We do not love the sin but we do love the sinner.
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I hope this story serves as a reminder to anyone reading it that sexual sins are a family of sins that have extremely long-term consequences sometimes.
People often try to trivialise sexual sins, saying “it doesn’t hurt anyone”. Even with things like the relative seriousness of sins, we should make sure the scriptures are our guide. In this case, the relevant scripture is 1Corinthians 6:18.
Another example of how sexual sins may have long-term consequences is if someone picks up an STD. There may be long-term financial consequences too. For instance, I was aware of someone who conceived a child through a professionally inappropriate relationship. This resulted in him being blackmailed for money until he was aged 85, the child was several decades old and the husband and wife had to simply say they could no longer pay through simply having no more money. The man died aged 90 and his widow revealed what had happened. The Sunday after I found out, I was delivering a lesson to my Sunday School class about the commandment on adultery and this made an interesting talking point!
In the case of a pastor’s daughter who has an illegitimate child, there are no doubt long-term consequences for the pastor too. People may for instance have raised questions about his continued suitability to be a pastor, given the requirement of 1Timothy 3:4 for pastors to keep their own children in order. Granted, a decade of emotional abuse is nasty and unproductive and will not turn back the clock. However, Rachel’s mention of her mother being concerned about appearances suggests she may not fully understand the seriousness of the consequences for pastors in this situation.
All in all, sexual sins often have long-term consequences.
Thank you for this additional information. Take comfort, I can see a possible reason why these details may not have been included in the original article: – Joshua has also written about how he saw the error of his ways in uselessly publicising his mistakes (Exodus 20:12). Easy for me to say though: – although I would be lying if I said I thought my parents are born again, they have done so many things right throughout my life.
However, I would make an exception regarding someone serving as a pastor. It is entirely right for congregations to have an accurate picture of men leading them, particularly if they are not qualified for the role.
Your mother might have been guilty of a criminal offence of her own in not reporting the abuse in the UK (various professions/volunteers are explicitly obligated to report abuse). I am also sure that someone convicted of doing what you said your father did would never get Criminal Records Bureau clearance to work with children.
Regarding your son, I am sure the best is yet to come (sarcasm here). I have had an extremely rough time in the jobs market (I was diagnosed at age 3 or 4), not that it would be prudent to discuss the details in public.
Hey Graeme: Thanks for your graciousness. True, when writing an article, you can’t exactly put every detail in there. That’s basically what happened here. And, I am still figuring things out as time goes by, and healing, if that makes any sense at all. Every new thing sort of brings back some old thing, and God in his grace keeps peeling back those layers, much like the dragon skins on Eustace. It hurts, it’s raw, but some day it will be gone. And really, there’s a lot worse out there that happens to kids, and not all of my growing up was bad or terrible. My dad taught me a lot of things and in the end I really respect him. Yeah, he was hypocritical, but he regretted all these things at the end of his life and he was messed up too.
Just so it’s out there, my dad taught me how to ride a bike. How to roller skate. How to paint a house. How to work hard. How to laugh at myself. How to respect long-suffering. How to forgive, and even how to ask for forgiveness. Soon after he did that thing to me, he was struck with all sorts of sicknesses. The timing was sort of weird. He came down with cancer, then his only working kidney failed, and he underwent 11 or 12 years of misery. He became a very broken man, weighed down by his sins and many failures. When I went back home for his funeral the book of Ecclesiastes really hit home to me. I went on a run on one of my old running routes after viewing him at the funeral home without family. I ran the route from his house to my old house. I saw that my house was a disaster. Whoever bought it ruined it. The once beautiful, impeccable yard was covered in weeds and dry patches. There was junk everywhere. In a way, life is like that. You do the best you can and when you are gone, someone just might destroy it all. I don’t want to do that to him. God chose him to be my dad, even though he wasn’t perfect and even abusive at times. But the Lord makes all these ugly things beautiful. It could take lots of time—a generation or two, but He does it. He creates things out of nothing, so why can’t he create good out of evil? All I see from every single terrible thing that’s ever happened to me is God doing something good with it.
And I have hopes for my son. I have hopes for you too. People are becoming more and more aware of the diagnosis, and I have met many people who have autism that are managing with jobs and families, even.
But you are right. It is very hard in the jobs market. I read a book on that—Asperger’s Syndrome and Employment, I think, the book is called. It was very sobering. I want to encourage you: your unique outlook and perspective in this life is very needed. And have you ever considered becoming an educator or a professor? You certainly write like one!
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