First Choice

First Choice Center for Women in New Albany offers a post-abortion counseling program that focuses on “forgiveness.”

“It’s an eight-week Biblical healing study,” said Melissa Gunner, one of the counselors for the program. “We go through the stages of grief, and it’s about the relationship that the girl has with Christ . . . It’s all about forgiveness—forgiveness of sin, forgiveness of yourself.”

The program helps restore the relationship between God and the woman, said Gunner, who found her identity in Christ and exchanged sorrow for blessings.

Shelly Grisham, another volunteer counselor for the program, said the program, which is called “Surrendering the Secret,” can change lives.

“I went through it myself, and it’s an awesome program just learning how to forgive yourself and accepting that God forgives you no matter what kind of mistakes you’ve made,” Grisham said. “It changed my life personally.”

Sara Bell, director of First Choice Center for Women, said many women who have had abortions feel very ashamed and keep it to themselves.

“They kind of internalize that pain because they’re afraid to share it with anyone,” Bell said. “You have to deal with it and heal from it properly to be able to live your life the way God intended.”

That is why the post-abortion program is confidential, Bell said. It is a “huge step” for a woman to admit that she has had an abortion and wants help, she added.

The goal is to provide a “loving place” for women, Bell said. It is “a judgment-free, confidential place for them to come and receive information and hope and healing. Our ultimate goal is for Christ to be honored and shared. We’re just here to love and to show God’s love and to offer support.”

Grisham and Gunner both had two abortions each. Gunner said she is the mom of five children, two of whom are in heaven because of abortions.

“I was very ashamed, and I didn’t talk about my abortions for a long time,” said Gunner, who ran a post-abortion program in Tupelo as well. “A woman who has an abortion is like a wolf that is caught in a trap and has to gnaw its own foot just to get out of the trap. Because of God’s love He did not turn his back on me.”

Gunner said the program “gives dignity to the children, and it gives you a memorial service. It allows you to go through the grieving process because most of us think that we shouldn’t have the right to grieve because it was our fault. We took their lives.”

Post-abortion ministry turns the situation around and gives the child an identity, and the mother receives “healing.”

“You go through the healing process of the loss of that child,” Gunner said. “You mourn the loss of your child.”

Bell noted that people tend to “categorize sin,” but she said all sin is equal in the eyes of God.

“It’s helping the woman understand that it’s just another part of our sinful nature and we can ask for forgiveness for that just like any other sin,” Bell said.

Gunner, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, said, “abortion affects every area of your life.” She felt guilt and shame for some 20 years prior to receiving healing and was afraid God was going to do something. The program helps women understand their thinking process at the time they had an abortion, she said.

Crisis pregnancy ministry informs and educates women who may think abortion is an easy, quick fix that “goes away,” said Bell. But in reality it becomes a “very painful, hidden secret,” she added.

“It’s not a quick fix,” she said, noting that women with unplanned pregnancies “always have a choice.” Sometimes women do not understand that they have a living baby inside of them, Bell said.

There are emotional, physical and spiritual consequences to abortion, Gunner said. “I tried to stuff it down and put on a happy face, but it affected every area of my life,” she said.

Prior to going through healing, Gunner would ride by a church with a lot of crosses that represented lives lost to abortion. It made her feel “really weighted down, dirty, yucky.” Now when she rides by that church, she can smile because she knows her two aborted children are in heaven.

God does not intend for people to live in guilt as a result of bad decisions, Bell said.

“God is not the author of guilt,” Bell said. “He wants us to have freedom. That’s why He sent His son to die on the cross for us.”

Grisham said she used to hate herself and eventually told her pastor she had an abortion. She went through a post-abortion Bible study called “Forgiven and Set Free.”

“That absolutely changed my life,” Grisham said.

Gunner was 16 and 17 when she had her abortions, and Grisham was 17. Gunner was brought up in a very religious atmosphere and went to a church that focused on the Old Testament. She didn’t hear a lot about God’s grace, and the God she knew at that time was harsh. She was looking for God’s love in relationships.

“After the first abortion, I lived an aborted life,” Gunner said, adding that she drank and smoked to numb the pain. “It just sucked my soul.”

Gunner and Grisham both went through post-abortion programs. Gunner even had a funeral for the babies and named them.

“When we give our ashes to God, He turns them into beauty,” Gunner said. “I wanted to help others. God changed my life . . .”

Gunner, who has also provided post-abortion counseling in Africa, said God called her to help others who have had abortions.

“It’s an honor,” she said.

Gunner has shared her testimony at different churches and said her pastor was supportive. Her husband has also supported her, and he was not the father of either aborted child, she said.

Many men suffer with post-abortion trauma too, Bell said, adding, “It’s bigger than people realize.”

First Choice Center for Women wants to be available to women who are in the middle of a crisis pregnancy and educate them on their options, Bell said. First Choice wants women to know that abortion is not the only answer to an unwanted pregnancy.

“It’s just information so that they’re educated,” she said. “Most of the time once a woman is educated she will not choose to abort her baby.”

Sometimes women just need encouragement because they’re scared, Bell said. “We’re hopefully that truth, that light, that voice that they need to hear . . .”

Many times, pregnant young women will come to First Choice before they tell their parents. They fear that their parents are going to be disappointed in them, Bell said. First Choice lets the women know that they’re not alone.

“A lot of times we make our worst decision just out of fear,” Bell said.

For instance, after Grisham got pregnant she thought her parents might disown her. The goal of the post-abortion program is for a woman to know that God has forgiven her, Grisham said. Satan tries to hang the secret over a woman, and the situation needs to be turned around for God’s glory, she said.

Bell said the ultimate goal of the program is freedom from shame.  “(Jesus) died to set us free from that,” Bell said. “We want them set free from that bondage. That way they can fully live, they can fully serve, they can fully love themselves and their loved ones.”

Bell said Grisham and Gunner are “beautiful examples of healing and forgiveness and using that to bless and help others.”

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