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Rachel's Vineyard Retreat: Hope & Healing in the aftermath of abortion
“The weekend focuses on recognizing our brokenness, yet having our hearts open to healing and forgiveness,” Kristyn Lent said as she described a retreat for women and men suffering from the aftereffects of abortion.
Lent and Jane O’Brien, members of the Boyne Valley Catholic Community, are co-leaders of the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat planned May 1-3 at the Augustine Center in Conway, northeast of Petoskey. Their shared leadership is a new undertaking for the pair who’ve attended past retreats in support of participants and also as team-members-in-training. Having witnessed the power of the healing weekends, the women felt called to revive the retreats within the Diocese of Gaylord.
“It’s a compassionate, confidential, safe place to share their stories and the first step” in healing, said Lent. “The men and women who come to this retreat, many have lived with great denial, shame and guilt, and have been unable to share anything about their experience with anyone.” Despite supposed cultural acceptance of abortion, she said, many fear that unloading their burden paints them as hypocritical or exposes them to judgment. “They come in carrying this weight,” Lent said, “and many have never been given the opportunity (to share it) or consider grieving for their loss.”
A memorial service on the last day allows participants to grieve for their aborted children. “It’s very, very powerful,” said Lent.
The confidential retreats are small by design — eight to 10 participants — and involve much group sharing. Participants may invite a support person.
“The weekend gets to the root of why someone’s life is the way it is,” said O’Brien. “The Holy Spirit takes over. There is no judgment.”
Her training has taught her post-abortive people often bury their experience so deeply, they work to forget it or try to grow a lifestyle around the secret. “It causes a lot of dysfunction,” O’Brien said. Divorce, suicide, anger issues and post-traumatic stress disorder can be symptoms of post-abortive behavior, she said.
“People are able to reflect on their lives,” Lent said. “Many of the things they’ve been experiencing are a result of the abortion. Culture wants women to believe it’s a very simple, safe procedure, ‘just a blob of tissue, you’ll be fine.’ They discount women who have… eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, repeat abortions, relationship difficulties, addictions, anger, emotional numbness — these can be associated with abortion. The weekend is a chance to forgive themselves and understand more about themselves.”
A team that’s met the training requirements of the international Rachel’s Vineyard organization guides participants through the weekend. Among them: a licensed counselor, experienced site leader and priest or minister. Those who are not post-abortive must identify a loss or area of grief in their lives to qualify as a team member.
“The people who come are very well cared for,” assured Lent. “There’s a level of peace and comfort and caretaking. That’s really a part of it, too; they feel a little bit nurtured.”
Beyond post-abortive mothers and fathers, Rachel’s Vineyard reaches out to others impacted by abortion.
Studies refer to a “shock wave,” said Lent. “The effects of abortion are far reaching,” touching spouses, grandparents, siblings and immediate and extended families. Lent recalled one woman who’d attended the retreat because she was guilt-ridden after accompanying a niece to an abortion.
O’Brien noted that healthcare workers exposed to abortion, directly or indirectly, also have attended. An ultrasound technician aware that sometimes he was the last person to see babies alive before their mothers walked across the street for abortions, turned to Rachel’s Vineyard for healing.
And participants do find healing.
“I see tremendous healing take place,” said the Rev. Don Geyman, chaplain for the upcoming retreat. “You know just from the testimony of the people involved, the women and men talk about…what great healing they’ve experienced. You can see their transformation. Certainly there are other ways it can happen, but it’s a proven method of ministry that takes people through important steps of grieving, acknowledging the burden and damage they’ve experienced in making that choice.”
Geyman has been involved with Rachel’s Vineyard since it debuted in the Diocese of Gaylord a dozen years ago. He’s pleased to see it return here after some years’ absence. “I think the need is tremendous. So many women and men are affected by this and in need of healing and compassion.”
“You are able to see how people come in and how they leave; there’s no question they’re changed,” said Lent. “Miracles are happening; people are changing; people are healing. To know what people are facing and how they are given so much hope when they leave is just amazing.” Poignant testimonials are posted on the organization’s website, www.rachelsvineyard.org.
Organizers stress the retreat is not just for Catholics. “It’s for everyone,” said Geyman. “God’s mercy and forgiveness and compassion doesn’t know any bounds. Only humans put limits on it.”
A “thorough intake process” asks retreat candidates if they are comfortable in a “spiritual” setting, said Lent, adding the weekend is Scripture-based. The Sacraments, Adoration and Mass offered during the weekend are optional.
To anyone apprehensive about attending O’Brien promised, “You won’t regret it. It’s one thing you can do to heal yourself, even if you don’t think you need healing. If you’re considering (attending), God is touching your heart to do that. Don’t say no.”
— By Chris Grosser. Chris is a freelance writer/editor based in Gaylord and a member of St. Mary Cathedral. Contact her at email@example.com
Retreat’s Name Rooted in Scripture
Kristyn Lent, co-leader of the upcoming Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat, shared the meaning behind the retreat’s name at the March for Life Rally in Gaylord earlier this year. (Her text, taken from the international organization’s website, has been edited here for length.)
What does the name Rachel’s Vineyard mean? Rachel refers to an Old Testament figure in the book of Jeremiah (31:15-17):
Thus says the Lord: In Ramah is heard a sound of moaning, of bitter weeping!
Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more.
Thus says the Lord: Cease your cries of mourning; wipe the tears from your eyes. The sorrow you have shown shall have its reward, says the Lord...
There is hope for your future…
Why a vineyard? Many images and symbolisms are attached to a vineyard: a place grapes are grown, pruned, lifted up and cleansed to bear a more bountiful harvest. A vineyard is a place of labor for the making of sweet wine. Perhaps the most significant association with vine comes from the powerful words of Jesus in Chapter 15 of the Gospel of John:
Remain united in me, and I will remain united to you.
A branch cannot bear fruit by itself, it can do so only if it remains in the vine.
In the same way, you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him,
will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.
Rachel’s Vineyard takes this Scripture to heart as weekend retreats are a spiritual and emotional healing process.
…We look to God in times of personal distress, trauma and loss of human life. In Hosea Chapter 2, God speaks of restoring barren vineyards to their fullness. (This) reflects the journey one will travel in Rachel’s Vineyard:
Therefore, I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
And speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
And transform her Valley of Troubles into a Door of Hope.