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The Problem Was Me

Updated: Feb 26, 2022

“We can take care of your problem,” they said. But they didn’t realize the problem was me, not my unborn baby.

Young, single, and hopelessly lost. I was eleven weeks pregnant, and terrified.

What am I going to do? I didn’t have any supportive family or friends. I didn’t love or want to marry the father. I couldn’t tell my parents. It would be just one more thing they would hold over me. I had no means to take care of a baby. I was a wreck of a human being making all kinds of bad decisions. How did I get here? I needed help, but where? Who?

I grew up in an abusive home. My father was a raging alcoholic and my mom, God love her, was the classic enabler. She tried her best though, to protect my brothers and me. Most of my childhood memories are filled with violence, fear, and looking for an escape. We went to church occasionally. We were baptized as babies and went through confirmation classes, but we certainly were not Christians, and I didn’t have a clue about life or what real love was.

My parents let me go out on my first date when I was fifteen. I was so excited. He was the cutest, most popular boy in school, and he was a way of escape. He was sixteen with a car. When he showed up at the house my parents greeted him and then sent us on our way. That was the first time they had met him. It didn’t strike me as odd back then, only now. Who sends their fifteen-year-old daughter out on a date with a boy they don’t even know? It was devastating.

We didn’t go on a date. He just took me to his parent's house, to his big lavish bedroom, and had his way with me. At the time I didn’t mind because I didn’t know any better. He was so flattering. He loved that I was a virgin and he got to be my first. The feeling of being so desired was intoxicating. My ignorance was crippling. I wasn’t his first though, and I soon found out I wouldn’t be his last. When I got home my parents barely asked about the date, and “my first” never spoke to me again. That began my pitiful search for love in all the wrong places with all the wrong people.

When I was about twenty or twenty-one, I was living on my own, working as a dental assistant. One night while driving home from work my car broke down. It was raining hard that night. The area I lived in was built in a riverbed and during hard rains, some places flooded. Why do people build homes in a riverbed, and why would anyone live there? That’s California. In Fashion Valley there is an underpass I had to drive through to get home. Water was rising underneath the bridge, but I saw other cars making it, so I thought I could. Wrong. My little Volkswagen Rabbit just died right there in the middle of a rising stream. Fortunately, a very kind couple stopped to pick me up and took me to a gas station so I could call for help. The days before cellphones.

When I got to the station, I went straight to the payphone. There was a bench next to it. I plopped my purse down on the bench to get some change to call my parents. No answer. Called a friend. No answer. Needed more change so I went back to digging in the bottom of my purse on the bench.

Suddenly, I felt someone behind me grab between my legs. I jumped, turned around, and screamed all at the same time. A man was standing right in front of me with a lecherous stare and devious smirk. Behind him were four other men leaning up against a car, with the same look. I yelled some rather foul names at him and demanded that he leave me alone. He backed off and I thought it was over.

Back to the phone booth to make another call. A friend answered, and I told him what happened. He said I should call the police. So, I hung up to call them.

But the man came back and groped me everywhere, saying crude things, trying to pull me away from the phone. I yelled and fought him off and screamed for help. His buddies just watched and urged him on. He kept telling me that he was going to rape me, and no one would help me.

Somehow, I was able to break free of his grip, pick up the phone and call 9-1-1. They answered and I began telling them what was happening, but he hung up the phone. He hung up on the police! I swallowed hard and looked at him.

“No one is going to help you, b- - - -,” he said. A sick and terrifying feeling came over me and I believed him. No one was going to help me, and he was going to kill me. But I kept fighting and screaming for help. People who were getting gas stopped for a moment to look, then left. The gas station attendant looked at me through the garage window. I cried, begging him to help me, but he didn’t. This guy is going to rape and kill me, and no one will stop him.

Then, the police showed up. Three cop cars and several policemen came to my rescue. My attacker and his buddies scattered like cockroaches, but the police caught them all. To this day, I love anyone in law enforcement. They have saved me more than once.

The man who attacked me was arrested and charged with sexual assault. After a painful embarrassing ordeal in court, he was convicted and sent to jail, but the others were let go. The gas station was fined for not helping me, and illegally employing the man who assaulted me. Justice was served in my case, but I slumped into a deep depression after that.

I hated the man who attacked me, and even more, I hated the people who wouldn’t help me. I couldn’t understand how they could just ignore my cries for help. How could they just watch and do nothing? There was only one friend who was there for me that night; the only person I was able to reach on the phone, who told me to call the police. He showed up at the same time as the police. As a former police officer, it was his instinct to come to my rescue. He soon became my “hero”, and we began dating. But, like most relationships born out of extreme circumstances, it didn’t last long. The one time we had sex I became pregnant.

What am I going to do? I don’t love him. I can’t marry him. He’s not my hero after all. I can’t tell my parents. I had no means of taking care of a baby. I was a wreck of a human being making all kinds of bad decisions. I needed help, but where? Who?

Planned Parenthood. They would know what to do. They can help me, so I thought. I was tragically wrong, ignorant, hopelessly lost, and terrified.

I went to the clinic. They ran their tests and told me I was eleven weeks pregnant. I told them my sad story and how scared I was. They said, “We can take care of your problem,” but they didn’t realize that the problem was me, not my unborn baby. At some point, I remember hearing that it was only a blob of tissue, so I allowed myself to think that it was okay, and I would be fine. But it wasn’t okay, and I certainly wasn’t fine. My “hero” paid for the abortion.

Years later, I came to realize the magnitude of what I had done. I was married at age twenty-four, to a nice young man who shared the gospel with me. I was a radical born-again believer in Jesus Christ, living a completely different life. I felt happy and fulfilled. Once terribly lost, I was found and saved by God’s amazing grace, and I realized that the love I was looking for all along was Jesus. Then it hit me.

Jesus was the love I was looking for all my life.

I heard a woman talk about being raped and getting pregnant. But instead of abortion, she chose life and adoption for her baby. Twenty years later her daughter found her, and they developed a beautiful loving relationship. They were both Christians, testifying of God’s goodness, and advocating for life in the womb no matter the circumstances of the pregnancy.

It felt like a ton of bricks fell on me. I began to weep uncontrollably realizing what I had done. I wasn’t raped but I chose abortion. Adoption never entered my thinking, but it should have. My mother did it when she got pregnant at sixteen.

I couldn’t grasp the thought of being pregnant in my circumstances. I chose the death of my baby to preserve my own life. To save face, avoid responsibility, escape consequences, and keep living selfishly. It was a crushing realization.

God forgive me, I cried!

God have mercy on me, I wailed!

And He did forgive me, and He did have mercy on me, and He reminded me that the blood of Jesus washed my sins as white as snow, including the sin of my abortion.

At that moment God began healing me and I gained a new purpose in life. I forgave the man who attacked me and the people who wouldn’t help me and I dedicated my life to sharing the gospel.

Not long after that my husband and I went into the ministry. We had our one and only wonderful son Zachary which means “God remembers” because God remembered my prayers. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to have children because I didn’t deserve them because I aborted my first one. I longed and prayed for five years for a second chance to do things right by the Lord and He graciously gave it to me.

Those who have been forgiven much, love much.

I dedicated Zach to the Lord while he was in my womb like Hannah did with Samuel. Once Zach was born, I read the Bible to him and taught him what I learned from it until he could read it for himself. Now, as a grown man, married, and serving in ministry, Zach teaches the Bible to others. God truly is merciful and abounding in love.

Life was great for the next several years. My husband, son, and I moved to Montana to plant a church and God blessed it tremendously. We had a thriving ministry despite our brokenness. I loved Montana and I loved my little family. I thought we would never leave. Then after seven beautiful years, 9/11 happened, and our lives were forever changed.

My husband entered the military and after a couple of moves, we were transferred to Okinawa, Japan. It felt scary and exciting at the same time. It was a three-year adventure that I bravely embraced. During that time though, our marriage deteriorated rapidly. We had already been struggling, and when he joined the military, it got even harder, but I thought it was manageable.

Okinawa was the beginning of the end of us. We argued constantly, growing further and further apart, and adding to the pain and despair of my crumbling marriage, my son Zach went through puberty and didn’t seem to need me anymore. I was crushed after hearing my husband say that he was miserably unhappy and wanted to leave me but stayed out of obligation. I felt unwanted and unloved by my family and fell back into old patterns of coping and seeking acceptance elsewhere.

My second greatest regret. I had an affair and my husband asked for a divorce.

I realized then, that I was still a mess of a human being, making horrible decisions, and hurting those I loved. I should have known better by now. What was wrong with me? I thought everything was supposed to be great because I was a Christian, married to a Pastor, and the mother of a wonderful son. I was supposed to be a new creation in Christ.

I had great faith in God. I read and studied the Bible. I prayed, got counseling, read books to better myself, and tried to make my marriage work.

But it didn’t work. It wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough. I grew weary, lost hope, gave up, and sin took hold.

I forgot something. Way back when I first got saved and started serving in ministry, I was a very zealous new believer and very proud of the fact that I had such strong faith. I made a rather judgmental statement to a woman who was sharing her doubts about her marriage. I said, “How could you think that way? You're a Christian.” What an insensitive idiot, I was.

One day when I was reading the gospel of Luke I was intrigued by a conversation between Jesus and the apostle Peter. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But Peter replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Luke 22:31-33

Right then, I felt the strong presence of the Lord saying to me, “Mara, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat, but I’m praying for you, that your faith may not fail, and when you have turned back, strengthen the brethren.” And my reply was the same as Peter’s, “But Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

I honestly believed that. When I got saved, God gave me great faith. It’s the greatest gift He’s given me. I never doubted God. I never got mad at Him. I believed every word of the Bible and expected everyone else to believe it too. Like Peter, I was arrogant and impetuous. Like Peter, I needed to be sifted and humbled. And that’s just what happened.

After my divorce, I wallowed in my shame and regret for about six years. Deciding I didn’t belong in the church anymore, I went the way of the world living to gratify myself. That of course only compounded my problem, which I’m sure you know by now was me.

I was the problem. It wasn’t how I was raised. It wasn’t because I was attacked. It wasn’t because of my failed marriage. It wasn’t because of any of my circumstances. It was because I didn’t know who, and whose, I was.

All this time I felt like my past sins, although forgiven by God, would never allow me to be fully free. I felt like even though Jesus died for me there were still consequences for my sins, and I deserved to suffer for them. I couldn’t forgive myself, and because I wasn’t captivated enough by God’s love, I kept trying to find love in others. I sought my identity and fulfillment in my husband, son, and other people. Even though I had that radical transformation when I first gave my life to Christ, I was still holding onto baggage from the past and believing the lie of the devil that I wasn’t truly redeemable, and I didn’t fully understand that Jesus was enough.

But God, in His amazingly gracious relentless pursuit of my heart never gave up on me. One night when I had fallen face down in the carpet, curled up in the fetal position, bawling like a baby, broken and at the end of myself, He spoke, in a still, small voice; Mara you are loved, you are forgiven, you are Mine, now get up and come back to your First Love.

Once again Jesus saved me, and I returned to my First Love. I surrendered fully this time. I believed Jesus was enough for me. I didn’t have to suffer for my sins anymore because Jesus had already done that. I didn’t need another person to fulfill or complete me because only Jesus can. I opened my Bible and went back to church. Life became brighter and love became possible again.

God restored my relationship with my son and now it’s better than ever. God graciously gave me another opportunity for love, with a wonderful man named Mark. We married in January 2017.

God placed me in ministry again. While at a post-abortive healing retreat, Deeper Still, God completely healed and redeemed the wounds of my abortion and adultery. Now my calling is to tell others what He did for me and what He can do for you.

I am redeemed. I no longer wear that cloak of shame and guilt. Jesus reminded me that He bore my shame and guilt on the cross and then took it to the grave. It is no longer mine to carry. The chains are broken, the prison doors have been ripped off. I am free.

Jesus’ words, as always, were true. Satan sifted me. I succumbed to his lies. But, because Jesus was praying for me, I never lost faith, I lost my way. I needed to be humbled so that I could be useful for His Kingdom.

As much as I regret my sins and wish I could go back and undo that part of my life, I know God has been with me from the day I was born. I know that even in the abuse done to me and the sins I committed, He was there always calling me to trust Him. Sometimes I did. Other times I didn’t, but He was always faithful and always good.

I have learned that what the devil meant for evil, God means for good. He brings beauty out of ashes. He redeems the years the locust has eaten. He restores my soul. He is a good, good Father. He is my Husband and my Maker. He is my Prince of Peace. He is my Wonderful Counselor. He is Mighty God.

Jesus is my identity now. I no longer need the acceptance or validation of people. I am accepted in the Beloved. I now live, and move, and have my being for an audience of One.

Those who have been forgiven much, love much.

Psalm 107:2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those He redeemed from the hand of the enemy.” That’s my calling now, to tell God’s story of relentless love and redemption. The story of the woman who was raped and chose life for her child was the key to unlocking my prison. Now I hope to unlock yours by sharing mine. If my story stops just one woman from having an abortion and stops just one person from committing adultery, then I will fulfill my calling. I want to spare people the scarring and regret of sexual sin. As much as I have been forgiven, redeemed, and set free, scars and regret remain. I don’t want that for you. You don’t want that for yourself. Jesus is enough for you.

There is nothing or no one in this world that you need more than Jesus. Only He can set you free.

God loves us. Those aren’t just words, it is reality. When you are truly captivated by the reality of His love for you, it will change the trajectory of your life, and then you too will be singing God’s praises.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

Mara Petro

To live is Christ, to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” ~Isaiah 61:1-3

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