It was a cold night in February of 1983 when 17-year-old Kelly Williams got out of bed and drove to her Catholic parish in Northeast Ohio.
Lake-effect snow drifted around her in the dark as she pulled into the parking lot and set her restless eyes on the parish’s new outdoor shrine for the Virgin Mary.
“Jesus…what am I doing here?” she wondered. It was around 1 a.m.
As Kelly approached the shrine, the pain and heartache welling up inside of her seemed to spill over. She fell to her knees in tearful realization that she was there to see the Lord.
“If you do this, I will work it all for your good,” she heard Him say.
“And I wept and I don’t know how long I was there, but I just cried to the Lord,” she said. “And He helped me.”
Kelly’s tearful moment in the snow had come at a critical juncture in her life. Just a couple of weeks before, she had discovered that she was pregnant.
A self-described “good Irish-Catholic girl,” Kelly was in utter shock.
“I can’t explain how alone I felt,” she said. “And I didn’t know what to do. And the fear was so profound because all I wanted was my life back. But it was shot to smithereens.”
In that moment, Kelly’s fear was magnified by the loneliness and mourning that had been a part of her life since she was a small child.
Just a Mass of Tissue?
At just 3-years-old, she had watched her father pass away, leaving a gaping wound in her heart.
“You don’t know at the time the impact that that has on you as a little girl,” she said.
But over the course of her youth, she would certainly come to learn.
Kelly was the youngest of five children in a blended family. Her mother had been married and widowed twice before she turned 27. Her second husband was Kelly’s father.
After he passed, Kelly’s mother went on to marry again. When that marriage began to splinter, her mother moved to Indianapolis. Kelly, who was a teen, chose to stay with her step-father in Ohio. By the time Kelly was a senior in high school, she had changed households multiple times, going between friends’ homes and eventually landing with extended family.
During that time, she met a man. A man who, she said, “paid attention to me,” filling a void left by her father’s death and her mother’s absence.
The trouble was, the man was married. He told Kelly that he and his wife were divorcing, but in January of 1983, he found out his wife was pregnant.
Despite her devotion to abstinence, Kelly found out she herself was pregnant soon after.
She was petrified by the news. But everyone around her seemed to have the perfect solution.
“It’s easy—it’s just a mass of tissue,” they would tell her.
The birth father began pressuring her to abort. Two close friends told her to do the same. A cousin mentioned a “doctor” who could carry it out.
The pressure built and the justifications started in Kelly’s fear-ridden mind.
“There’s this systematic detachment we go through where it no longer is a baby,” she said. “It becomes this blob of tissue. ‘Oh, it won’t feel anything.’ And the narrative starts and it becomes so convincing that you just find yourself putting emotional distance between you and this baby that you’re carrying that it no longer feels like a baby.”
But her sister, Lauren, in Indianapolis had a different perspective than Kelly’s friends.
Terrified, Kelly told her sister, “I can’t. I’m going to [have an abortion] because I can’t do this.”
But Lauren gave her pause.
“I don’t remember what she said,” Kelly said. “I just remember she stood for life. I just remember it put a question mark in my decision.”
That question mark sent her to her Catholic parish late one snowy, February night to find her answer in Jesus.
After her heart-wrenching realization there, she soldiered on, graduating from high school at six months pregnant and then moving to Indianapolis to live with her mom and, eventually, give birth to her son Matthew.
“I can be your friend.”
For the first couple of years after, Kelly continued to live with the hurt and pain of her heartbreak. But because of God’s healing, as well as her mother’s encouragement, she gradually began to find redemption.
It was at church one morning that her mother saw a man walk up the aisle to be baptized. Kelly’s mother—determined that one of her daughters would marry that man—began inviting him over for dinner.
On the first night Randy came to their home for dinner, Matthew, just two years old, greeted him by saying, “Hi, my name is Matt. Do you love God and Jesus? ‘Cause if you do, I can be your friend.”
It was the beginning of what would become much more than a friendship. Soon, Kelly and Randy were dating and within five months, they were engaged.
But Randy suggested one condition to their engagement: that Kelly seek counseling. In the months leading up to their marriage, Randy walked with Kelly through therapy. Even after their marriage, he walked with her through processing the years of pain and grief pent up inside of her.
“That’s the man I’m married to, to this day: selfless and humble and kind,” she said.
A year after their marriage, Randy and Kelly began the legal process of officially making Randy Matthew’s father through adoption. In accordance with Indiana law, Kelly and Randy sent Matthews’s birth father a certified letter stating Randy’s intent to adopt. They placed an announcement in the paper, as well. Eventually, the birth father’s parental rights were declared null and void by way of abandonment, and Randy adopted Matthew, who was then 5.
Today, Kelly is sure the Lord gave Matthew the father He wanted him to have through Randy.
“It’s not been without bumps,” she said. “Blended families are hard. They just are.”
But a blended family also comes very naturally to Kelly, who grew up in one herself.
Now, she, Randy, and their children continue to balance the challenges with the blessings of being blended, finding redemption through it all.
“It’s not a story that you just close the door on,” Kelly said. “It’s a story. We live with it every day.”
In living with it, Kelly has found two important gifts from God to be especially helpful: grace and freedom.
In sharing her story, she gives grace to Matthew’s birth father, withholding judgment and resentment and processing her pain in a way that does not make it Matthew’s burden.
That grace, Kelly believes, would give Matthew the freedom to ask questions and simply talk about his birth father and family history without fear or shame.
For Kelly fully believes that, regardless of what happened 38 years ago, she got the best part of his birth father—she got Matthew. Today, Matthew is a pastor with a family of his own, learning to be a father himself.
Looking back at the decision she made back in 1983, Kelly can’t help but feel blessed and redeemed.
“I had no idea the redemption that the choice of life brings,” she said. “I was just sitting with the Lord this morning, thinking, ‘Oh, Father, how you have blessed me…’”
Kelly Williams is the author of the books, A Gradual Redemption and A Beautiful Restoration. For information on her books, book clubs or speaking engagements, please contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Indiana Right to Life’s adoption project, So Many Special Families, visit somanyspecialfamilies.org.