Paul Marshall: Allowing God to Redeem Your Pain

sixth in the "Gift of Life" series

Posted by Nancy Lee on December 31, 2022


“God will often redeem your greatest pain to serve the greater good.” Paul Marshall was reading a book about spiritual development and discovering God’s will for your life. He paused and read the quote again which was followed by a question: What is your greatest pain?

That was easy for Paul to answer. He had experienced so much pain in his life. Unresolved pain that had surfaced in so many ways. Going back to his sixteenth birthday when he found out that his first girlfriend had been hunted down and shot to death by her ex-boyfriend.

During our interview, Paul said, “Dawn’s mother called to let me know what happened. I was in shock. And before hanging up, she informed me that the guy who murdered Dawn vowed to kill me, too.” He went on to say that the guy who killed her was only sentenced to seven years in prison and could be released after five. “Here I was at age 16, thinking my life could end by age 21.”

Paul started drinking and drugging to numb the pain.

And there were the abortions. A few months after tragically losing his girlfriend, Paul began dating someone else. After a few months, his new girlfriend became pregnant. Paul was a scared sixteen-year-old and left his girlfriend to deal with the pregnancy by herself. “To this day I hang my head in shame when I think about it because I didn’t do the right thing,” Paul said.

“I happened to see her one day, and she put my hand on her stomach. She was probably five or six months pregnant, and I could feel our baby moving around and kicking. Then I saw her again a few weeks later, and she was no longer pregnant.” At first, Paul thought maybe she delivered prematurely, but she explained to him that an influencer pressured her to have a late-term abortion. “I was devastated,” Paul said, “We both were. She was hysterical when she told me what happened and explained the details of the procedure to me.”

The pain was too much for the young couple. They went their own ways to grieve their loss. But they kept bumping into each other and eventually got back together. Though they tried to be more careful this time, Paul’s girlfriend got pregnant again. The couple wanted to make a better choice this time. They had talked about Paul dropping out of his senior year of high school and getting a job to support the three of them. They went together to a clinic with the hopes of being able to take parenting classes.

“Having an abortion was never part of our conversation,” Paul said, “but from the moment we walked in the door, that’s all the nurse talked about.” She repeatedly said that they were way too young to have a child and that bringing a child into the world would be foolish. She said the baby wasn’t a human yet, that it was just a mass of organic cells, so having an abortion wouldn’t conflict with any religious beliefs the couple might have. “And then she hit us where it counts when she said, ‘If you have an abortion, you won’t have to tell your parents,’” Paul said.

Of course, both sets of parents had been outraged the first time. It seemed like an easy out to not have to tell them, so they went through with the abortion.

“But once the abortion was over, I can’t even begin to tell you the heartache that came on us. We left the clinic and she just burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying. All I wanted to do is turn the clock back about an hour and run from that place like we had never been there, but unfortunately, there was nothing we could do.”

After that, their already unstable relationship became filled with hostility and bitterness, and Paul began drinking more heavily. They broke up around six months later. “The only good thing that came out of all this,” Paul said, “is that we both came to know the Lord.”

Paul was introduced to Christianity through a co-worker at a restaurant where he worked. Paul walked into work on his first day and was greeted by a young man with an afro wearing a “Jesus People USA” T-shirt. He extended his hand to Paul and said, “Hi, I’m Eddie. I’m a Born-Again Christian.”

Paul initially thought he was weird, but over time he noticed something about Ed. “He had this joy and peace about him that was just unbelievable. No matter how much people picked on him for being different, he never got angry. He never turned his back on anyone. He was always kind,” Paul said. 

Paul desperately wanted the peace that Eddie had, so Paul started confiding in him. Eddie shared more about the Gospel and his relationship with the Lord. Soon they were good friends, and Paul put his faith in Jesus. Paul experienced joy and peace, and he began attending services with Eddie.

Paul was in close fellowship with other Christians for a couple of years but never got well-grounded in the Bible. He gradually wandered from the faith and began drinking heavily again. “The pain was so strong,” Paul explained, “Even as a Christian, I could not break free from the alcohol. The drunker I was, the less I thought about everything that had happened.”

Paul joined the military and in 1984, while serving as a combat-trained medic, Paul blacked out while driving and hit a telephone pole. As a result of the accident, he was forced into counseling for his addiction. 

After taking a thorough inventory of Paul’s drinking history, the counselor gave him sobering news. Though he was only in his twenties, Paul was in the late stages of alcoholism. “If you don’t do something about this now, you will die,” she told him.

The thought of getting sober was overwhelming to Paul. Then the counselor revealed that she herself was a recovered alcoholic—twenty years sober. She told him she understood what he was going through, and she gave him a challenge. “All you need to do is commit to stay sober and attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for one day. Then repeat the commitment every day for six months. If at the end of six months you can’t say that your life is getting better, you can always go back to drinking.”

Her authenticity made all the difference. She had walked in his shoes, and helped him understand that alcoholism can affect anyone. As hard as it was, Paul accepted the challenge. He had a few minor set-setbacks at first, but he has been sober ever since. Paul is so grateful for the way God used help from this counselor and Alcoholics Anonymous whom he credits with saving his life.

Becoming sober awakened Paul to God’s work in his life, and he started going to church again. God had another blessing in store for Paul. In 1988, he married his wife, Christine.

Paul and Christine became more involved in church, and eventually, Paul was asked to be an elder. Paul felt the need for additional training before he made this commitment, so he began taking courses from a Bible college that offered distance learning through a local church. “I not only learned about the Bible,” Paul said, “But I also got to know God better.”

Soon after, Paul read the quote, “God will often redeem your greatest pain to serve the greater good.”

Paul fell to his knees and prayed, “Dear Lord, I don’t know what I can do about my first girlfriend’s death or the abortions, but if there is anything I can do to serve you with either one of these areas, just open the door.”

Within a month, Paul found himself at his first Care Net Banquet, and he knew this was an answer to his prayer. As he left that night, Paul told his wife that he had to become a part of this organization.  He became a donor that night. 

At the next Care Net banquet Paul attended, he heard a speaker talking about the pain and shame of her abortion, of the feeling of no one really knowing her because she had such an awful thing in her past. Paul could relate. He remembers dressing up in a suit and tie and looking at himself in the mirror thinking, “You might look good on the outside, but inside you are dying because you are a mess over the abortions.”

The speaker mentioned that Care Net provided counseling for men. For the next several months, Paul struggled with the idea of picking up the phone and calling Care Net to schedule an appointment, but he could not muster up the courage to pick up the phone and ask. He was so afraid of being judged by all the perfect, holy women who he imagined worked there. He decided instead that he would become a volunteer. 

In volunteer training, the leader shared her personal experience of losing a child to abortion, and how she found healing through Care Net’s program, and he was told that if he had been involved in an abortion, he would have to go through the abortion recovery class. After all these years, Paul received the counseling that he needed. 

“Going through Healing a Father’s Heart was the best investment of time … it gave me the tools I need to cope. I learned a lot more about God’s love and concern for each one of us. And I learned that, as tragic as abortion is, it is not the unpardonable sin even though it sometimes feels like it.” 

Paul was asked to head up the men’s ministry at Care Net, and then to serve on the Board of Directors. In 2005 he was hired to work as the Developmental Director, and in 2012, he became the President and the Executive Director of Care Net Pregnancy Centers of Central New York, which consists of eight centers.

“Knowing that the ministry God called me to has helped inspire thousands of women to choose life over abortion has been a blessing. But another part of that greater good for me has been walking other men through the recovery process. It is a joy to hear their stories and see their recovery start to take hold. It is beautiful how God took my pain and redeemed it for good, to reach so many people.”

Paul concludes by adding, “I wish I had an adult perspective at age 16, and knew then how much pain and heartache would arise from being sexually active at such a young age. Abortion didn’t just end the lives of two children. It wounded the two of us as well. Life has never been the same.”

More about Paul: Paul continues to serve as President and Executive Director of Care Net Pregnancy Center of Central New York, a network of eight client service centers. He is also the past Board President of the New York State Pregnancy Care Fellowship, provides board training and consulting to pregnancy help organizations, and was a regional coordinator for the Silent No More Campaign in Central and Western New York.

Paul shared his testimony on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court at the 2015 March forLife in Washington, DC, has been published in Christian Counseling Today, and speaks regularly on pro-life issues and how deeply abortion affects women and men. Paul is also an adoptee and thanks God that his birth mother chose life.

Paul is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces where he served as a medic in the 46 th Combat Support Hospital. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a concentration in creative writing from the State University of New York at Empire State College.

In his free time Paul enjoys reading, writing, hiking, and organic vegetable gardening. He and his wife Christine are blessed with three children, two grandchildren, and a crazy dog named Busky.

*Background image by Dan Evans from Pixabay

Other Stories in the Gift of Life Series:

Paul Marshall: Allowing God to Redeem Your Pain

Colleen Thomas: Embracing Down Syndrome

Tamara Wanner: Finding Hope Through Adoption

Amy Myers: Finding Hope in Infertility and Pregnancy Loss

Julee Wilson: Hope in Choosing Life Amid Uncertainty

Finding Identity and Purpose in Christ: a story of a secret adoption

Sarah DePass: Herkimer County Care Net: from teen mom to director