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Being a mother or a father is an extraordinary blessing that entails the capacity for both unfathomable joy and tremendous heartache. As children become older, many parents experience the tension of wanting the best for them yet sensing that as young adults they must be allowed the freedom to make their own decisions. In the midst of these joys and sorrows, accomplishments and struggles, parents are given the opportunity to make extraordinary acts of faith in God and in their children.

As we approach Christmas, we look to the holy family, seeing the self-giving love of the Blessed Mother and the mighty courage and strength of St. Joseph that allowed Christ to be born and in a mysterious way, unite himself with every unborn child. As Sisters of Life, we are often privileged to witness the sacrificial acts of mothers and fathers that give life to their children.

One afternoon in September, at our Visitation Mission in Manhattan where we serve women who are pregnant, a man named Alex* called asking for assistance on behalf of his college-aged daughter. Alex had recently learned that his daughter, Maggie, was pregnant and was planning to have an abortion. As we hear time and again, Alex and his wife were deeply disturbed by their daughter’s plans to have an abortion, but felt paralyzed in expressing their concern too strongly and running the risk of pushing her further away. Alex knew in the depths of his heart that an abortion was not the solution. Although it might seem like a temporary relief for Maggie, he could see that the abortion would profoundly wound her and eventually fill her with regret and sorrow. Alex also longed to see the face of his grandchild. We encouraged him to stand firm in his resolve for what he knew was right. He began to realize that as a father it was his responsibility to try to protect and guard his daughter from making destructive choices. He knew that he could not sit idle but had to pray and be proactive in helping his daughter.

Alex had a new hope. Over the next week, he called Maggie to encourage her. Eventually she stopped answering her phone so he left messages for her and asked her to call us, but she never responded. Since she would no longer answer her phone, Alex decided to drive several hours to her college campus to see her, but before he was able to make the trip, he left us a message: “Sisters, thank you for all your help, but Maggie had the abortion yesterday. It’s over.” I will never forget the tone of his voice when he spoke those words. They contained a heaviness of loss and utter defeat.

A few months later, I answered a call from a woman named Janet. She explained how stressed she was and that she just needed to talk. I listened to her as she described all the struggles her daughter was experiencing at college, including an unexpected pregnancy. The details seemed vaguely familiar. Janet went on to say that her daughter, out of anger, fear or frustration, told her and her husband that she had an abortion, but they recently learned that she in fact did not have the abortion and was still pregnant. As the conversation was ending, I assured her of our prayers for her family and asked what her daughter’s name was. She responded, “Maggie.”

My heart leapt with joy, so much so, that I actually jumped out of my chair. This was the same Maggie we were praying and fasting for a few months earlier. I immediately thought of Alex and how defeated he felt thinking that his efforts with his daughter had failed, yet they had truly taken root in her heart. As I spoke with Janet, she shared that things were slowly turning around, and for the first time in years Maggie joined them for Sunday Mass the day before.

Then I began to see, like a ray of light breaking through the darkness, the beauty of God the Father’s enduring love that can turn our sufferings into moments of great beauty. I asked Janet if she realized that the previous day was the first Sunday of Advent: the moment when the Church invites us all to contemplate the unborn Christ hidden in the Virgin Mary’s womb. Janet said she did recognize this and began to cry as she saw in Maggie a young mother who also found the grace to say “yes” to God’s gift of new life.

Eventually, Janet put Maggie on the phone and we talked about the many things she experienced over the previous months. Maggie shared that after months of despair, and of not knowing what to do, she was finally excited about her baby and had a sense of hope. She was proud to tell me herself that she attended Mass on the First Sunday of Advent. Maggie’s spirit’s lifted as we talked about how perfect it was that she returned home to the Church on the day when we begin to prepare for the birth of our Lord.

In God’s great Providence, the seed of faith that was planted in Maggie’s heart by her father’s encouragement months earlier, began to blossom on the first day of Advent, the season of expectant hope. All seeds need time to gestate, but when the soil has received the needed light and nourishment, a magnificent flowering springs forth.

(*Names have been changed.)

Originally printed in IMPRINT Magazine Winter 2011.