January first, the feast of Mary, Mother of God, holds a special place in my life. Four years ago, on January first, my oldest daughter was born.

Celebrating Mary’s motherhood has become a celebration of my motherhood. The obligation of Mass has turned into a thanksgiving for a blessing I didn’t think I wanted. Through our shared feast day, I have come to know the Blessed Mother with a whole new appreciation.

I was never going to get married or have children. There were two main and many other underlying reasons I would have cited, had you asked me all those years ago. All of those “reasons,” though, led back to one thing: my lack of hope.

Reason #1: Why get married when marriage was obviously such an outdated proposition – and one that only left pain when it didn’t work out? My own family was evidence of this, and all around me in the wider world, it seemed that the only marriages that lasted were of my grandparent’s generation, and that was only because they didn’t know any better.

Reason #2: Why bring a child into a world such as ours? I didn’t need to look far to find support for this argument. There was heartache everywhere: rise in crime, increasing abortion rates (people not wanting their children), split homes. The world, as I saw it, was a hostile place. I often thought it was too bad that I was in it.

My reasons were shattered slowly, and my hard heart was softened by the touch of three mothers: my sister-in-law, my mother-in-law, and the Blessed Mother herself.

First, I watched a couple bury another son with grace and dignity. I watched a woman arrange the funeral for her daughter’s son, her grandson. I watched the funeral director with tears streaming down his face. I sat beside the man I would someday marry after he carried himself there, and I watch him still struggle with what was the third small white casket for his family.

Surely, in this grief, there was despair. And yet, what I took away, what I still learn from that experience, was hope. Everyone cried, yes. And then…they comforted each other. They held on to hope. They continue to hope.

Then there was a Mother’s Day Mass the year before I became Catholic. My relationship with my own mother was very fractured at that point, and I was in the midst of a five-year period in which I did not talk to her or communicate with her at all. It was at Mass, as Father was talking about the love Mary has for each of us, how she holds us and comforts us, that I found myself sobbing, shaking and hiccupping and crying in great gulps. I had to go to the back of the church and I was unable to come back in. Afterwards, I was unable to tell anyone what came over me. I didn’t know myself. Looking back, I think Mary must have touched my soul, and my hard heart must have softened enough to let the light of God’s love shine just a bit onto it.

Motherhood is a gift to me now. I am so blessed to be on both ends, receiving and giving. My relationship with my mother has been mended for some years now, and I’m surrounded by other mother-figures in an almost endless community of saints-to-be. Our Blessed Mother walks with me, and comforts me so very often.

As we contemplate Mary, the Mother of God, I find myself viewing my struggles with a more humorous eye, rolling my eyes at my dramatic moments, and finding inspiration in a humble approach to the hardest job I’ll ever hold. When I see the daughter whose birthday we celebrate on this Marian feast, I remember that I’m aiming for Mary in my vocation: to be a little more like the Mother of God each day, drawing closer to Jesus and better cooperating with the grace of God.