I always liked Jessica. I met her when she was 12 and I was a youth leader in the parish. The oldest of six children, Jessica was brilliant, reserved and full of practical wisdom.
Even as an adolescent, she had a poise that belied her youth. Her sincere faith seemed to pervade all corners of her life.
After high school, Jessica headed off to a Christian college in North Carolina where she began a vigorous pre-law program. She was ambitious and extremely hardworking, so I was not surprised when she rose to the top of her class. I often wondered if her stubborn streak, sometimes tinged with rebellion, helped or hindered the accomplishment of her goals.
The summer after her freshman year in college, Jessica and her boyfriend Nick worked as leaders in a large youth group at her parents’ parish in Michigan. Jess and Nick were role models for the teens, as well as for Jess’s younger brothers.
Summer ended and Jess and Nick made the 800-mile trek back to North Carolina. Autumn temperatures began to drop. Pumpkins appeared on verandas.
One day in October, on an impulse, I decided to visit Jess at school a few hours away. Once on campus, I asked around until I found Jessica’s dorm. She was shocked to see me.
We sat in her cramped dorm room and chatted for a long while. Then she took a deep breath and quietly stated, “Reg, I’m pregnant.”
Nick and Jessica had been chaste in their relationship, wanting to save themselves for marriage, but things had gotten out of hand over the summer. After they returned to school, Jessica had learned that she was pregnant. She was 18.
Initially, Jess’s biggest fear was of breaking the news to her parents, and she knew she had to tell them in person. The week before my visit, Jessica had made the exhausting journey back to Michigan. It had taken her all day, traveling 15 hours alone and afraid.
Late Friday evening, Jessica had walked unannounced into her parents’ living room.
For days she had been rehearsing what she would say to them, but as soon as she’d stepped into the house, her speech evaporated. She just blurted out, “I’m so sorry. I’m pregnant.”
Silently, her parents walked the length of the living room and wrapped their arms around their daughter, holding her as she sobbed. “We love you,” they assured her. “We will walk through this with you. You are welcome in our home. Nick is welcome in our home. The baby will be welcome here.”
Jessica wept at her parents’ compassion when she had feared condemnation. Two days later she returned to school, where a more difficult audience faced her: the school administration.
The dean of the Christian college did not want a pregnant teen on campus. It would reflect poorly on the school’s pristine reputation. The dean pressed Jessica to withdraw from classes until after the birth of the baby.
Jessica bristled. “Are you aware of how many pregnancies occur on campus every year?” she asked the dean. “You probably have no idea, because most of them end in abortion. My boyfriend and I know that what we did was wrong, but we are trying to do the right thing now. Isn’t that something the school should encourage?”
In the end, an uneasy truce was reached and Jessica remained in school until spring break. A beautiful baby girl was born, and the following month Jessica and Nick were married.
With tremendous family support, both students completed their educations. Jessica went on to law school, giving birth to their second child the week she passed the bar.
While marriage is not the right answer for most teen pregnancies, it has worked for Nick and Jessica. They are raising their children in an environment of compassion, drawing on the compassion that was shown to them.
Jess has observed wryly that when people make moral errors, Christians are as likely to shoot the wounded as they are to bind up those wounds with love.
May we be slow to judge, and tenderhearted toward those who fall.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.