Nearly seven years ago, Maddie Martinez was working a full-time job that she really loved and sought to move up in the company. These aspirations, she said, led her to strongly consider having an abortion after she became pregnant.
However, an encounter with a Love Box from the pro-life organization Embrace Grace convinced her to choose a different path.
Now in her early 30s, Martinez works as the group coordinator for the Hurst, Texas-based pro-life ministry Embrace Grace which creates Love Boxes for women facing unplanned pregnancies. Inside each box is a personal invitation to a support group, stories shared by other mothers, a letter to give the young woman hope, a journal, a baby onesie that says “Best Gift ever” and A Bump in Life book featuring testimonies to offer hope to single moms, the website states.
Embrace Grace distributes Love Boxes to pregnancy centers located near churches that partner with the pro-life organization that offer support groups for women facing unplanned pregnancies. Embrace Grace’s 2021 Impact Report revealed the existence of 663 support groups across 48 states and seven countries.
The organization is one of several pro-life groups that have gained renewed national attention following the United States Supreme Court’s June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In Dobbs, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution did not contain a right to abortion, overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
Following the Dobbs decision, several states have banned or added regulations on abortion. Pro-life activists like Live Action founder Lila Rose continue to stress the importance of providing for mothers facing unplanned pregnancies, no matter where they live.
While the legality of abortion in the U.S. has changed in certain states, the mission of Embrace Grace remains the same: to “inspire and equip the church to love on single and pregnant young women and their families.”
In an interview with The Christian Post, Martinez extolled the work of Embrace Grace that gave her the strength to ditch her plan to have an abortion and refocus her life.
‘Maybe I could do this’
“I was 24 when I got pregnant,” Martinez recalled. “I had graduated college, had a really great job and was pretty self-sufficient, but I wanted to keep moving up in that company that I was with. And so, that’s why I really wanted to have the abortion.”
Martinez told CP that she wasn’t married at the time and “knew that if I was going to be a mom, that I was going to do it alone,” adding, “I knew that nobody else was going to parent with me.”
Having made up her mind that she was going to have an abortion, Martinez “needed somebody to take me to my appointment and pick me up from the appointment and it couldn’t be Uber” because “it had to be the same person signing off that they were going to take care of me.”
Martinez sought help from her sister, who is three years younger and already had experience with Embrace Grace. “She really tried to talk me out of it, but I was pretty adamant,” Martinez said, referring to the abortion that had already been scheduled.
Seeing that Martinez was determined to abort her baby, her sister sought help from Embrace Grace’s group leader Amy Ford, who co-founded the organization. Ford advised Martinez’s sister to “speak words of life over her.”
“You encourage her, and you tell her she could be a good mom,” Ford advised.
When Martinez’s sister explained that “she already did that and that’s not working,” Ford agreed to meet and present her with a box like those going to pregnancy centers to help moms “make a life-affirming decision for their [babies].”
Since Martinez lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex where Embrace Grace is located, Ford was able to meet and present her with a gift bag and offer her support.
The Love Box Martinez received, which was called the Love Bag at the time, contained all the items included in a typical package delivered to a pregnancy resource center except the addition of a onesie.
“She let me open it as if it was a gift and read the handwritten letter that was in there. She read it out loud to me, and just told me that I was a really great aunt, and I could be a … really amazing mom, too, and I just needed to trust that God had a plan for me,” Martinez said. “I abandoned the appointment. I never went.”
While nobody put pressure on Martinez to have an abortion, the few people in her life she talked to about the pregnancy said they would “support” her no matter what decision she made. Her sister was the exception, however, pleading for her baby’s life: “Don’t have an abortion.”
Martinez responded to her sister’s persistence by giving her an ultimatum: “Either you’re going to help me or you’re not.” Her sister ultimately assured her that she’d be supportive regardless of her ultimate decision. But she continued to “call things out in me and really helped me see that this wasn’t about an abortion, this was about me stepping into a greater calling,” she added.
Along with her sister’s insistence that she change her mind about abortion, Martinez said the book she received as part of the Love Box, titled A Bump in Life, also inspired her to cancel the abortion clinic appointment. The evening before she was scheduled to have the first abortion clinic appointment, Martinez “stayed up all night” reading the book because she “couldn’t sleep.” The book contained stories of mothers who chose life after facing unplanned pregnancies.
“Maybe it wasn’t the healthiest thing to do, but I really was comparing my situation with the ones in the stories, and I just kept thinking, ‘Wow, if she could do that, then I could do that,’” she said. “Some of them were homeless; some of them conceived out of rape; some of them were pastors’ kids and there was a lot of pressure on them. For me ... that wasn’t the case.”
Martinez realized that, unlike the women in the book, “I did have a job, I did have a home, I did have a family who … I knew would be supportive. When it got time for me to head over to the abortion clinic, I couldn’t do it and I didn’t want to do it.” She attributed her hesitancy about having the abortion to the book, which helped “plant seeds of … hope in me that I could be a good mom, that I could do this.”
“That book was in the bag that was gifted to me from my sister and so, I just picked it up and read it. I think I could have read any other book, but I just happened to pick up that one and I really started to think maybe I could have a baby, maybe I could be a good mom; maybe I could do this. And then my alarm went off for me to get ready for the day and that was the day I was going to have the abortion. And I think in some ways, that book stuck with me throughout the day.”
Martinez told CP she was grateful to have her sister beside her at this point in her life. She knew that “once I said ‘I can’t do it,’ she wasn’t going to let me change my mind again.”
‘What the church is supposed to look like’
After deciding to continue her pregnancy, Martinez developed a relationship with Embrace Grace. She credits the ministry with helping her to deepen her faith.
“Before really understanding who God was, I … just went to church on Sunday and I knew that I … felt like I was breaking all of the rules that had been set for me, like the Ten Commandments and the things that are said in the Bible that you’re not supposed to do, and I was doing them all,” Martinez shared.
“And then I would go to church on Sunday and ask for forgiveness and then start all over again. And so, it was just this … vicious cycle but I didn’t have a relationship with the Lord. I knew how to go to church, I knew how to pray, but that was it.”
Hannah Morris, donor relations manager for Embrace Grace, described her organization’s 12-week program for single mothers facing unplanned pregnancies as a source of “emotional support, spiritual support [and] practical support.”
Embrace Grace enabled Martinez to discover that “God already had this plan and that by … getting pregnant … He wasn’t disappointed in me, and He wasn’t angry with me.” From there, Martinez “started to see God in a different way and trust Him in a lot of areas.”
“I surrendered my life to God for the last time and I’m not exaggerating,” she declared. “I’ve probably done it several hundred times and tried and tried and tried and it was like this rock bottom point for me that I was pregnant, and I knew that my baby wasn’t conceived in a way that I could be proud of, but I could still be someone He could be proud of.”
As part of the Embrace Grace program, support group members throw a baby shower for the expectant mother, which Martinez fondly remembered as “overwhelming.” Martinez had begun attending a nearby church that partnered with Embrace Grace but did not officially join the faith community.
Leading up to the baby shower, two women at the church “adopted” Martinez and her then-unborn baby for a baby shower and bought numerous baby items and wrapped the gifts in celebration of her and her unborn child.
At Martinez’s baby shower, members of the support group stacked the presents “really, really high on this table” to the point where “you couldn’t see the other side of the room because the stack of gifts was so high.”
While she “didn’t know these women,” Martinez discovered that “they were so excited to meet me and they just said, ‘I want to know everything about you.’” They also shared their enthusiasm for her and her new life: “We could not wait to buy gifts for you and your baby.”
Martinez’s father, who helped her take the numerous gifts to her apartment, asked, “You mean to tell me that people that you don’t know from a church that you don’t regularly go to bought you all these gifts?” When she answered in the affirmative, her father replied, “That’s what the church is supposed to look like. That’s what it’s supposed to be,” he added as tears filled his eyes.
“I could not agree with him more that that’s what it was supposed to look like. It’s just helping and loving people where they’re at, without the expectation of what you think they should be doing or who you think they should be.”
To this day, Martinez stays in contact with the church ladies who threw her a baby shower. “They put their names and numbers in a card for me, and I remember for birthdays after that, I would send them pictures and just tell them how thankful I was for them.”
‘Being a mom isn’t the end of the world’
Martinez’s pregnancy marked the beginning of her relationship with Embrace Grace. Deciding that she “had to help other moms see that abortion isn’t a solution even though it feels like one,” Martinez began “volunteering there all the time.”
“I would take days off work to volunteer and build those Love Boxes and write those letters and talk to anybody who was there, anybody who would listen," she told CP. “I would tell them about what I experienced, how I abandoned my abortion appointment and how my life really changed after I got to understand who God was and the relationship He wanted with me through Embrace Grace and how pro-lifers aren’t angry people and they didn’t only care about my baby.”
“I just knew that if I could help just one mom understand that being a mom isn’t the end of the world, then I did something right and I did something to help somebody the way that I was helped,” Martinez proclaimed.
For her part, Martinez discovered this soon after giving birth to her son, Mateo, on Aug. 1, 2016.
“Once I had my baby, everything shifted,” she explained. “Perspectives shifted and I really just became a lot more thankful and grateful for my parents and for their support in so many aspects and really being able to see what Embrace Grace was doing for moms.”
Martinez eventually transitioned from volunteering at Embrace Grace on the side to working for the ministry full time after employees there asked if she “had a job” and encouraged her to send them her resume. “After a couple of interviews, they hired me and I’ve been there for five years now and hopefully for a lot more because this is my dream job. I love it.”
In addition to transitioning to full-time work at Embrace Grace, Martinez started Embrace Life, a ministry for single parents, at her church. She attended a church with an Embrace Grace group during her pregnancy and later learned there was another campus of the same church much closer to her home: “I knew that I wanted to start an Embrace Grace group at some point. I think I just wanted to get single motherhood under my belt first.”
Martinez described the other members of the Embrace Life group at her church as “like family,” adding, “My son loves them all.”
As Morris highlighted, Embrace Life is a yearlong program that focuses on “practical needs” in addition to helping participants discover their “identity in Christ.”
“They talk about budgeting, they talk about parenting, they talk about dating while you’re a single mom,” she said. “We also have a group for dads called Embrace Legacy.”
With Mateo recently celebrating his sixth birthday, Martinez has come to fully embrace motherhood.
“My son is 6 years old and he’s my only one,” she said. “It’s just me and him. … He’s literally the love of my life. He really is. I thought he would ruin my life and he’s done so much to just enrich it, to just make it this beautiful life.”
“I always say that the Love Box saved my baby. And in a lot of ways, my son saved me,” Martinez added. “He really helped me to step into being brave.”
The proud mother described her son as “this combination of silly and goofy” and “sweet and tender.” She expressed gratitude that “he’s not afraid to stand up for people,” stressing that he is “absolutely fearless” and “amazing.”
Martinez declared that she “can’t imagine doing life without God,” whom she credited for helping develop positive character traits in her son: “He stood in the gaps for me and my son in so many ways every single day. I don’t think that I could have taught him that on my own. I definitely needed God in those areas to show him his full potential really.”
‘Front row seats to miracles’
In her role as group coordinator for Embrace Grace, Martinez has sat in several “front row seats to miracles.” She has worked there full-time for five years after spending a year volunteering.
“Working at Embrace Grace, I get to see so many miracles that are happening all over the nation and in different parts of the world.” She identified some of her favorite moments on the job as phone calls from group leaders discussing how “this girl’s in a really hard situation and I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to help her.” Martinez said she stresses to concerned group leaders that “we can do only one piece of the puzzle, and we get to trust God to do the rest.’”
Martinez expressed gratitude for all the times “when they call back and they say, ‘You’re not going to believe that God has come through for this mom.’”
Embrace Grace group leaders regularly pray that “God will come through” for women facing unplanned pregnancies, she added. “My favorite part is when leaders are sharing stories about how moms come in and they’re shy and reserved and they’re not trusting and when they leave, they’re on fire for God and they can’t wait to get more.”
Although Embrace Grace primarily distributes Love Boxes in bulk to pro-life pregnancy centers, sometimes the organization receives “calls from people around the country who are saying, ‘I know somebody who’s pregnant and she has an abortion appointment.’” Embrace Grace's founder heard a similar plea from Martinez’s sister in January 2016.
In those cases, Martinez said Embrace Grace staff members “always offer to talk to that mom.”
“If she’s open to talking with us, we’d love to talk with her and then we can always try and send her a Love Box. We try to overnight a Love Box to her so that she can get one if there’s not one available at the pregnancy center near her. Or [if] she doesn’t want to go to the pregnancy center, we’ll overnight a Love Box to her.”
While Embrace Grace is located in the Dallas area, Martinez said the organization works to “reach more churches” across the U.S. and around the world by “going to conferences” and using social media. “We have a team that’s dedicated to reaching out to anybody and everybody who’s reaching out to us about starting a group. And they talk with them. They answer their questions, they help their pastors capture the vision of Embrace Grace as well.”
“God is amazing, and He just keeps opening these doors and these opportunities for people to continue to share about us,” she declared. “We have many denominations who host Embrace Grace groups.”
Martinez encouraged prospective partner churches to “preview Embrace Grace, see what it’s about” and “see if it’s a fit for their church.” Those hoping to start an Embrace Group at their church can find more information on the organization’s website.
Speaking about the impact the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision had on Embrace Grace, Martinez said she has “personally seen more [support] groups come about. I think people now understand that these moms need help.”
“We’re starting to see an uptick in groups. We’re starting to see an uptick in people trying to gather more resources to share with moms. The big thing for moms who are abortion-minded or who just don’t want to be pregnant, they don’t know what resources are out there. And so, people are trying to gather resources to give to these moms to say, ‘Hey, here’s everybody you can reach out to to help you, and one of those is Embrace Grace.”
Morris also expressed gratitude for the “across the board” uptick in donations Embrace Grace had received since the Dobbs decision, specifically pointing to an increase in “churches stepping up to start groups” as well as monetary gifts. “It’s been amazing,” she said. “The amount of Love Boxes that we’re sending out has increased. More girls are going to pregnancy centers and more love boxes are being handed out.”
Martinez concluded the interview with CP by crediting Embrace Grace with helping to “show pro-life people in a new light.” The organization, she reiterated, “makes them more real, more human and shows moms that pro-life people aren’t angry.”
Her “favorite part of Embrace Grace is that they like to take care of moms” by ensuring that “the baby’s going to be taken care of. They really care about mom, and they really want her to be the best, healthiest version of herself so she can be the best, healthiest version for her baby.”
‘Relational and transformational’
Highlighting the work the organization does and the relationships it cultivates with pregnancy centers and churches, Morris said Embrace Grace works “with over 500 pregnancy centers in the U.S.,” and said support groups have increased to more than 800 following the Dobbs decision.
“We provide Love Boxes to a pregnancy center if there’s a group within 30 miles of that pregnancy center. We don’t want to give Love Boxes out to a girl if there’s not a group for her to go to. And so, as new groups start, we connect with pregnancy centers surrounding that area where that group is.”
Morris added, “We have someone on staff who builds relationships with those pregnancy centers, makes sure that they have Love Boxes to give out and have a full understanding of what we do and what the Love Box does.”
Embrace Grace’s headquarters has a volunteer station where volunteers work to assemble the Love Boxes, which the group sends to pregnancy centers “based on the need” for them.
Churches also have the option to purchase Love Boxes. “A church can do an outreach where they purchase Love Boxes and then they assemble the Love Boxes as a group. And then they take the Love Boxes to their local pregnancy center so that also is kind of a bridge from the church to pregnancy centers to get them connected and a relationship going on,” she added.
The work culture at Embrace Grace is “relational and transformational” as opposed to “transactional,” Morris said. “That’s how we treat our group leaders and our pastors that have groups.”
“Our focus and mission really is to teach and train the church to walk alongside these moms,” she said. “So, our hope is that they are in a deep relationship with these moms to get them really plugged in and connected to their church, to the local church.”
Although it has now been several years since Martinez went through the Embrace Grace program, she still benefits from the generosity of the organization’s donors. Earlier this year, an anonymous donor gifted a car to the pro-life ministry, which Embrace Grace then traded in for two less expensive cars.
The organization gave the two cars away to single mothers, one of whom was Martinez. At the time of the car donation earlier this year, Martinez had a car that was consistently breaking down while the other single mom who received a vehicle did not have a car at all.
“We had a donor who reached out and she said, ‘Hey, I have a car and I really feel like we’re supposed to give it to a single mom.’ And so, some of us on staff really prayed about who the car was supposed to [go to].”
Morris expressed hope that sharing the story about the car donation “would compel other people and encourage them that if they have the means to do something like that, that’s another way that they can meet the needs of a single mom.”
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org