Mary, Our Mother: An Invitation to Intimacy, Comfort, and Trust
On this special feast day, I want to share from my heart about my love for our mother Mary and what a vital role she plays in my life. This is a testimony I gave at a women's group last month so it is a little longer than usual, but I hope it offers you encouragement and support on your own journey. Let yourself be loved! Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
We are all on a journey in this world. From the moment we arrive stained by original sin, the Lord invites us through our baptism to make our way back to the garden, to paradise with him, to live for eternity. The problem is there is so much about this life and this world and the influence of evil and our very selves that gets in the way of that beautiful journey.
I feel so grateful that I felt called at a young age to make this journey and to pursue the Lord. This longing continued into adulthood and my first marriage. My relationship with God became very much the center of my life, along with being the best wife and mother I could be. But after the explosion of my first marriage and the ensuing divorce, God began to reveal to me how little I really knew about myself or about Him. The Lord revealed a deep brokenness in my heart and how I had been truly held captive by fear and control for all of my adult life. As my eyes opened to this huge mess, I began to pray for healing – for wholeness, surrender, and trust. God is faithful and he answered my prayers, but in ways that were more painful than I could ever have imagined. But he is such a loving Lord that he did not leave me alone in this long process. He has given me his holy mother. As my relationship with her grew, it is clear to me that many of the fruits and the blessings of this time in my life have come from her hand and through her voice.
I was raised Catholic so Mary has been in my life in some way, however remote, for as long as I can remember. In college, I began to read about Marian apparitions almost shyly, like I was afraid of being criticized for no longer being just nominally religious. As a wife and mother, I learned to say the rosary with my children and memorized the angelus, gathering many levels of intellectual knowledge about who Mary could be to me and her role in the lives of many saints. I became familiar with the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, but I wasn’t sure about what it meant or why someone would do it. In all of this, I related to Mary more as an intellectual concept than as a person with whom I could have a relationship. She was an idea.
After my divorce, I found myself completely undone and terrified for the suffering and changes my children faced. I began to open my heart to Mary as I clung to her and begged her to be with my children. I entered the world of custody and visitation and it broke my heart to be separated from my children for any length of time and to have to send them off with their father and the other woman who became his wife. Mary became my refuge as I put my children in her arms over and over and over. I began to exercise faith that she could be more than just a far-off maternal figure. I was desperate and needed to believe she could be something real and close to my children right NOW. To be their mother when I could not be there. It was all I could do and brought me a degree of comfort in a horrible situation.
I began to spend time with my present husband in May of 2011. During that first month of getting to know each other, he mentioned he was planning to make the total consecration to Mary for the first time. I decided to join him and we began the 33 days of prayer according to St. Louis de Montfort. We could offer an entire talk on this way of relating to Jesus through Mary, but I include it here briefly because I see that decision as the first time I really said YES to Mary in a clear and definitive way for my own heart and soul. Ralph and I have made the 33 day consecration every year since. DeMontfort’s consecration while powerful and deep, is very traditional and austere. I can say I often didn’t “feel” like I was getting anything out of it. But it seemed valuable and I was doing it with my husband, so I kept at it year after year in faith, turning my heart to Jesus through Mary and offering my heart to the mother of our Lord.
Our Lady, ever present and always offering her maternal heart and protection to us, was just waiting for me to turn to her and accept the invitation she offered me, and offers to all of us, from the moment Christ gave her to us from the cross. As soon as I offered her my YES, I gave the Lord the freedom to use her in my life as His instrument of healing, guidance and support. She is the model of humility, knowing deeply how she can lead us to the heart of her son, but she waits patiently until we, her children, are ready to accept her invitation to intimacy, comfort, and trust.
Looking back as I prepared for this talk, it is amazing for me to see how this decision to make that Marian Consecration, and repeat it every year, was a turning point for me, not just in my relationship with Mary, but most profoundly in my relationship with Christ. I see so clearly how Mary has been the Lord’s chosen instrument during so many of the profound events in the last 7 years of my life. Her gentle presence led my husband and I to fall in love and be married. Praying the rosary together has always been an important part of our relationship. But with the motherly presence of Mary “officially” in my life, the Lord also began to use her to answer my deepest prayers: for healing, wholeness, and deliverance from fear.
You see, I felt trapped by brokenness, by shame, by fear, and by a profound feeling of unworthiness. I knew God loved me but couldn’t figure out why I didn’t FEEL this, why it wasn’t changing my life. I still carried deep wounds from the destruction of my first marriage and from many events in my childhood. I was gripped with anxiety on a daily basis and was desperate for healing. I thought often of just disappearing and was only really functioning in my day-to-day life because darn it, I knew how to be strong and white-knuckle my way through what needed to be done. But peace, joy, contentment – these were fleeting. And my very struggle with them created a sense of ongoing shame and failure because the Lord and my relationship with him were the focal point of my life. How could I be failing at it SO BADLY when I was working so HARD at being holy? I could also feel the Lord asking me to deal with these terribly painful and frightening issues and I was terrified – in fact I said NO to Him in a loud way to this part of my journey.
This is where Mary stepped in. The Lord began to very gently lead me to His mother in a deep and personal way and she became my companion to go deeper into my heart and fight for freedom. I found these words in my journal from May of 2016:
Jesus, I hear your mother calling me to her – my refuge. Can I let her mother me? Can I let her give me the tenderness I am longing for in my messy broken heart? Mary, I need you. Will you come? Are you here? Can you help me?... I long to be accepted and understood and loved and held as a daughter. Will you let me into your family, Mary? Is there even a place for me?
Because my time to share with you is limited, I would like to highlight 3 specific ways that Mary came running toward me at this time and became the instrument the Lord used to speak powerful truth into my heart.
Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, flew to me and brought me deep intimacy with her and Christ in my deepest pain. Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe held me through painful healing and gave me profound comfort. And Mary, Our Lady, Undoer of Knots rushed in and taught me TRUST.
In the spring of 2016 when my son James was barely 14, he told me he wanted to leave our home and go live with his dad 30 minutes away. While not surprising for a young boy, this was a shattering revelation to me and I was terrified of losing my son. He shared that he didn’t just want to be with his father, he also wanted to get away from me and my rules and our house and had a list of things that were just “better” with dad and just “wrong” with me. I felt very strongly that I could not agree to this so his father filed a petition with the court to obtain custody and a trial date was set for October of 2016.
This was a devastating time for me as a mother. While working to heal from my first husband’s profound rejection of me, I was now facing the same rejection from my son, accompanied by a lengthy legal document from his father outlining all the “offenses” I had committed as a mother that made me unfit to raise him. Fear and anxiety gripped me powerfully. I was terrified of losing the privilege of raising my son every day. It is not an exaggeration to say I spent those 6 months feeling like a flesh-eating dragon was breathing down my neck. In desperation, I thought of my deceased grandmother, one of the holiest women I know, and I reached out to my aunts to see if they had anything of hers I could borrow during this season to give me hope and strength. I felt completely powerless and so desperately sad. Quickly I received in the mail a beautiful statue of Mary cradling her son. Around that same time, the kids at St. Theresa came home with prayer cards of Our Lady Undoer of Knots, a devotion that I had not heard of, but seemed to be exactly what I needed. An excerpt of the prayer states:
“Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need… cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life. You know very well how desperate I am, my pain, and how I am bound by these knots. Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of His children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. No one, not even the Evil One himself, can take it away from your precious care…”
As I read the prayer, I had sudden clarity that I was supposed to entrust this lawsuit entirely to my mother Mary, the undoer of knots. She would be my refuge and my advocate with the Lord. Mary’s example of complete trust would have to be my lifeline. I would entrust this legal battle and all the agony that went with it to her motherly heart and rely on her efforts to bring about the outcome I so desperately wanted. This was NO EASY TASK.
Making an act of faith I wrote in my journal during this time: I place James and his broken heart into your mantle, Mary. Mary, my mother, be my refuge. I am so scared and broken and sad. Please be my mother. Wrap your mantle around me and pull my head to your chest so I may feel safe and loved.
The challenge for any of us when we call upon the Lord and his mother and ask for help is to TRUST them and get out of the way. I felt very convicted that I was supposed to completely leave this matter in Mary’s hands. That meant that, other than contacting my lawyer and making sure he had all the necessary documents, I did nothing to prepare a defense or to rebut any of the lies or accusations that were flying my way from my ex-husband. It took a daily and sometimes hourly act of faith and that the ice would not break under my feet as I walked gingerly through this time holding the hand of my holy mother. I was the smallest of little girls during this season, making a constant act of surrender and trust. One month before our court date, the lawsuit was dropped. When I got the news, I fell to the floor in my kitchen in gratitude to the Lord and Our Lady, relief and thanksgiving pouring through me. It was a profound experience of total deliverance. Mary was the dearest mother to me during this time, and a dear mother to my son too, healing his heart and helping him to peacefully transition into high school and spend these last 3 years happily in our home.
You too can each trust Mary with your deepest fears and with the messiest parts of your life, with those problems or relationships that seem hopelessly complicated or impossible to change. She wants to be so close to you. She isn’t remote like if we had a broken appliance that needed to be shipped off to a facility for repair. She is the tender mother that sits on the floor of the kitchen with her child in her lap gently working a brush through a mess of tangled hair or sitting by your side with a pile of jumbled necklaces in her hands, working with you to gently tease them apart. So close and so safe. Ever patient and vigilant as she works with our Lord to untangle the knots you face.
It was during that same summer in 2016, that I had an opportunity to go on a healing pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. There were so many needs that I brought with me in my heart on this trip. As I said earlier, I was struggling daily with anxiety and fear and shame and I longed for deep healing and freedom. I had previously known the details of Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill, but I was not prepared for the deep sense of Mary’s presence that was everywhere at Guadalupe. It was so obvious that Mary didn’t just appear 500 years ago and leave some relics behind. She was ALIVE and present in that place and I felt this profound interior stirring as a I stared at her image on the tilma and read, for maybe the first time, her words underneath it on the wall of the basilica: (translation)
“Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? What more do you need? Let nothing trouble or worry you.”
Am I not here who am your mother? In a time when I longed for comfort, Mary was here. Right here. My dearest mother. Again, she was not far off. She was so real and she was as close as I needed her to be. I called her into my heart deeply over and over during my time at Guadalupe. There were many powerful events for me during my 5 days there, but I will share the following because it was both profound and unexpected.
As I mentioned, my main intentions for my time on pilgrimage were healing from the anxiety and shame and fear that were so prevalent in my life. Our Lord and our lady definitely showed up in these areas. But early in the week, I was very surprised at a prayer service to be full of grief and sadness concretely related to my divorce. The Lord shed light on two main lies that had me held in their grip and were fueling so much of my painful struggles. My divorce was 5 years prior at the time and I believed I had done much, if not all, of the work in processing and healing from that traumatic event. But there in Guadalupe, wrapped in Mary’s mantle, the Lord revealed these lies and the devastating influence they still had on me. Being divorced was one of my deepest sufferings and I frequently felt the shame of having a “scarlet D” on my chest, despite the fact that I was so-so-happily remarried. But there with Mary, the Lord flooded my soul with truth and allowed me to feel, so surprisingly, the depth of true love I felt for my first husband. He showed me that He saw how important that love had truly been to me, that He saw my heart and the purity of my love, and that my devotion to my first marriage was a job well done. I felt compassion and grief for the pain of my first husband and what HE lost when he abandoned me, his children, and his God. I also realized that although our marriage had been annulled, I still felt it was my spiritual responsibility to carry him – not the ugly, mean, accusing adulterer, but the hurting, lost 24 year old man I had married who was now heading for destruction. Mary was calling me to leave that burden there in her mother’s heart and with Jesus. In my journal from that night, I found these words:
“I put it all in your hands, Lord. Please carry him and allow me, in laying him down, to be free to fully forgive. To see with compassion how all his hurtful actions came from his pain and to only care about the broken heart he has. Goodbye, Ray. I will leave you here with God’s grace and in the hands of Jesus.”
This was so powerful for me – the gift of this freedom and the grace of forgiveness. Mary offered me so much comfort by reassuring me that the Lord SAW me in everything I had gone through and truly knew my heart. I felt cradled in her love.
When I first learned about my former husband’s adultery, I knew I would need supernatural help to forgive him and the other women. I had faith that it was the only path to peace and freedom no matter the outcome of this terrible ordeal. I remembered at some point during this time when a friend had shared with me that after her mother died, she wanted a sign to know when her mother was finally in Heaven. She prayed fervently for a specific sign and some months later it was granted. I was fascinated. I had never had the confidence and boldness to approach God this way, but in that season of brokenness and pain and NEED, I gave it a try. I wrote in my journal:
“I want to forgive. I want to be rinsed clean. To let it all go… I am asking for and wanting something I know is supernatural: the grace of total forgiveness… I ask for the sign of a single yellow rose to be given to me to help me know when I have completely forgiven them and am healed.”
I smile when I read those words now. I was so sincere and hopeful and I really, REALLY thought I would have that yellow rose by the end of the month. Maybe two months at the latest. Bless my heart.
On the very last day of the pilgrimage, bursting with graces from my dearest holy Mother and our Lord, a friend and I headed over to a side garden on the grounds of the Basilica that we had not visited yet. A path led to an enormous statue of Christ the King. Soaking in the beauty of the garden path and our final day, I took many pictures, thanking God for the gift of this time with Him. As I finally stood at the foot of the Christ the King statue, looming 40 feet over my head, I photographed the words etched into the circular base in Spanish: Vivo Christo Rey! Long live Christ the King! I made my way around the statue to take a picture of the next set of words. As I framed the shot, my breath caught in my throat. Surrounding the base of the statue on this side were the words “The Virgen of Guadalupe” and the green leaves of many, many rose bushes. But there in front of me was only one flower. A single yellow rose.
I stood for the longest time in this sacred moment. God had not forgotten my long ago prayer. I had waited for YEARS for someone, some friend or my husband or some unknowing accomplice to give me my flower. I hadn’t given up, but I also wondered if I hadn’t been TOO bold in asking for this sign. Was it too much? Was God really listening? But here it was, 6 years later. Given to me by Our Lady of Guadalupe -- She who had been so close and offered me so much comfort all week. Am I not here who am your mother? Who better than my heavenly Mother to bring me the peace and understanding that I had forgiven well and completely? Tears poured down my cheeks and I whispered “thank you” over and over again. Resisting the urge to take the whole flower, I leaned in and carefully pulled off one delicate yellow petal to bring home with me. And then like the women at the tomb on Easter Sunday, I ran to find my friends and my tour group to tell anyone who would listen about my miracle.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is a tender and present mother. She offers comfort and wraps us in the mantle of her love, reassuring us that we are under the shadow of her protection. Turn to her in your own sadness or grief. She is waiting for you as she waited patiently for Juan Diego and for me, and she longs to bring you great graces and draw you closer to her son.
After Ralph and I got married, we starting saving up for a 5-year anniversary trip to Italy. When I found out I was pregnant just before our 4th anniversary, we decided we better hurry up and take that trip because life was going to get very complicated!! We pulled the trigger and I immediately began planning for September, just a few months away. 3 weeks before our trip my pre-natal testing revealed that our little baby, a boy, had a 87.7% chance of having trisomy 18 – a condition deemed “incompatible with life”. Trisomy 18 is caused when there is a 3rd copy of the 18th chromosome in every cell of the baby’s body. This causes many issues with how the child’s body develops and is able to communicate with itself. Very few Trisomy 18 babies are born alive. Those that are born alive, rarely live more than a few hours or days. Fewer than 12% will make it to their first birthday. This potential diagnosis was devastating. Still getting over the shock of being pregnant, but filled with joy already, I could barely process the information and it took weeks for us to try and make sense of what was now our life. We were stunned and the grief and fear and loss were overwhelming as we faced the 87.7% chance that our little boy was going to die – this child that we LONGED for and that we already adored.
We knew, though, that our Lord was very close with us all and certainly with our sweet baby. He had a plan for his life that would unfold in the way it was destined from all eternity, as hard as that might be for us to accept. As soon as we realized our little one’s life could be very short, we knew we needed to be able to love him and pray for him by name right now. I wanted to let Ralph make the decision-- His beautiful father’s heart chose John, the beloved son of the elderly Zechariah and Elizabeth from the bible, and Paul, the saint whose powerful conversion and deep love for the Lord have been very meaningful to Ralph and me. John Paul. But I wanted one more name: Raphael, for his daddy and the victorious angel whose name means “God Heals.” John Paul Raphael Leon.
As we sat in the wake of this devastating news, we felt so keenly the universal truth that most of our lives are out of our control. ALL we can do is trust and surrender to the Lord, confident of His presence and love, but with no certainty of outcome. Our plan was to fall in love with our baby as much as we could with whatever time we were given. Frankly, I thought this was a terrible plan. I wanted a plan that included changing the test results and making him healthy, but I was out of luck. With the news of John Paul Raphael’s possible diagnosis, going to Italy was no longer a vacation but a pilgrimage. We might never be able to take John Paul Raphael on another family vacation, but we could do this one – just the 3 of us. Praying for his healing also gave focus to our trip. Every church, every altar, every mass, every saint – they were all opportunities to lay our hearts and our need before God all over the country of Italy! We prayed at the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle, St. John Paul the Great, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare – so many warriors to intercede for one sweet small baby and his scared mommy and daddy. We prayed for a miracle of total health and healing and, at the very least, for the gift of him being born alive.
Mary was very close in 2 profound ways during this trip. On our first day in Italy in Rome, we visited Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Basilica of St. Peter. I had been there before as a fresh young 21-year-old, straight out of college, and here I returned, wounded and scarred from my first marriage with 9 heart-broken children and one very sick baby who I longed for with all my heart. I knelt there and I stared at the statue, this heart-broken mother cradling her dead son. We don’t really know how much Mary knew when Jesus died; what details, if any, God the Father had placed in her heart. Maybe none – maybe she just had to trust that somehow this terrible suffering of her Son would be redeemed in some way. In that moment, then, she is every mother who has every lost a child. Every mother who has ever wept over how cruel the world has been to her son, to her daughter; every mother who has ever felt like the world has ended. I spoke to her from deep in my sorrow:
Oh, my mother. I see your face and your sorrow. You know my heart. You know what I carry. You know completely what it is to carry your son in your womb and in your arms and through his life, knowing you will surrender him to death. I know that the swords that pierce my heart are nothing in the light of His and your suffering, but I know you see me, my sweetest mother, and you know.
So much of my journey with John Paul Raphael was about faith – about finding a beacon of hope and clinging to it. But sometimes, like there at the feet of Mother Mary cradling her dead son, it was about a terrified little girl who was in WAY over her head. Who cannot possibly do this. Who feels crushed beneath the load of her loved baby who is most likely going to die. Living in this land of uncertainty and maybes and unknowns was exhausting and terrifying. I wept with my holy mother as I knelt there in front of that magnificent statue praying over and over: You know and you hear, my mother Mary. I trust you with my baby and my own heart.
The day before we flew home from Italy, we had a whirlwind 24 hours in Florence. After seeing some of the big sights, we were strolling through a neighborhood on our way to find someplace for lunch. We entered a beautiful square with a lovely church tucked off to one side. We decided to investigate and wandered in. We were immediately struck by an unfamiliar statue at the end of the aisle in front of the altar, just a bit off to the side. It was our lady, with seven long iron swords piercing her heart, her gaze looking down and away, in pain. I was captivated and began to walk down the aisle towards her. Just then the bells rang announcing noon mass about to begin. We were surprised but delighted and soon discovered we were visiting this church with the statue of our pierced mother on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Mass was profoundly moving as I felt such conviction in my heart that being in this place on this day was no coincidence. Our lady, deeply suffering her own seven sorrows, was speaking to my own mother’s heart. Not just recognizing the suffering we were in right now as we waited for our baby, but truly preparing me for the suffering that was to come when John Paul Raphael died in my arms and we began to live without him. I was mesmerized by each of her swords and how they brutally tore through her body. I was truly humbled. If you are not familiar with this devotion, the 7 sorrows of Mary are the prophecy of Simeon, the flight to Egypt, the loss of Jesus in the temple, meeting Jesus on the road to Calvary, the death of Jesus, holding his lifeless body, and placing him in the tomb. Nothing we will ever face on this earth will come close to the suffering of Jesus or Mary, but our gentle mother knows that we live in a valley of tears and the sorrows in our life can be deep and profound. Life-changing. She does not leave us alone but calls us to unite our sufferings with hers and with those of her Son. The gift of finding that church and encountering Our Lady of Sorrows on her very feast day was such a consolation to me and then and now. I still feel Mary’s arms around me as I grieve the loss of our son and have grown a deep devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows who is my daily companion.
Mary is a close and tender mother. She offers me deep intimacy during this terrible time in my life. She longs for this intimacy with you too. – to share her deepest pain with you and to help you carry your own deepest sufferings. Her arms are strong and her heart is deep. She loves us with a mother’s heart and is calling us to come close and let her soothe our deepest wounds. She offers us an authentic example of vulnerability and trust as she surrendered to the life the Father had planned for her. I hope these experiences I have shared will encourage each of you to answer her invitation to find intimacy, comfort and trust in friendship with her – Our Lady Undoer of Knots, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Sorrow, or some other dimension of her life and love that you feel drawn to. She will not disappoint.