My fourth pregnancy was a nightmare. For starters, it was not in my plan. Yes, I wanted more children, but not right then. I had just gotten myself back into my regular clothes. Our apartment was tiny. Adding a fourth child was something that needed to happen later. Not sooner. When my husband suspected I was pregnant, he urged me to take a test. So, while on the way to adopt a cat with my three small children, I stopped at K-Mart, bought a test, and took it.
We didn’t adopt the cat.
The pregnancy was high risk and difficult, and came with a labor and delivery that required seven blood transfusions to save my life. When I was finally discharged on Mother’s Day and my husband handed me a small gift box, I could only imagine the present inside! Was it diamonds? Pearls? I slowly opened the box in great anticipation, and uncovered what I was certain would be the gift of all gifts.
It was a rosary.
And I was disappointed.
That’s not easy to admit. But it is the truth. I had no idea what a priceless treasure I was given. My mother had definitely made known its importance and reverence when, as a child, I tried to look like Madonna andwore my rosary beads as a necklace. But praying it? That was never something I felt I needed to do. That was something the old holy women did.
Four years later, one morning after Mass, that fourth baby of mine went missing. I ran back into the church, but couldn’t find him. I panicked and set out for the parking lot, fearing the worst. Finally, I spotted him. Knees on the pavement, his hands folded in prayer, my 4-year-old son was praying in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother. He proceeded to do this every Sunday after Mass. He ran to Mary, as if she were calling him.
A year later, the enemy attacked my marriage. It was during this time that my husband bought me a Valentine’s Day gift. It was not a diamond necklace. It was another rosary! (Cue more disappointment.) But this was not any ordinary rosary. It was the beads used to pray the Sorrowful Rosary. I did not know that then, nor did my husband when he purchased it. I figured he got a discount because it was missing a few beads.
Despite my lack of rosary knowledge, I prayed it as best as I could and faithfully every day. Our marriage was restored and life was good. And then the enemy attacked again. This time, he went after my children. Without hesitation, I found myself running to the church, but when I discovered it was in lockdown, I ran to the one who could unlock any door, the one would bring me to Jesus: our Blessed Mother. And in the same spot that my son would run to, I got on my knees and began to pray.
That was no small moment. It was huge and significant, and had our Lady’s hands all over it. I could go on and on with the countless ways that Mary has interceded in my life, so you would think that I would be praying the rosary fervently, every day. But I am sad to admit, it has not been that way. Despite my devotion to Mary, my many consecrations and my enrollment as a member of The Association of Mary, Queen of All Hearts, praying the Rosary is a habit that I all too easily allow myself to slide out of.
Since quarantine, there have been no more excuses of “not enough time for Mary.” And the more I get back to this devotion, the more crystal clear the spiritual component of this virus has become to me. The enemy is real, my friends, and he is delighting in our fear and panic over this pandemic. He is thrilled that our churches have closed, and the Eucharist has been removed from our lives. But while the enemy whispers, “you are helpless, you can’t get to your God”…Mary comes to us in haste, stands on his head, and says, “Do not fear, my daughter, your Mother is here.”
When the Blessed Virgin Mary came to America in the visitation of the miraculous apparitions of Guadalupe, our Lady said to St. Juan Diego: “Know for certain that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God…Here I will show and offer all my love, my compassion, my help and protection. I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me. I will hear their weeping and their sorrows…their necessities and misfortunes...Listen, and let it penetrate your heart...Do not fear any illness or vexation, anguish or pain. 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? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”
Today, April 28, is the Feast day of one of the greatest Marian Saints: St. Louis De Montfort. His books, True Devotionand The Secret Of The Rosary, have radically transformed my life, showing me how Mary is necessary and the Rosary is our greatest weapon. And so I urge you today, to use this gift of time we have been given wisely, to draw closer to Jesus through Mary. As I encourage this, I am aware that many see no need to go to Mary. “Why go to her, when I can go straight to Jesus?” Fair question. And so, as Lisa Brenninkmeyer responds, “The more we understand her, the more we can love her. The more we love her, the more we’ll be drawn to her son. When we turn our eyes to Mary, we don’t take our focus off of Christ. She just helps us to see him better.”
I cannot think of another time in my life when the world needs to see Christ better than right now. If you have been away from the Rosary, I urge you…come back. If you have never prayed the Rosary, I urge you…try it. Listen to the call of your Mother, and let her bring you to Jesus.
Queen of the most holy Rosary, pray for us.
In Jesus and Mary,
P.S. Looking for ways to better understand devotion to Mary? Check out the Walking with Purpose Bible study on the women of the Bible: Discovering Our Dignity. This is my favorite study, and Lesson 16 is all about Mary and showing us how this devotion flows from a deep understanding of Scripture.
 Father Peter John Cameron, Homily for December 23, 2012, at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, Connecticut. https://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/am-i-not-here-who-am-your-mother
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Discovering Our Dignity(Walking With Purpose, July 2019), p. 230.
Have you ever carried a large statue of Mary, up hill, in a trash bag, in the snow? I haven’t either, but I did watch a student do this very thing a few years ago when I helped lead a college mission trip to Peru. Our trip leader told us that it wasn’t supposed to rain, let alone snow, so many of us, coming from Texas, packed nothing more than a light fleece to combat the chill of the Andes mountains.
When we arrived in Macusani, Peru (14,000 ft elevation), I immediately regretted not packing something heavier. We were teaching faith formation to young children in the village after sunset, and it was freezing. I had no idea that it would be the weather that made this mission trip so internally difficult. Every night all fourteen of us would return from teaching and huddle around the stove fire until our soup warmed up. We would eat our soup in a freezing room, and then run to our beds where the warmth of our blankets awaited.
About a week after our arrival, my mission team and I sat in the courtyard soaking up a bit of sunlight before traveling up the hill to teach our evening classes. The plan for that night was to do a quick lesson in the chapel and then head to the street for a rosary procession around the neighborhood. Since no procession is complete without a statue, we had borrowed a statue of Mary to bring for the occasion. In late afternoon the clouds rolled in, and by the time we were packing up to leave, it had started to snow. It had started to snow a lot.
We were not prepared for this sort of weather so we considered canceling that night’s catechesis. I was STRONGLY on the side of canceling. No one had the proper clothing, it would be dark, we could get sick, and we could do it tomorrow. I came with as many reasons to cancel as possible, and every single one was valid. Nevertheless, our trip leader insisted we still go. He told us these children were used to adults not showing up for them, and that we were going to be different. We would show up even if it was hard.
It would be nice to say that I rose to the occasion with heroic generosity, but that was not the case. My participation was half-hearted. It was tiring being so cold for so long, and my desire to be comfortable again was strong. Begrudgingly, I layered on my thin clothing, and we started walking up the hill. It was then, looking up the dark road, that I saw her. There she was: Our Blessed Mother traveling with us, on a student’s back, in a trash bag. If she could do it, I could do it.
When we arrived at the chapel, I expected it to be empty. The kids could have stayed home, but they didn’t. Almost all of them were there, enthusiastically awaiting our arrival. We did a short lesson, decorated a procession altar, hoisted Mary on top, and headed for the street. For the next forty-five minutes, we walked through dark streets no longer lit with electricity, in a blizzard with Mary held high, reciting the rosary not once but twice. Let’s just say I was more enthusiastic about saying the first rosary than the second!
After our procession ended, we told the kids goodnight and headed back to eat. Over dinner, our trip leader, who has led many mission trips down to Peru, casually mentioned that the area of the village we had just left had been experiencing demonic activity. “Wait a minute, demonic activity?” I thought to myself. I stopped eating and let the comment sink in as repentance flooded my heart. Clearly, God had a plan that was much bigger than my desire for comfort.
With no power, the village stood in complete silence. The only sound to be heard was the sound of the rosary filling every corner of the streets. The good Lord had used our voices to reclaim His town. Thank God I was not allowed to choose comfort that night! Thank God I was not allowed to stay home! Thank God that someone stronger than I decided that we would be generous; that we would push through when it would have been ok not to. The parents of those kids would have simply told them that we had to cancel because of the weather. We would have been more comfortable for sure, but we would have missed out on what God wanted to do that night through our commitment to Him.
As I sit in the chapel today, years later, I read the verse before the gospel in the daily readings: “Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance.” The Lord multiplies our generosity and creates miracles through our perseverance. Too often, the comfort we choose is the barrier to His movement in the world. I am always asking God to use my life for His glory, but when the rubber hits the road, I choose to stay comfortable. I make excuses for why I can’t push through to see what He wants to do on the other end.
We are in the last weeks of Lent, and if you are anything like me, by now you are over it. You are tired of sacrificing, or maybe you have given up altogether, hoping next year will be better. What if instead of retreating back to comfort, we asked our Lord for the grace to push through with hearts of generosity and perseverance? What if He still wants to do something in us and through us in this season of sacrifice? Don’t give up just yet; the Lord may have a miracle waiting for you right on the other side of your comfort.
Why is it we can have total confidence and trust in God's plans with everyone else's life, but not our own? It is easy for me to recognize God's hand in your life... in your misery... in your tragic circumstance, but when the storm hits my own house, I question and doubt. I begin to wonder if my Catholic faith really is crazy and the saints are all just a bunch of nuts.
I spent my summer with the Blessed Mother. I managed to turn a 33 Day Consecration into a four-month plan, but I finally did get there and praise be to God for it. Because no sooner did I give my fiat, uncertainty and disappointment came crashing down on me, and once again, I was hurled back into that pit of doubt and despair-otherwise known as, “Seriously, Lord? THIS is for good?” And I hate this place. I really do. It makes me feel unpleasant, and worse, I become unpleasant. It's more hideous than getting a root canal at the DMV, naked.
Has this ever happened to you? Not the naked root canal at the DMV part; the other part about falling into despair when uncertainty hits. About being so confident and unafraid about everyone else's circumstances, but your own? Because it happens to me more often than I care to admit. I am, however, practicing something that helps get me out of the pit-not immediately but sooner rather than later. I meditate on the virtues of Mary.
Do you know there are ten virtues of Mary? According to the teachings of Saint Louis De Montfort, the ten virtues of Mary are: constant mental prayer, ardent charity, profound humility, universal mortification, blind obedience, divine wisdom, surpassing purity, angelic sweetness, lively faith and heroic patience. Now don't get overwhelmed by this. There is no way any of us can be perfect at all ten virtues all of the time, or quite possibly, ever. Why? Because we were not chosen to be the Mother of God. But, with a brand new consecration to Mary under my belt and the desire to emulate her, I figured if I pick one virtue a month to intentionally focus on, it had to work better in times of trial and tribulation than what I was currently doing (which was yelling at the dog and wondering why on earth my husband has to breathe so darn loud).
I have chosen to work on blind obedience; to fully trust in God's plan for my life and the lives of my loved ones, even when-especially when-I do not understand His ways at all. Even when strapping the dining room table to my back and jumping off of a bridge feels like a safer option. When the ground drops out from beneath you and nothing you planned for or expected appears to be anywhere on God's radar, blind obedience looks as attractive as a 1980's bridesmaid gown. So before I allow myself to spiral into a total abyss of despair and depression, I fly to Mary. I sit with her at the Annunciation. I reflect on her life, which quite frankly was a series of unplanned, difficult to understand events, and I stay in that place with my Mother. I sit with her in that moment when all was changed by her “yes.” Often when uncertainty strikes, we throw aside our “yes” and run miles ahead into the land of “what if?” We let go of God and grasp onto things that give us a false sense of security. But not Mary. Mary loved God enough to trust that all that was required of her was the next one step, not the next hundred miles. She could be blindly obedient because she loved Him more than she loved her plan. What a treasure chest of grace we have in Our Blessed Mother, who took the leap so that we could, too.
On a dog walk with a friend that was filled with both of our projecting and fear over the ones that we love, I finally said it out loud: faith is a leap! It just is. And when we hit these obstacles that aim to knock us off course and throw us into worry, we have to choose this leap. We must embrace this uncertain, unplanned thing in our life and give God our yes, whether we understand it or not, and then... we need to leap... off of our plans and into His. I am not implying that any of this is easy, but boy do I allow my wild imagination and lack of patience to complicate what really is so simple. Leap, or don't leap. Trust, or don't trust. Love, or don't love. The choice is ours.
If you are in the midst of a trial that is uncertain and you feel your doubt increasing, I encourage you to meditate on these ten virtues. Get to know Mary, who knows better than anyone else what it is like to trust that God's uncertain plan is good. Give yourself to Him entirely through her, and do not worry about the future. Will this require you take a leap of the worst kind? Yeah, probably. But as C.S. Lewis says, “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole-self-all your wishes and precautions-to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead.”
Praying we all take that leap,
We sat in the last pew at the back of the Church. Knees to the ground, beads in our hands. This was her idea. “I know this sounds crazy, but would you meet me before Mass tomorrow and pray the Rosary? Will you let me pray for you?” And when we completed our meditation, she looked directly into my eyes, and begged, “Don't lose hope. You can't. I know you are weary. But please. You have to have hope.”
We have all been there, haven't we? When life's disappointments reach the point of just too much. When God's plan for good is impossible to comprehend, and we doubt there is a finish line. And what happens when we begin the fall into despair is one of two things. We either choose to take the easy route we write up ourselves; the road that avoids difficult decisions and giant leaps of faith. Or, we quit the race altogether. As soon as we recognize, “hey, wait a minute, Lord...following you is no longer fun,” we stop running. We exchange our hope in Jesus for a false sense of hope in ourselves.
Being grounded in anything but hope has led me into the lie that my suffering is pointless. Being grounded in anything but Jesus has led me into the lie that I am too weak for the race that God has mapped out for me. When hope is absent from my heart, fear claims the space that is reserved for God. And when I give in to fear, I rely on my own strength. This, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. Because apart from Him, I can do nothing. I am not the Savior, no matter how hard I try to be. I also can't cook. So following my own recipe is bound to disappoint on so many levels.
But God can cook, and His recipes are good. (And I hear He saves the good wine for the end, so don't quit too soon.) Especially the recipes for hope we find in Hebrews. The entire book of Hebrews is based on this central truth; that God reigns Supreme, and it is by His strength and grace that we can persevere. These are the ingredients I should be reaching for, rather than grasping at useless things around me. Things like complaining versus praying. White knuckling instead of surrendering. Comparing instead of thanking.
So how do we hold onto hope? Hope do we turn hope into more than a pretty word we like to paint on wood panels and frame over the fireplace? How do we remain steadfast when life is unsteady? How do we hold onto hope as an anchor, when we'd rather throw the anchor at the back of someone's head?
Here is what I do.
When I start to spiral into despair, I start listing all of the times I lost hope, doubted God's plan...and then He showed up. And when I say “showed up” please don't mistake this for “then I got my way.” My most fruitful seasons are the necessary hardships that dragged on way longer than I had wanted, and didn't end the way I told God they needed to end. These are the seasons that shaped me and strengthened me more than I ever imagined possible.
RUN TO MARY
Mary stood at the foot of the cross, not because she felt no pain or sorrow, but because she believed that the promises of Christ would be fulfilled. I made a vow to start every morning praying the rosary. Oh, how we could linger over many cups of coffee as I share with you the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother in my life when I needed it most.
There is no greater joy for me than when given the opportunity to point a despairing soul in the direction of hope. As painful as life has been, when I can sit across from a friend and assure her she is not alone and she will make it to the finish line, I can say with total confidence that it has all been worth it. Sometimes the best way to have hope, is to be hope.
If you are weary from running your race, I want you to know: I GET IT. I know how you feel. No hope is quite possibly the most painful thing I have ever felt. But I can also share this: no hope is a lie. Remember, we are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life (Hebrews 10: 39). And if you were here with me now, I would grab your hand, and I would take you to the last pew in the back of my Church, and I would pray with and for you. On our knees. Every bead. And with tears in my eyes, I would look into yours and I would beg, “Don't lose hope. You can't. I know you are weary. But please. You have to have hope.”
Ground yourself in Him and run with me.
Your Sister in Christ,
If you are looking for additional encouragement to run your race, you might want to read Grounded In Hope, our newest study coming out in February. Click here to purchase Grounded in Hope.