How Mary brought me back to Jesus, part 2

Madonna & Child
A few weeks after I brought my babies home from the NICU (you can read about my first moment of appreciation for Mary in part 1), I was battling through PPD, managing 3 older children and breastfeeding preemie twins. I was absolutely humbled. I've never felt more desperate. 

This was a necessary lowness, I think. Before this, I had often relied on my powers of critical thinking to wrangle through theological debates. I approached the whole subject of Mary with the typical "prove 'em wrong," "show me the Bible verse!," "gotcha!" mindset of my fundamentalist childhood. 

But as I sat in my rocking chair, nursing my twins, it suddenly seemed totally ridiculous that I was approaching Mary as if she were a debate topic.

She was, after all, the the mother of our Lord! She was a PERSON, not a bullet point in a proposition/rebuttal debate.

At the very least, as the mother of my Savior, she deserved my respect. For the first time in my life I felt a shiver of shame regarding the way I had treated Mary. My approach to Mary–Jesus' mother!–had been so irreverent.

Did it grieve the heart of Jesus to see so many Christians like myself treat His own mother disrespectfully?

I had never once considered that maybe Jesus thinks His own mother is special. Yes, God could have chosen anyone to bear Christ. But He didn't. God chose Mary. She wasn't just the mother of Jesus. 


I mean, really. Is there a higher honor?

Maybe, just maybe, Mary was important. Maybe she was really important.

How could I have ignored her for so long? Perhaps because I had simply accepted the male-dominated Christian narrative I had learned as a child.

I mean, this is how skewed it was: even when teaching the story of of Jesus' birth, we sang "extra-Biblical" songs about ox and cow before Him bow, but we never once pondered the Magnificat.

We certainly didn't sing about Mary.

It was almost as if we intentionally avoided her.

We didn't accord her any honor–not even in how we referred to her. She was just Mary. Or sometimes, if we needed to distinguish her from Mary Magdalene, she was "Mary, the mother of Jesus."

Contrast this with how we talked about Paul. I mean, we fell all over ourselves referring to Paul as a great apostle, John as the Revelator, John as The Disciple Jesus Loved.

But Mary was always just Mary. Nothing special, nothing worth noting really.

For the first time in my life I realized what a stunning oversight this was. It was almost as if in our haste to avoid being like those Catholics who "worshipped Mary," we'd demoted her from central character in the Nativity to one of the sidekick, background characters.

This was right around the time when I first watched EWTN, a Catholic TV channel. I watched–with great curiosity–some nuns praying the Rosary. I had never seen this before. Each morning as I breastfed my twins, I watched these nuns pray the Rosary and I was struck by two things: 

  1. The Rosary was all about Jesus: each decade was devoted to a particular event in the life of Christ
  2. Jesus was right in the center of each Hail Mary.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee,
Blessed art thou among women
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, JESUS.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a sinner,
Now and at the hour of my death. Amen. 

I was completely blindsided by these discoveries. I mean, all my life I had believed "Catholics worship Mary." It was quite clear that these nuns weren't worshipping Mary. Rather, they were joining with Mary in worshipping Jesus!

What other human being knew Jesus more intimately than His own mother? Praying the Rosary was like sitting down with the one person who knew Jesus best and letting her take you through the events of her Son's life.

Still, I was pretty leery of praying the Rosary myself. But sometimes I murmured along with the nuns because, in spite of myself, the prayers soothed my anxiety and helped me focus. It was a form of prayer totally foreign and unfamiliar to the extemporaneous, "popcorn praying" style I had learned from childhood.

As I began to find great comfort in listening to these prayers, I simultaneously realized that this was NOT the empty, repetitive praying I had been warned against. This was prayer with purpose and deep intention. This was structured prayer that simply allowed me to fall into something more profound than myself.

I can't tell you the relief I felt. What I'd often referred to as "empty ritual" was becoming nothing less than a lifeline pulling me to safety.

Devotion to Mary did not detract from devotion to God. Indeed, it seemed to compliment it. How often had I appreciated other heroes of the faith whom God chose to use? God chose Mary to physically participate in the story of redemption. And isn't God big enough to bring along a grand entourage of co-participants? 

In other words, who am I to belittle or demean or simply neglect those whom God has clearly chosen to use?

I had never considered the life of Jesus through the eyes of His mother. I had never walked that road or seen His life from her viewpoint. But as I began to pray the Rosary–albeit falteringly and disjointedly–I began to catch an altogether different view of Jesus.

Jesus was full of love. Jesus loved his Mother. Jesus loved women. 

The strongest impression I had of Mary and Jesus was how much they loved each other. She never abandoned Him–even when most everyone else had. 

I began to understand some of her titles like "Mother of Sorrows." Could it be that Mary understood and sympathized with my sorrows? For so long I had been confused and unable to talk to God.

But now…could it be that I could run to Mary and pour out my heart to her? When I was afraid of talking to God directly, would Mary perhaps hear my cries for help and intercede to God on my behalf?

Could this be what Catholics meant when they said: "If you can't find Jesus, look for His Mother"?

I was finding Mary and she was gently leading me back to Jesus–her Son who never forgot her.

Even as He hung dying upon the cross, He looked down and seeing His mother, committed her into the care of the disciple John.

Jesus loved His mother. 

If Jesus loved her, that was enough for me. I was no longer going to ignore her.

I was going to love her, too.

**Sincere questions are always welcome but comments that disparage Catholics and/or Mary will not be published. There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding among Protestants regarding Mary that I have chosen not to perpetuate this on my blog. Thank you for understanding.**


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  • SaraJ

    My first breakthrough at seeing Mary as someone enormously special and, in my own background, shamefully neglected was when my husband remarked that “Mary is sometimes called ‘the First Christian’ because she believed Jesus was the Son of God and never abandoned Him, even when He was dying.”

    No, that wasn’t right, I said. I remembered a specific teaching about the verses where Jesus’ family thought he was mad and wanted to lead him away from the people He was teaching. As I was told it, Mary was among those who thought He was mad. It proved that she was could be just as blind and worldly-minded as the rest of us.

    But that’s not what the text says. It’s an unnecessary reading into the text. Everywhere Mary appears, she’s pointing people to Jesus. And she was there at the foot of the cross while He died. That one correction changed the way I was used to thinking of her, and opened the way for me to understand how very special she is.

    And also how often women are mentioned in relation to Jesus. They supported His ministry, they stayed with Him at the cross, they were the first at the tomb.

    I have to say I’m not comfortable praying the Rosary. But your description intrigues me. And your story is very touching.

    – SJ

  • Margo

    You’ve shared your story and experience in such a way that even the non-believers will have to pause and wonder if perhaps they’re missing something. What a great post, and it is definitely one of my favorites! I love the pictures, too!

  • Cynthia

    I’ve been enjoying these entries. They are beautiful and touching and they’ve given me much to think about.

    I am not Catholic but nor do I ignore or disrespect Mary. The only question I really have is that I don’t really follow from point A (ignoring Mary in favour of male Biblical heroes) to point B (praying to Mary). Yes, as a Protestant I may refer to Paul or John or Peter or whomever, but I’ve never prayed to them or asked them to intercede on my behalf. I’ve talked about them. I’ve talked about Mary. I’ve referred to their faith. I’ve referred to Mary’s faith. But I’ve never talked/prayed to any of them. To me, it feels as though there is a difference between honouring someone (Paul, John, Mary, etc) and talking/praying to them.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Cynthia: such a great question! The only way I sorta know how to answer this is that we often ask other Christians to pray for us. I might say, “Cynthia, will you pray for me this week?” And you’d probably say yes. I would also especially covet the prayers of Christians whom I knew truly lived out their faith because “the prayers of a righteous man availeth much.” So, in that regard, if we think about all the marvelous, righteous saints who have gone before us, asking for their prayers is somewhat similar.

    When my lovely Christian grandmother died, I remember a few times feeling like she was watching over me. Sometimes I talked to her. I don’t believe her soul is dead–just her body. One day we will be reunited. In that sense, talking to my grandmother and/or asking for the intercession of other heroes of the faith doesn’t seem as far-fetched or strange to me anymore.

    But maybe that’s just me. :) Hope this helped?

  • Mark

    EE, Thank you for writing this personal piece. As a cradle Catholic I too fell into a quick-draw way of dealing with the Blessed mother that, while different in context from your early experiences, was as disrespectful of her. As I write this the Church is about to celebrate that magnificent reality that we are in union with all those witnesses who have gone before us, all those who witnessed to the world who Jesus is. And foremost of them all is His Mother. Thanks for the beautiful reminder.

  • Cynthia

    Thank you for the kind reply. I have heard that explanation and while it makes sense on one level, I’m not sure I believe that we can talk to those who are no longer on earth with us. There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that we can do so in the Scriptures, but perhaps that is an unfair assessment. More to ponder, at any rate. :) Thank you again.

    • Mikayla

      I’m in the same boat as you, Cynthia, with both the question and the response. Lots to ponder :)

  • Emily

    Beautiful, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Scott Morizot

    The thought that I would add to what you said is two-fold. First, as Christians who believe that Christ defeated death, we believe that to depart is to be with Christ, which is far better. That’s one of the very few things that is mentioned about this period when our bodies sleep before the Resurrection. Second, neither Christ nor any of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord are in some other location a long ways off. “Heaven” (and that’s a discussion in and of itself) is simply another dimension of creation. It’s overlapping and interlocking though, as the reality that is already “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,” God maintains a veil for our salvation. But this is the reality in which we “live and move and have our being” and Christ and all the saints are as near to us as our next breath. s Hebrews notes, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

    If that is an accurate description of reality, then there’s nothing any more unusual about asking some of those in the “great cloud” to pray for you than there is in asking people in your family, at your church, or on the Internet to pray for you. Do you believe in Resurrection? If you do, that changes everything.

  • Dori Overman

    Dear Elizabeth,
    What a beautifully written two posts. I was raise in a very conservative Christian home and even though my Dad was the pastor of the church we grew up in he was always careful to teach us how to think for ourselves and not what to think. THe denomination had a very structured set of rules (no cutting or trimming hair, no jewelry, no makeup…the list goes on and on!) I don’t know that I was ever taught that Catholics were not Christian but I certainly thought it. As an adult I have met many Christian Catholic people and know otherwise. Your last two posts about Mary have really touched my heart as well as your comments about your twins. I also have twins who were in NICU and one almost died. Oh the peace you must have found with Mary! God bless you my friend (for I feel like you are!)

  • Leanne

    Politically and religiously we have shut doors on people. We see disagreement and decide we cannot fellowship or in the very least, not approach these subjects. I fear this is to our own detriment. When we close doors to hearing each other, we in essence are saying God cannot speak through those people.
    Thank you for shining the light on how God is still working through the Catholic Church.

    On the other note about “praying to the saints”, I am not Catholic but have grown up in a very Catholic area. Growing up Protestant the praying and worshiping saints was always the argument to label Catholicism heretical. Yet, as I have studied the Catholic church and the Orthodox Church, I have come to understand the icons and the statues to be windows into the Eternal Kingdom. These saints have finished the race. Reflecting on their lives to be challenged to finish the race as well as they did seems to be the point of the statues and icons. Too often as Christians we compare ourselves spiritually to those around us. We are struggling pilgrims on the journey towards perfection. We are not there yet. Perhaps looking at those who have finished the race well would be the better place to focus instead of on the stone in the road.

  • mary bailey

    I just wanted to thank you for sharing from your heart in these two posts about Mary. The first brought me to tears and both of them have brought me to a better understanding of why God allows there to be different denominations. It’s because we are all approaching Him from different backgrounds, from different hurts, needs, and desires.

    I really appreciate how you have both humanized and glorified Mary in your explanation. It seems weird to say that I have never thought much about her. I sense that I will be viewing her differently this Christmas season. Thanks again, EE, and bless you for sharing.

  • Dianna

    Elizabeth, I am Protestant (and many would call a fundamentalist) and while I agree with the majority of the rosary, I can’t agree with asking Mary to pray for me. Scripture is clear that Jesus intercedes for us, no one else. Mary is honored because she is the mother of Jesus, but I do believe that she was also a sinner just like me (even though I know Catholics don’t believe that) – as were Paul and John and everyone else in the Bible except Jesus. We can learn from all of the above by their life and their teachings, but I don’t revere or pray to any of them except Jesus.

  • Tim V

    Having spent most of my adult life in fundamentalist and evangelical churches, but now considering historic forms of the Christian faith (Catholicism and Orthodoxy), I still struggle with the place they give to Mary. However, there are a few thoughts that I keep pondering.

    St. Paul is the great hero for fundamentalists and evangelicals because he carried the word of God (i.e. the message of the gospel) throughout much of the Roman world. However, Mary carried the very person of the word – God incarnate in her womb. She carried not just the message but the person himself. Without her there wouldn’t have been a message for Paul to preach – so shouldn’t we hold up Mary even more as an example, hero or icon of faith and obedience to the will of God? Mary not only gave birth to God in the flesh, but she suckled God at her breasts. That’s something I just can’t wrap my brain around – the idea of a loving, tender mother breastfeeding God incarnate. Thinking about that undoes me. Finally, 40 days after the resurrection Jesus ascended bodily to heaven where he remains forever fully human and fully divine. But his body comes fully from Mary – her very DNA eternally joined and taken up into the second person of the Trinity. Somehow all of this softens me and makes me feel & think much differently about Mary and how honoured she really is.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Hi Dianna: I truly do understand where you’re coming from since I once believed almost exactly what you wrote here. If you’re curious about the Biblicality (is that a word? lol!) of the intercession of saints and what early church Fathers wrote about it, read here:

    A more in-depth analysis here:
    :) Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Tim: thank you so much for taking the time to write this comment! It really touched me. It seems like we have very similar backgrounds.

    I love how the Orthodox and Catholics sometimes refer to Mary as the Theotokos–the God bearer. Like you pointed out, she carried the very person of the Word in her womb.

    As a mother myself, that really humbles me. What a privilege and honor God bestowed upon her!

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Milehimama

    Well, here’s how I see it (as a Catholic):

    We know that being in Heaven know what’s going on down here, and that they rejoice when even one sinner repents. Luke 15:10

    We have no reason to believe that this is limited to Angels, because the saints in Heaven also know what is happening on earth (i.e., they know that their blood has not been avenged, Rev. 6)

    We know that the martyred saints are before God, speaking to Him. (Rev. 6:8-10)

    We know that when someone dies, it is not their end but that their soul lives on.

    And so praying like this is just an extension. If you would ask Paula to say a prayer for you, and death does NOT mean Paula doesn’t exist anymore but that she is still around, and you know that Paula can speak to God directly- well, you can ask Paula to pray for you before the throne of Heaven, too.

  • Jen

    Thanks for these posts, Elizabeth. I love Mary with you (and Protestant my whole life).

    This song, which you might already know, is beautiful and makes me weep every time. I hope it blesses you, too. It’s “Mary” by Patty Griffin.

  • Anonymous

    Both of these posts are beautiful – thank you so much! I come from a fundamentalist background as well, and I know what you mean about not being able to “find” God. I’m still there, actually. But sometimes, I find myself praying to the Holy Mother for help and strength and peace. After a lifetime of being told that women don’t matter, it’s an incredibly comforting thing to be able to do.

  • terry@breathing grace

    I have never been inclined to ignore Mary. And I’ve also never been inclined to deify the male apostles. I guess I have a bit of a problem with seeking intercession from the dearly departed, but that’s it.

    Of course, I have been “corrected” by many people who disagree with my assertion that Catholics are indeed Christians.

    Appreciate you sharing your insights, EE.

  • Laurissa

    This is beautiful- thank you Elizabeth. I’m a Catholic and Mary has always been able to lead me closer to Jesus.

  • Steph

    Thanks, this post was interesting and puts some things in perspective. I was a bit hasty in my judgements after reading the first post.

    I still think I fall into the same camp as some of the other Protestant commenters here, but thanks for showing that Christians can have a variety of beliefs and still be Christians! Lots to think about. (BTW, I think it’s always good for me to have my ideas challenged. I love me a good think.)

  • shadowspring

    My Catholic girlfriend explained it this way, since we run to call our friends on this planet and ask them to pray for us, what’s at all wrong with asking saints who have gone before to pray for us?

    Honestly I had to concede she has a point. :)

  • Kristen

    This is such a beautiful series. Having been brought up protestant, I do find some of the ritual of Catholicism to be comforting and surprisingly meaningful.

  • Sarah Reinhard

    This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this series. I can’t wait to read the next installment!

  • Sarah Reinhard

    Thank you so much for sharing this series. I am very touched, especially by this post. My own devotion to Mary has been fostered over the years.

    We never had Mary-hate in my years as a non-Catholic/Protestant, but we just never really paid attention to her. She popped up in the nativity and that was it.

  • Kristi

    This may sound kind of strange: I had never heard or seen the Rosary written out in its entirety before this post. After reading it earlier today, it has been in my head ever since, giving me peace that I haven’t had in years. My church background is very similar to yours, and I am currently recovering from a particularly painful experience at an evangelical church. I may never “recover,” actually!

    I get so tired of the “Catholics aren’t really Christians” nonsense that evangelicals force feed their congregations. Never believed that, but also never sought out Catholicism before to learn about it. Maybe I should… Thanks EE.

  • Ruth Ann

    Elizabeth, having been Catholic, I have nothing in common with you when it comes to your fundamentalist origins. But your relatively recently found love for Mary meshes with mine, and I appreciate how you express it in your own voice. Will there be more “episodes” about Mary? I hope so!

  • Jennifer

    Well said… my girlfriend sent this to me. She and I both grew up in, it seems, the same church you did. My husband and I became catholic about 7 years ago. Your words are so true for me. My relationship with Mary is so comforting and always keeps me focused on our Lord, even when it seems I can’t find him. Thank youf or the beautiful post.

  • Samantha L.

    I love this post. What I think many men of faith don’t understand is that they have all these Biblical men to identify with…and for women, we need someone, too. We can’t all be Esther, or Ruth, but many of us are mothers. The idea of having a connection to the one who mothered God…that’s very powerful and holy. To know that Mary loves Jesus in a very human way…it gives us hope that we can love Him, too.

  • Bonnie Carruthers

    “Co-mediatrix” in reference to Mary just means that she cooperated with God in bringing salvation into the world. In other words, when the angel told her of God’s plan, she said yes. Well, she actually said, “Be it done unto me …” This was the opposite of Eve’s defiance of God’s plan. Mary was literally the cooperating medium through which the Savior passed into this world. So, she is co-mediatrix. Not really controversial. It’s just a factual title for her.

  • Bonnie Carruthers

    “Do whatever he tells you.” – Mary, speaking about Jesus, at the Wedding at Cana.

    Mary is the only character in the New Testament that never failed to do God’s will and was never disobedient. Think about it. She’s special. That’s why all generations call her blessed. Do you call her blessed?

  • Maggie

    Your experience parallels that of my parents (yes my father too) in their journey to Catholicism and their understanding of Catholic doctrine about Mary.

    As a protestant, I do think that this understanding that God loves women, and uses women, and values women can be reached outside of Catholic doctrine. Particularly with the Mary-mother connection. And that is the large majority of my experience with Protestant Christians. We may not elevate Mary to quite the level that Catholics do, but that doesn’t mean we’re misogynists. ;) There are absolutely groups that do what you have described as your experience. But they are not the whole or Protestantism.

    I think some discomfort that Protestants have with Mary (and the Rosary) is the same as with other saints–we have a completely different viewpoint about post-life issues. We should be able to agree that the Magnificat itself is Biblical and beautiful and any Protestant who disagrees is just flat-out incorrect. :)

  • Magda

    Do people stop praying when they die?
    Do they stop loving us?

    This post really touched my heart, because, although I am Catholic, I had no particular affection for Mary until I was 34. And now I love the rosary. I love Mary.
    She is such a good mother and friend.
    She is as alive and present to me as anyone on earth.
    She is a creature, like me, but she is the one and only Mother of God.

  • rcm

    Dianna, do you pray for others? Do you intercede? As a Christian, I sure hope so! For Catholics we believe that if you believe in Jesus, you do not die, but have eternal life. I assume you believe that as well. And if they are not dead, but living, why on earth should these people who love Jesus so much NOT pray for us?

    I am a convert to Catholicism and it took me a very long time to get over my dislike and discomfort with Mary. I am so glad that Jesus continued to point me to His Mother b/c I love her now and I am grateful for her prayers for me.

  • rcm

    I wish there were “like” buttons on blog posts and comments.

    Just want to say I love this post because my conversion and understanding of Mary happened later in life and I believe it was when I became a mom myself. It is strange b/c even though I had a devotion to St. Anthony, I just could not get over my dislike of Mary–leftover from my Protestant upbringing. Thank God Mary kept praying for me b/c now I understand why Satan wants so many to be fearful of her. She is a HUGE intercessor and wants to bring everyone to her Son, not in a superficial way, but in life changing way.

    It has been only recent that I have begun to have a desire to wear the scapular. Again, for a long time I did not understand it, until recently. I just wrote about my experiences with the Saints over at VN. I want the whole world to know how BLESSED we are to have Lovers of Jesus intercede on our behalf.

  • rcm

    The Rosary is to be used as a meditation on the Life of Jesus. The prayers of the Rosary are straight out of Scripture. The only part of the “Hail Mary” that is not found in the Gospel of Luke is the “Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen” Praying the “Hail Mary” is praying Scripture, the Word of God.
    Now that I pray my Rosary daily, I find that I really do meditate on Jesus and the Gospel message. It really is a beautiful prayer and I believe–outside the Sacrifice of the Mass–the most powerful prayer.

  • Jack

    Very beautiful, Elizabeth! It really touched my heart.

    How true it is: Mariology (teaching about Mary) and Marian devotion are ultimately about who JESUS is, and are parts of Christology.

  • Maggie Dee

    Beautiful post. As a brand new Catholic convert I really enjoyed it.

    One thing I really enjoy about catholicism is the long lineage of saints, both men and women. As a Protestant the saints stopped with the ones listed in the Bible, but as a Catholic we can see faithful living their faith throughout these last 2,000 years. It is so comforting to know that they are interceding for us here on earth.

    Jen at Conversion Diary posted a beautiful video regarding Mary a short time ago. If anyone missed it, go check it out.

  • Joy

    Thank you for these posts, Elizabeth. They helped me understand more about this more foreign part of Catholicism.

  • Sarah@EmergingMummy

    Love this and love you.

  • Pingback: On being a bad Catholic {questions about birth control–eeek!} | Elizabeth Esther

  • Preston Yancey

    Again, where I stand on Marian doctrine aligns more Protestant, but I do adore her faithfulness. And blessed be God for inspiring St. Luke to preserve the Magnificat! One of my favorite songfied versions is here: A true blessing to reflect on during Advent.

  • Sisterlisa

    I totally understand where you’re coming from with this. (I realize this is an older post, but since you linked back I figured I could still comment). I view the Holy Spirit as a tender hearted Spirit..somewhat mysteriously feminine..the Comforter that leads us to Jesus. Many believe the Spirit to be female and we are ALL created in their image. He said he created us in “our image” and yet he created it stands to reason that there is a female aspect to our Creator. And regardless of the doctrinal differences people have about this, the point is.. YOU have found comfort and a way to approach God despite the awful abuse you have suffered from fundamentalism. Much love to you sister!