Karen Beattie is the author of Rock-Bottom Blessings: Discovering God’s Abundance When All Seems Lost (Loyola Press). She has a master's degree in journalism and has written about women's issues, the arts, and spirituality for several publications including Christianity Today, Today's Christian Woman, and Midwest Living. She currently works as writing director for a digital creative agency. She lives with her husband, daughter and geriatric cat on the north side of Chicago. You can learn more and read her blog at KarenBeattie.net.
I was visiting my friend Kate at her home a few years ago when she gave me a brooch with a cameo of the Madonna on it.
“Here,” she said, “take this.”
She explained that she had loaned the brooch to two other friends, both of whom had gotten pregnant. Now she wanted me to have it. I took the cameo graciously and gave Kate a hug.
But I was skeptical. Even though I had been attending Catholic mass for a few years, I didn’t know if I “believed” in Mary. And I really doubted that she could help me in the baby department. I had been trying to get pregnant, and then adopt a child, for 5 years. Now, in the middle of the recession, I had lost my job and my husband and I had to put an adoption on hold because we simply didn’t have the money. I was starting to believe that I would never be a mother, and deep down, believed that God didn’t love me enough to give me good things.
I grew up in a fundamentalist church that preached grace, but also subtly communicated that we had to earn God’s love through our good behavior. We weren’t allowed to attend movies, or parties where there might be alcohol, or wear “immodest” clothing (i.e. shorts). And we weren’t allowed to go to dances because—well, there would be dancing.
Hearing a “no” to participate in the abundance of life, of God’s abundance, was woven into the fabric of my soul. And after a while, I was the one who was saying “no” to whatever goodness God might be offering.
When I got home after my visit with Kate, I put the cameo on my dresser and forgot about it. But as the weeks went by, I picked up the cameo every time I dusted my dresser, and thought about Mary.
Since I had been attending Catholic mass, I was hearing more and more about the mother of Jesus. I could relate to her. When the angel appears to her and said she would bear the son of God, did she feel as I did—that the story of her life had just taken a tragic turn? That a good ending could not be imagined? That there would always be a sinking feeling of disappointment and disillusionment?
And yet, she trusted. And believed. And moved forward.
Can you carry my Son to term and give birth to him in a stable?
“May it be,” Mary replied.
In the midst of her fear and trembling and the unknown, she had said yes to God. In Luke 1:30 the angel says to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly.”
I wondered if I could believe that God loved me enough to fill the emptiness inside of me. I wondered if I could ever live the abundant life Christ promised. And I wondered if I would have the courage to say “yes” to whatever abundance he was offering, even if it was different than what I was expecting.
If I had been Mary when the angel arrived? I would have been skeptical. I would have thought, Yeah, right. You chose me to deliver your child into the world? Maybe I was having a dream, or maybe a migraine with a really elaborate aura. But a visit from an angel? No way. Underneath my disbelief was a feeling that I didn’t really deserve it. Things like this just don’t happen to me.
I still didn’t know if I “believed” in Mary, or that praying to her would make any difference. But eventually, slowly, I knew I wanted to be like her.
Shortly after Kate gave me the Mary brooch, I went on a church retreat, which was held on the campus of a Catholic seminary. During a break I took a walk and stumbled upon a statue of Mary. Who are you, anyway? I wanted to ask her. And what do you have to do with my life?
I lay down on a bench near the statue and looked up at the face of Mary against the bright blue sky. I looked at the smooth, carved white stone. She was holding the baby Jesus up to her cheek. I prayed that I would get past my fear and disbelief that God would bring good things, fulfilling things, life-giving things into my life, even if they were not what I had in mind.
I prayed to be like Mary. Believing. Open to miracles. Accepting of God’s abundance. Willing to say yes. Eager to let God use me to help bring in his kingdom. Giving myself over to God’s will.
And trusting in God when he says, “Do not be afraid. I love you dearly.”