God is good at surprising me. I always expect one thing from him, or maybe another, or maybe even this thing, but in the end, whatever he does comes so far out of left field I know he's the one behind it -- because it wasn't even the last thing I expected; it wasn't even on the list.
It was this subtle comfort I took with me as I began a 33 day preparation period at the end of which I will consecrate myself to Jesus through Mary. I have learned through the years that when faith and fear collide, only God will remain standing at the end, and because my Father stands, I remain on his shoulders. It is not as though I have nothing to fear; it is more that I have a lot to fear, but I am learning to trust even in the dark.
And so, throwing caution to the wind and letting that be what pressed the sails of my tiny ship, I set out on this journey. The first few days were expectedly trying: I learned that consecration to Mary meant belonging to Mary, and that by consecrating myself I would be surrendering completely my right to determine who receives the graces from my prayers and sacrifices. I thought of my family members, my friends, the unborn, the poor, the lost, and everyone else I take to prayer with such a weighted heart. I would be giving them up, it seemed, to follow this call I have heard for so long to let Mary take hold of my life. I didn't know it would be this extreme; I didn't know it would cost this much.
But I kept going. One of the first things I learned at the dawn of my reversion to Catholicism was Mother Teresa's way of doing it anyway. I take no credit for this grace in my life. It was wholly inspired by her and remains entirely the work of Jesus. When I don't want to go to confession, I don't want to amend my life, I don't want to go to Mass, I try my best to do it anyway. (If only I could carry this over to daily prayer and the Rosary -- Jesus help me).
And so, I pressed on, reminding myself that commitment wouldn't come until day 34, and I should at least try to do it anyway. I am so glad I did. After learning that consecration to Mary meant such a life of surrender and what felt like loss, I learned that what I receive in turn is well worth it: in exchange for my graces, I receive Mary's; in exchange for my heart, I receive hers; in exchange for my devotion to her and God's will in her, she devotes herself to me and my concerns.
I don't have to worry about the people I pray for who will not receive graces from my prayers at my will anymore -- instead, they will receive help from the Mother of God, whose child I am and who will never brush my heart aside. Even so, I can still pray for them, and simply trust Mary to do as she pleases with the graces that come. This sounded much scarier before I knew how much she loves me.
One of the biggest hurdles in my spiritual life is the constant nagging feeling that I can't be myself. I read the lives of the Saints and, while inspired by them, can't find it in me to do the same things they did. I don't feel the sort of person to abandon all and start a religious order, or to strip naked before my family and take on a life of utter poverty, or lead an army, or spend hours in the confessional. The Saints are extraordinary. The Saints aren't me.
But Mary...I can try to be like Mary. What is there at the heart of her life but to say yes to God and take him into my life? Obviously, there is so much more, but I can start there. I can strive to be more like Mary, who in turn will show me how to be more like Jesus. And it turns out, this doesn't mean I have to veil and cover my arms and resign to a shack in Nazareth doing laundry and cooking all day. It means I will become more like me.
When I first started the process of preparing to consecrate myself to Jesus through Mary, one of my fears was that I would have to change so much about who I am. To my delight and surprise, instead, as I near the end of this 33 day journey, I find that I have never been more comfortable, never felt more affirmed, listening to the music I like and taking naps and watching Netflix even when my scruples tell me I'm a heathen for it.
I also know exactly what I want, and where I want, my next tattoo to be. Would you believe it is Marian?
I realized this shift yesterday. The guilt I feel about being myself is beginning to pale, and I have been learning, without even knowing it, how much God loves me. As soon as I realized it, I began to reflect on it. All this time I thought God wanted me to focus on what is wrong in my life, what needs to change, and how soon. Could it be that he wants me, at this time, to know what is right about me?
And at this thought, I felt a quiet but gripping reassurance from the depths of my heart: God wants me to know who I am, and to embrace it, because if I don't start there, nothing else he asks of me will make sense.
And so, here I am, in all my pink-haired, tattooed, loud, obnoxious glory -- a beloved daughter of God, not in spite of who I am, but because of it. And also, a daughter of Mary, who has already shown and given me so much, before my consecration day.