In 2009, when her youngest daughter Sarah invited her to PC3, Mary resisted and protested. Not only was it drastically different in style compared to her Catholic upbringing, she was clinging to a deep seeded anger towards God. Her marriage of twenty-six years had ended in divorce. As she looked back at her life, Mary saw betrayal, emotional pain and physical pain. All of this hurt made her question God’s goodness.
But, Sarah’s excitement lead Mary to accept the invitation to attend. From the moment she walked in the doors of PC3, Mary experienced something different than she expected – warmth and love.
“I felt something I hadn’t in a very long time during that first service. It felt like coming home, a rush of warmth came over me and I slowly let my guard down,” Mary says.
Mary continued to attend PC3 and over the years participated in Starting Point and home group environments. She even jumped in to serving on the Host Team and Guest Services on alternate Sundays. For Mary, these steps helped her feel connected and supported.
“Even though PC3 has grown over the years, it’s always felt like where I belong. Yes, it’s huge and it’s easy to feel like just a face in the crowd, but if you are willing to connect, it can feel like home,” Mary says.
The sense of support, especially coming from her home group and some deeply caring PC3 staff members, has enabled Mary to process her faith in a safe and loving environment. Each year she’s picked a word to focus her attention and heart on. With a smile, she lets me know that patience has made the list twice. As she recounts her history of words (patience, release, patience, balance, focus, seek, encourage, wisdom), Mary is able to explain the purpose behind each one and how God used it to shape and form her.
“One year when my small group was picking our words, I wasn’t in a good place and a lot of jealousy, envy and bitterness still had its hold on me. My small group leader pointed out very graciously that my heart was out of balance. This stuck with me and lead me to pick balance,” Mary says. “My faith journey and growth is often two steps forward and one step back. I get distracted very easily and I look back to the past way more than I should. I often have to learn things the hard way.”
When Mary picked the word humility for 2017, she had no clue that once again she was going to have to learn things the hard way. She found out that her job was being phased out after eighteen years as a technology employee in the New Hanover County school system.
Even though Mary transferred to another position, a teaching assistant at Blair Elementary, adjusting to life inside the classroom has been a humbling experience. But, it wasn’t until late August when her mother broke her back and was diagnosed with dementia just after moving from Wilmington to a senior community in Raleigh that Mary felt truly humbled and stretched way too thin.
After a trip to visit her mom, Mary read Bianca Olthoff’s book, Play With Fire. She deeply connected with Bianca’s experiences and struggles. What caught Mary completely off-guard were the painful memories that began to resurface and the tears that started to flow.
“I wasn’t expecting it to open wounds I thought I had reconciled and put away a long time ago. The reality that I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to do everything all by myself hit me square in face,” Mary says. “Yet, in a weird way, this book was a blessing. It opened my eyes to how I put the world on my shoulders while God waits patiently for me to hand it over to Him. It’s a humbling lesson to learn, but it’s an important one,”
These realizations have helped reframe the way Mary approaches the circumstances she faces. Not only is she extending more grace to her mom and those caring for her, Mary is extending grace to herself. It’s not always easy or perfect, but momentum and progress comes even in those times when she moves two steps forward and one step back.
Mary’s story speaks to the freedom that comes when we give our burdens over to God. We invite you to join Mary and hundreds of other ladies on Friday, October 27th (7pm – 8:30pm) and Saturday, October 28th (9am – 12:15pm) at our Wilmington campus for PC3’s Fall Women’s Conference with Bianca Olthoff. To register or get more information, please visit portcitychurch.org/women.