They named me Mary. My mother and father loved the name. I have wrestled with it off and on my whole life. I was an avid reader and couldn’t recall Marys in my favorite tomes. Nobody in high school wants to be associated with the name Mary, the Virgin Mary. It reeks of pure goodness. Yes, I was a good girl, but I also had a spicy edge and did not want to be blocked in a corner with the goodness of the Virgin Mary. All the jokes, too. The band Run-D.M.C. released a hit in the late 1980s, my high school years with these lyrics:
“Mary, Mary… Why ya buggin’?
Mary, Mary… I need ya huggin’…”
It was a hit. All the boys rapped “Mary Mary why ya buggin’ ” my way in the hallways, workplaces, even the classrooms. I couldn’t recall any popular songs about her. What about Anne or Emily, or even Lucy? My middle name is Elizabeth, but why couldn’t that have been my first name–-four lovely syllables rolling off the tongue? And Queen Elizabeth was a much nicer queen than Bloody Mary.
Mary is one of our oldest names with Hebraic roots. Its derivation comes from Miriam, Moses’s sister. In Scripture we have several references to Marys, the most notable being: Mary, mother of Christ, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany. Mary was a common and frequently used name in Jewish culture.
Our primary association with Mary is the mother of Christ. Luke 1:38, “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” Pregnant before marriage, she courageously faced scorn over a child born so soon into the marriage and its associated assumptions. She raised and watched her perfect son not follow the traditional Jewish path of his father, Joseph, nor get married and produce grandchildren, only to become a revolutionary in Israel and then be crucified.
Additional Marys are mentioned in the Gospels. Luke records that several women followed and supported Christ, one of whom was Mary Magdalene.  Mark tells us that “when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.”  She saw the resurrected Christ before any of the disciples.
Jesus had a fascinating array of friends, two of whom were Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha. “As they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ ”  Later, John tells us of yet another Mary, Mary of Bethany who “took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” 
At elementary school, every class had at least three Marys. For years, it was one of the most popular girl’s names. Mary can mean “bitter,” “wished-for child,” and “rebellion.” I didn’t want to be associated with being bitter, nor was I eager to have children, so I didn’t connect to the longing a mother has for her child. I wanted adventure. Additionally, I was not particularly eager to sit at the feet of Christ, nor had I been possessed and delivered from demonic spirits. I just did not know how I connected to my name. Here, too, I initially identified with Martha more than Mary. I have always been the gal running around getting things accomplished rather than being the one who simply sat “lazily” at the feet of Jesus.
Which of these Marys did I want to be? Who defined me? I thought I had to be good, I had to sit at the feet of Jesus and wash His feet, or my story had to reflect a redeemed, formerly possessed, girl.
As I got older and immersed myself in scriptural study in seminary, I actually began to identify with each Mary in a different dimension. I was keenly aware of the sinful nature of my life and the absolute need for the redemption of Christ. My life had not been pure as the driven snow as you would associate with the young Mary. I was ashamed of a number of my choices. I didn’t want a sword to pierce my soul.  I avoided conflict. Neither had I always put Christ first. But I have had radical encounters with Christ which cultivated a desire to worship, to long for his presence. I have been drawn to sit at his feet and soak up his words, his presence.
A significant dimension to the unfolding flower of claiming my name has been the peace that passes all understanding. I have experienced turns of the page which opened paragraphs of doubt, unbelief, and brow wrinkling “whys?” I didn’t want to forgive, to humble myself and be still. Page-upon-page brought a feisty rebellion in my spirit. Additional chapters painfully awakened heart-wrenching angst over unfulfilled desires and unanswered prayers. I wasn’t so naive that I assumed my story would end “happily ever after,” but I also didn’t anticipate the chapters of a doctor’s diagnosis, phone calls from school principals and the pages that were simply blank.
Our “exile season”  in Washington during the covid outbreak led me to the feet of Christ. It seemed as if every door and outlet to me was shut. I was trapped: no way out. We had one car which my husband needed for work, the children were in school, my business was often slow and I had no friends. Then Covid shut down churches, my gym, and all the schools.
Who was I? And why? I poured out my bitterness before God in an extended fast.
Finally, at the bottom I began to look up. I identified with Mary’s grief over her betrayed son. I felt the torment of Mary’s possession and deliverance from seven demons and the overwhelming gratitude for her freedom and acceptance. I was drawn to Mary anointing my Lord’s feet with the precious jar of oil. When I left His feet, I rose up fragrant with the same perfume–priceless.
The promise of Isaiah 43:1-4 reassured me that He knows my name and tells me “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.” The Spirit tells the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I knew you and called you by name.” 
My name was in his story!
One of the more comforting dimensions of aging is coming into a greater realization of who you are and becoming at peace with it. It’s funny; I feel so young and immature at times, then look in the mirror and see the gray hairs and wrinkles and wonder where time has gone. After not having embraced my name for decades, I am finally at peace with who I am, graying hair, smile lines and all. I have chosen to accept and reclaim my name. I am broken, but I have been set free. I know my Redeemer lives. I know my name is Mary and before I was formed in my mother’s womb He knew me and he called me by my name. I am a wonderful story. I am Mary. I am fragrant with His presence.
 Luke 8:2
 Mark 16:9
 Luke 10:38-42 ESV
 John 12:3
 Luke 2:35
 Mark was wrapping up his doctoral dissertation and had reached a place in ministry where we simply needed to take a break. We moved into the basement apartment of dear friends in Spokane while he wrapped up the project. What we thought would be a few months ended up being two years.
 Jeremiah 1:5
Featured image is courtesy of George Hiles via Unsplash. We are grateful for his generosity.
Mary has cherished life-long literary dreams coupled with a passion for ministry, all of which lead her to study English literature and later theology and counseling in seminary. She has been designing artisan jewelry for nine years while homeschooling son Ian and daughter Julianna. After 14 years of ministry in San Diego she and her husband Mark Miller, along with their teenagers and cat, Lord Peter Wimsey relocated to Charlottesville, VA where they enjoy farm life, chickens and all. Mary enjoys off-the-wall humor, gardening, cooking, and curling up with anything penned by Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, or Jane Austen.
I appreciate this. I, too, am Mary. However, my birth name is Mary Ellen. I hated my name from the moment I understood that that is who everyone would know me as. And then the Waltons came out on tv. “Good night, John-boy, good night, Mary Ellen”. I would hear that often in conjunction with my name. Then I really hated it. So when I was older I shortened it to just Mary. I felt guilty because my parents loved the name and chose it for me. And apparently was named after my great grandmother, so I felt doubly as guilty—only to find out later that I wasn’t even named after her. Her name was Mary ELLA! So there went my connection to my great grandma whom I never even knew. So Mary it was. My married name is Scott. So I often have been called Mary Queen of Scots. I didn’t mind that nearly as much as “good night Mary Ellen”. Nobody EVER confused me with the Virgin Mary. (We won’t go there). And I didn’t know growing up who Mary of Bethany was. And Mary Magdalene…well no, I could not identify with how she made a living. But at 25, when I officially told everyone I was just going to be Mary, much to the dismay of my mom, I also became a Christian that year. And I realized that although I didn’t really have the attributes of the 3 biblical Marys, I liked the fact that it was a popular name in the New Testament. And I wanted to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him talk. What could possibly be better? I didn’t want the fragrant perfume in my hair but I wouldn’t mind if when people thought of me they thought of a sweet fragrance. And I’d much rather learn from my Lord, sitting at His feet than washing dishes and tidying up. I wish that now, at almost 68, I would still find the joy and peace that comes from sitting at His feet than all the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I think it’s well passed the time to get back to the “better thing”, sitting quietly at His feet and listening to His sweet and still, small voice speaking to my heart.
So thank you for your story. I certainly could understand feeling disconnected from my name.
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