When I was 20 years old my grandmother gave me a small, brown rosary. I threw it into my nightstand drawer and forgot about it. I didn’t need a rosary because God didn’t exist.
“God is like Santa Claus for adults,” my dad had taught me. “Haven’t you ever noticed that intelligent people don’t believe in God?” I didn’t want to be dumb, not by anyone’s standards, but especially not by my dad’s.
I spent a lot of time arguing on the internet with strangers about God’s existence while that rosary sat in my drawer. I mean, what better way was there to help people see how wrong they were and how right I was?
Then I accidentally married a good Catholic man, because he was cute and unbelievably kind. I didn’t mind getting married in a Catholic church, because the stained-glass windows made the place beautiful. But I did mind when Marvin, my husband, suggested we go to Mass together on Sundays. The weekends were for leisure, and now he wanted our family of four to sit in a pew for an hour. No, thank you.
“I went to church every Sunday with my mom, and I want that for our family too,” he said. I liked how important our family was to him, but the answer was still no. I finally gave in when he promised to take us out for lunch after Mass every weekend.
I dug my grandmother’s rosary out from the drawer and typed “How do I pray” into my phone’s web browser.
Several lunches later, grace seeped into the hardened parts of me, and I wondered if there might be a God after all. I dug my grandmother’s rosary out from the drawer and typed “How do I pray” into my phone’s web browser.
I felt silly praying at first, like I was speaking some sort of Christmas list to a God who had lived for so long in my mind as a pretend Santa Claus figure. It took time before I could squash that image of God and build up an image more beautiful, true, and complex.
I prayed the rosary every day for months until I could run my fingers over those small, wooden beads and whisper the Hail Mary like I’d been doing it my entire life. I liked the rhythm of the whole thing. Each bead follows the one before it, leaving breadcrumbs along the way. I found Christ at the end of that trail, and my whole life changed: I was overwhelmed by peace, and I was given the grace of being painfully aware of my sinfulness and my need for God.
Previously, I moved through the world completely blind to my selfish nature. The only needs that mattered were mine. The only opinion that mattered was mine. I was blind to my shortcomings and yet, interestingly enough, very aware of the flaws in other people. Once I came to know Christ, I wondered why I’d been so quick to judge others, since I am so flawed myself. The encounter with Christ that I found through praying the rosary shifted things, and I began walking through the world aware that all of us are image-bearers of God.
Before, I thought love was just an expression of really beautiful words strung together and backed up by precisely nothing. After encountering Christ through the rosary, I learned love was an action.
The encounter with Christ that I found through praying the rosary shifted things, and I began walking through the world aware that all of us are image-bearers of God.
So when my dying neighbor needed someone to sit with her at night, I volunteered. Mrs. Irene’s favorite color was purple. Her closet smelled faintly of mothballs and oatmeal, and it held rows and rows of bright purple jackets and lavender blouses.
We both slept in her living room, me on the pleather recliner and her on the couch. She’d fall asleep watching EWTN, and I’d wait until I heard snores before trying to change the channel. No matter how loud her snores got, she’d shoot awake at the exact moment I pressed the button.
When Mrs. Irene died, I hung a purple rosary in her memory around my car’s rearview mirror. It stayed there for months, reminding me that love isn’t words at all: Love is an action, and for a season in my life, love was watching EWTN with a dying woman.
Today the purple rosary that reminds me of Mrs. Irene and the wooden rosary my grandmother gifted me lie tangled with many other rosaries at the very bottom of my drawer.
I kept them there for a long time before I realized they made up my most treasured stories: the beads given to me as a gift when my first baby was baptized, the beads formed out of the compressed flowers that laid atop a loved one’s casket, the colorful beads strung together by the sticky fingers of my children, and the rosary made by my own hands while I sat with the first real friends I’d ever known.
That drawer doesn’t hold every rosary I’ve ever had. Some have been misplaced, while others I have gifted to friends, joining my story with theirs just as my grandmother’s has been joined with mine.
My sweet, devout, Puerto Rican grandmother was always mailing us Catholic loot—prayer cards in Spanish, holy pictures, and the rosary that began it all. When she was alive, I almost didn’t care about those packages. I wonder if she ever felt frustrated that the rest of her family didn’t seem to care about the faith that was so important to her.
I like to imagine that the prayers I pray today, like my grandmother’s, are tiny seeds being planted for a tomorrow I might not ever see.
I have had to mourn the idea that my grandmother never got to see me use her rosary before she died. God used her to plant the very first seed of faith in my life. She made a difference, even though in the moment it probably didn’t seem like it. I know her intercession played a big role in my conversion. Her prayers sustained me even when I didn’t care about them, even when I was blind to their beauty.
For much of my life I was blind to the shape of reality. I couldn’t see that we are all connected. I couldn’t see that those brown beads joined together by one string on my grandmother’s rosary were a metaphor for everything. But I bet my grandmother could.
I like to imagine that the prayers I pray today, like my grandmother’s, are tiny seeds being planted for a tomorrow I might not ever see. Our prayers connect us all: Just like my rosaries tangled together in that drawer, you and I are joined together—the body of Christ.
This article is also available to read in Spanish.