Love conquers all,” Mary says looking towards me as she squints to keep the sun out of her eyes. She smiles, shrugs and continues, “That’s it. Love conquers all.”
Mary Priddy’s journey is an emotional story that shows the power of Christ in every way. Her countless times escaping what seemed to be inevitable death swirl around her mind in vivid memories — coming and going, from clarity to confusion. Speaking with her as she unloads years of struggle and pain, you’d never know those dark years exist. She sits, smiles and calmly breathes. She shares graphic details and startling memories with a rhythmic pace and a warm hum to her voice, with a peace that can only be found in Christ.
As Mary prepares to move into her first apartment with her two daughters, she can typically be found working at the local hospital, hanging out at the house where she and her family currently reside, or attending her home church. She is a woman of endless joy who has faced extreme sorrow and yearns to make her story known.
“Even if this just helps one person, that’s enough. That’s worth it,” Mary explains. With eagerness in her tone and humility in her spirit, Mary shares her story.
When Death Visits a Loved One
The early part of Mary’s life was rich with family and love. Growing up attending church with her brothers and grandparents, Mary learned how to be a disciplined Christ follower at a young age. She was very close to her grandparents. Her grandfather, who was a preacher, exhibited genuine care and concern for his family and church body. Her grandparents served an important role in Mary’s life. They showed her a faithful marriage, the constant acceptance of a loving Father, and the honoring routine of diligent believers.
Mary recalls singing hymns in the car on the way to church with her grandparents. They’d sing together on the way to church and sing together on the way home — sometimes just out of habit, sometimes out of praise. She didn’t know then that those hymns, the same ones she sang with her family on that simple country road, were the same ones she would be singing one day alone. Years later, drugged, violated and abandoned, Mary would be singing those hymns to comfort herself on an urban street as she looked for the night’s work.
When Mary was 12, her life took an unexpected turn. As an unruly cry for help and attention after the devastating death of her grandfather, Mary took to self-harm to manipulatively extract herself from her home environment. Her family had not coped with the death of her grandfather easily, and every comfort she knew was falling to pieces around her. She wanted out. So she decided she’d do just that — get out.
After an intentionally superficial cut to her forearm and a call to 911, Mary was placed in Tennessee’s state public care system. First, they sent her to a psychiatric hospital to be evaluated for potential danger and various health issues. Mary recalls being in the hospital, isolated from the world, wondering what her life would look like one day.
On one occasion, her grandmother came to visit her. Hoping to see the lively granddaughter she once knew, her grandmother visited a shell of the Mary she desired to bring home. Mary, drooling and dazed, visited with her grandmother for several hours. One of the doctors flippantly stated that Mary would be institutionalized forever.
“I’ll never forget that,” Mary sighed, “They had decided I’d never be normal.”
She was diagnosed, re-diagnosed, and ultimately misdiagnosed for years: schizophrenia, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, obsessive behavior, depression … the list goes on. Doctors slapped label after label on Mary. Medication kept her in a state of oblivion as she waited to be released from the facility. After some bouts of better behavior and taking strides toward a healthier lifestyle, Mary was released into the foster program.
Mary spent many years in and out of homes — grasping and living for a quickly fading hope of what life was supposed to be. She caught on very quickly how to work the system and continued to move from home to home. By the time she was 15, Mary had lived in 34 different care facilities, foster homes and group living environments. She lived with foster parents who tried to love her the way she’d desired, saw caretakers who simply wanted the check from the state, and she experienced families who did nothing more than shelter and feed her.
Rejected, she kept seeking acceptance and love. One night, Mary and her friend ran away from a treatment center. Her friend, who Mary says “knew what she was up to,” pulled Mary into a situation with two older boys. With her friend just around the corner, voluntarily engaging in the same act, Mary — still a virgin — was raped in an abandoned storage shed.
She was only 15.
The following years did not get any better. Although Mary reconnected somewhat with family after her grandmother came to pick her up from the hotel she’d escaped to after the rape, she started hanging out with a rough group of teenagers. She thought they accepted her for herself, but what started as seemingly innocent partying, dancing and drinking, rapidly turned into experimenting with drugs and promiscuity.
Her brother was killed in a car crash after a night of drinking. Mary wasn’t able to cope in a healthy way, and her world continued crumbling — long nights with multiple men using her for her body, being pimped out for money by a man she believed actually cared for her, and throwing herself recklessly into the numbness of Ecstacy.
She began escorting and working in sex spas to make the money necessary to buy drugs. Cocaine, crystal meth and Ecstasy coursed through Mary’s body, threatening her life with each use. Her mind was full of voices telling her lies, ridiculing and laughing at her. The drugs opened a door to evil that Mary wished she’d never known. A constant heckling in her mind kept her searching for drugs to silence the voices.
Deep into her dependency, Mary remembers feeling trapped. She knew the drugs were the lord of her life. She knew she was hurting those who loved her, but she could not stop on her own. She had given in to the addiction and lived only for the next high. Mary’s life was slipping away. And with each hit, she succumbed further and further into the darkness that surrounded her.
Holding Faith and Losing It
Drugged and alone, Mary stoically longed for death — a way out, whatever it might be. But then, Mary received a tremendous gift.
Mary found out she was pregnant with her first daughter, Faith.
She miraculously kicked the drugs and the lifestyle. Relying on her faith in God and that He had a greater plan for her, she fled from the addiction that controlled her and began taking care of her body as she carried her child. Awakened by the innocence that comes with the birth of a baby, Mary had her daughter and stayed clean — for about nine months.
With no support system and a dwindling dependence on Christ, Mary was simply not strong enough to resist the acquaintances from her past. The voices began to speak again: unworthiness, hate and depression. After just one night out partying, Mary was back where she left off.
Faith spent most of her days in the care of Mary’s mother, and Mary kept spiraling out of control.
The Shelter of Hope
At a pivotal moment in her life — after several stays in jail, multiple visits to the hospital, numerous attempts at suicide, and too many vague nights with paying customers trailing her conscience — Mary woke up on the floor of a crack house. She remembers that morning, lying there surrounded by piles of filthy, chemically saturated and inebriated bodies. Fellow drug seekers lay nearby, sleeping off the drugs.
She had been in this situation before — used up, searching, hungry, tired and dirty. But this time it was different. This time she awoke begging and crying out to God. She was begging for a way out. She remembers praying, “God show me the way out, and I’ll take it. I am ready.”
That morning she went to the local homeless shelter for food. It was Good Friday. She lingered around the shelter for a few days until that Sunday, Easter Sunday, and a bus was scheduled to take shelter residents to church. It wasn’t mandatory that they go, but Mary figured, “Why not?”
But the bus didn’t come that day, and Mary realized she probably wasn’t going to be visiting a church that morning. Continuing the talk with God she’d started days ago on the floor of that home several blocks away, Mary waited for Him to show her the way she had begged for. As she paced the grounds of the shelter, a staff member who knew another church had buses asked them to come get those interested in going to church. The buses came, and Mary hopped on.
That morning at a welcoming and accepting church, Mary rededicated her heart, life and soul to Jesus Christ. “That was it for me. I knew it. I was home,” Mary says with the tiniest of tears filling up her vibrant eyes.
She recalls being prayed over by several of the pastors at the church as one of the sweetest and most terrifying experiences of her life. As the prayers began, the laughter and hateful voices that had filled her mind for decades returned. Loudly laughing, bellowing up from deep within, the torment increased. But Mary gripped hands of believers, bent her head down, and prayed silently as the pastors battled and pleaded with God on her behalf.
Finally, for the first time ever, the voices that had plagued Mary fell completely silent. Forever. Still, quiet, peace filled Mary, and she knew it was over. “He chased me down and HE won,” she exclaims.
It hasn’t been all happily-ever-after for Mary. Does God ever promise us that? No, but He does promise He is with us forever after. After that experience, Mary has had small triumphs as she begins to mend the broken pieces of her life. She picked up a job, returned to a family that still wanted what was best for her, began mothering her daughter well, and even completed school to become a medical assistant.
Her grandmother and mother happily and helpfully welcomed her back into their lives and have supported her with each healing step she’s taken to grow and change. They’ve assisted her in transitioning to become the primary provider for her children. With each victory, Mary pushed further and further back the struggle and strife that once held her captive.
She even went on a mission trip. Who knew? A former prostitute on a mission trip to bring glory to the one, true God? Now that is redemption! There have been many pitfalls along Mary’s path and plenty of lingering poor choices, but each time, the Lord has been gracious to her and kept her close.
With the birth of a second, beautiful daughter, Grace, Mary experienced what she feels is another chance — a chance to love her girls and be the mom she knows she can be. She has told Faith about her drug addiction, teaches her about the Lord, and loves her daughters endlessly. Full of matchless hope as she witnesses God’s redemptive work in her own life, Mary says, “You learn to have thick skin, but a tender heart. I’ve been made tough by what I’ve gone through. But my heart is softened by our great God.”
A Way Out Begins With Christ
Mary’s story is unbelievable. Really. In this world, science, facts, the news, tabloids and history tell us the way these stories end. Addiction wins; redemption is not possible, and once you go so far, you can never come back.
But Christ’s story for our lives is different. Just as He rescued Mary, He can and will rescue us. A crazy concoction of sin and helplessness leads to a victorious display of His greatness and love. God chased Mary down and met her. He is restoring her, redeeming her and loving her each day.
When asked what she wanted people to walk away from her story with, Mary passionately replies, “You are never too messed up. It’s never too late. God is always there for you, and He always will be.”
She pauses and looks around, searching for the perfect words to say. Resolving her search, she smiles and says, “You just have to ask Him for a way out.”