Mother Finds Healing in Painting Portraits of Mary

With Elly Tullis’s second child came unexpected challenges. From sleep deprivation to anxiety, she was struggling in ways she hadn’t before as a mother. It wasn’t until she started painting portraits of Mary that she experienced relief. Though she wasn’t religious, her artwork gave her a profound sense of healing and peace in the mother-to-mother connection she found there.

“I was feeling so exhausted,” she says. “I just remember this feeling of, ‘I wish someone would come pick me up in the middle of the night and rescue me from my sleep deprivation,’ — and I think Mary did that.”

Video Transcript

Meet Elly: Artist

Elly Tullis: I’m picking up her grace and her calmness. I mean it’s repetitive, but those are the things that I wanted in my life. I want to be this beacon of calm, unconditional love for my children.

Elly was not religious when she began painting images of Mary. She found comfort in Mary after her second child was born.

She would sleep for a brief 15 minutes, and then wake up. It was probably normal acid reflux or something like that, but it was a form of torture at the time. I was feeling so exhausted. I just remember this feeling of, “I wish someone would come pick me up in the middle of the night and rescue me from my sleep deprivation.” And I think Mary did that.

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Well right now anytime somebody’s sleeping, I’m usually painting. I had saved this image of the Virgin Mary on my phone in the middle of the night one night and just started painting. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and calm.

Elly has now painted more than 30 images of Mary.

I was working on this painting. I was wrapping it up, and then I stepped back and I went, “Oh shoot, her eyes are crooked. What did I do?” And I stepped back, and I just got chills because I remembered my eyes are slightly crooked.

Artists, as they were portraying Mary throughout the centuries, they were all using women from their hometowns as models. All of those paintings were based off of real women, and it was a reminder, “Hey wait, Mary was a real person.” I wondered if she struggled with Jesus as a toddler or something, probably not. He was probably always really good. I would like to have more of her grace and calm as a mother, that’s hard. It’s difficult in those moments that you’re really tested with your children to stay even-keeled.

As I’m learning more and more about the Catholic faith and teachings about Jesus, I started letting him in, little by little, and I’d say, without really knowing that I was doing it. Mary was gently turning me towards her son. I didn’t know that, but when I did let Jesus in, I really felt this incredible, overwhelming burning love — just this intense sensation. I knew, without anyone telling me, that it was Jesus’s love for me and mine for him and for everyone in this world.

Elly, tickling baby: Tickle, tickle, tickle. [baby laughing]

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