About Terry Connelly

Terry Connelly is a retired high school English teacher. She earned her BA and Single Subject Teaching credential from California State University of the East Bay, in Hayward, California. Her short story "The Visitor" was published in the Noyo River Review after winning first place at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference in 2019. Another short story, "Swept Sway" is in the CWC Literary Review. She taught for 18 years at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, California. She was gifted to work with both College Prep students and those with learning disabilities.

A New Awareness

            I’ve always moaned about the travails of being stuck in between my siblings. My mother worshiped my older brother, thought he could do no wrong. That was partly due to how disappointed my father was in having a son who was not athletic and had no aptitude for mechanics. My brother was not the child my father would have chosen. Unfortunately, this led to many incidents in which my brother was forced to spend hours in the garage, hands covered in grease, not enjoying what he was doing and getting yelled at for being incompetent.

            My brother took his frustrations out on me. He teased me constantly, called me offensive names, and when no one was looking, pinched or kicked or punched me, leaving huge bruises on my arms, legs and abdomen.

            We had a complicated relationship. I loved sports and would beg my brother to play. Badminton, whiffle ball, sledding, basketball, it made no difference to me. I picked up any sport quite quickly, and so as soon as I was consistently beating him, he found ways to torture me during play. He’d knock me down, through the ball so hard it bruised my palm, dunk me under the water, or let all the air out of my bicycle tires.

            Even so, when it was time to play, I’d look toward my brother. For one, we were intellectual equals. We enjoyed complicated strategy games that took days to solve. This meant board games as well as complex was games with dark green army men fighting beneath a sheet tent.

            My relationship with my younger sister was always rocky. My mother clearly felt a need to shelter her. This included making me take the blame for anything my sister did or did not do, such as cleaning her half of the room or making her bed. It was my fault if she made a mess anywhere in the house. This led to some interesting behaviors on my part.

            One time when I was particularly vexed at her, I asked Mom is my sister could have chocolate pudding, knowing that she’d have to eat it outside because she always made a mess of herself. Not satisfied with the low-level mess my sister would make, I helped make it bigger and better.

            I told her to stick her fingers in the container and rub the pudding down her legs and arms. All over her face and neck, and even in her hair. When it was gone, I went into the house to get my mom, expecting my sister to get the beating I would have received.

            Not so. My mom got the Polaroid camera and took a picture, enshrining forever the chocolate-mess that was my sister. And to make things worse, my mom laughed. She praised my sister for being so inventive, then commanded me to give her a bath.

            Over the years I was blamed for many things that I did not do. My brother accused me of flirting with his friends, none of whom had the brains to interest me. My sister said I’d kicked her and pinched her, which I hadn’t done.

            Those were some of the most miserable years of my life.

            The torture ended when I left home for college.

            I had no escaped my brother, however, as my parents would only let me go to the same college he had chosen. And then they empowered him to watch over me, control me, tell me what to do.

            They had not understood how clever I really was and how easily I could fool my brother. I did need his assistance to shop for food and necessities, and I did become a Little Sister to his fraternity, but beyond that, I led my own life. It was my first taste of freedom and I loved it.

            Many years later I learned about middle-child-syndrome. The term defined exactly how I felt. It also helped me understand why I took things to hard and why I kept so much of me locked inside.

            I used to dream of what it would be like to be an only child, and it seemed heavenly.

            Recently I heard a talk-show host talking about how lonely it was being an only child, and that with no siblings to take the brunt of the anger, he was the sole focus of every bit of torture his family could improvise.

            That gave me a new perspective. While I clearly was the target most of the time, my older brother was a bit of a cushion from my dad’s anger and disappointment. Because my mother felt a need to hover over my younger sister, it gave me a certain degree of freedom.

            This was a profound revelation. Only children have no one to blame if something gets broken or a task is left undone. Only children are the sole focus of parental energy. Only children, when not allowed outside as I was, have no where to go to get away from those prying eyes.

            I am now going to have to reevaluate my perspective on being a middle child. Perhaps it wasn’t as awful as I thought, or perhaps being alone could have been substantially worse.

            It’s interesting to ponder.

Bearing the Weight

Growing up in a dysfunctional family

I didn’t want to marry.

Ever.

While my dad never hit my mom

That I saw

He dominated her.

Controlled where she went

The money she spent

The meals she cooked.

They screamed obscenities

At each other

Daily

The anger rubbed off on me

Both parents calling me vile names

I cried.

I swore that I would never be trapped

In a hate-filled relationship

With any man

Thinking about marriage

Weighed me down

Sinking into the floor

My shoulders ached at the thought

Of a man not letting me

Be me

I dated some.

Saw nothing of interest

Not even a spark

Until I transferred to a different office

And a blue-eyed man

Smiled.

He didn’t talk much,

But he showed patience

Helping me learn

When he asked me out

My stomach flipped

Could this be?

I yearned for his touch,

A sweet kiss

He didn’t disappoint.

My vision of the future

Changed to include his

Warmth

When he proposed, I rejoiced.

Before I would have run,

But not this time

Marriage is a weight,

But not always one of

Pain.

He taught me to bear love,

To cherish times together,

To rejoice.

Many years later

I gladly carry marriage

And will until death.

The burden is worth it.

Money Woes

            Money was a problem when our kids were young. We had our house, chosen in a price category so that I could be a stay-at-home mom. We never missed a payment as that was a priority, but there were times when the refrigerator was a tad empty.

            No one went hungry unless they chose to abstain from whatever was put on the table. Our meals most often consisted of chicken, ground beef and chuck roasts. Pasta, rice and potatoes rounded out the meal. Oh! And canned vegetables.

            Part of the problem was that I wasn’t much of a cook. I had a trusty cookbook that relied on canned soups. The recipes were easy to follow and tasted good. On top of that, they were hearty.

            When boxed Hamburger Helper came out, they became a staple in our diet. Self-contained meals, simple directions and required adding very little.

            My kids didn’t wear new clothes until they were about eight or nine. I was an expert thrift store shopper. I found nearly new onesies, shirts, shorts and pants. Dresses and slips. Coats, sweaters and light jackets. Even rain boots.

            They usually had brand-new shoes, unless the hand-me-downs were like new. When they began school, uniforms were new, a huge expense.

            I also sewed much of their wardrobes, especially shorts, dresses and anything made out of cotton. The machine was old and not very good. Before I left for college, I bought the cheapest model Sears had. That way, even away from home, I could make me new clothes.

            At some point I upgraded, which was a wise decision. The new machine gave greater variety of stitches, which came in handy for seams and hems. It also had a terrific buttonhole maker. My daughter has that machine now.

            We always had two cars. Mine was the Ford Pinto my dad made me buy when I really wanted a fancy Mercury sports-type model. Mike had an obnoxious orange Taurus. We drove them until repairs were useless.

            We replaced those vehicles with other used cars. Repeated repairs kept them running. I drove the kids to school and ran errands. Mike commuted to work.

            We joked that we had bought the mechanic a boat, a luxury car and a vacation cabin. Many times, we’d pay for one car, then turn in the other the next day.

            When my kids were a bit older, I got a job teaching preschool for the local recreation department. I think I earned just over two dollars an hour. The biggest advantage of the job was that I only paid half the normal fees for any class offered.

            My kids learned to swim at the Plunge. They did gymnastics and my daughter took pottery.

            That salary helped keep milk in the fridge and fruit in the house. It paid for camping trips so we’d have vacations. And it gave me something to do other than be a mom.

            Teaching preschool led to a career as an elementary teacher and then later a high school teacher.

            I remember taking the kids scavenging for aluminum cans. We’d go to construction sites and walk the grounds. We found a lot of cans, and when we were really lucky, dropped dollars. One time I picked up a crumpled bill to discover that it was a twenty! That was a lot of money.

            Money might have been a problem, but we were happy.

My Inheritance

            My mother’s family was incredibly poor. They owned their clothes, which were mostly hand-me-downs from wealthier relatives, a few pots and pans and some utensils. Whatever they had traveled with them as they moved from one farming job to another.

            With packs on their backs, they’d trudge around the Ohio River area, occasionally crossing over into West Virginia.

            My grandfather could not read. His math skills were poor and when his coffee was only available in cans, he’d make the shop owner open the can and weigh the grounds on the scale. He was afraid of being taken advantage of.

            For much of his last years Grandpa was a tenant farmer. The land was way up in the hills, a long walk. He had no wagon, cart, mule or horse. When he worked the fields, he’d walk for hours, leaving early in the morning, coming home well after dark. He was in his eighties, still working as a farm hand.

            My mother explained, often, that she only had one pair of shoes. She’d go barefoot no matter the weather. On school days she’d carry her shoes over her shoulder, putting them on when she reached the schoolhouse. As soon as class was over, off they’d go.

            At times her family lived in the woods, camping under the stars or building shelter out of branches and leaves. If they were lucky, someone would let them live in a barn during the winter.

            It was a rough life. As soon as my mother turned fourteen, she left home, moving to Dayton, Ohio to live with an older sister. That sister helped my mom get a job at Woolworth’s, a job she loved.

            In fact, when I was a teenager, my mom got hired at a Woolworth’s near our home, and despite her eighth grade education, worked her way up to manager where she oversaw purchasing, sales, and some bookkeeping.

            We never lived near my grandparents. Whenever we did visit, we left early in the morning for the long drive, heading south through the countryside. We’d stay for a bit, then make the drive home, arriving after dark.

            I hated their house. The coal-fired furnace terrified me. To me, it represented the fires of hell, only made worse when an uncle would pick me up and pretend to stick me inside.

            There was no running water. The outhouse out back smelled pretty bad, the wooden seat had splinters and huge spiders lived in the corners of the ceiling. Flies circled about, landing on you as you took care of business.

            They never did get electricity. Back then we didn’t have a television, so not having one didn’t seem odd. My grandmother had a treadle sewing machine, something I found fascinating. My grandmother loved showing me how it worked. The rhythmic sound of the peddle mesmerized me. And the things she made!

            My grandmother was a terrific seamstress considering the lack of tools. She hand-sewed squares, triangles and diamonds into the most beautiful quilts. Each one was made of bits and pieces of overalls, shirts, dresses, anything that was no longer wearable.

            She also had made every rug in the house. She showed me how she’d weave together scraps, tying them together as she went. The weave grew longer and longer, turning into a multicolor rope. That would be woven into an ever-lengthening spiral, then sewed together. They were soft on the feet and intriguing to look at.

            When both of my grandparents had died, within months of each other, my mother dreamt of getting one quilt and one rug. Because we lived so far away, my dad had to arrange time off in order to drive my mom there.

            Her siblings lived nearby, so had first access to anything of value. Granted my grandparents owned nothing that, at the time, was marketable. However, those quilts were what everyone wanted.

            Grandma had made at least five. When we visited, I’d beg her to show them to me. She was a shy, quiet woman who didn’t like to bask in the glory, so it took quite a bit of persuasion on my part. Even at my young age, I appreciated their beauty.

            By the time my mother finally got to the house, her siblings had claimed every quilt, every rug. They had taken the metal cup that everyone drank out of. Gone were the clothes, which would have been faded and stained. My grandmother owned no jewelry, or that would have been gone as well.

            My mother was so distraught that she sought solace in the barn at the back of the property. She walked about with tears in her eyes, fingering her father’s old tools. None of them were usable anymore, which was why there were still there.

            Up on a shelf something caught my mother’s eye. Reaching high overhead, she wrapped her fingers around the thing. It was the tool her father used to remove kernels off the cob. It looked like a can opener, which most likely it was when new. Grandpa had attached a leather strap to it.

            He’d slip his fingers under the strap, then rake off the kernels. The strap was stained with his sweat.

            Holding it brought back memories. My mother slipped it into her dress pocket and after saying goodbye, headed home. She never told anyone that she had it.

            I admired it. Imagining grandpa working with it allowed my mind to create original stories. The fact that not only had he created it, but that his sweat stained it, endeared it to me.

            Many years later when my mother’s mind began to fail, she insisted that my siblings and I claim things in the house. My brother got first choice, and even though my sister was the youngest, she got second.

            Every time I’d mention something I’d like, one of them had already claimed it. Until I thought of Grandpa’s tool.

            I was told I’d have to wait until my mother died before I could take it, one day she surprised me by placing it in my hand.

            That was my inheritance: a reminder of where my family came from.

Confidence

I had none.

No belief in myself

Due to years of belittling,

Ridiculing

Being told I was nothing.

Even when my Algebra teacher

Saw something in me.

He encouraged me to speak up,

Developing a quiet voice

That was not brash

Or bragging.

He also taught Calculus,

Math I found easy to master

As it called to in inner ability

To solve puzzles

I didn’t know I had.

I fell in love with Mr. K.

I faked broken fingers

So I could have extra time

In his classroom.

I stalked him,

Looking up similar names

In the phone book,

Then driving to those homes

Hoping to catch a glimpse.

When I realized how stupid

My love was,

I moved on to my next target,

The softball coach,

Who encouraged me to work harder.

When she saw my pathetic glove,

She drove me to her house.

Gave me one of hers.

She asked nothing of me,

But later I wondered.

When the counselor told me

I’d never succeed in college,

I was so angry that I swore

To prove her wrong.

I never told my parents.

For the first time I had conviction,

A motivation to prove doubters wrong.

With great determination

I tackled class after class,

Earning needed credits.

Each tiny success added a chip,

Assurance needed that I could do it.

My morale improved

Shredding all those negative comments

That had been glued to my psyche.

Confidence is a marvelous skill.

It allows for a sense of dignity,

A high morale that lifts chins

Brightens eyes and

Eliminates doubts.

It needs feeding.

Constant reassurance.

Praise and positive comments.

Every day, at times, every hour

Until it sinks in.

That you are worthy.

That you have dignity.

Tenacity and well-earned esteem.

And with that, you walk with poise.

Confidant.

Lesson Learned

We should have known better.  No.  Let’s say that I should have known better than to bring a birthday cake into someone’s home, without asking first.  That sounds a little strange, true, but it’s an unwritten “law.” You should never, ever do anything, no matter how seemingly innocent, without getting permission beforehand.

My birthday is in August.  Now that our “children” are living on their own, birthday celebrations lack luster.  A card and a bouquet of flowers routinely show up on the dining room table.  Sometimes we’ll go out for dinner.  That’s as exciting as it gets.

One summer my husband and I were visiting family. My birthday had passed, but after celebrating a relative’s birthday with a trip to an incredible mountain lake, I thought it might be fun to celebrate mine as well.

After church on Sunday, we stopped at Albertson’s to pick up some needed items.  As we walked the aisles, the idea came to me to buy a birthday cake.  I pictured excited faces hovering around a lit cake, everyone waiting to see if I could blow out fifty-nine candles.  I imagined how happy everyone would be to share the passing of another year of my life.

We found the bakery department, and there, to my delight, was the perfect cake. Tiny blue and yellow flowers danced across the top.  Deep green ivy held hands with the petals, and a pure white garland graced the sides.  Someone must have ordered the cake, and then not shown up.

With pride, I toted the cake to the house, The relatives were still at church, so I placed the cake in the only open space, at the end of the kitchen counter.  Knowing that a hungry family would soon descend upon the house, I fixed my lunch, settled at the table, with the intention of being out of the way.

All seemed to be going according as I hoped until the relative arrived home. When she saw the cake, something went terribly wrong.  Fire shot from her eyes.  Her jaw clenched into a knot the size of Philadelphia, and the hoods over her eyes would have done nicely as capes for a dark knight.  With a mighty sweep of her right arm, the cake flew off the edge of the counter and landed, splat, on the floor.

Then she exploded into a tirade of reasons why the cake was unacceptable.  She screamed for what felt like an eternity, but was probably no more than five minutes. 

This is not a wealthy family and food was never wasted. Yet, the perfectly fine cake was now in the garbage.

I cleared my lunch items off the table, and when the woman went into another room, I removed the cake from the can. The plastic container had not opened, so the cake was not polluted by grime.  It had landed on one side, causing the icing to flatten and smear, but the rest of the cake was intact.

I set the cake back on the counter.

The husband had been watching the entire scene. I looked at him with tear-filled eyes and said, “I only wanted to celebrate my birthday with you.  I apologize for buying a cake without asking first. I’ll carry it out to the garbage after dinner.”

With tears pouring down my face, I went downstairs, to our room. I sat on the bed, speechless. I had no idea what I had done wrong and didn’t know what words to say that would explain what had just happened.

Ten minutes later the husband stuck his head into the room. He had written his email address on a paper and asked me to send him a message. He replied shortly after I sent one off. Apparently, it was a fasting Sunday, something that always triggered explosions of anger. He said that when she’s famished, she often throws childish tantrums.  He apologized for her behavior, and wrote that they would enjoy the cake later.

The next morning Mike and I got up well before dawn, as planned, to begin our trek home.  Despite the husband’s explanations, when we went upstairs to leave and I saw the cake still there, unopened. I felt empty, as if the very air had been sucked out of my lungs.

I learned a very important lesson: never bring anything into the house that has not been pre-approved. 

A Huge Loss

                  

What do you do when your eyes dim

and gray clouds cover the world

and you live to read and write and

admire the photos of your grandchildren?

What do you do with your time when

it hurts to read and the words dance

in crazy swirls that hop across the page

and you have stacks of books to read?

What do you do when you feel like

crying about all the lost joys that

you most recently discovered, knowing

that, in time, they will fade away?

What do you do when you want to write

but the words drown in a sea of gray

sinking to the bottom of a speckled pit

and fall out of your mind like dandruff?

What do you do when the world you used

to see disappears behind a distorting mist

that threatens to take away your freedom,

your driver’s license, your mobility?

What do you do when hope seems to have

abandoned you in your time of need and

when you are too young to fall apart and

there seems to be only a steeper fall ahead?

You cry, weep, moan and seek the company

of family and friends who will listen and

understand how truly great the loss is

and offer sympathy without comment.

You get down on your knees and pray

to the Lord of all, to the God of mercy,

and ask Him to give you a few more good

years of loving the printed page.

You think of all the good years that have

come and gone, all the places seen and

friends loved and family times shared,

and rejoice in the Lord’s blessings bestowed.

A Dream of Peace

              

I dreamt that I traversed the sands of time

to a place mysterious and sublime.

Where gigantic trees with branches stout,

safely nestled all feathered friends about,

providing shelter from many foe,

yet allowing freedom to come and go.

Silky soft leaves whose gentle caress

becalms restless souls, soothes with fine finesse

young and old alike; no bias here

where all live in peace for many a year.

Through the sands a winding river ran

giving sustenance to both beast and man.

Surprisingly blue with not a trace

of sinister longings upon its face.

It speaks of a sweet love; it calls to me,

“Step right in,” it says, “ and I’ll set you free

from all that ails; as well sin and pain.

You have nothing to lose, but much to gain.”

With tremulous step I slowly crept

into her warm, comforting arms.  I slept.

Or thought I did, for there soon appeared

hosts of angels. I panicked, afeared

of my demise. But to my surprise

they lifted me on high with joyous cries.

The night did end. My dream soon left.

The suffering world found me quite bereft

and yearning for that heavenly place

whose welcoming arms did me quick embrace.

One thing alone I brought home with me:

knowledge that all men could soar high and free

seeking truth, wisdom, righteousness, and grace.

making earth a truly heavenly place.

My Cat History

            Growing up we never had a cat. My mother was afraid of them. She truly believed that cats could suck the air from a sleeping child. Imagine the picture this put in my naive mind! A stealthy cat climbing the bars of a crib, sneaking up to the head of the child, staring at the face, looking for the best angle of attack, then slowly, ever so slowly lowered its head, mouth open, ready to steal the air from the hapless baby.

            It was not until I married my husband that I found out that this was one of those old wives’ tales.

            My family had a beagle from the time I was about eight until I was into high school. My husband’s family had always had a cat.

            When I saw the family cat, I tensed, expecting an attack. My husband noticed, asked and then laughed when I offered my reasoning.

            Once I knew the truth, I gradually taught myself that a cat could make a good pet. I was terrified of the claws, but then dogs bite. Equally dangerous.

            My husband had a friend up in Portland, Oregon. On a camping trip up north, we stayed with them. They had two Siamese cats. Elusive, yet curious. When one came close, I tried to pet it and immediately got clawed. The deep, blood-drawing type. For the rest of our visit, I cringed whenever those cats drew near. They knew I was afraid, and seemed to relish in torturing me.

            At that point I had no interest in having a cat.

            One time my women’s guild was having a bake sale to buy something for our pastor. I had made cupcakes. My oldest son, maybe four or five at the time, came with me. The women getting things ready were a bit discombobulated. A pesky reddish cat kept coming inside, begging for food. When my son saw her, he grabbed her, held her to his chest and begged to bring her home.

            I explained that she most likely belonged to a family living nearby, but if his father approved and if she was there in the morning when we went to Mass, he could have her. As soon as we parked, he ran to the small hall. The cat was there, still begging for food. He scooped her up and held her in his lap, me by his side, while my husband attended the service.

            She was named Cupcake Eater Connelly due to the bites of cupcake he fed her. Cuppie, as we called her, was a wonderful cat. She was not quite full grown, but not a kitten either. She adapted quickly to our house and our routine. We loved her and took good care of her. When she died, we were heartbroken.

            After Cuppie came a rescue that belonged to my daughter. She named her Calie because, guess what? She was a calico cat. Not too bright, but once we finally got her housebroken (and that really tried our patience), she was a loving cat. Calie was patient and kind. She loved my daughter and then, later when she had children, her daughter as well.

            Calie lived a good, long life. Once our daughter went off to college, Calie fell in love with my husband.

            For years after we were never without a cat. There was Josie, a tiny stray that walked out of my husband’s closet. She was a sweet, wonderful cat. Tigger was a feral cat our daughter brought home, saying it was a female. Nope. I hadn’t wanted a male, thinking they were aggressive. He was not.

            I adopted sister tuxedo cats. One ran away as soon as my husband left a door open. We saw her off and on, but she never returned to live with us. The other was a sweetie. She loved petting and had an awesome purr. Then she fell ill, kidney disease.

            Next came Cole, a kitten I fell in love with at an adoption event. He loved nothing more than sitting on a lap. The poor thing got very sick, very quickly.

            Immediately after Taffy joined our home. I changed his name to Tuffy, a more masculine sounding name. He was a bit standoffish until he got quite a bit older. Then he was a lap cat. Always on me or on my husband.

            Once he died, we decided no more cats. By now we were both older and didn’t want our kids to have to deal with a pet after we were either incapacitated or dead.

            I miss having a four-legged pet. I really want another cat, an older one as I don’t want to deal with clawed furniture and poop in closets.

            Someday, hopefully soon, I’ll find the right cat.

A Religious Awakening

Fifty years ago, my faith was in doubt.  Tired of hearing the hell and damnation homilies of the local parish priest, I tuned out every time he spoke.  I knew that I should have been listening, for I feared that I was one of the sinners that he condemned to everlasting fire, and that there was no hope for my salvation.

I did not “do” drugs, proffer myself to men, nor commit crimes against society.  I was, however, not a dutiful daughter who accepted her subservient status in a household that held women with little respect. My parents believed that my sole purpose in life was to work for them, as a household servant, and when those jobs were done to satisfaction, then and only then could I pursue an education.

I did not object to assisting with the care and operation of the house.  What angered me most was that my siblings were exempted from any and all responsibility, including cleaning up after themselves. 

A major part of the problem was that my parents were ultra-conservative and narrow in focus.  To them, the duty of an older daughter was to manage the house and to marry young.  By young, I mean by the age of fourteen.  I didn’t even date at that age, let alone have a serious boyfriend, and I hated housework, so I was a failure in their eyes.

It should be a surprise that I was so affected by what was said for the pulpit, for Sunday worship was not something that my parents faithfully practiced.  They went to church when they felt like it, when the weather was good, when there were no sporting events on television.  And when they did go to church, it was not at the nearest church, but rather one which held the shortest service.

When I left for college in the summer of 1969, I decided to act boldly: I would not go to church at all.  My resolve faded as soon as the first Sunday arrived.  Not wanting to anger God, fearful of blackening my soul any further, I found the Newman center on campus.  The atmosphere was one of welcome.  The music filled me with joy, literally erasing all my negative thoughts and feelings in one fell swoop.

As time passed, my attitude toward the church changed. I believed the good news that I heard over and over during those joy-filled services. I understood that God had not judged me and found me wonting.  Instead, I now knew, He was a loving God who cried when one of His souls lost the way.  He offered peace and salvation to all who believed.  He gave solace, when needed, in times of stress and anxiety.  He loved us, no matter what we might have done.

Several months into that first school year, the Neuman Club organized a retreat up in the nearby mountains.  I had never done anything this before, but it sounded exactly what I needed.

The camp was somewhere east of Los Angeles, a rustic setting nestled in a forest. From the time we arrived at the camp, I felt at peace. All of us hurried inside, anxious to claim a bunk in one of the dorm rooms.  There was no pushing, no domineering, no one person making others feel worthless.

Having never been camping, I was unprepared for the chilly nights and the crisp morning air.  My clothing was not substantial enough to keep me warm, especially when it snowed in the night, leaving about six inches on the forest floor. Nevertheless, thanks to the generosity of those who shared warm mittens and thick sweaters, I stayed warm.

Throughout that weekend, my heart sang.  It was as if a giant anvil had been removed. Like a newly feathered chick, I flopped my wings, and took off.  Faith came at me from every direction.  From the treetops came God’s blessed light.  From the ferns sprang His offerings of love.  From my fellow participants came God’s unconditional love.  From our times of prayer and reflection, came discovery of my love for the God who loved me back.

I smiled until my face literally hurt.  I laughed at the crazy antics of my roommates, and joined in the singing in front of the fireplace at night.  During prayer times, tears poured down my face, yet I did not have the words to explain why.  It was as if someone had reached inside, pulled out all the pain, and filled me with a wholesome goodness.

I do believe that God touched me that weekend.  Not with His hands, for I did not feel the slightest brush against my body. What I did experience was the enveloping of His arms, holding me and making me feel safe. He gave the gift of feeling both loved and lovable.  He made me feel important, and inspired me to continue to follow His way.

When the weekend drew to a close, it was with deep regret that I packed my things.  I hoped to hold on to all that I had experienced.

I would love to report that my life was permanently changed, but it was not.  When at home, I continued to feel inadequate.  Not one day passed without hearing what a huge disappointment I was.  There was nothing that I did that ever pleased my parents, and not once did they give me a single word of encouragement.

When I graduated from college, I moved back to the still stifling environment of my parents’ home.  Pulled down by the never-ending criticism of my unmarried state, my unemployment, and by the wasted years at college, I quickly fell into a state of despondency.  The local Mass situation had not changed, even if the pastors had.  One pastor continued to preach the same old fire and brimstone message about the blackening of our souls.  In another, the Mass was so short you could be in and out in less than forty minutes.

It was not until my husband and I moved into the parish that he had known as a teenager, that the glow returned.  I rediscovered the God who loved me, who sheltered me from the storms of life, and who walked with me every step of every day. 

It was, and continues to be, a community of caring individuals who come together to worship and to pray for each other in times of need.  While priests have come and gone, the overall feeling has not.  We are the parish, the ones who define the atmosphere that envelopes all who step through the doors.

I know that there is a loving God who helps us walk through life’s challenges. He has blessed my life in ways that I am still discovering. 

That is the story of my faith.