The circumstances for my Jesus experience were these. I was in New Jersey trying to sell our house and still teaching at Mary Help of Christians Academy. I was teaching French and Psychology. Randy was already in Vermont fulfilling his responsibilities as the new plant manager at Ben and Jerry’s, Allie was doing her senior year at South Burlington High School and both boys were away from home. I was unhappy with my life, my husband and my children and full of anger. But, I never stopped praying!
One day in early January 1996, I was all alone in our big house in Kinnelon praying in bed. There was no rush to get up so I snuggled under the covers a while longer. When I got out of bed, I suddenly felt a heavy pressing on my right shoulder which literally brought me to my knees. I heard myself saying. “Oh my God, it’s me. My husband and my children aren’t the problem. It’s me.”
I have always believed in Jesus. As a child, he looked like the picture with a flock of sheep holding a wee lamb on his shoulders. He had long brown hair, a gentle face and was lean and strong in appearance. He was far away from me as he lived in heaven. My parents provided good lessons and I learned well knowing he was my savior; however, did I know what that meant? Probably not, as I thought it depended on me to be “good” if I was to make it into heaven. I honestly didn’t give him much thought as a child.
By the time I was a young adult, I knew right from wrong and strived on my own to do right. Despite my good intentions I did much wrong harming others in my life’s journey, never intentionally you must understand, but due to selfish ambitions, jealousies and wrong judgments. Over time, I developed the malady of the known world order, guilt and condemnation. It settled on me as a pall of low self-esteem and all that entails basically depression. I wasn’t much fun as you can well imagine and I had to pretend to be cheerful and happy. I accepted my situation as my unfortunate lot in life hoping against hope when in church every Sunday that I would make it into Purgatory should I die.
Dad shocked the hell out of me when he said, “When I pray, it’s to get all my kids into Heaven. If they are not working themselves there, then I ask Jesus to come and get them now before they tarnish themselves even more.” I think about this often. Dad was clever enough to eliminate the guilt of being sinful. Did he really mean it? My father was saying he would rather have his children die than lead sinful lives. What a unique way to make me think about my relationship with Jesus. As a teenager growing up on a dairy farm in Northern Vermont, this message had a profound influence on me. I watched him, and defiantly said in my teenage voice, “Prove it.” And, he did.
It all starts with a loving family, and that was her blessing and privilege. Grandparents, loving and hardworking parents, and the good old-fashioned Irish neighborhood of Chicago’s Austin Boulevard cement her values and outlook on life. Her Irish girlfriends went to church faithfully, and Marysue always tagged along.
My mother personified Jesus with her unconditional love for both her older brother William and me, Marysue. As I stood in front of a large picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which she inherited from her grandmother, I understood her devotion to Jesus and that the picture was a stable factor in her upbringing. It hung in a prominent spot in the living room. The picture tag revealed it was purchased at Marshall Field’s, and it is believed to have been a wedding gift to her grandmother in the early 1920s.
What is it about me, Lord, that scratches my soul, tenses my shoulders and lets me fall asleep with clenched hands? I’m in my early 60s, single and have what’s expected for a woman my age—a college education, a supportive family, nice physical features and some income. My bi-polar disease is well controlled—so why am I not happy?
After four years as a house assistant in Winnetka, Illinois, I returned to Virginia to live in a rent-subsidized retirement home with my aging parents, and to face the truth about my happiness. Oh, my God! Is a rent-subsidized apartment my future? Surrounded by statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and committed to following my faith, I attend daily Mass and pray the rosary morning, noon and night with my parents. My quest was to get an answer through faith to the question, “How can I be happy?”
All the warning lights suddenly turned on. Then the engine died. Heart thudding, I stared at the glowing dashboard.
“God, what’s going on?” I said. “I don’t understand.” I rarely drive at night, but that Tuesday evening I had an important meeting at our church. Now, it was 9 p.m., and I coasted downhill, steering the car toward the shoulder of a two-lane highway with a speed limit of 60 miles per hour. My trembling fingers hit the hazard lights. As I parked near the guardrail, I prayed, “Lord, please keep me safe.” Then I picked up my cell phone and called home. My husband came to my rescue. Strangers even stopped to ask if we needed help. Finally, the tow truck arrived. I thanked God for answering my prayer and chalked it up to “one of those things.” I had no idea then that it was only the beginning.