The strength of community
Have you ever experienced walking into a room full of women and becoming acutely aware of walking on holy ground as the perception of the Holy Spirit surrounds you? That is the strength of community, and that is the dimension of community I experience in Theresians. When I was in my thirties, as a new Theresian I went to a day of prayer at the Cenacle and when I entered the retreat room, I will never forget that feeling. It was a warmth of God’s love, of the Spirit of all those women’s energy in one room that just radiated like a star to me. I thought that day I hope someday to be like them.
March 5, 2022, I attended the Fort Bend Theresian Day of Prayer with our new executive director, Tammy Townsend Denny as our guest speaker. The title was “The Feminine Breath of God.” I reflected on how we have come a long way from our inception as a religious foundation of 1961 with Monsignor Elwood Voss, and Patricia Mullen, then our Executive Director Sister Roseann Barmann, OSB. In 2000 we called forth Vicki Schmidt who was the first single lay woman. In 2021, Tammy Townsend Denny, who is married with children and a converted Catholic with a career became our executive director, and most of us can relate to her vocation. She spoke about how her faith seed was planted in her journey with God by a Baptist woman Sunday school teacher. Just from her description alone, I will take the liberty to say this Sunday school teacher has all qualities of an honorary Theresian. Tammy has a strong foundation in Gospel values and a thirst for learning that has brought her to Theresians. The day of prayer was her first large group experience as speaker as she spoke of the Feminine Breath of God through the examples of Eve, the Wisdom of Sophia, and of Mary Magdalene.
So, why do I speak of this day of prayer? Imagine the energy of one and multiply that by the energy of all the women of a Theresian Day of Prayer! Our awareness and perception are enhanced with community and all the dimensions come together in community. We were Educated; we shared our stories (Ministry); we prayed as one and in Community which builds our Spirituality; and, we shared our stories as we go home and live our Vocation as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and member of our church and work community.
How we receive each day within our perception and how we respond to it is our journey; we are all on the journey of transformation and in Theresian community we see the reflection of God’s love and have a safe place “to Be.” In this 2022, coming out of our post COVID experience, we are challenged to rekindle our relationships and to rebuild our community as an example of God’s love.
Strength in Community
When I think about all the blessings that Theresians has showered on my life, strength flows through it all. For a woman who grew up with four brothers and no sisters, I learned quickly to latch on to my mother, female cousins, aunts, grandmother for my community of women. There was never a void of love and wisdom in my large family, and the strength of the women is still very prominent in our family relationships.
Because my mother modeled Theresians and friendships when I was growing up, I always thought it was not only amazing that she had so many friends (and still does), but also that it was important that she reach out beyond busy motherhood to be in community of women. She valued the spiritual strength that a woman could only get through female friendships and sharing.
I have always valued my friendships with women. For the first 40 years of my life, my friendships with girlfriends were strong and always fulfilling. After I started my family, my Theresian community became the spiritual strength I didn't know I needed. It opened my eyes to the spiritual paths of others and allowed me to find comfort in my own.
Community is belonging. It is a safe haven from the chaos of everyday life. There is strength in numbers within a community of Theresians. Women 'gathered in His name' becomes a catch-all for our spirituality, our hurts, our desires, our strengths and our weaknesses. The community becomes the ears who hear me, the friends who do the heavy lifting when I am down. My dreams are shared, my heart is encouraged to prosper, and my mind is encouraged to accept what is. Grief when going through loss or during difficult times is lessened by the caress of my community of girlfriends.
This doesn't just apply to my local community, but to the Theresian organization as a whole. I have been strengthened spiritually by just being together with my Theresian sisters whether it be here in the USA or internationally. These women are friends that will last my lifetime. They make sense of what's real and important. In a world that seems to be in crisis, the strength of community brings joy and length to all our years.
Resilience through Faithfulness
“God will never give you more than you can handle.” How many times have you heard this before? Sometimes I just want to say, “Enough already! God, I think I am strong enough! Can’t I just coast for a while?”
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul tells us: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it.”
It is when I doubt God’s faithfulness and question His timetable that I find myself overwhelmed by the crisis before me. What I often fail to recognize in the midst of the crisis is that God has equipped me with resilience. This is the skill and ability to bounce back from difficult times and to be stronger than I was before. It is during these tests by fire that our character is shaped, that our faith is strengthened, and that we fully appreciate the blessings in our life.
When I think of the last two years as we have weathered this pandemic, I reflect on how overwhelming and hopeless it all has seemed. I felt so helpless. So many people suffering and dying. After all, what could one middle-aged, retiree do? How could I help ease the suffering of others other than pray?
Never underestimate the power of prayer. During this past summer, a dear friend and neighbor was stricken with Covid-19. Dan was hospitalized for over a month, and it did not look like he would make it. During this time, Dan’s wife kept our close-knit neighborhood apprised of Dan’s condition through regular text messages. Lisa requested prayers. So, we all prayed. Prayers were shared through daily texts by a group of friends and neighbors. While we had all known each other for 25+ years, we had never really prayed together before. Nothing like this. After over a month in the hospital and a few weeks in rehab, Dan made it home to Lisa, where he continues to recover. What a blessing!
Did we, as a prayer community, aid in Dan’s recovery? My voice added to the chorus of neighbors praying together for healing was both impactful and miraculous. Prayer is so powerful in the way it strengthens us and gives us courage to persevere. Resilience through faithfulness, what a gift in so many ways!
Litany of why my Theresian Community is important to me
It offers support, encouragement, love, and fellowship.
It is an oasis in my life.
It strengthens my prayer life.
It is a place of peace.
We share our prayer life.
We break bread together.
It is informative.
There is intercessory prayer.
It nourishes my love for God.
It helps me grow in spiritually.
I feel closer to God.
There is friendship, love, and care.
There is unwavering support in my faith journey.
There is encouragement to persevere.
It has given me sustenance over many years.
It is a newfound sisterhood.
There is unity.
Every gathering is like a mini-retreat.
I get to spend time with like-minded people.
I gain knowledge about our faith and St. Therese.
There are real, gutsy, fun-loving, and understanding women.
For these and for all the unspoken blessings our Theresian communities bring into our lives and into the world, we give thanks and glory to God. Amen.
Strength Through a Community Working Together
Small Christian communities are not a new concept. Early Christians met in small groups in each other's homes to share faith and break bread. Being in community is one of the Five Dimensions of being a Theresian.
The Lord has called us as Theresians to learn, develop, change, nourish and grow in community with other Christian women on our journeys towards holiness. As Christian women, we grow ever more beautiful when we share our time, talents and treasures in community with each other.
We experience strength through our communities in our monthly gatherings where we share a meal, pray, support, and encourage each other to become more Christ-like. While the pandemic tried to keep us apart, my community, Spiritual Springs, is stronger than ever.
Last July, I found myself having to cope with the sudden and unexpected death of my sixty-four-year-old husband. As you might imagine, I was overwhelmed by grief, struggled with consoling my two young adult sons and my husband’s siblings, and planning the funeral Mass.
In our parish, members of the Funeral Reception Ministry are normally the ones who set up, prepare and serve food and drinks, and clean up after the funeral reception. On the first call to my parish, I learned that the members of the Funeral Reception Ministry were out of town and that I would not be able to host a reception at our parish church after the funeral Mass. I began racking my brain about what other options there might be where two hundred mourners would be able to greet and comfort each other.
Within the hour, one of my Theresian sisters, Sue Sanchez, called and I mentioned that I was not going to be able to have a reception at the church after the funeral Mass. She told me not to give the reception another thought. She would work with the church office and our Theresian community to make the reception happen. She said that our community would donate desserts, set up, serve, and clean up the parish hall. I placed an order for some food to be delivered and turned my energy towards creating a slide show and planning the funeral.
On the day of the funeral, I was gifted with more support than you can imagine from my community. My Theresian sisters jumped into action and set up the hall beautifully. They put out all the tables and chairs and set up a place to play the slide show. They received and put out the food and desserts, prepared the paper products, filled ice chests, and made coffee, tea and lemonade. Even former members of our community jumped in to help by setting up, serving and cleaning the parish hall.
Another Theresian sister, Debbie Elmer, led a beautiful scriptural rosary before the Mass.
And boy, did my Theresian sisters know how to host a reception! They greeted everyone and made them feel so welcome. I cannot tell you how many family members, friends, and co-workers asked me who the beautiful women were that were serving them food, drinks and dessert. I felt so much love and extremely well taken care of! As a result, at least two friends have approached me about joining Theresians. They saw the community I had in action and they are interested in having spiritual sisters like that in their own lives.
The community continued to wrap my family in their love and to give me strength after the funeral. They organized a meal train and brought the most wonderful homemade food for my family and visitors.
Jesus preached “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” My Theresian sisters did just that: they consoled, supported, encouraged, and worked together to give me strength, power and fuel for the soul. I am so blessed to be on this walk home with my Theresian sisters.
Thirty-eight years ago, I was asked to join a neighborhood Bunco group. The group has been going for over 40 years. I knew all the ladies from the community Women’s Club. I had never played Bunco before, but it’s so easy. Our format has teams and there is switching of tables and partners, so you really get to talk to everybody, catch up, and get to know one another.
There are snacks on the tables and a dessert to complete the night. In the old days, we didn’t get home until 1:00 a.m. One time my husband asked me what we do there—what exactly is Bunco? It’s such an easy game that you can snack and chat and still keep track of sixes on dice. So, what’s the dessert about afterward? I explained that we weren’t done talking yet! He just shook his head.
The group has changed over the years, as ladies moved away. But these women are my best friends. We do other things together and get together with our husbands, too. I’ve traveled with some of them and have kept up with some who moved away. And like a lot of women’s stories, we’ve been with each other through sickness, surgery, divorce, teenage kids, weddings, funerals, and more.
Women are so good at community. Theresians is the same kind of community as my Bunco group, and I just treasure it!
Let’s talk about sadness.
"I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, 'Fear not,
I will help you.' "
by Tammy Townsend Denny, Executive Director
Sadness may seem like a strange topic during a season when signs of hope, peace, love, and joy are everywhere -- actual signs on churches, on wrapping paper, even in my neighbor’s front yard. We’re supposed to be happy during Advent, right? We’re anticipating the arrival of Jesus. Our hearts should be dancing with joy.
But, what happens when the joy isn’t there? What if sadness overwhelms the hope, peace, and love?
Through my spiritual practices, I have learned to lean into the uncomfortable feelings of sadness, to embrace them, and to be kind to them. I have learned that our lives need space for sadness as much as our lives need space for joy.
A few days ago, I was feeling some of that sadness. Nothing was especially wrong. Kids are good. Husband is good. Life is good. When I glanced at the calendar, I realized it was December 7 – Pearl Harbor Day, the day we remember all those killed during the military strike in 1941. Admittedly, I’m a bit too young to have any first-hand, emotional memories about Pearl Harbor, yet the day holds significance in my life. December 7 is my parents’ wedding anniversary. This is my first Pearl Harbor Day without either of them.
When my father died in 2001, my parents had been married 40-some years. My mother passed away in March of this year.
I have distinct memories from my childhood of the news stories about Pearl Harbor that would remind Dad it was time to buy Mom a box of chocolate-covered cherries for their anniversary. He didn’t get the fancy candy store chocolates. Nope, my dad always gave her the inexpensive, grocery store variety – those cheap chocolate-covered cherries in the red box. And my mom loved them, saying they were her favorite, though I never understood why. In my mind, Pearl Harbor and cheap, chocolate-covered cherries are forever linked.
While the memories are joyful, the sadness is real. And that’s OK. Father Terrance Klein, in a 2020 Advent reflection for the Jesuit magazine America, says, “Advent begins as an admission. It is okay to be sad, to lament.” In my lamenting, I believe God has my right hand, even on those days when I forget to ask for help.
For those who have lost children, spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends this past year and for those who mourn loved ones who have died in years past (mourning has no expiration date), I pray that you find moments of peace during this Season of Joy. I also invite you to lean into the grief and sadness. Lament! Don’t push the sadness away. Embrace it. Be kind to it. And know that Theresians around the world hold you in prayer.
I leave you with an excerpt from a poem from Jan Richardson’s book The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief:
Do not pass by
what is forever gone
It is an honoring
of what has been…
2021 Advent Greetings from Mary Kay Hinkle, Chair, US National Leadership Team
Happy New Year!! Liturgically speaking, of course. We look forward to the new beginnings promised by the birth of Christ. We can look to the Holy Family a little more this year, as our Theresian Prayer of Solidarity asks us to pray for women who seek to restore relationships in their families, with spouses, children, and extended family.
Advent usually has wonderful religious ceremonies, taize gatherings, sacred carol choirs and the like. Advent also starts a season of holiday events and gatherings that we’ve looked forward to all year. This year it is possible that some of those will be curtailed. But at this darkest time of the year, we bring our own lights to the banquet of love: Christmas lights everywhere, candles lit, fireworks for New Year’s-- the more lights, the better!
We Theresians will keep our lights on, our lamps lit, and expect a banquet to happen anyway, at any time. And we’ll be ready!
Theresians are meeting again, hallelujah! Inviting all women to join us in living our Gospel values should be the order of the day. We were locked up too long, away from the spiritual banquet that nourishes us any time Theresians meet. Hearts of wisdom always fill each other up, and we need that more than ever. In all our “little ways” we serve up hospitality, warmth and nurturing. If you spend a little time thinking about your friends, you can probably think of someone who would love Theresians. Please invite her to a meeting. There’s nothing like the welcome of a group of Theresians.
Spread the Love
Start Spreadin’ the News………
Theresians are looking for women who can support one another on their faith journey, make spiritual development their priority, deepen their relationship with Christ, live a life rich in Gospel values all the while having fun and creating new friendships. After a long and challenging year, we have lost many Theresian sisters and Communities so it’s a great time to bring in new members. The NLT Evangelization and Outreach Committee is excited to announce our
New Membership Campaign!
"Spread the Love"