When I was 6 weeks old, my parents travelled from Gateshead to St Anthony’s Home in Croydon to adopt me. They brought their Parish Priest with them, and I am forever grateful to have been taken into a family who cared for me as one of their own. I knew at age 6 I was adopted, and it made no difference to me at all. My parents loved me, and I knew it.
Mum was a beautiful homemaker, and we were very close when I was growing up. Dad was a gegentlemanho never smacked any of us kids, even when we probably deserved it. I was a shy, quiet person, both as a child and adult. Even now, I can only speak my mind if I am riled up about something. I met my birthmother two years ago, and we are now good friends. I am proud that I am 18% Aboriginal.
Something else my parents gave me, apart from a good home and a place in their hearts, was faith. I grew up believing in God, and that belief has never really left me. I did the usual catholic things - going to St Paul’s for primary schooling, then to St Mary’s High at Gateshead; making my First Communion and Confirmation. As a child I used to love reading the Psalms out loud. I called them the P-salms, as I didn’t know how the word was pronounced.
In my teenage years, I had bad acne and experienced rejection by some of my peers. I became really jealous of one friend even though she was so nice to me. She was very pretty and got all the attention while I was ignored. When we were on a camp together, this jealousy overcame me. I walked away and pulled out a Gideon’s Bible from my haversack. Finding a Scripture on jealousy, I read it and the jealousy just dropped away. I was filled with an unbelievable peace and learnt the value and power of the Word of God.
I experienced a crisis of faith when I was 17 and stopped going to Mass. I felt uncomfortable with the Church. ‘Why do we need the Sacraments,’ I would argue, ‘if God is everywhere, and we can already have a one-on-one relationship with God?’
Unfortunately, by the time I was 18 I discovered alcohol and was drinking heavily. It gave me false courage to mix with others. But as my social difficulties increased so did my doubts. I became almost driven looking for deeper answers around the mystery of God. In my search I was drawn to the rising popularity of the New Age movement. Over the years I became deeply involved but for me, it proved to be an addictive, downward spiral. I met some lovely people but the movement left me feeling empty.
I left home at 20 with a girlfriend and we backpacked around Australia. I was a regular hippie by then - I dressed like one and acted like one. I got into some mischief along the way, but always sensed that God was there. I studied the Bible at times, still wanting to know the truth about God. I wanted answers.
In my travels I met my future husband. We had two children but eventually divorced. Our marriage was such a difficult time for me. I could not live up to some very high and unrealistic expectations of what a mother and wife should be; and he did not reflect in his words or actions the kind gentleness I had experienced from my father. I couldn’t seem to do anything right no matter how hard I tried.
Normally I am a quiet, reserved person but if people harass me, I can defend myself. In this marriage however, I felt totally overcome. I was alone, afraid, and helpless. I decided my only option was to leave, which took great courage. My youngest was only one year old, but I have never regretted the decision to go.
I moved back home, living with my brother for a while. He was wonderful to me and the kids. But following my divorce I fell into depression, and it was a hard time. I was trying to be happy like the New Age movement urged, but felt I had fallen into a hole and couldn’t get out. One day I cried out to God ‘You’ve got to help me. I am in this deep dark pit.’ In my distress it seemed that He walked in, picked me up by the hand and covered that hole solid as a rock. I haven’t been depressed since. God helps, and I know God helps.
I was smoking a lot too, addicted really but just couldn’t give up. Again, I called out to God to help me stop. The next cigarette I smoked tasted disgusting. I threw it away and lit up another - it was disgusting too. That was the end of my smoking.
It was good for the kids to be back home. They saw my parents all the time and they grew up with their cousins. I sent them to catholic schools at the insistence of my brother, and when my son wanted to be an altar server I started going back to Mass.
When I was 38, I read in the church bulletin that a new prayer meeting was starting at Belmont. I was interested as I knew and admired many of the people involved from the Church. At these prayer meetings I seemed to grow rapidly in faith again, and soon realised that anyone who joins the charismatic renewal movement, shouldn’t be doing new age stuff as well. I made a decision to put it behind me. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal was a new experience for me. The first time I heard people praying in tongues freaked me out - but I got used to it because it is a gift from God after all.
By this time, I knew God communicates with His people; and then I knew that God heals. I never heard in the catholic church itself that you can receive healing, but there was this catholic movement telling me God wishes to heal us. Even more, coming into relationship with God through the charismatic renewal led me in time to want greater intimacy with the Church. I began to value the continual Presence of God through the Eucharist. I learnt the value of going to confession and had healing there also.
I find it hard now to watch TV or movies which involve murder or violence against another person, or indeed, any type of sin. I live in the real world, which for me it is a world of constant prayer. Through prayer I have learnt what the power of communion is. I go to daily mass, and it brings me such peace. I go to retreats sometimes to renew and strengthen my faith. Life doesn’t seem so hard anymore. God doesn’t heal every pain I have though, and there are some things I suffer which I give to God, to help relieve the suffering of others.
I used to work at reading electricity meters, but after one dog-bite too many I switched to cleaning. This is a job I love because I clean six Churches and go to work feeling excited. The main attraction for me is that the Blessed Eucharist is in each Church and I feel so privileged. As I clean, I often pray for people I know, talking to God about their problems. Or, if I am angry at some situation where a person is suffering, I vacuum furiously telling God “Give me a scripture to help me deal with the situation.”
So, I know God is real. I know God listens to us and wants to heal us. Prayer arises in me when I express gratitude to God wherever I am, and I am always grateful. All my worries are lifted from me when I praise God our Creator.
And I know who I truly am, and where my true home is.
The faith journey of Kathy Ellis (as spoken to a guest contributor)
Follow mnnews.today on Facebook.