My Faith Journey
by Diane Fallier
My family always went to church on Sunday. We attended the Arlington St. Methodist church in Nashua. When I was too young to go to school, we lived at my grandparent’s house. My grandmother would always have her Upper Room devotional booklet beside her for breakfast. I learned songs in Sunday school and enjoyed singing them. I joined the junior choir as soon as I was old enough to do so. I have always found singing about faith a source of strength and inspiration. I progressed from Sunday school to confirmation to youth fellowship. When I was in high school, I was part of a group that read and discussed theological papers. I really enjoyed learning more about who God is.
I became the youth delegate to annual conference for the church. I was quite active at the conference level going to many meetings. When the conference gave the youth a vote, I was the person chosen to have that vote. I felt honored and pleased that God and my peers thought me worthy of this role. During the conference, the youth delegates often got together to discuss their faith and how it affected their lives. It was great at conference because my grandmother was also a delegate and was able to show me the ropes. In my youth, my grandmother was one of my rocks. Always present and understanding.
When I was in high school, there was a movie shown at movie theaters that had a call to Christianity at the end. Even though I had already committed myself, I felt it was important to make this outward sign. So, I went forward and was met by a person from a local church where we discussed faith in general and my faith. This was the first time I talked with someone I didn’t know about my faith. It was nice to hear familiar words from a stranger. This affirmed that the faith really did exist outside of my small world.
When I went off to college at UNH, I attended the Congregational church close to campus. Frequently my swim coach, who was a member of that church, would give me a ride from my dorm to the church. She was a person with whom I could share some of the problems in my life which was a grace to me until she told me she really didn’t want to hear about my problems anymore. I was grateful for the listening ear and a voice with a Christian perspective during the time that she was able to listen. We continued to go to church together until I moved out of the dorms.
After finishing college, I went to graduate school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. At the end of the campus was a very large Methodist church, which I of course joined. Until I went south, I never realized how large protestant churches could be. This church had over 9800 members, 17 ministers, including 2 full time music ministers. The choir was over 100 voices. One could easily feel lost in a church this size. Relationships tended to be formed in small groups such as Sunday school classes and the choirs. I joined the chancel choir and had the opportunity to play handbells for the first time.
I met my friend Nancy at this church. She was instrumental in keeping me sane. She opened her house to me, and I helped with her Sunday school class for disabled children. It was helpful to learn more about what most people consider “normal” life as I interacted with her.
After messing around taking classes for the fun of it, I finally received my graduate degree and started working as a trainer for Intel Corporation. When my job moved out of Dallas, I decided to move back to New England and work in their Boston area office. I stayed with my brother in Hudson until I was able to get a condo. Church life was a foundation for me, but I decided not to go to the same church as my mother, so I went to Main Street United Methodist church instead.
When I moved back to the area, I started playing flute with the NH Philharmonic Orchestra. We had an orchestra manager named Leslie Holman. She was also the bell choir director for the Congregational Church of Hollis. She learned that I knew how to play handbells and asked me to sub periodically with the handbell choir. When she moved to Texas, I was asked to become the director of the handbell choir here. It wasn’t long after that when I became a member of this church. My husband subsequently became involved with the boy scouts and joined the church as well.
I never went through a stage of doubting my faith. To me, that’s not surprising given that I was visited by an angel in all its glory as a youngster. There are those that think this only happened in Biblical times but that’s not the case. My grandfather was an abuser and was making me do unthinkable things. As a child the only thing I could think to do was hurt myself. The angel came to stop me until people were able to come to my aid. At the time I was too young and in the moment to recognize how extraordinary this was. The more I look back at it the more awed I become. What made me so special to be noticed by God enough to send me an angel?
There are many sad stories that go with my childhood. I survived them, but not well. I struggled with mental health for many years. My first suicide attempt was when I was in high school. The next day, I told people at school that I wanted to die but at that time, the only action taken was for the school nurse to tell me not to do it again. I think they told my mother, but there was no discussion of the topic. I didn’t tell my sister however, which was unusual. We shared almost everything. It was how we survived. She was my refuge because I knew she understood. I now understand that she was also abused, but such topics were not talked about. This secrecy is part of why abuse and mental illness persists.
My mother was never a supportive person. My most poignant memory is bringing home a report card that was all A’s and B’s and having the comment be that it was too bad it wasn’t all A’s. However, my mother really thought it was important that I learn about God and divine love, but she was not able to demonstrate that to her family. I came to understand that she also grew up in an abusive environment and was doing the best she could. I was in high school when I silently forgave her for how she ran the family.
The next time things got difficult was when I was in grad school in Dallas. I had gotten engaged to my college sweetheart during the first Christmas home from Dallas. When I went home at the end of the spring semester, my finance expressed some concerns about the engagement but didn’t break it off. When I went back to Dallas, I did a clinical experience on the children’s ward of the state mental hospital. I acted as both music therapist and life guard. As the summer went on, I got fewer and fewer letters from my finance. This made things very difficult. One day, as I was driving home from the hospital, I received what I call my God hug. There was no one in the car with me but I was unmistakably hugged. It helped me understand that God is always there for us.
By the end of the summer, I sent my “Dear John” letter breaking off the engagement. As the semester went on, I got increasingly depressed and by the next spring, I was a patient at the same hospital where I had been working. My friend Nancy from church drove me to and from the hospital as required. She opened her house and heart to me. She shared with me her problems with her child who only lived 6 months because of medical issues present from birth. She talked about what a blessing from God it was to have this child in her life for even such a short time. It was a great comfort to hear that someone besides me struggled with issues and to put struggles in a Christian context. This was one of many instances of God putting the right people in my life when I needed them.
While I was in the hospital, there was a talent show to which all the units went. I met some of the children who had been my patients the previous summer. They asked why I was there. While they sat on my lap, I told them sometimes adults have problems that are too big for them too. I thanked God that even in this scenario I was able to help others.
I remember one Sunday evening at the folk service kneeling at the altar thinking about the commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself. I was thinking that would be an awful thing to do because I hated myself. Over time, with medication and lots of counseling, I came to hate myself less and even admire some of the things I do well.
In 2004, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. I started treatment with an herbal remedy. For the initial dose, I took a very small dose. I had such a bad intestinal die-off reaction that I wasn’t even able to sit. Thus, started many years of trying to get back to some semblance of health.
Initially, I couldn’t do anything but lie on the couch with the TV on. I rarely was able to stay awake for an entire hour, so it was just background noise. It never occurred to me to call the church office for assistance. It was a combination of not feeling worthy of assistance and not being clear-headed enough to think of my church community.
I dropped out of everything. Prior to this I was at church every Sunday and had started singing in the choir. It was 6 years before I was able to start activities again. My husband came to believe that I wasn’t really sick and was not supportive in the later years. During that time no one from the church ever called me. During this time I felt very alone but did not have the energy to reach out to anybody.
If an absence like this happens to another member of our congregation, I would hope that someone calls them. So please, if there is someone you see in the pews regularly who disappears, take it upon yourself to find out what is happening to that person. That should be what communities do. I know my personal experience has helped me to be more aware of people who go missing.
One of the things I’ve learned from going through my personal experience, is it wasn’t helpful for people to try to fix my pain. What was helpful to me was for people to acknowledge the pain and to let me know they were willing to help me through it. Feeling totally accepted, wherever a person may be, is a very healing thing.
It’s been helpful for me to reflect on my spiritual journey and recognize the people God has given me and the strength I have received from this. Putting together this faith journey has been a healing and enlightening experience.