Dana and Patty Hammer thought they were done raising children. "Then one day a call came, asking if they could be foster parents to a six-month-old named Bentley."
by Suzanne Rooke
Editor’s Note: Suzanne (Saskatoon) told this story at the Leaders’ Conference for Women in March, 2019.
I met God in 1974 at the ripe old age of 21 at a charismatic prayer meeting in Saskatoon. It was love at first sight. A year or so later, some people in Saskatoon felt called to start a community. My husband Phil and I joined right away. The group took the name People of Praise (though at the time we didn’t have any affiliation with the People of Praise in South Bend). In 1978, our community became affiliated with Servants of the Light community based in Minneapolis.
Those were the most wonderful years of growth in numbers, in faith, in formation and in friendships. I called it a time of grace. Some time later, though, we had a split in our community. There were differences of vision, with some wanting to be an ecumenical community, others wanting us to be exclusively Catholic, others wanting us to start our own church. Staying together was no longer possible, so the leaders decided to allow everyone to be released from our original covenant so we could become part of the ecumenical group or a Catholic group or step away to something else.
I was crushed. I didn’t understand why this had to happen. I mourned the loss of what we had. Those had been the best years of my life. Phil and I prayed and we decided to step away, although, truth be told, I simply followed my husband, trusting his discernment at the time. I didn’t know what to think.
I spent the next 18 years searching for something to replace community, but I never found it. I felt like I was in a spiritual desert, dry and struggling to stay alive. Yet God was with me. I’d be doing something ordinary, like driving down the freeway marveling at the beauty of the sunshine, and God would tap me on the shoulder and say, I’m here, I’m here. I made this for you.
But I remember one day—I had just gotten home from doing grocery shopping, and I was unloading the car—and a thought entered my head. If I died today, I’m not sure where I’d end up. I talked with Phil and I said, “We need to do something. I don’t know how much longer I can hang on.”
We decided to approach the People of Praise in Saskatoon, which had by that time become a branch of the People of Praise as we know it today, and ask if we could come back. Of course, they welcomed us with open arms and hugs.
A short time later, in my prayer time, I saw a picture in my heart and mind of a soldier. She was thin, disheveled and exhausted. Her clothes were ragged, torn and dirty. She had become separated from her troop and she was lost. She had spent a long time searching, trying to get back to the unit, but in the meantime she had kept up the good fight to the best of her abilities, laboring alone.
Then the picture changed, and she had found her troop. She had her arms flung up in the air, her head back and she was shouting: “I’m alive! I’m alive! I made it home alive!” I knew that soldier was me. I was home.
A few years later, it was time to decide whether to make the covenant of the People of Praise. I took the decision seriously, much more so than the first time. I wanted to hear God say that this was where he wanted me. I spent weeks praying and discerning. I wrote down the pros of being in community, and the cons of being in community, and the pros of not being in community, and the cons of not being in community. But I wasn’t hearing God.
Finally, I had to say to myself, if God had not wanted me to be here, he would not have given me this image of the soldier finding her troop and coming home. So I rested on that image, and I made the covenant, along with Phil, in December, 2007.
Our branch is much smaller now and wiser with age. But we are the People of Praise, built on our covenant, on our love for God and our love for one another, built on respect, faith, friendship and commitment. I’m home and I’ll be growing old with my brothers and sisters.
- More in Branches