by Bill Alexander
From New Jersey to Texas, Bill Alexander recounts his transformation from a backward insecure child raised in a Protestant alcoholic family to a vibrant convert with a deep love for God after a Marriage Encounter.
I grew up in southern New Jersey, the fourth child of six. My parents were Protestants. I was baptized in the Methodist church at the age of 13 and had very little religious training. We were a dysfunctional family because my father was an alcoholic. I reacted to his drinking in a number of ways. I became aware of the way we lived not having the proper necessities. In other words, I had long hair and holes in the knees of my pants, long before they were fashionable. I always felt that we were from the other side of the tracks. I related socially by becoming shy, backward and insecure.
Our way of life also affected me in the way that I related to God. I knew there was a God out there somewhere, but I didn't know him. I missed a great deal of school in my early years, was labeled a slow learner and pushed from grade to grade. When I left school I was barely able to read or write. It was discovered many years later that I had a learning disability in the form of dyslexia.
CYO and CCD
New Jersey is the second most populated Catholic state and many of my friends were Catholic. One of my best friends was the president of the Catholic Youth organization (CYO). I played CYO sports and attended CYO dances. I even attended a few CCD classes. I didn't learn very much. I only went because that's where all the pretty girls were. The priest there was the youth director and he befriended me. He was always encouraging and seemed concerned and interested. He didn't preach to me about becoming Catholic, he was just a witness to me.
I first met Deana at a CYO dance several years before we began to date. She invited me to attend Mass with her. Every time I went to Mass with her I experienced this special presence of God, which I would come to understand several years later.
As we continued our relationship, Deana had the good sense to pray about God's will in her life. I never met a girl like that. I was impressed with her witness. We dated for almost a year, and we were married on May 19, 1962. I continued to go to Mass with her. Three years later I became a Catholic. I was really enthusiastic — I was going to be the best Catholic that I could be.
Catholic in name only
After a few years I became a Catholic in name only. I had a lot of misconceptions about God. I could not conceive that the God of the whole universe loved me, nor did I know that he wanted a personal relationship with me. I was told that he loved me but I never experienced that love. After 10 years our marriage became a rocky road, to say the least. By now we had five children and I was working two jobs to make ends meet. I complained a lot, was irritated and frustrated.
In February 1972, my job with American Airlines became shaky in Philadelphia. There was a strong possibility of being laid off. In
March we came to Dallas to look around. We knew about the new airport, which would give me job security. We liked what we saw and put in for a transfer.
At that same time in February 1972, we signed up for a Marriage Encounter retreat weekend, which we made in April 1972. God was truly present to us. He touched me on that weekend in a very profound way. I experienced his love for the very first time. It was so profound that I could give you the very exact date, time and place.
Here’s what happened: After the first session on Friday evening, Father Murray told us that he would be available for confession until midnight. Deana and I decided to go to confession as a couple. It was the first time that we had gone to confession with a priest, face-to-face. After this experience the Lord greatly blessed us.
The retreat just got better from there. Saturday morning the first session was Encounter with Self. After the presentation they played music from the Broadway show "Man of La Mancha." For me, it was like a personal parable of God's love. Through it I saw myself as a miserable sinner.
Don Quixote and Dulcinea
In this beautiful story Don Quixote befriends a woman known as Aldonza who was filled with shame because of her past life. She seethed with self-hatred and remorse. She cries out,
God, won't you look at me! . . .
Born on a dung heap to die on a dung heap,
A strumpet men use and forget!
Then Don Quixote befriends her, bringing life, hope, purpose and self- respect. He calls her his sweet lady. He gives her the endearing name Dulcinea. I saw in this, the life-giving power of Jesus, restoring my worth of respect and dignity giving me newness of life. The whole scene ends with the beautiful words,
To fight the unbeatable foe …
To dream the impossible dream…
To right the unrightable wrong …
After this experience Jesus had me! l was his. He just engulfed me with his unconditional love and mercy. After that I was hugging everyone in sight.
(© 2016 Bill Alexander)