SPRING HILL — One of Tricia Bennett's earliest memories is being locked in a small, dark cupboard at the age of 4 until she cried herself to sleep — punishment by her guardians for trespassing into the boys dormitory to tell her brother the wonderful news that she thought they might receive a present for Christmas.
Born near London, the children had been abandoned by their mother when Tricia was 6 months old and were living in a children's home.
While Bennett, 57, has a myriad of stories of the mental, physical and sexual abuse she and her orphaned siblings suffered while living in government-funded homes as children, it is a message of hope that she will emphasize when she speaks to those who attend the breakfast meeting of Spring Hill Aglow on Monday.
"I will just speak from the heart whatever God is telling me to say," Bennett said.
British subjects, Bennett and her husband of 33 years, John, moved to the United States seven years ago on a work visa in hopes of promoting Bennett as an author with a valuable message to share. For the past six years, they have owned and operated Polly's Pantry Tearoom in Wildwood.
Bennett's message at Aglow will include parts of her life story. Her journey from a child who thought there was no God, to a teenager who felt worthless enough to attempt suicide, to a woman with a deep personal faith is designed to show people the difference God can make in their lives.
"People come up to me and say, 'Oh my goodness, I feel I've had it really good compared to you. I just want to tell you that you've encouraged me to know that I can make it through what I'm going through,' " Bennett said. "I love people … and I have a real heart for the brokenhearted."
Despite numerous speaking engagements, a feature article in a Florida magazine and several Christian television appearances, Bennett, who is a member of Grace Tabernacle in Wildwood, says her main mission is being an author and promoting the message in her books — hoping and praying they will one day be made into movies and reach a larger audience.
Bennett has had three books published in her Polly Brown series. Polly Brown and The Trouble with Polly Brown are, not surprisingly, books about a little girl living in an orphanage who learns, with some help, that dreams can come true. A third book, Princess Polly, tells the story for younger children.
A book that displays Bennett's comedic talent is Don't Take the Same Plane as Me, a collection of amusing anecdotes taken from her life experiences.
Currently, Bennett, the mother of three adult children, is working on her autobiography, which will detail the years she spent in orphan and foster care. She prays that it will help others in similar situations.
While she has spoken to women's groups, men's groups and even in prisons, Bennett, a self-described "people person," has a special place in her heart for teenagers.
When she was 17, Bennett was spending many days lying in bed with a sheet pulled over her head. She decided she didn't want to exist any longer. After failing in an attempt to take her life with an overdose of painkillers, the teen reluctantly agreed to attend church with a friend.
"I just wanted all this craziness called life to stop, and I had the most dynamic encounter with God at my lowest point," she said about her experience of pouring her heart out to God during an altar call. "I didn't think God cared about me. He literally intervened into my life in a very powerful way to turn my head round and said, 'Actually I do care. I care very deeply, and things are going to change.' "
There have been struggles along the way during Bennett's Christian walk, including dealing with the suicide attempts of her three brothers and the premature death of her oldest brother, who had been institutionalized in mental health facilities for most of his life. She says God has been by her side through all of it. That is the message she wants to share.
"The tearoom is because I have to be on a work visa, but my heart is to be out in the community and reaching into the lives of people and giving hope," Bennett said.
These days, Bennett is also speaking as a comedian and recently had a women's group in stitches as she joked about being invited by the queen to a special event, which she turned down, being much too busy at the time to accept the royal invitation.
Some patrons of her tearoom have suggested Bennett should appear on America's Got Talent on television. The idea appeals to her.
"It's taken me all my life to learn to make lemonade out of lemons," she said. "To leave this earth with people knowing where I came from and what I've been through and yet I can have such a sense of humor, I think that would be really neat."