We’ve all heard the saying “it’s not about religion, it’s about the relationship”. In Italian, it’s called parentela. It’s an emotional connection and association between two people. My relationship with Christ growing up an Italian Catholic from Staten Island was one of fear. “If ya sin, ya goin ta hell! God sees everting, ya can’t fool God”. We prayed in silence, we took communion and went home. We never prayed out loud. I don’t pray out loud unless I’m forced to. So, when I moved to Memphis 16 years ago and some friends told me about Hope I was skeptical and after one service in 2002, I was hooked. I started coming every week and even volunteered in the nursery every other Saturday.
Some of you know my story after that, and for those of you who don’t - come see me later and I’ll tell you the whole thing. But for now, just know that on June 12, 2002 I lost my 11-month-old daughter, Emily. I remember coming home and seeing fire trucks and ambulances in front of my house. The rest of the night is fuzzy, but I can recall only a few things. That night while I had a house full of people attempting to comfort me, and in a Xanax induced stupor (the ER doctor said I was “out of control”), I excused myself outside to my driveway. This part I remember vividly. I started pacing and speaking to God out loud not caring who heard me. I said “I’m not sure what’s going on or what you’re thinking. What is going through your head right now? You think this is ok? After years of being afraid of you and running from you, I have finally started running towards you! You said you’d never leave me or forsake me and this is how you treat your daughter? You took mine! GIVE HER BACK! If this is the kind of God, you are then I don’t want anything to do with you. EFF YOU GOD!”. All I can say about that is I’m so glad we were one of only six houses on the block at that time.
The next morning, I woke up to someone ringing the doorbell. I had slept late because they kept feeding me Xanax. I walked out of my room to find Chris Peckary from Caring Ministry and Suzie Acklie from Children’s in my living room. I politely sat down and after some “I’m sorrys” were expressed, Chris took my hands and said, “Can we pray with you?” At first, I giggled softly. Pray? You want me to pray to the God that took my daughter? Yeah, ok. I need it. I said some pretty horrible things to Him last night. I told Him I hated Him. I told Him I didn’t want to follow Him anymore. I’ll never forget what Chris said next. He said, “That’s ok. He’s your Father. He can take it. He’s not mad at you.” Yeah, but I’M mad at Him! “It’s ok to be mad. He knows what you’re feeling even if you don’t say it. Lean on Him. Come on, let’s pray.” It was then I had a vision of me crawling up on my daddy’s lap in Staten Island while he sat in his chair watching Star Trek. I don’t like the show, but I loved sitting on my daddy’s lap and putting my head in his nook. Right then and there, through all my anger, frustration, hatred and pain, I started to crawl up on my Heavenly Daddy’s lap and put my head in His nook. Even if I don’t want to because it was at that time that I realized even though I was so hurt, I needed Him so much. He, who in my opinion inflicted the pain was the only one who can comfort me. I had started a REAL parentela with Jesus.
Anger followed me for many years. I still carry some but each time it rises I crawl up on my Heavenly Daddy’s lap. In the years to come He revealed Himself to me in many ways. When my first marriage ended due to some extreme abuse, I had no idea how I was going to feed my son. One night, I went into the Hope Kitchen for some tea. Mack was in there making communion bread and without knowing what was going on and without saying a word, he handed me a loaf of bread. I fed my then 7-year-old for three days on that. When I didn’t know how to make ends meet, Matthew bought me my first Dave Ramsey book and in two years I became debt free except for my house. Adrianne and Sean would babysit for me, so I could do extra work here and only took payment if I insisted. Donna showed me how to be a single mom and an ex-wife with patience, grace and forgiveness. MaryAnn, when you asked me to speak my story to the women’s retreat I thought you lost your ever lovin mind. I said nobody is going to wanna hear my story. Do you remember what you said to me? They NEED to hear it. Jesus revealed Himself in these people and He continues to show Himself to me even today.
God brought me the love of my life while we were praying next to each other backstage. I asked Ephie who the new guy was, and she said, “I forgot his name, but you know, he just got out.” I said oh he’s gay! Ephie said WHAT? GAY? No, got out, not came out child! Prison! Oh, prison! Oh, that’s much better.
God gave me a son that has grown to be a drum bangin’, tennis playin’, sports lovin’, homeless feedin’, I’m gonna work for the NFL and take care of my momma in her old age, kinda young man. He gave me a prayer group that I lean on for support every single morning. So, who are you gonna be Jesus to? He’s here in this room and He wants to work through you, no matter what your past is, no matter what your title is, the position you hold, the degrees you possess, or what song you sing or where you sit on the weekends. Your bank account, your address and your last name doesn’t matter. Allow Him to reveal Himself to you and work through you. Won’t you please be Jesus to someone today? There are so many out there who need it as desperately as I did back in 2002.