Re-posted from a previous blog:
And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside
It comes in small inspirations
It brings redemption to life and work
To our lives and our work
It comes in loving community
It comes in helping a soul find it’s worth
-Sara Groves and Matt Bronlewee-
These lyrics blared through my headphones yesterday and altered my focus from screaming muscles and the time left on the digital clock of the elliptical machine. They parallel my own recent story of redemption, one that came out of the blue in a place I never anticipated. As part of my Lenten journey of writing, I feel compelled to share my story with you.
I don’t remember the exact events that led up to the cataclysmic change in my circumstances at the age of fourteen but I do know these things: I was in high school, I had exactly two pairs of pants and three shirts hanging in my closet, we ate a lot of boxed macaroni and cheese, my mother was tired and sad all the time, and trips to the grocery store made my stomach hurt when we turned down the liquor aisle.
At an unusually low point, my mother sought counsel from a minister at Faith Assembly of God Church in the small town where we lived. I am not sure why she chose that church because I was raised Catholic. I recall the Reverend Bill Cunieo as being a humble, genuine and well manicured man with a kind smile. For me, the change that took place in our lives after their meetings placed him among saints. I exhaled a bit easier; felt more secure about walking into my house after school. My experience at that church led me to salvation in Christ and to a greater understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When I moved away a short time later, all those connections ended like a phone cord pulled out of the wall . . . until a month ago.
During a blustery February week in Greensboro, North Carolina, I stayed warm inside a hotel/conference center taking notes and gathering information for stories at the annual Anglican Mission Winter Conference. Every evening H and I hosted casual impromptu gatherings in our suite to take advantage of time with old and new friends, laughing and talking into the morning hours.
One of our new Air Force chaplains for the Mission joined us one evening toward the end of the conference. I heard my husband mention his name before but had never met him face to face. I welcomed him to the party, we shook hands and he introduced himself as Steve Cunieo. It wasn’t until that moment that the name rang familiar. I hadn’t thought of that pastor for decades but when Steve introduced himself, his name rolled off my tongue like I was still attending Faith Assembly of God. I commented to Steve that I once had a pastor by that name . . . Bill Cuneio. Steve looked at me wide-eyed and very calmly said, “That’s my Dad.”
I took a step back, leaned onto the back of a chair, and didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry. I didn’t believe him at first. Surely we didn’t live in the same town and his Dad couldn’t have been my pastor. I was standing in front of Capt. Steve Cuneio, an Anglican Mission chaplain at the Air Force Academy in Colorado under my husband’s endorsement. So I asked him again. The more he talked, his voice took on a familiar cadence, like the pastor I once knew. He continued to confirm the serendipity and it was like an awakening from the dead. A resurrection of part of my life tucked away and without connection. It took me off guard. People in the room observing the interaction between us commented later that they thought I was going to faint.
How could that happen and why? Well, only God can do that.
Steve told me his Dad had always questioned the fruit of his time at that little church. Said he wasn’t sure why God had him there. Steve stepped out into the hall, got his Dad on his cell phone to tell him about meeting me and then put me on the phone to speak with his Dad.
As we talked, memories resurfaced for him of the house we lived in that sat at the top of a dead-end street. It had cockroaches coming out of the walls (I wrote about it in my Compassion blog post) and floors that tilted in odd directions. Maybe it gave that sweet pastor some comfort knowing my life took a divine bend on the journey because of his faithfulness to calling.
Nothing is lost in this life. Every minute, every word, every circumstance is useful in God’s divine plan. A dear friend in the room that evening said that perhaps God orchestrated that divine appointment for me, just to let me know He has been with me all along. He was with me in the cockroach infested house of uncertainty and he is with me now as a Christian leader.
I think he is right because God is in the business of redemption that comes in strange places and small spaces for the purpose of calling out the best of who we are.