Surprised by Redemption

by | Mar 28, 2012 | Uncategorized

Sage green corduroys and bell-bottom jeans with frayed ends hang next to the three shirts in the empty closet.  All of thirteen and I stare at them like paintings I am tired of looking at on my wall. It isn’t until my mother catches me going through her drawer to find something different to wear to school, that she realizes I only have five pieces of clothing.

My mother wakes up with bags under her eyes and swollen fingers from the manual labor she does at the shoe factory on most days.  I sit on the edge of her bed; weave my fingers through the cigarette holes in the blanket while we talk.  Reassure her that I still love her, even after the events of the night before.

The guilt lingers over her like the sour smell of cheap wine and ash trays lying around the house.

We eat a lot of boxed macaroni and cheese. Trips to the grocery store make my stomach hurt when we push the cart down the liquor aisle. But all that changes the day she decides to go see the Reverend Bill Cunieo.

The first time I met Bill, I sat in a pleather chair next to my mother in a church office that smelled of Old Spice aftershave.  His smile, like the crisp collared shirt he wore. Every hair slicked back perfectly, sitting stiff behind his brown particleboard desk.

I was sure he would get tired of us like everyone else. Wear that hospitable Christian smile, and then weary from the neediness we wore like rags. He proved me wrong.

After that meeting, my mother and I began attending church regularly. I exhaled a bit easier, worried less about the frenetic afterschool scenes.

When we moved away from that small Midwestern town a short time later, all those connections ended like the internet dropping in the middle of an upload.  Until one blustery day in a hotel room in Greensboro, North Carolina, thirty years later.

After H’s responsibilities in front of the crowds finish in the grand ballroom, we kick off our shoes.  Change into jeans, grab the wine opener and welcome friends into our suite. Laugh until the eyes see blurry and then do it again the next evening.

During one of those gatherings, in my socked feet, I extend my hand to welcome the Air Force chaplain I heard about from H over a dinner conversation.

“Steve Cunieo,” he says as he shakes my hand firmly.

Memories filed away decades ago suddenly open to a tab forgotten in the familiar tone of his voice. Words roll off my tongue like I am in a magician’s trance. “I once had a pastor by that name Cunieo,” I recall, “at a little church in Missouri called Faith Assembly of God.”

He looks down, then back up with a smile and says, “That’s my Dad.”

I take a step back, lean onto the back of a chair and my chest rises and falls heavy.  I can’t decide if I want to laugh or cry. And now all eyes in the room are on us, including those of my daughter, tucked next to her Grandma on the couch.

We went to the same church in a town I would just as soon forget. Moreover, his Dad, he introduced me to Jesus. What are the chances we would meet here in this hotel room in North Carolina? That my husband is his endorser.

So I asked him again.  Just to make sure.

Steve admits his Dad often questions the fruit from his time at that little church.  Says he grapples with wondering why God had him there.

He steps out of the room into the hallway, dials his Dad on his cell phone, hands it to me.

I remind Bill of the house where we lived, the one at the top of a dead end street with tilted floors and cockroaches crawling out of the walls.  He remembers it. The one he visited with a bag of groceries under his arm a time or two.

Maybe it gave that humble man, the one who made Jesus so desirable, some comfort knowing my life took a divine bend on the journey because of his faithfulness to the call of God.

Nothing is lost in this life.  Every minute, every word, every circumstance is useful in God’s divine plan. Because God calls out the beauty of our redemption in the most unexpected places, to extract the best of who we are.

Have you been surprised by redemption?

This story is a repost, rewritten for today’s link-up with God Bumps and God Incidences.

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  1. C.Allyn

    hey Shelly,
    remember that previous blog, the one about bravery.
    You just did it again,
    and you were marvelous.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Thank you friend. Its the sacred echo I hear.

      • C.Allyn

        Hey Shelly, good news, we just received two emails giving us a number prior to receiving a court date to go to Ethiopia. Minutes later, pictures of our boy. thank-you for all your prayers. I have been hearing about how many people have been praying for us so i wanted to say again, thanks.

        • Redemption's Beauty

          So glad you came back to share this Celeste. My heart is smiling with you over this terrific news. Keep me posted and I will keep praying.

  2. Diana Trautwein

    Okay, Shelly. This just has to stop. EVERY ONE I READ BECOMES MY NEW FAVORITE. How on earth do you do that? NOTHING is wasted in God’s economy – we may not see the pieces drawn together as beautifully as this, but what a powerful testimony to the tightening of God’s circle of love around both you and that pastor. Take it from me, hearing from you at that particular moment was as much a gift to him as it was to you. As I’m sure you know, we pastors often wonder, wonder, wonder…was there good left behind, was the ‘watering’ worth it? This is just a wonderful story. Thanks so much.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      You are too kind Diana, thank you for your kind words. I am so glad this story resonates. And I can imagine you would relate to this pastor. My husband is one too and we often wonder about the fruit when it seems absent at the time. It often comes later, in conversations with people. And we are always amazed, surprised by what spoke to someone that seemed insignificant at the time. Thanks so much for your thoughts here, they are greatly appreciated.

  3. kd sullivan

    Crying…Shelly your life, your story is beyond beautiful….and in your telling it you are allowing others to be transformed and brought to more light. Thank you for you transparency…

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Wow Kim, I am touched by your response. You make it worth sharing. And thanks for the tweet too!

  4. Denise

    Fantastic post, thank you.

  5. bethinnc

    Wow, that was beautiful! Thank you for sharing with such transparency! (And thank you for visiting me this morning.)

    Many blessings to you as you point others to Him.


    • Redemption's Beauty

      Beth, what a pleasure to have you follow this community. Grateful to have you join in the conversations. Love the way these link ups bring us together in community.

  6. Leslie Durham

    Wow! Coming from a Pastor’s home I am blown away my this blog. My Dad is another man who always gives to those in need and often doesn’t see any fruit from his labor. Your are a true testament to the scripture, “some water and some plant.” We don’t always get to see the harvest. I just love your candor. Blessings!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Leslie, I know this too by personal experience pastoring alongside H. We often see glimpses of the fruit years later but never really understand the full impact of what we do. I guess that is how it supposed to be. But what gift, when we do get to see it! Thanks for sharing on FB, I appreciate it. Hope it blesses others in the same boat.

  7. Nancy Franson (@nancyfranson)

    Dang, girl.That is some story, and you told it so well. I hope this gets passed along to many pastors, those laboring away wondering, at times, whether or not their efforts are worth it.

    And, over and over again, you affirm that what Jesus said is true. He really is making all things new. All. Things.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      And to think I actually questioned if I should share it, if it would resonate with anyone besides me. Duh! It was the post that actually launched me into serious blogging about seven months ago. Thankful for the story that is mine, that speaks of hope to others. And yes Nancy, so grateful that He really does make all things new. So incredibly grateful.

  8. Laura

    Shelly, you brought tears. A beautiful story. A painful story. Told with painted words. Thank you for sharing. A reminder that God redeems things. LOVE this.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      My humble thanks Laura and thankful that these words were a reminder to you, that He truly does redeem all things.

  9. Lori Briley Fairchild

    This story brought tears to my eyes. We simply never know the impact our actions have on someone else’s life. God uses sometimes fleeting moments to change another person’s life forever. Thanks for blessing me today.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      It’s true Lori, we find this especially in ministry. Many times we don’t experience the fruit of what we do until much later. And we are often amazed at what we said or did that made a difference for someone, usually it was something we forgot about or didn’t remember at all.

  10. Jennifer@GDWJ

    Wow. I don’t know what else to say. Just … wow.


    • Redemption's Beauty

      So glad you are home Jennifer. What an amazing trip you had and so grateful you shared it with us.

  11. Ramona (@RamonaGcrew)

    This is wonderful!!!! I’m going to share a link to this page with our pw bloggers later this week! 🙂

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Thanks Ramona, may it bless those who need to hear the voice of hope today!

  12. toshowthemjesus

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Sometimes I see parts of my story as I read yours. This is one of those. “Because God calls out the beauty of our redemption in the most unexpected places, to extract the best of who we are.” Loved these words. Thank you so much! I’m always encouraged when I visit here:)

    • Redemption's Beauty

      As I read you, I sense we do have some similarities. Glad you are encouraged by what you read here!

  13. joepote01

    What a beautiful post! You are, indeed, “Redemption’s Beauty!”

    We just never know how God is going to use an act of love, do we?

    Yes, I’ve been suprised by redemption! Many times and in many ways… “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!”

    Thank you, so much, for sharing this story!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      It seems redemption is our friend just around the corner holding a gift we didn’t expect. Thanks for your kind words Joe.

  14. Alida

    What a beautiful redemption story indeed. God is good!

    joy and blessings to you,

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Yes, rejoicing over His goodness with you Alida.

  15. r.elliott

    we are neighbors…oh Shelly…tears as I read this most beautiful story…I love the gift to both of you…oh it just gives such a lovely picture of God love and kindness…and how we may never know when some very small act of kindness…grace and love will change a life. Thanks for sharing this…blessing to you.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Isn’t it funny how often we are neighbors Ro? As clergy, we learn to rest in the acknowledgement that we may never see much of the fruit that comes in the lives of others. But so grateful when we do get to hold it, taste it, know that it is good.

  16. Beth

    I’m so glad God gave you that miraculous meeting. Now both of you can see how God weaves a beautiful tapestry that we are often blind to until a glorious moment like this! Thanks for sharing, Shelly!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Overwhelmed by the miraculous in that evening. It happened more than a year ago and I still stand in awe.

  17. Theresa

    This is such a beautiful story of redemption. You never know who you will touch with your calling, and what a gift when someone gets a glimpse of that. And you, in turn, obedient to your calling, making Jesus desirable to someone. You never know whose life is taking that divine bend because of you.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Wise words to think about Theresa. Thanks for your persistence in sharing them with the commenting difficulty, your thoughts mean a lot to me. I guess we never really know the impact our words leave on people that visit our blogs. I just leave that in His hands, for His glory.

  18. tara pohlkotte

    oh, I love walking this ground with you friend…

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I love having you with me Tara. Missed seeing you around yesterday. Finally realized you guest posted at Amy’s place. Wish I could pound the pavement with you!

  19. Ms. Kathleen

    What an amazing story! Was that shoe factory somewhat near Cape Girardeau? That was just an awesome story! Have a wonderful day!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      No, it was in Sullivan. Are you familiar with that area Kathleen?

  20. Joan


    This is a beautiful story. How wonderful to reconnect after all those years.


    • Redemption's Beauty

      Yes, something I had wanted to forget about in my past, became a thing of beauty that night. So grateful for His grace and timing.

  21. Shanda

    It always amazes me how small God’s word is and how the body finds itself over and over again. This was a wonderful story.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Me too Shanda. He does things like this that bring that awareness. Breaking my view of the world and helping me to see Him in a new way.

  22. ljbmom

    Oh, Shelly, Shelly, Shelly! Isn’t God the best? I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes after this amazing story. Oh, friend. Your life is so beautiful. Every last piece.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Yes, He is the best ever. So much of my life is a surprise in grace and redemption. I think that most of what I have learned is to wait, not be moved by what I see in the present. Of course hindsight is helpful that way. Thanks for your sweet words. Smiling.

  23. Laura Rath

    Shelly, this is a beautiful story! What a wonderful reminder that we never know why God places us where He does, or who we might touch with the the Good News of Jesus! Thank you for sharing.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      So true Laura, most of life is a mystery, unfolding as He turns the pages on our story. I am often surprised by the plot.

  24. Jennifer Johnson Camp

    Shelly, your story here is stunning. Oh, how God loves us and sees us, each breath we take, each tear that falls. Thank you. Just beautiful.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Yes, He does. I’m glad that is the message that resonated in the story Jennifer. Thanks for being here.

  25. cbuxton03

    Wow. So glad you reposted this. How amazing your phone call must have been to the good reverend. Lovely.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      It was pretty amazing. Was surprised he remembered us too, after all these years and so many parishioners.

  26. bluecottonmemory

    Stories like yours just make my heart burst – how in your little girl brokenness God provided an opening like that – and that your mom grabbed hold, too. Why was that minister there? to save you! Just WOW! I think stories like that are every broken girl’s dream – that someone would see them as God sees them and help change their lives through love!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      It’s the message I hope to share, to give people hope beyond their circumstances. Humble thanks for your kind words.

  27. Michele-Lyn Ault (@lifesurrendered)

    This testimony of God’s redemptive love is awe inspiring… it causes me to dwell on the wondrousness of our God… on His faithfulness and goodness to us…

    Thank you for sharing such an intimate part of your life… you bring Him so much glory. I pray that God will use this story to draw the lost to the cross and His forgiving love…

    Blessings to you…

    • Redemption's Beauty

      What a lovely prayer to pray. I have been praying that the story would bring hope to someone today. Thanks Michele.

  28. Heather from CT

    I hear your heart when you write. Thank you for that gift.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      David, thank you so much for sharing the story. My heart is touched and I am smiling today because of your kindness. What a privilege to be among so much talent at the High Calling. It’s the place where I feel most at home as a writer!

  29. Simply Darlene

    I came over from THC link that Mr. Rupert posted. This is some story.

    I met the Lord in my thirties and when I look back at the seeds planted along the way, I am amazed. What a blessed moment to speak to the preacher man on the phone too!

    Thanks for sharing this.


    • Redemption's Beauty

      So great to meet you here. I have seen you around the High Calling. Appreciate your reading and sharing your thoughts. I love to share this story. Told it to someone today, a former marine who came to my house to measure our house for a new air conditioner. He smiled.

  30. ~ Patricia

    Beautiful, beautiful story of redemption, and oh so beautifully told. xo

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Patricia, I submitted this story at the Write Practice, hoping to get some help with it to make it better. My loss over there perhaps was providential. So it could be shared over at the High Calling.

      • ~ Patricia

        That’s where I read it!!! I KNEW I had read that story before. {I’m one of Joe’s judges.}

  31. Kelli Parker Becton

    God is so good isn’t He? what a wonderful story – I spent time working as a victim’s advocate – 6 years actually – and so much of it seemed like it was wasted – but there are at least 2 women who come to mind – one is still a friend – and I know that it was worth it – that God was in it – He does not waste the time – the love – His Word does not return void. Awesome story –

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I have just started mentoring a young girl and wonder sometimes. But I trust him to speak to her through me. What a wonderful opportunity you had to make a difference.

  32. SoHelpMeTodd

    Some sow, some nurture, some harvest, but all share equally the bounty.

    That Pastor sowed years ago, odds are several others had “bit parts” in watering along the way, and his son was able to reap the harvest by experiencing your appreciation firsthand.

    Coincidentally, when my Mom died I spoke of the legacy she left me during her eulogy. It wasn’t wealth, or houses; wasn’t a thriving business or wise investments; it was nothing more than a good name because of the many people whose lives she had touched.

    To this day, I still frequently run into people who, once they realize who I am, remark about what a great person my Mom was.

    As a parent, I purposed in my heart the day of Mom’s funeral that the greatest inheritance I could give my kids was to leave fingerprints on the lives of others, with the hope that they would gradually be revealed long after I’m gone and give them a sense of belonging and purpose.

    Reminds me of a stories of a much better Father than myself that l heard. He also left traces of himself in the world around us for the same purpose, except they show up in sunsets, mountains, the kindness of strangers, and occasional whispers.

    Thanks for the uplifting story.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I think about this often actually, what people might say about me after I am gone. I, too, want to leave a legacy behind that speaks of God and His kindness to the world. So nice to meet you. Assuming you found me through the High Calling. Appreciate your comment, I enjoyed it very much.

      • SoHelpMeTodd

        Yes, I found you via the High Calling. The title and excerpt drew me in; kudos for mastering that very important aspect of blogging!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Is this perhaps the wife of Greg? I am so glad you are here Martha. Thanks for commenting!

  33. rachelgoode

    Oh my! I just found you on Allume’s writer link up. I am feeling microscopic next to your talent… but that’s okay, your words bless me! Your voice is so honest, and I could SEE each bit of your story in my mind’s eye. I am adding you to my google reader. Wow. Thank you for this!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Rachel, you made my day. Thank you so much for your kind words and appreciate your reading and leaving a comment. Trying figure out how to get to your blog site, I hope you will leave an address if you come back.

  34. Molly Huggins

    I know this is a year late:) I just found you from emily wierenga … this post brought tears to my eyes. I am a military wife and we have temporary connections and God uses moments to last a lifetime and this, this is such a gift to read.

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