By Joe DiBella
I am writing to let you know what you have meant to me and how deeply you have affected me over the past 25 years of our relationship. Although we have had our ups and downs over the years I realize you have always been a constant in my life, and the fluctuations in our relationship have been solely my responsibility. I wanted to write to you to sequentially thank you and point out all the nuances that I so greatly appreciate about yours and my relationship.
We first met in 1986 in Bushnell’s Basin at Vacation Bible School. I was only 7 years old and don’t remember too many specifics. You know how when you're young like that you normally only have a few freeze-frame memories? Think about how many days of your childhood were spent without a single elongated memory;the only things etched from the first 10 years being a handful of freeze-frames.
My earliest freeze-frame of you was seeing a young boy in a cast who had been in a very serious car accident. I don’t remember how many casts he had on but at the very least I remember one covering his arm. I remember the concern for him and for his mother who was also involved, and was fighting for her life.
Now 25 years later I play softball with that young boy on a team you sponsor. And the woman who was fighting for her life will be at my wedding in July. The young man throws like a girl now and I wonder if that’s because his arm never properly healed from the accident. But that’s another story for another time(just kidding). Anyways, I want to thank you for introducing me to them……
In 1989, you introduced me to a young kid who was about my age. At first he and I did not hit it off. Frankly, I don’t think he liked me. He was too caught up in solidifying his spot in the gang of 9 year old “cool” kids. But time after time you kept setting us up to talk and engage.
At some point I started whispering really funny things into his ear that he would repeat to the group that always would make them laugh. I was too timid to blurt out my jokes,and he of course would inaccurately get full credit for the laughs.(To his credit he was funny on his own also.)I think he liked me because he was able to capitalize on my shyness, and in turn seemed funnier to everyone than he actually was. We struck up a friendship and he blossomed into my best friend. Because of my relationship with him I chose to go to the same high school as him, where I met so many of my dearest friends and had so many of my fondest memories.
I ended up coaching basketball at the school after I graduated and had more irreplaceable memories with the kids I got to coach. I shudder to think of the good times I would have never known about without that high school, and it is all thanks to you setting me up with my best friend when I was 9. This July he will be one of the best men in my wedding.
I was 10 years old and this was the year that my dad wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t able to do all the things he wanted with me. I remember you introduced me to a man who took me out go-carting and to the monster truck show. He called himself my “big brother”, which was the namesake of the outreach program he had volunteered for. “Big Brother” was an understatement, as he could stow my 90 pound body away behind one of his leg calve muscles if he needed to hide me.
He even invited me over to watch the Bills and Giants play in the Superbowl. I was the only Giants fan amongst a sea of Bills fans. He was the biggest Bills fan I knew. He didn’t even mind when I ran around his house at 10pm screaming joyous exhortations after the Giants won. I’m so glad my dad got better and I was able to indulge in so many of those activities with him after all,but I will never forget this man’s kindness to me in such a difficult time of my childhood. I am happy to say that I now tower over him in stature. While he isn’t my “big brother” anymore, he will always be my brother.
I will always remember how much you looked out for my mother. You introduced her to so many mentors and friends along the way to help her in her walk with Christ. I remember one night when I was 11 years old our car battery was stolen from your parking lot during a meeting. (I remember we worried about stuff like this happening when you told us you were moving from Suburban Bushnell’s Basin where jaywalking was its most serious crime, to a troubled part of the inner-city in which murders sometimes occurred)
My mom and siblings and I were frazzled by the stealing of our battery and you sent someone to help us get home and make sure we were okay. Although I am not certain I am willing to bet you even bought us a new battery.
We were a little concerned at first that we were not safe going to your place anymore, but we remembered what you told us when you left the suburbs; that God is with us wherever we go; and that we are called to reach the ‘least of these’, and that included the poor and the needy; and that he will protect us.
You were right because 20 years later I think a stolen battery is the worst thing that has ever happened in your parking lot. So for the peace and tranquility you have brought my mother in so many situations, on top of the one mentioned above, I am eternally grateful to you. And for all the people you sent her way to befriend her, I want to thank you for introducing her to them.
1994 – What Seemed Like Forever
Ah, but times were not always so peachy keen were they? These were the years that I can not even keep track of the amount of times I loathed you. Yes, the teenage years. It was my formative years and I didn’t really want to deal with the hassle you sometimes presented with your existence. Sure I appreciated you for the Friday nights where you would provide Fizz soda, Pudgie’s Pizza, laughs, and most especially, flirting time with the young ladies. But other than that I didn’t really enjoy a lot you had to offer.
You always seemed to be waking me up way too early on weekends. And did you really have to start those meetings at 930am and have them carry on so often past the 1pm kick-off during football season? That just seemed like a bit much to me. And boy, did you send a bunch of unwanted ‘over-friendly Freddy’s and Franny's’ my way.
Everyone was always up in my face trying to hug me or ask how school was or find out how my acne treatment was coming along. And did I really need a kazoo?? I was 16 years old for crying out loud. Why did you always send over the kazoo lady??? The annoyances of being around you never seemed to end.
It just seemed like you were trying to get under my skin. This went on for what seemed like a lifetime and then something changed in me. All along it was my spirit and attitude that was causing me annoyance, not the people you put around me. Looking back I realize that those people cared about me because I meant so much to you. They thought of anyone who came to see you as their own family member, and showed interest in them as such. So I want to thank you for introducing me to them.
Right about when I started to reach my social comfort zone in life, I got very sick with a pooping disease. Oh,the irony! I was plagued with the most serious of digestive diseases, which hampered me in almost every aspect of life. There were nights I didn’t think I wanted to go on and nights I thought I wanted to go on but really thought my body was about to shut down and succumb.
But what I remember most about these years that felt so dark and lonely were that you always made sure I was taken care of. On my worst nights, you sent over some of your leaders to lay hands on me and pray for me. The phone calls to check up on my family and I were plentiful. Whenever I was well enough to attend your services, I was overwhelmed (in a good way) by the outpouring of interest in my condition. When I had surgery to remove my intestines, the first person who visited me when I awoke was your pastor.
Looking back, I can honestly say that besides my family, the thing that got me through those years of insufferable illness were you and the people who you sent my way. So I want to thank you for introducing me to them.
Okay, okay…I am ashamed to say that I went through another period where I wasn’t the biggest fan of yours. I can't blame youthful rebellion on this one. It was more adult rebellion I suppose.
See, you represented so much of the good that I wanted to see in myself, that when I thought of you or went to see you I would get upset with you because I was so far from what I knew I should be. Does that make sense? I don’t know why we run from good things. It’s kind of an oxymoron, isn’t it?
But run I did. I ran into the arms of the wrong settings and the wrong situations. I didn’t feel worthy of you. As I depicted above, you were so good to me on so many occasions, yet I still chose to have little to do with you. Sure, I would stop by and visit once in awhile just to say I did or to please my mom, but I didn’t have any interest in connecting with you. I want to apologize for that. Again, it was me and not you. Thank you for not being offended. How come you never seem to get offended??
1991-2010: The Years You Were a Failed Matchmaker
Yes, you spent 20 years trying to get me to fall in love with Ms. Right under your watch, and with all due respect you failed miserably. But what a funny, interesting journey you sent me on in the process. You introduced me to my first crush when I was 11 years old. I liked her for about 7 years and said about 7 words to her. You didn’t take your first failed matchmaker attempt as a sign to relent though, as you directly or indirectly tied me to a small handful of other relationships.
I can’t help but laugh when I realize that the only relationship I had that wasn't in part due to your scheming was the one with my future wife. While I appreciated your efforts, I eventually came to a point where my sole prerequisite for a woman was that she didn’t know you at all! I kid of course, but I thank you for your attempts and know that the journey that you led me on in this matter led me to the very good place I am in today. So thank you for lovingly introducing me to all the wrong girls over the last 20 years.
Lastly, I want to thank you for your most recent meaning to me. I think we have been closer than we ever have these past few years. We have been through a lot you and I. We both changed our names over the years; me from ‘Joey’ to ‘Joe’, and you from ‘New Jerusalem’ to ‘Joy Community.’ Most importantly you were always willing to accept me no matter where I was in life or how I felt about you. Kindness was the most evident quality in you, and you displayed it glowingly.
So many people perceive what you represent wrongly, because so many people have twisted who you are. There is nothing religious or ritualistic about you at the core, but because of humans transforming you on the surface your true value has so often been convoluted. I mean anyone who read what I wrote about you above would be hard-pressed to call you routine or mundane.
So I must admit that it looks like I will be moving away from you in the next few months to be with my wife. I guess I won’t be seeing you as often, but I will look forward to reading your emails and such. Please do not take me off your happy birthday shout out lists or put me in parentheses in your directory (I know how you get).
But for now I am still here and want to thank you for all you have been to me. All you have been to my family;and all you have been to so many countless others. Like the God you represent, 'love' has proven to be what you set the foundation of your four walls on.
So lastly, I just want to thank you for introducing me to YOU.