My West Ridge Story
The older I get, the more I can look back and recognize some of God’s pretty cool plans with my life. Here I am, looking at how God led me to West Ridge:
I grew up in Streamwood, Illinois and was the youngest of three kids. My parents were not active in any church, yet when asked, said they were Catholic. Both were raised in Chicago by strong Catholic parents and I think both had too much church pushed on them as children that they drifted away when they became adults. I remember spending the night at my best friend’s home often as a child – and frequently on Saturday nights. The rule was, if you slept over, you went to church on Sunday morning…so dress “nice”. I never really knew what “nice” meant.
As a child, I found the Catholic church mass very interesting. There are a lot of strong traditions and rituals followed at each mass (cheater note: you stand up when the priest stands; that has made me look very smart many a-times). But when I think about it, I was really just an observer of the service; there were no back-and-forth discussions with God.
As a young adult, I joined a Catholic church at the encouragement of a close family friend who was in the church choir. My dad joined with me. Honestly, I was there for the choir and spend time with my dad. It wasn’t even a very good choir – but we loved to sing. Again, I can see that I had no connection on my part with God, other than I found the Holy week (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter) rituals fascinating. I was just there to sing and was concentrating all the time on the rituals. (“Get ready – it’s almost time to stand up!”)
A few years later, I had my daughter and we moved to the west side of Elgin when she was 4 years old. We became good friends with Heather Gagliano and her daughters, who were similar in age to my daughter. Heather called me one day and invited my daughter and me to join them as they were going to church – this place right by our homes called West Ridge. They’d gone to a few services and loved it – the kids loved Kids Crossing while Heather enjoyed the service in the auditorium. I was pretty nervous about going – this voluntary church-going thing was new to me. I didn’t know what to wear, what to expect, or heaven forbid, when to STAND!
We walked into West Ridge one Sunday morning, around 7 or 8 years ago. Right there at the front door was Jim Rauscher, greeting everyone as they walked in. Jim, a fellow Streamwoodian, cut my hair when I was, um, younger. A LOT younger. (Leaving ages out here to protect both Jim’s and my reputations.) Insert God’s winking at me right at this point in time.
After we dropped the kids off at Kids Crossing, Heather and I went into the auditorium and sat and listened to incredible music while people sat in the back on couches, drinking coffee and eating breakfast. IN CHURCH! The band played a U2 song and I quietly, happily cried. Greg Bowman then spoke and Heather and I kept wiping our tears away as it felt as if Greg was speaking directly to us. Next, we listened as it was explained to us that we should not give any money if we weren’t at a place in our lives to feel happy to donate. When the service was over, we grabbed our excited kids and, on our way out, were greeted by Darren Sloniger, wishing us a great week. I was floored by the entire experience.
Over the next few weeks, Heather and I would bring our girls every other week or so. I think it was more of a courage issue, than anything. There were a few times when Heather couldn’t make it so, we went without them. I dropped my daughter off again at Kids Crossing and then walked into the auditorium alone. Let me tell you – the courage to do that alone was all God’s doing. Again, I was amazed by the music – by the people’s reactions to the music – and again brought to tears by the message spoken each time.
On those days where Heather and I would go to West Ridge together, she’d elbow me and say, “You should be up on that stage.” Uh uh. Nope. I’m not that good. I can sing hymns or be my dad’s doo-wop back-up girl, but that’s about it. Plus, I enjoyed just being an “attender” and not having to know too much of the production to put the service together. I was just happy to receive God’s love and message.
About a year later, Heather met me at church and said, “I’ve introduced you to Michael. He’s waiting for you to contact him.” You WHAT? Once again, fear filled me as I felt obligated to talk to Michael. God filled me with courage once again and the rest is history. I’ve since been pretty lucky to be part of the worship team, alongside some amazing musicians.
Today, I am a part of two small groups. I am giving voice lessons to some of West Ridge’s amazing kids, coordinating special vocal group performances alongside Veronica Garcia and her students. I get to sing at church and receive amazing feedback from everyone who approaches me about my singing. I get to drink coffee in church. I have some amazing friends through West Ridge and get to see them at least every Sunday, if not more. Oh, and guess what else? I talk to God and pray to Jesus. Every single day.