Elizabeth Felipe spoke at our “Dinner at the Dunes” Gala and Fundraiser on June 6, 2014. Following is her story about the evening.
The Dream By The Sea
by Elizabeth Mary Filipe
The director of House of Hope, an organization (much like the Fold) dedicated to providing a Christian haven for troubled teens, emailed me a few days prior to the gala.
“Liz,” he wrote,” I read your testimony. Would you mind if we placed it on a front table at our gala coming up here soon? We’d like for our guests to read it and see what God can do.” Of course, I said.
Then…”May I also tell the story verbally? ”
I sometimes think we have a hound’s nose for the tracks of a dream. We catch a scent which makes us lift our heads and rush forward with audacity untouched in our everyday lives.
Mark Tufano responded immediately. “You really want to speak, Liz? There will be about 200 people.”
How many yeses can a girl put into one yes?
Yes, I said, knowing the single syllable encapsulated the joyful peals of Heaven.
So it was decided. Mark would speak, a national founder of House of Hope would speak, then I would finish up the queue of speakers with my story.
The House of Hope Gala had one over-arching goal: to raise enough funds to buy a home to house the teens. With this in mind, the Gala organizers planned a silent auction, a live auction, and set the ticket prices at $150 per attendee. For those who regularly frequent “The Dunes” Country Club, perhaps this fee appeared less than astronomical.
Then again, how much is redemption worth? On a little card, they wrote, “One time gift.” What is a one-time gift? I wondered. We give our lives to rescue theirs. We give our money to make them fathers and mothers. There is no gift which gives one time alone.
“As our guests of honor,” Mark wrote,” You and one friend or family member may come for free. We will pay for you and seat you at our table.”
Full of awe and expectation, I chose both my father and his tie.
His tie was yellow. Blue stripes raced across with dashing authority. Yes, it was worthy of the ocean.
The Dunes Country Club in Narragansett, Rhode Island leans just upon the door of the sea. A suave member can stand on its salt-sprayed porch, lift his hand and, if he squints his eyes just right, bridge the gap between the mansion’s pillars and the sea with the span from his palm to his wrist.
“The ocean was a living thing…calm and welcoming, opening its arms to embrace its audience.”
As daddy and I entered the mansion, garbed in our best clothes and the silky pink embrace of the sunset, we felt, as Dorothy did, that we had left Kansas. We had ventured into a palace. Someone within these walls had seen us for what we already were: a prince and princess. No longer unnoticed, we shyly tread down a long hallway, gazing in awe out of wide, glass windows which framed the rolling blue of the waves.
“Hello!” Someone said. “Welcome!” Mark Tufano grabbed my father and I by the hands, as if we were a secret he longed to know. Beaming, he exclaimed over the tie. “Mike! You have a power tie!” My father blushed.
Some of us are unused to being noticed.
In a Victorian book, I once read of a woman who taught her uneducated mistress to walk like a lady of refinement. The essential thing, the servant observed, is to fold your hands in from of you, like so, and walk smoothly, very smoothly. Bobbing is not worthy of a country club, I thought, and poised my hands carefully before me. After much bumping and bobbing in general, I left the poise to the novels. Warm introductions and wealthy companions caught me in their beauty and benevolence.
But the time to speak drew nearer, and nearer, creeping in like the relentless, crystal tide.
I so wish I could remember her name…the keynote speaker. For some reason, this memory escapes me, perhaps pushed out by the lights and sounds and the brutality of her story—this I will not forget soon. If her story flowed from the tip of a brush, the portrait would beg us to become blind.
Yet, ebbing from the pencil of a mysterious, masterful Author, it helped already blind to see more clearly. Perhaps she awaked a truth which underpins our lives: He shows us pictures we do not wish to see, paintings we would rather go blind than see, in order to reveal the Self-portrait He wishes us to know.
When she let her words die away across the still room, the 170 pairs of eyes lifted towards the podium, pooled in tears. We felt the oceans of the hope-starved soul giving way within us, washing downward in the clarity of sight.
His face etched with the blinding power point which someone had forgotten to turn off, Mark Tufano mounted the stage. He explained that House of Hope offers the love and shelter which thousands of teens across the state desperately seek to construct with drugs, eating disorders, and crime. These young people hunger and thirst for an escape from pain. They long for the embrace of a Savior who beckons to the little children to come and find hope and healing in him. “I too was lost.” Mark gazed out over the glare of the lights. “But now I am found. Others gave up on me, but a program like House of Hope dedicated their lives to bringing me home to God. I’ve never left home, and I’ve set out the welcome mat of Christ in this House of Hope.”
And now, Mark said, we have a very special young lady with us. She, he gently said, looking at his wife and then to me as I held her hand, has an amazing story to tell of God’s grace and love.
“Please welcome Liz Filipe.”
Someone once said, a calling is something you cannot NOT do. In doing something I cannot live without doing, I knew I could not be afraid, for I would always do this.
So I walked to the stage and cradled the microphone in my hand. Unaccustomed, I thought, where did that clear voice come from?
The microphone does not make the story loud.
“Do any of you think as I am thinking, ‘What is my story compared to Jacqui Strothoff’s? I’ve never committed crimes that killed my family…I’ve never lost my babies because of drug use…I’ve not seen anything that awful. What is my story compared to her?’”
I paused, trying to see all the faces turned upwards towards mine.
“Please, my friends, before I begin…let me remind you that pain is pain. Pain is pain anywhere, to anyone, in any way that causes them to feel the hurt of embarrassment, the sting of disappointment, the shame of abuse. Pain is pain anywhere, so quiet the thoughts that tell you it can be compared to someone else’s, even mine.”
Children understand stories. They understand reality better from the lips of the storyteller. They understand that they, their tiny feet pattering across the kitchen, trace out a story just as real and in this, the little one’s say, we share our hearts with the storyteller’s heart.
I told them the story of bitterness and brutality, of beauty and benevolence, of heartbreak and heaven. I told of a dying grandfather who danced with his cane to show me that weakness vanishes in the hands of Love. I told of a nurse in a psych ward who, after finding a tearful patient pressing against the window, said that life without God is much harder than anything else. And through it all, I told of the relentless love of God, which like the waves never stops coming.
“And what,” I said, catching the wet eyes of a woman in the front row, “What is more relentless, more dedicated to returning, than the waves which wash up upon the sand, refusing to stay away?”
When I finished, the clapping paused in the palms of the people. It wavered there for a second. I am not sure why.
I believe I must have blushed, I don’t know. I remember thinking as I sat down again–Why are they clapping for a small girl when the ocean stretches miraculously outside?
They must have clapped because they recognized a common Maker, One who put the waves to patterns and a girl’s pain to poetry.
I pray they will see their own poetry as well.