Stories

Michael Franzese

Former Mob Boss Michael Franzese shares is powerful story of how his life was transformed from being one of the most feared men in organized crime to a man speaking about the redemptive power of God.


…STORIES FROM RIVERWOOD…

TUBEROUS SCLEROSIS COMPLEX

In October of 2007 my daughter who was 4 years old at the time was diagnosed withTuberous Sclerosis Complex.  This is a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form in many different organs, primarily in the brain, eyes, heart, kidney, skin and lungs. In Kylie’s case she has developed tumors in the brain, skin,  and we recently found out that she has developed multiple cysts on both kidneys.  Kylie has many struggles due to Tuberous Sclerosis such as learning issues as well as seizures.  When you learn about TSC it is very devastating because although it is not usually fatal it is a life long condition without a cure. 

I will never forget the day she was diagnosed the fear and the hope I had for my child and her future hit bottom.  I had a hard time at first understanding what to do,  had such a feeling a loss and could not understand why this happened to us and our child.  I was so grateful to have God in my life because I knew that was where I needed to turn but to be honest I didn’t know what to say to him at the time.  I would sit there praying to God but not saying anything.  My mind would go blank and the grief set in. 

I turned to Pastor Dave for prayer and he gave me the words of Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” 

Over the past year I have read and prayed about this verse often.  I have come to realize that my daughters medical condition although extremely devastating and difficult has been a gift.  I have learned that I can trust in God and turn over all things to him as nothing is more precious to a mother than her child.  I have learned that he loves her even more than I and what ever comes her way with this medical issue we will be ok.  I have grown so much in my faith and appreciation for what God teaches me every day. 

I feel so blessed to know that God has used Kylie and this horrible medical condition to give us a gift of hope that is indescribable. That he never leaves us, he knows our pain, he loves us more than we can imagine, and he wants us to be close to him.  I choose to turn to him, thank him for our gift, give up my fears and he has given me peace which has transcended all of my understanding and has guarded my heart and mind thanks to Jesus Christ and his everlasting love for us. 
B.M.


A GENEROUS GIVER

I could write a whole book on Gods greatness and how He provides, but this is a major one I will share. At the breaking point, running out of all options to pay to keep my business afloat, I had only God to provide. When I reached out with my broken spirit, He had my general contractor, without my asking, take a $100,000 loan against his own home and loan it to me without any liens against my business or property.

The man who acted as General Contractor in building my business for no charge was now loaning me money to keep it afloat. Do you know anyone who would work for nothing and then lend you a major sum of money with the desire to help you just because you are a believer?  It happened! C.D.


DEPRESSION TOOK OVER

My husband committed suicide September 17th, 1997. Also at that time, my employees stole over $70,000 in 6 months and some of my family members accused me of murder. I sat on the couch and drooled on myself for 10 years.  The grief was so great, it consumed me. 

My kids were dirty and hungry.  Power was always being shut off.  I couldn’t get off the couch. Then I went to a parade, and received an invite to a community church. From there I went through a 40 Days of Purpose group. Then I turned my life over to God.

When I read in the bible that it is selfish to turn all of the energy of grief and depression onto myself, I got the kick in the pants I needed.  I now focus on what I can give and doing God’s work for others that are hurting and in need. I can’t get those ten years back, but I can help others not to waste ten years like I did.

I attend the Entouch group twice a month.  There I can help others, while helping myself.  The kids are clean and fed, the power’s on, the church is love, and I am blessed. I am broken, very broken…….He is my strength.  I tried to do it alone.  It’s impossible. Only after I gave it all to God, could I begin to live. 
J.D.


A THANKFUL HEART

I don’t know where to begin to thank you, the church and all the staff, for the prayers, financial support, and emotional support throughout my time of unemployment.  I don’t know where we would be without you.  I will forever be indebted to Riverwood Church.  God bless all that you do.
S.P.


FINANCIAL STRUGGLES

The last 3 years have brought a huge financial struggle to my life. A major dental problem arose and I had no means by which to fix it. Over the 3 years, the problem unattended got bigger and therefore more expensive. Having no answers myself I turned to God for wisdom, courage and strength.

One day in November, my husband came to me and announced a deficit of funds for our next house payment. Thankfully, I had tucked away a little money from here and there and was able to piece together enough to make the payment. As I handed him this money, I remembered something that I had literally JUST been studying in the Book of John. I mean I was reading John when my husband came up to me. It was the familiar story of the loaves and fishes. I quickly suggested that we do exactly what Jesus did when there wasn’t enough to feed the 5000. Together we held this money up to heaven and thanked God for His provision that we could make this payment.

A few hours later I received a call from a girlfriend, wanting to know if she could meet me “that” evening. She sounded excited and insisted she just needed a few minutes of my time.  I said “of course” and we got together an hour later. She got out of her car, came to me, grabbed my hands and with tears in her eyes she told me that she loved me. She then slipped an envelope into my jacket pocket and said, “This is a gift for you. This is NOT a loan. The only stipulation is that you can ONLY use this to fix your dental problem.”

When she left, I opened the envelope there was a check for $2000! God had more than “doubled” the $920 I had given my husband that afternoon! 

When I called to thank her later, she explained that she had been at church that week and the message was, “If you know of a need and you can meet it, you should.” She said she thought immediately of me and acted on it. GOD IS GOOD!!!!  Amazing isn’t it!
L.D.


A BAD DAY?

Two years ago, I had come home from a bad day at work only to find the home front was having issues too. After a verbal discussion with the family, I felt like I couldn’t win at anything that day or say anything to make anybody happy. I told the family I was heading out to go spend time with my metal detector. That was my current hobby at the time.

When I got to the park, I spent a few moments praying and asking God for something to make me feel better that day. A few silver coins would have been nice. I headed out with my metal detector and the first thing I dug up that day was a small tin button. 

Once I wiped the dirt off, I could read the front. It said “Jesus loves You”. My whole day turned around right there.
J.B.


A STORY OF HOPE

As parents, we all want the best for our children and dream of them being happy and healthy as they become young adults. I know my son as that sweet, cherub-faced almost 10 pound baby boy that blessed me in the Fall of 1989. 

As a toddler, he was mostly happy, but had a temper that was a bit challenging at times.  He was “all boy”, and had a lot of athletic talent from very early on.  As he grew, he became the all-star athlete in baseball, football, and basketball.  It was a joy to watch him – a source of real pride.  However, starting in middle school and on into high school, there were significant changes in his behavior.  I couldn’t believe what was happening and the terrible things he was doing!  I discovered he was abusing alchohol, skipping school, and worse.  He seemed to be lost spiritually, lacked energy and enthusiasm for anything except his friends who, to me, seemed equally lost and only compounding his problems.  He eventually began to stray away from home.  I would make phone calls, drive around town for hours looking for him, lay awake at night worrying about him, then get up the next day, go to work, and somehow make it through the day, all the while worried sick.  Day after day it went on like this. 

My son has a high IQ.  Yet, by his junior year in high school, he was close to expulsion. For years up through his early college years, my son would vacillate between being the nice, charming son that I knew when he was a young boy, to being almost demonic.  He scared me with his words and behavior. 

Then one day, and with the help of some knowledgeable and compassionate counselors, I let my son know that his behavior was not acceptable if he wanted to continue to live in our home.  He got angry and left.  As I watched him walk down the sidewalk with only a backpack for his things, my heart broke into a thousand pieces. 

At this point, I began my journey of learning to truly trust God.  Let go and let God.  Easier said than done.  But what I believe in my heart is that God knew I had more than I could carry and He sent my son away.  If He hadn’t, I am not sure I could have survived.  But God was with my son and with me. He protected us both in different ways. 

Along the way, a wonderful counselor advised me that, while my son was estranged, my job was to be strong and healthy and get educated so that when the day came that my son asked for help, I would be ready.

In 2008, a brain scan revealed that he had been the victim of a series of head injuries.  These head injuries damaged part of his brain and changed his personality.  The result was impulsive, often oppositional, and angry behaviors.  My heart continued to ache.  But the anger I had felt before was replaced with compassion.  And I continued to trust God. 

A second brain scan a year and a half since the first one, revealed that the damage appeared greatly diminished. How could that happen?  The brain doesn’t heal.  No, but it can re-wire.  God was at work in miraculous ways. 

We are still on our journey but things are much better.  This is a broken world, after all, with all of its challenges.  I still pray like crazy for him, but I know, without a doubt, that God is with us.  No matter what. 
L.S.


A MIRACLE CHILD

I was at doing a job at the home of my boss’ family and the LORD spoke to me. (The family was not at home while I worked, including a little girl I had heard of who was sick).

(She) was my boss’ adopted niece who was suffering from brain cancer and was not doing well. God told me to go up in her room and anoint it with oil. 

Then he said to put that little holy cross under her bed that I had in my wallet for years and the little striped cloth that stood for “by his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53.5) 

I started to cry and I don’t even know this little girl. I never told anyone that I did this…..and prayed for her ever since.

By the way, her name is “Hope”.  And just today I heard my boss telling a customer that she may be a miracle child.  She can walk and talk in full sentences and before this, she could not.

They still don’t know, but for now it seems like she is doing way better than they thought she would. 

I just wanted to share this with my church now…so all the prayer warriors could put hope in their prayers. I just heard the still, small voice and acted.  There is great power in that.
R.F.


THE DUI SAVED MY LIFE

This has been a trying year in many ways, my husband has struggled with depression, we have had financial trials, and my father, and my rock…can no longer tell time anymore, due to his progressive disease. The only way I can get through all of these things is through faith, and HOPE. 

I am an alcoholic, I don’t care who knows it, but it is important that I never forget it. 

I think there can be many parallels between any addiction, the path to recovery; and the path to believing and following Christ.  I have seen them both first hand. 

Myself, I have struggled with both in my life time.  I have learned that both a commitment to recovery and a commitment to God are not too dissimilar. 

I learned recently a hard lesson in my recovery.  A few months ago things were going well, and I “thought” everything was under control.  Before driving to school, I thought it was a good time to buy, and consume a half pint of vodka. 

Why? I have no good reason…it’s a confusing disease. That is a fact, and not an excuse. I was wrong in that I wasn’t properly treating the disease. I did have immediate guilt.  I did turn around to go home and not drive any further.  I was on my way back home, and I saw a car with smoke coming from the hood. There were kids in the car.   I pulled over to see if they needed help.  The police arrived shortly.  They asked me why I was there…I told them I stopped to help.  WELL…. The officer could smell the booze on my breath, and asked if I had been drinking.   I said “yes.”  An immediate whirl of panic, and dread plagued my brain.  I KNEW I was in some pretty big trouble…AGAIN. 

Although, I begged God in that moment for help not to be in trouble, I knew what the outcome would be. As hard as it was for me to be handcuffed in the back of a squad car…I heard the dispatcher saying…“So you have a DUI AND a good Samaritan in the same stop?”  The officer replied, “No, the DUI IS the good Samaritan.”

Since then, I have had my hiney in a whole lot of meetings.  I have brought some new people to Riverwood that I have met at the meetings.  I feel that spreading the message of Christ IS hope. I know that I am right where I am supposed to be, and that I have to have faith in God.  I have to try to stay out of the driver’s seat and just have hope. Hope that if I can just be quiet for a moment and listen I will be directed in the right way.

Today I have so much hope.  I am so very grateful for my husband, and family to see me through this difficult time. I have learned in the last several years through difficult times comes growth. I surely believe that. I also believe that hope and faith are what have always gotten me through rough times, even when I did not realize it. A.C.


DIAGNOSED WITH MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS

In 1971, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis

In some respect, my life hasn’t been the way I would have planned it, if I had been given the choice, but I have accepted it believing that all things happen for a reason.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  He has a purpose for all situations. 

I realized that when I was having the most difficult time, those were the times when I felt God’s loving arms around me. I don’t know if I would have come to know Him and lean on Him in the way I have all these years if it wasn’t for my illness and in saying that, I don’t regret the burden I have had to bear. He has become a very important part of my life and I can’t imagine life without Him. This life is a dress rehearsal and I’m so looking forward to spending eternity with Him.

These 2 promises from the Scriptures give me unquestionable hope:

John 14:1-3  “Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
 Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
K.P.


CHECKLIST OF CHALLENGES

Here’s my checklist of challenges for the past year:

A financial challenge:  Check – in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, spent our savings on doctor and lawyer bills, may lose my job in six months, penalties from bank and state, A health issue:  Check – almost committed suicide, Diabetes may be getting worse, now on more medication, also on anti-crazy meds.

A great loss:  Check – My father-in-law has Alzheimer’s and he has slipped away even as I was getting to know him, aunt died early in 2009.

A valley of depression:  Check – Have you been listening?

An emotional burden:  Check – I can’t have a bad day because my wife needs me more now than ever, my kids are struggling because of their father and stepmother and I don’t know how to help.

Yes, I still have hope, even if I don’t know why.  God has helped me realize that it is impossible for me to be in a wrong situation, I am always exactly where God needs me to be. 

My marriage could not be stronger.  I have hope every day that we will still have our great days, and our greater days in the distant future when we are old together. I think of Psalm 139 often:

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.       

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
 If there is one thing I try and remember when I need calming, it is that I am sure that I am exactly where God wants me to be – it is impossible to be anywhere else.  God uses my opportunity to help others as a prompting to remember both my potential and all the good that I have in my life. Riverwood has been there for me, as a church, as a community, as a fellowship of believers.
R.C.


WHY AM I ALIVE?

Not so long ago, in a dark room, facing the ceiling, I was wondering, why was I alive?

I could still hear the words echo in my mind after my car accident 2 years ago: “You will go to an assisted living facility and we will help you to learn to get around”.  I did not even reply. Something was wrong, this could not be: Me? Assisted living? And I thought I have had enough suffering for a lifetime…

Four years ago, my son opened his eyes for one last time and then he was gone.  Two years later, I held my two precious daughters while they took their last breath. I thought God was punishing me.  

Then a life of luxuries followed, a cover up: deep inside I felt like an awful being, tired of not been myself. I was numb, emotionally dead; just to end up totally alone in a room, not being able to move, with a broken spirit, a broken body, facing a “future” of uncertainty, taking a breath at a time, and I was tired, sick of it.

I was surrounded by people that I could not reach out to; I felt guilty and could not expose the truth. I had friends that I could not call because I was ashamed. It was better to be alone, facing my “demons”. At least I was safe: just God, me, and my fears.

When I came to Riverwood I was not expecting much, what could I at this point anyway?

The first song that was played described exactly my situation and my tears began to flow. I continued going every Sunday: my numb state of mind began to fade; I decided to open myself here and seek help, advice. I can say God lead me into this church, his timing was perfect, I was surrounded by people who cared, I did not feel ashamed or guilty anymore, Riverwood taught me there is hope, God loves me! I am his daughter! He took control over my life, and now I have peace, I even starting smiling again! And what is more important, Riverwood taught me it was ok to be me. I was an imperfect being but God loves me anyway.

 He created me, He has a plan for my life and I do not need to worry I did before, I lived my life with God on the “passenger seat” and it did not work.

Thank you Lord, thank you for leading me to Riverwood when I had given up on life, when I was counting the minutes, ready to finish it all, you brought me home.

G.H.


MAKE EVERY MINUTE COUNT…

We’ll begin by saying, as you have heard, ‘life is short’. We’ve always heard this but as life challenges you each day, the thought of it passes quickly and you soon forget its meaning.

The phone rang…we didn’t answer it. We saw it was our son-in-law and thought we could call him back later. We were busy doing other things. A little while later, the phone rang again. I saw it was our daughter so I answered. She said “mom, let me talk to Steve”. I knew something was wrong. I could tell in her voice. He picked up the phone and then I heard ‘what! Oh no what happened?” He hung up the phone and told me, Chris, our 15 year old grandson died…he committed suicide. I screamed at Steve and beat his chest saying ‘no, no, no”. But it was true. One phone call, one moment of time and our lives were changed forever.

I could only think of our daughter. How was she. Was she ok? She is a recovering alcoholic. What will this do to her sobriety? Will she drink? Will she do the same thing? My mind was racing as we sped to her house in Rockford. The details were too much to take in. Steve & I tried to talk about it but it was so surreal. It wasn’t our grandson who did that. It was someone else. It just couldn’t be him. A few days later, I saw this beautiful 15 year old boy laying there in a box with no more life in him. Steve walked around the funeral with a plastic face. He couldn’t believe this was our grandson in that box. That’s not right – is it?

We were so thankful that Chris knew and loved Jesus. He would sit on his front steps and try to get the neighborhood kids to come to know HIS savior. And he did. Many came to know Jesus because of Chris. As he lay there, I touched his face. I held his hand. I told him I loved him. But wait a minute…where was God in all this? Had he stepped away from Chris? Had he left our family?

Hours, days then months began to pass by. We were numb. When the family gathered, there was a piece missing. Our daughter and her husband began going to a survival group for those who lost a loved one to suicide. They invited us. We went and continue to go periodically. It will be 3 years this January 10th since we got that awful call. We began to understand the why’s, the what if’s, and fill in some of the empty blanks. We began to see that it wasn’t God’s fault. That God didn’t leave our family or Chris but that Chris had a choice. It was so hard to understand.

2 verses carried us through: Romans 8:28…all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. We also relied on Isaiah 40:31 Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary – they will walk and not be faint.

We couldn’t wrap our arms around the thought that “was this God’s will for Chris?” We knew that this was not His will at all, and coming to grips with that has helped us go forward – knowing that this tragedy would be used – somehow – to glorify God according to the promise of Romans 8:28. Chris would have wanted it that way.

Three years later, we started a survivor of suicide support group at Riverwood under the Encouragers Ministry called ENTOUCH. It helps us to heal, it helps others to heal. God is using this group to walk with us on a journey with all those who have gone through this tragedy. It’s not easy, but we know that God gives us the strength to go on each day. Family is now more important than ever. We’re never too busy to answer the phone or make a visit. Our daughter is still sober and our family is stronger. We know there will always be that missing piece but Chris will always be in our hearts and his picture is always near. We’ve learned that ‘yes life is too short’ so we better make every minute count.

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