Jennifer Sienes

Have you ever had a “spiritual” experience that, if shared, might raise an eyebrow or two? For the most part, my own walk with Jesus has been uneventful. That’s not to say I don’t get answer to prayers or have mountaintop experiences. But it’s been a lot like me—drama-free. I’ve never heard anyone speak in tongues, although I’ve heard the audible voice of God (once) and been prophesied over (once). But my most dramatic spiritual experience involved my daughter.

Nikki was an easy child to raise. She was sweet, obedient, and trustworthy (much like a female version of a Boy Scout). But once she hit seventeen, she morphed into someone I no longer knew. She seemed to look for reasons to argue. If I said black, she took offense. A friend told me it was God’s design to make our teenagers obnoxious, so it would be easier on us when they flew the coop. This mama bird was more than ready to boot the baby from the nest. I believe this is what led to the “incidents.”

The first occurred after we’d had another of our heated discussions, which left me exhausted. Contractors were painting our house, and one of them parked across the street. As Nikki stormed out on her way to her part-time job, I whispered to myself, “Please don’t hit the guy’s car when you pull out of the driveway.” I don’t know where the thought came from, and I felt foolish for even entertaining it. But when the contractor banged on the door a few minutes later, irate because Nikki backed into his car and took off, it was as if I’d been plopped in the midst of a Twilight Zone episode. Side note: Nikki was aware of the “accident” but didn’t think she caused any damage—which she didn’t. However, the fact remained that I somehow sensed it was going to happen.

A few days later, I was driving a quiet country road on my way to school where I taught eighth-grade core. Another argument with my darling daughter left me ranting at God. She was finishing up her first semester at college and, somehow, the more education she earned, the less intelligent I became. Was I supposed to roll over and become a doormat? Should I just not engage at all? It was then my mind shifted into daydream mode—you know the one—where you’re no longer aware of your surroundings, and it’s only by the grace of God you arrive safely at your destination?

This daydream had me in my classroom with students when the vice-principal arrived. “You’re needed up at the office,” she said. “I’ll stay with your kids.” Clueless (or maybe naïve) I stepped into the office to be met by a police officer. “I’m sorry to inform you, your daughter has been in a car accident…”

I was shocked out of daydream mode, filled with horror and guilt. How could I even think something so vile? Was I wishing such a thing on my own daughter? What kind of a mother does that? I immediately began praying for protection over Nicole and forgiveness for my thoughts, but I was left nauseous and shaken. As the day progressed, I was able to push aside the vision and focus on my students.

Two weeks later, it was the last day of school before Christmas break. I hadn’t seen Nikki before I left the house. She’d worked the night before and was studying for finals until the wee hours of the morning. My students were in high spirits, possibly heightened by the consumption of mass amounts of sugar. The classroom was a chaos of boardgames and animated conversations when my vice principal walked in.

“Hey, Jennifer. I’ll watch your kids. You’re needed in my office.”

To this day, I don’t know why that horrific vision didn’t come to mind as I ventured up to the office. And when I saw the highway patrol officer and two other teachers in the room, it didn’t occur to me to be worried about Nikki. My son had spent the night at a friend’s, which was a rare occurrence on a school night, and I feared they’d gotten into some kind of trouble, as teen boys are known to do.

It wasn’t until the officer said, “Does your daughter drive a light blue Saturn…” that it all came back with perfect clarity.

Nikki was in a coma for a week (waking on Christmas morning) and suffered traumatic brain injury, but she survived. It was a long road to recovery, and it allowed us to start from square one. Literally. She was like a newborn who had to learn everything over from scratch. Her accident inspired my novel, Illusions, and although the recovery process is a key element in the story, that’s where the similarities between reality and fiction end.

We’ve all heard the saying God works in mysterious ways, and many of us have experienced it for ourselves. I truly believe God allowed me to visualize Nikki’s accident before it occurred as a reminder to me that there is nothing about our lives, including our futures, that He doesn’t hold in the palm of His hand.

Susan K. Beatty

Interview with Marissa Cinzano from House of Courage

Where do you live?

I live on a small farm with a remnant orange grove in the canyons of Orange County, California.

Tell us about your family? Are you married?

I’ve never been married. Never felt the need to be. I live with my father and mother on the farm. Actually, I’ve lived in the same house all my life.

Tell us more about the farm.

With the help of our extended family, my parents bought the farm before I was born so my dad could farm and contribute to the family restaurant in San Diego.

Your parents also own a restaurant?

Trattoria Nonna in San Diego is owned by the entire family, established by my maternal and paternal grandparents after they arrived from Italy. All the aunts, uncles, and cousins work at the restaurant. Except me and my parents. My dad and mom worked there for the first year of their marriage, but my dad preferred to be outdoors and figured he could contribute to the restaurant by providing produce.

What do you do on the farm?

I’m a CPA so I do all the farm bookkeeping and business.

Do you also have a job as a CPA?

I used to, but when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had to concentrate on getting healthy. I donate my time to leading a breast cancer support group.

Is your cancer cured or in remission?

No. My cancer metastasized to my bones. There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. But I’m on oral chemo drugs that are prolonging my life. For now.

Your family is having its share of health issues just now.

We’ve had our share over the past ten years. My parents aren’t getting any younger either.

Are you close to your mom, dad, and other relatives?

Of course. My dad has always been my rock. And I try to spend more time with mom now. Especially since she’s not quite herself these days. We bake together. Lovely Italian pastries. And my cousin Dante, who lives on the farm with us, is like a brother. We can be honest with each other. Dante is devoted to my father. Like a son. And, sooner or later, each of the San Diego cousins spends some time working on the farm. So that gives me a chance to know them.

Your farm is your world, isn’t it?

When you live in one place all your life, it takes on a huge significance. Maybe if we’d moved about, it wouldn’t be so important. It is where I found the Lord and where I’ve seen Biblical principles, including courage, modeled. I need to make sure the farm stays in the family so my mom, dad, and I can live out our lives here.

Is your farm in danger?

There are potential issues with the financial stability of the restaurant. Plus the canyons are fraught with hazards from the elements—floods, wind, fire. It will be up to me to keep the farm safe.

And how does the Lord figure in?

Well. Sure. We have to lean on Him. But I have to do my part.

Marissa, we look forward to reading about how this works out for you and your family in House of Courage. Thank you for answering our questions and hope your farm stays safe.