For some people, Christmas season is a part of their story they like to remember. But not for others. Christmas can surface a wide variety of thoughts and emotions. For me, Christmas and the entrance of a New Year were pivotal in my life. Although there are lots of details left out, I hope you find my Christmas/New Year’s season story meaningful and encouraging.
I grew up in a rough & tough blue-collar neighborhood bordering South Philly. My cultural heritage from both parents is Italian. My dad was Siciliano; my mom was Romano (think…Romeo & Juliet).
During childhood I experienced all the trappings of a wild and zany Italian family and community, living next to the waterfront on the Delaware River, Chester, PA. We were an extended family, housing grandparents, aunts, uncles, & cousins—approximately 15 people living together.
I’m sorry to say that the home environment was not without lots of familial and personal issues. Alcohol, drugs, brawls, in and outside the home were the norm. The neighborhood consisted of old row homes with mom & pop stores on corners. The environment was teeming with multi-ethnicity. If you were street-wise and played by the rules, you did well. In short—know & go where it’s safe. Sports and music gave me the chance to find enjoyment away from the alcoholism and issues that pervaded my immediate and extended family, while and keeping me out of trouble.
By the age of sixteen I was playing percussion in various venues including several states. I was making money and not interested in continuing my education. In 1966, due to the Vietnam War, I was drafted for military duty. I was very fortunate to be accepted to play for one of the Navy traveling-unit entertainment bands for four years, including one year on an aircraft carrier. It was eye-opening being introduced to even more cultures than I had grown up with. I was blessed to experience many countries, meeting people and eating indigenous foods. I’ve greatly appreciated this life experience. I discovered and still believe that we are extremely fortunate in the USA, despite our issues.
Due to my travels and experiencing so many cultures and walks of life, it caused me to reflect on life’s bottom-line questions: Where did I come from? What’s the meaning of life? What is my purpose? Who determines what’s right or wrong? What’s going to happen to me after I die? Although I didn’t understand the full significance of these questions, I was tossing a lot of new thoughts around in my mind…and some were unsettling.
By the end of my military service, I had everything most people consider marks of success—money, friends, a Carmen Ghia, tailor-made suits, achievement as a musician-entertainer, and I was even nice-looking way back then! I was out-going and exuded a lot of self-confidence. However…inside I was in turmoil. I could not answer life’s basic questions.
During Christmas season, 1970, I was in my apartment staring at the Space Needle in Seattle, and I said, wondering if/hoping someone would hear me, “God, if you’re for real, show me!” Within a very short time I met another musician who answered my questions. AND, his answers came right from the Bible. He was not a pastor or priest, yet this man could answer life’s basic questions.
And God did show Himself to me. I realized that I had lived my life in rebellion against Him, doing MY thing, not living out HIS questions, I was tossing a lot of new thoughts around in my mind…and some were unsettling.
And God did show Himself to me. I realized that I had lived my life in rebellion against Him, doing MY thing, not living out HIS purposes. I realized that I needed God’s forgiveness. I understood that I needed to be willing to trust Him to run my life from that day forward, no matter what! And I did. As I grew in my personal relationship with God, I learned the real meaning of Christmas, which is the key to life itself.
John 3:16 in the Bible: “For God so loved the world (me) that He gave His only Son that whoever believes (trusts) in Him will not perish but have everlasting life”.
Living in a personal relationship with the living God has brought me soul-fulfillment. Through living His way, my wife and I have stayed faithful to each other and content with one another for 43 years. We have been blessed with three wonderful children – all trusting and following Jesus Christ, and five grandchildren.
Being a Christ-follower isn’t easy, but not being one eventually leads to emptiness and the tendency to blame others for it. Thankfully – I chose to follow Jesus.
Dr. Vince Inzerillo