“For me trust was a word I didn’t know at a very young age because I hadn’t experienced it. Many times I wished I were dead. I didn’t want to live any longer,” Teresa Rilling told over 150 people at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, last Friday.
Through her speech, she related questioning God’s sovereignty, then at the end of high school talking to God “about the possibility of coming back to him”, his embrace and her subsequent enrolment two weeks later into Bible college where she began learning about trust and care.
Her story involved abuse at an early age by a grandfather who didn’t know how to properly treat little girls, his death when she was 10, but her continued lack of trust.
“It wasn’t until the end of high school I realized I couldn’t keep it down and came to God to plead with him,” Rilling said. “I’d messed up, had many illicit relationships.”
She recalled the parable of the prodigal son and said “God embraced me that day in my unclean state.” He told her when a person returns, “everybody in heaven celebrates … The only reason I was able to receive it was he loved me so much.”
She told the audience that at Bible college she began to learn about trust and care. That’s also where she met her husband of over 30 years, Jim. They have had the privilege of parenting three children, and all three are married with a total of 11 children.
It wasn’t until she was 30 that Rilling said she admitted the abuse and healing. “I knew I was at a crossroads. I had a decision to make. Will I forgive or not.” Her grandfather’s actions were still controlling her life, filling her with anger and bitterness. “I had a choice — was I going to forgive or not.” Rilling explained it’s a long process. “Don’t forgive too soon,” she’d been told. “Sometimes you have to endure before you can release.”
“It’s a hard decision to make. Do you release the right to making him pay? Release the need for justice?
On the other hand, “if you don’t forgive what’s the other option, where would we be?”
That process, she said, “drew me into a very deep relationship with God. That’s chronicled in her book, “Just Breathe, Hope Beyond Hurt”.
“I wanted to help.” She’s since spoken nationally and internationally. “I have survived, seen hope,” is her message.
Rilling began her story with a box of Pot of Gold chocolates. “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” Then she passed boxes around the audience without the chart about what’s in each one and instructing each person to take a chocolate in order not randomly. Some people, she explained, will get the chocolate they like while others may get one they hate. Some will pass it by “because they don’t want to take a chance”.
“If you had a do over, how would it look different. Would you have chosen a life of predictability, where everyone was the same and everyone was good.”
Then she stated, “as we grow older we find the gold comes out of the hard times and things that come out of our life.”
Mentioning horrible memories, Rilling said, “When I looked back I realized they were the most bitter chocolates I ate”. When you get married you make a contract with your partner, she said. Unless you develop that relationship you just exist. Her early relationship with God was like that — she didn’t develop it — until that fateful day at the end of high school.
“There is hope behind the bitter chocolate,” she concluded.
Then she thanked Mayor Susan Samson for her “diligent and gracious service to our community. I’ve watched you embrace this community including difficult issues and admire you for it.”
“We have a responsibility to pray, to encourage — who here does not like to get an encouragement note … if we support each other, encourage each other … God will be supportive. We never know what we’re going to get. Fortunately we can handle it with prayer.”
Samson spoke at the beginning of the event. “I think of all of us as builders,” she said. “We come together and build a great community. When we go about the task of building, we embrace the project to achieve success in the final project.”
She also said she’s glad she wasn’t born in Sylvan Lake. “I might have taken all this for granted.”
Prayers for the community were offered by a variety of people from different walks of life. They were provided by Dale Plante (mayor, council, reeves, provincial and federal governments), Jocelyn Callihoo (judicial and peace officers), Robert Engel (emergency medical service and fire department), Jodi Hinshaw (education systems, schools and teachers), Joan Barnes (business community and financial institutions), Lindsay Niemand (health care system and medical professionals), Muriel Walker (social issues, marriages and families), Jamie McDonald (churches and their leaders), and TJ Green (youth).
Innisfail – Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle told the audience it’s important to “take a moment to reflect on all we have to be thankful for. I hope all of you enjoy … family, hope and health.”
Musical entertainment was provided by Sean McIntyre, Angela Winters, Brenda Dutz, TJ Green and Josh Rembowski.
A digital presentation, titled God of the City, featuring photos of various community landmarks and events, was played at the beginning of the breakfast.