THE PROMISE CROSS
As you have probably figured out…the Promise Cross is pretty big deal for me. In fact, it is the cornerstone of the Iron Chinchilla and my signature piece. Since I designed it in 2000, I am humbled to have sold, donated and given away as gifts, more of them than I can count. Today, each cross is made the same way the very first one was made back in my garage when I was just starting out…one at a time, by hand, using the bare minimum of tools.
But what may be lost by simply looking at the bent iron cross with the heart delicately balanced on the center…is the story of how I came up with the idea for the design. So, In an effort to explain the concept behind it, I felt the most obvious thing I could do would be to put my testimony… or the story of my salvation…out here on the web for all to see. And while I realize the term “salvation” will mean different things to different people, it means only one thing to me, as you will hopefully realize as you read on.
This story is a personal one, depicting a very personal journey, and I am choosing to air it out here in a public forum in the hopes that someone out there, surfing aimlessly on the web, might glean an iota of inspiration and follow it on to an answer of their very own. Let me begin by stating that I have spent a large portion of my life, as most have, trying to make sense of this hopelessly confusing world. The Promise Cross illustrates, to the best of my artistic abilities, the answers I have come to in my lifetime. Please understand that this is a small part of a much larger equation that can, if you are willing to accept it, provide some answers. My hope is that the cross and the note card will open a door that has either never been opened or was closed long before you happened upon this website.
My introduction to Christianity began as it does with most in the predominately Irish Catholic city of Des Moines, Iowa; I was sprinkled as an infant, escorted to Sister Anita’s first grade class at the age of seven, and became an altar boy as soon as I was tall enough to light the candles on the altar. Following those early events, what I recall from my time at St Joseph’s Catholic school can be summed up rather quickly.
First of all, the stories about nuns being mean, overbearing, abusive tyrants are largely untrue in my experience. I had several as teachers that were simply sweet little old ladies, with the exception of Sister Margaret Mary, my fourth grade teacher. (However, as I recall, we probably deserved any punishment we received back then.) I spent eight years at St Joe’s, and along with the reading, the writing, and the arithmetic, I gained the head-knowledge to pass a religion class and recite the numerous prayers necessary during mass from memory. Not once did I question why I was never asked to crack a Bible on my own. I guess it was enough that certain parts were read to us three times a week in mass. After finishing grammar school, I moved to Rochester MN and attended a small Catholic High School. Regrettably, by this time the boredom, rigid structure, and unchanging routine became more than I wanted to deal with. So by the time I reached the 10th grade, I had no trouble putting the Catholic Church in my rear view mirror.
At the age of 16 I began attending public school for the first time. At that point, the years of feigning interest in mass, or walking past the church all together came to an end, and I promptly retreated to the simplicity known as “non-practicing Catholic”, which I would come to find out, means absolutely nothing at all.
One thing I do want to make clear before I move on is that I place no blame upon the Catholic Church for any mental scarring or abuse. I simply didn’t “get it” in the way I think I was supposed to. Actually, I consider myself fortunate to have been introduced to this amazing individual known as Jesus Christ, and I owe St Joseph’s Catholic School a debt of gratitude for giving me the foundations for my faith. It just worked out that I wasn’t ready to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at that time. And for me, the Catholic faith was not going to show me the way. During this time of my life, I would do all of the things you would expect a curious teenager to do, beginning with thumbing my nose at authority and abusing alcohol, and eventually dabbling in drugs and experimenting with sex. I would not crawl out of this selfish existence until well into my twenties, with the help of Tina, the woman I would later marry, and Mr. Turturro, the man that would perform our wedding ceremony.
This “transformation,” if you will, happened rather quickly once I allowed it to begin. And the beginning can be traced back to a rather heated discussion between my future bride and I in the car, returning from installing some light fixtures at a clients home. The conversation consisted of Tina, lovingly trying to explain simple Biblical principles, and me attempting to justify a religion that, not only had I distanced myself from, but didn’t entirely understand anyway. I think it is safe to say that no one won that battle, but thankfully, she would eventually defeat my stubbornness to win the war.
Shortly after that momentous car ride, talk of marriage entered the picture, and it became clear that I needed to be a man, chose a path, and make some decisions about where I stood with my faith. I had some assistance making that decision in several conversations with Mr. Turturro, one of Tina’s professors in graduate school and the leader of her small group Bible study.
I remember one such conversation in which a question was posed to me, inquiring as to just how I am going to enter the heavenly gates when I leave this world. Being caught a little off guard, I answered the only way I knew how; “I will just try to be a good person… go to church… pray a lot… and just hope that it’s enough to get into heaven.” I knew before the words left my lips that they were just a cop-out. I obviously had no real response, but how could I? Not only had I never been asked that question before, but I had never been given an answer. It was that night, at Tia’s TexMex that I decided to give some serious thought to just what it was that I believed. I wasn’t sure what that would finally be, but I knew that the decision had to be my own and that my natural curiosity would be the driving force.
That inquisitiveness and desire to learn something new would lead me to the First Baptist Church in San Antonio on the invitation from a classmate of Tina’s, and a fellow “non-practicing” Catholic. It had been so long since I had set foot into a church for anything other than a wedding, that I wasn’t sure what to be prepared for. As far as a building, the church was absolutely beautiful in an understated way, much like a Catholic church. However I noticed that the statues of Mary and Joseph were missing, as were the Stations of the Cross lining the perimeter of the sanctuary, and no banners were hung from the ceiling denoting the “time of year”. But most obvious was the absence of a monolithic crucifix hovering above a non-existent altar. Other than that, it felt pretty much just like a Catholic Church which, oddly enough, gave me some peace.
I remember this first visit quite distinctly because I found myself actually paying attention , something I wasn’t used to doing in church. Perhaps it was simply the “newness” of the situation, but I was honestly intrigued by the pastor and the ease he had speaking to the congregation and not at them. He began this sermon as he began each sermon… with the children. They approached the stage from all corners of the sanctuary and sat at his feet. He proceeded to carry on a casual conversation with them, using a dollar bill as a prop…easily capturing their (and my) short attention span. This lasted about five minutes, and as the children lined up and made their way to Sunday school, he continued his sermon where he left off with the children, never taking it to a level that only an individual with a masters in divinity would be able to decipher, but “dumbing it down” where a heathen like me could take something away from it. Throughout the service I felt exhilarated by the pastors’ words and uncomfortable at my ignorance and unpreparedness. He didn’t just read from the Bible and assume that and that alone, would make an impression on his flock, he helped each person understand every passage as he eloquently spoke. And everyone, armed with their very own Bible, followed along, hurriedly taking notes as they hung on his every word. I was in awe! This was church like I never thought church could be. Although I left there with far more questions than answers, the excitement inside me would bring me back each time I made it to San Antonio . And you can be sure that I went right out and bought myself my first Bible.
Over the course of the next couple of years, Tina and I’s relationship would continue to grow. As would this desire to know and understand this person named Jesus. As our wedding day drew near, we would meet with Mr. Turturro as frequently as we could, seeking his guidance and leadership before we said the “I do’s”.
One of his most adamant requests was for us to find a church that would help us grow in our faith and become member…so the hunt for a “church home” was on. For the next several weeks we would visit several different houses of worship, small and large, but nothing felt right. That amazing pastor in San Antonio set the bar pretty high and I knew in my heart that unless I found a pastor that could hold the interest of someone like me with a painfully short attention span, I would drift away from my faith as I had when I was a teenager.
Eventually, we found ourselves braving the crowds at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. While this church was a little larger than we had in mind initially, the creative approach to everything from music and drama to the coherent and relevant messages given by the head pastor Ed Young, had us returning week after week just to see what they would do and what he would say. Each Sunday morning, the Gospel was laid out before us in plain English, with scenarios I could relate to, told by a man truly embraced by the spirit, and it didn’t hurt that he was cursed with the attention span of a gnat! Ed would constantly break off into one story or another about something his wife did, or his children did, or his dog did. And the amazing thing was, just like the random prop the pastor from San Antonio would use, each story tied in nicely with his message for the day.
It was obvious to both of us as we eagerly discussed what we had just learned, that our search for a church home had ended. But I can remember thinking, as we ducked into church quietly, and left out the side door as quickly as we could, week after week, that I just didn’t feel a part of anything. I remember taking inventory of my life and all of the blessings God had given me…but it still fell short, something was definitely missing.
I began to crave this “relationship” with Christ that everyone talked about and I realized my bond with the church was directly related to that relationship. I slowly came to realize that was the one thing that would hold my marriage, my family, and everything else together. And then I recalled another kernel of wisdom that Mr. Turturro laid on me during one of our pre-marital meetings that sealed the deal. He told me that, as the man of the house, I am the spiritual leader. And according to the Bible, the decisions I make regarding my family will build it up or tear it down, it was up to me! I guess I really don’t need to tell you what my choice was.
By the very next weekend, we were tracking down someone from the church that would pray with us and welcome us into the church. We excitedly approached the guest services counter to find someone that could make us full members. Within minutes, we were led into a quiet kitchen area with a pastor, where we prayed and accepted Christ into our hearts and Fellowship Church into our lives.
Our public declaration of our commitment to Christ and His church through baptism was made in February 2000, just three short months before our wedding day.
That same year, Tina and I were married and, in a leap of faith, I decided to end my career as a restaurant manager and try to make a go of selling my artwork. Desperate for a starting point, I tried to design a cross that illustrated my new found faith. After trying several different designs, nothing was really standing out as unique. Then I remember sitting in my living room and watching a football game…as the camera panned the crowd, I noticed a banner someone was holding that said “John 3:16”. Having seen that verse a hundred times at sporting events, I wondered for the first time…what did it actually say? So I took out my bible and read this verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. For God so LOVED the world! That was my answer!
I began bending hearts of different sizes and crosses of different sizes until the design started taking a more consistent appearance. I paired it with a story card, and began marketing it to local gift stores. The Promise Cross started selling really well, which opened the door to my other designs. Pretty soon, the Iron Chinchilla started building steam and the rest…is history.
Fast-forward many years from that evening in February 2000 when I was baptized, and I can honestly say that I have changed from that rebellious teenager and confused young adult. Sure, part of that is due to growing older and becoming a “grown-up”, but this feels bigger than that alone. I feel a peace in my heart that no matter how bad I screw up, (and believe me I still screw up!) I can look to my Father in heaven and just…talk it out. I have accepted the fact that I am a sinner, and always will sin. It is part of my role as a member of the human race. And believe me, I still bang my head against the wall, crazy with frustration over my stupidity. But once the throbbing has stopped, I know that Christ holds my fragile heart in his hands, and he is there to listen to me complain, confess, and, more importantly, praise his name for the blessings he has given me. And it doesn’t cost me a single thing. He already paid the price on the Cross, and I know no matter how badly I screw up in this world, he is holding a place for me. All I have to do is BELIEVE!!
The Promise Cross is meant to be a simple, daily reminder to each of us that there is nothing we can do to EARN that cherished place in God’s house. The price has already been paid with His blood and it is up to us to get over our petty insecurities and foolish pride and accept the deal.
One thing I have learned in the years since developing a personal relationship with Christ is that the first step to accepting Jesus into your life, is realizing that life is so much bigger than the triumphs and disasters that occupy our days, bigger than appreciation or creation of art, and bigger than this world we call home. The second step is up to you.
Thank you so much for your time. I would welcome any thoughts about what you have just read. Or if you have purchased a cross in the past, perhaps a story about how it’s very presence on your wall gave you peace and helped you through a tougher than normal day. And with your permission, we will be posting those stories on our website in the coming months.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift from God – not by works, so that none can boast” Ephesians 2: 8-9
“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” John 3:16