I left college my junior year with a half year or so left to graduate and I had decided I wanted to be an actress of some sort. I had won awards in college and felt maybe I could pull it off. (I couldn’t concentrate at school, with all the turmoil with my mom, and came home to help her.)
All the stuff I knew about acting and the people I’d met indicated to me that it could be a rough road and I was frankly scared to death. I was only 18 (I started college at 16) and loved being in all the plays, even though I was a Business Major. I had always loved God but never felt like I was on his good side, because I was wild. I had been raised by nuns in a catholic reform school (think Billy Joel song here). But none of it ever seemed real to me. I couldn’t quit thinking about the whole God thing, heaven and hell, the whole bit. There was an ugly guitar in the corner of the room with plastic strings and more than 5 coats of varnish on it and I comforted myself by learning to play it.
Some time went by and I ended up finishing school and became a swim suit model. I did car shows and print modeling. I couldn’t shake the emptiness I felt. The emptiness of it all overwhelmed me. It was weird, but I had this knowing that I knew I could be rich, famous, and popular and it was opening up before me, but it seemed empty. I dated famous baseball players and actors and was “on my way”…none of it satisfied me. I knew all the different philosophies of humanism, all the world religions, I couldn’t find answers anywhere. I thought “there’s got to be more than this.”
I knew that fame, and popularity, was in actuality a big let down and wasn’t what it seemed. I had an education, boyfriends, and all the things that you were supposed to have. I’d look at big posters of myself at these car shows and think, “I should be happy.”
I think I realized the pursuit of fame in and of itself seemed pointless. Then I met a guy at a function at a downtown hotel in St. Louis. He was probably in his 70’s. He told me his name was Tony Martin. I was a very young girl and I had never heard of him and I could see he was devastated. That taught me a lesson early on that generations go by and you can easily be forgotten.
All of these things caused me to say a life altering prayer soon after that, in a downtown parking garage - “God, are you real? Why are we here?”
All my attempts to find Him up to that point proved futile. Even as a little 10 year old girl, prayed with a Sunday school teacher for Jesus to come into my heart, I wasn’t sure He ever did.
The following day, I was at the gym working out when a fairly nice looking, friendly guy, was in the dance class and started talking to me. I was kind of mean to him because I thought he just wanted a date. He wasn’t deterred by my manner, and he was waiting for me outside, leaning on the rail with his gym bag. I blew passed him when I heard him say, “I don’t know how to tell you this, and don’t think I’m crazy, but God told me to tell you something!"
Now that got my attention…. I was speechless!
I turned around and asked him, “What did He say to tell me?”
He answered, “He told me to tell you that He’s real and He’s been hearing your prayers”
How in the world did this guy know that I had prayed exactly that question???? I
associated Bibles and Christianity with sweaty preachers, and, frankly, losers, but he
certainly wasn’t a loser. He showed me scripture after scripture, there on the parking lot
and then invited me to a church (Much time later on, Kurt Warner would attend there in his heyday.)
The next day, I thought “oh, that was just a coincidence” and there was no way I was going to be a Jesus freak or a “Bible thumper”, so of course I didn’t show up that Sunday but went over to a friend’s house from college. Pretty soon, while waiting for him, I started chatting with his Mom. She started talking to me about her relationship with God and she spoke about him like He was her best friend or something. Two people, right in a row! It was weird. She invited me to the same Church and this time I ended up going. I thought, I’ll go once and get these people off my back.
What happened next astounded me. I walked in to this church and it looked more like an auditorium. I had never seen anything like it, and everything the speaker said spoke directly to my heart in a profound way. They told the story I had heard a million times, but this time it went to my heart of how Jesus Christ was real and would return, and the whole ball of wax. As crazy as it sounds, something very dramatic happened. I went to the front of the church when they gave an invitation to “come forward” a la Billy Graham style and they prayed for me, but once again, nothing happened. They gave me a Bible, and I was trying hard to read it when I got home that night.
There was no one around, no emotion, no music, nothing but quiet. All of a sudden, pouring in my heart, it felt like a torrential river was gushing through me like Niagara Falls. It was pure love. It lasted for a long time. At the same time, I felt like warm liquid honey was being poured all over me. I was surrounded by this awesome presence and power and love like I’d never known it. I definitely had a true conversion that night and developed a voracious appetite for spiritual things. It was like being in heaven. I knew that God was real and he had sent his Son to die for me. Gradually my life began to change.
I did my first music video called Whosoever Will in 1994 which was a song I’d written.
I had no idea where the money was going to come from. I told very few people about it
but I was sent a check in the mail for several thousand dollars that came just in time.
(except the producer got so touched that he ended up doing the project for free). He
had been addicted to drugs up to that point but not anymore! His name is Charlie
Herwig and he has produced tons of shows for Nashville stars.
After that, I received the opportunity to do things for "The City of Hope" and had more
opportunities to work in Nashville, but I felt like God told me not to pursue it for reasons I won’t go into. At that time my only brother, Robby, who was 28 years old, had just been murdered by his best friend and I wrote a song about it called “Somewhere Along the Way”.
I had a lot to learn in the areas of character, commitment, and qualities that needed to be developed as I had major issues going on. I also had a major ego that needed some serious sanding.
The following details of my life are true and sound like something out of a crime novel.
My Dad had been murdered while having an affair (the woman’s husband shot him) when I was a baby. My Mom had been raised in an institution because her mom died when she was only 9 of tuberculosis. After my Mom lost my dad to this other woman, she began to drink heavily and abandoned me, only to find me later tied to a crib, neglected and abused. She thought she was leaving me with someone who would take care of me. I was three at the time and she ended up re-marrying. He died when I was ten and my Mom re-married 3 months later.
My new dad told me I was going to Disney World, and dropped me off in a reform school at only 12 years of age. It was the last time I ever lived at home. The school was in Memphis and that’s where I learned to play the guitar and the piano. Sounds like great music material!
The fact that I’m happy, healthy and sane is a miracle in itself (with the background I’ve had). Well, believe it or not, I’ve left a lot out, but that’s a pretty comprehensive yet brief synopsis of the life of Mary Ripley Schwartz a.k.a. Therese-Marie.
By the way, Therese-Marie is my confirmation name. It has its roots in St. Therese-Marie of Liseux whom they called “the little flower”. Before I realized what the name Therese-Marie meant.
Let me tell you one more thing:
I had been sitting in the parking lot, in my car, crying over the death of my brother Robby when the Lord spoke to me and he said, “Look at those flowers over there”.
I didn’t see any flowers really, but more like a patch of tall weeds with some purple growth sticking up. God said, “Those flowers are like your life, He said, “I have a lot of work to do in you but look down in the middle of those flowers. In the middle of those purple flowers, there is a little flower that’s different than all the rest… and that little flower is you!”
So I ran up to look at the flowered weed patch, half thinking I was going crazy, and all the flowers were purple. I pushed them aside to see that way down in the middle of the purple flowers was a little pink flower, just like God told me. He said “you’re that pink flower and you’re going to be different than all the rest, and I’m going to use you to bring people to me.”
The following week I was doing music at Six Flags and a lady I’d never met walked up and handed me a little gift. It was a dried flower collection. Needless to say, guess what? It was a bouquet of purple flowers with one little pink one in the middle. I had told no one the story of the flowers in the field.
I don’t know exactly what God is going to do with me but this is my story.
One thing I have learned _ it’s the small things that are in reality the things that really matter.
A hug -
A kind word -
and the only thing we take to heaven with us is people!