By: Michael Haden
The conversation was surreal. Not long ago I was their youth soccer coach. Today, my daughter and her close friends are recent college grads making a difference in the world in their respective career paths. But the resounding question asked by all sitting around the dining room table on this day was: “what if?”
My name is Dean Polizzi but I write under the nom de plume Michael Haden. I am a Tampa Bay business owner, volunteer youth soccer coach, and now the author of the book: ‘A Deal With God.’
Ten years ago, I had the privilege of coaching a young woman named Deana Murphy. She was the most inspirational and amazing person I have ever known. Her life, though brutal and heartbreaking as it was, is a story I’ve always felt compelled to tell. Considering all she had to endure, her resiliency was beyond belief.
Deana was born on a warm summer day, in Tampa FL, August 22nd 1987. Her father was an evident void, never in her life, having left her mother before she was born. Jamie Murphy, Deana’s mother, moved forward the best she could. Yet, sadly, complications from an illness, her life was cut short, and her death set in motion a chain of events that would shape her young daughter’s life.
At three years of age, Deana became a ward of the State of Florida and was given foster care by a Tampa family whose biological daughter was a year older than her. The two children grew up within a middle-class household and got along quite well. Her new parents were, at least initially, nurturing and attentive. Deana led as normal life as could be expected. Everything was fine and ordinary until the summer between 5th and 6th grade.
Heartbreakingly, as is not uncommon with foster children, Deana was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her then foster father, whom was eventually turned in to the authorities by, as rumor has it, his own wife. He was arrested and prosecuted by the State, and Deana was the lead witness and had to testify. The court appearances were depressing and made her physically and emotionally sick to her stomach. She spent a good portion of junior high school years in and out of courtrooms with her schoolbooks in-hand. Deana desperately tried to keep up with her studies. Her focus on her schoolwork was steadfast and helped keep her mind off the impending legal issues and, trial(s).
Yet amidst the chaos, there was an apparent silver lining to this hurricane-sized, dark cloud hovering over her head. One of the Tampa attorneys involved in the trial felt so moved by Deana’s plight that he personally paid a reputable Christian orphanage to take Deana in.
A wonderful thing happened at the Christian orphanage, however; Deana and the other children were taken to church every Wednesday and Sunday, and therefore began to learn about God via Pastors sermons and bible teachings, and it was not long before she was accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior and subsequently baptized in Christ.
She was determined to be a good Christian and to get her life back on track going in the right direction. Deana became extremely devout and found solace in prayer and comfort in finding her heavenly father.
I still get emotional when I remember Deana telling the story of the first time she ever prayed; how she would kneel in front of her bed with her hands pressed together and to talk to God. The coming weeks found her kneeling frequently and praying fervently, as she asked to watch over her. In fact, she placed this onus upon Him especially as she had no other father around.
Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, the proprietors of the orphanage, enrolled Deana in soccer at a local Christian soccer club. It was a smaller club, but close to home and both coaches were also Christian. I was one of the two. Deana learned sportsmanship, gamesmanship, and how to be a tough competitor. We stressed teamwork, discipline, and willingness to give extra effort. We taught the players to achieve by perseverance and belief in a higher power. Deana embraced this philosophy and came not only to love the game but also enjoyed spending time with her team mates. Although she didn’t have your typical athletic build, Deana was, however, smart, tenacious, and an extremely hard worker.
Her determination, in fact, was admirable.
Deana quickly became a dominant player. She was extremely bright and exceedingly focused and had an amazing attention to detail thus, thriving with maximum effort – a coach’s dream. My Assistant coach often joked that if you asked Murphy to run through a brick wall she would be back within two minutes with a sledge hammer. Her intensity was truly amazing. She consistently followed through on big plays and quickly became a favorite on the team.
The aptitude of Deana and her teammates had our little Tampa club winning our division within two years. We were soon playing for The State Championship. We lost the final game but we came in second place out of the best thirty-eight division one teams in the state. The girls all received large trophies and tons of accolades.
I truly believe that it was Deana’s tenacious defense and leadership that kept us in every game. She was one of the team captains and the one who led us in prayer prior to every game. She never missed a game or practice. She never complained and never gave the coaches a hard time. It was a privilege to coach Deana and recommend her to college coaches when requested.
In high school, Deana developed into a star soccer player. She had a 4.0 grade point average and was very well liked. She was an all-around likeable young lady and we were not surprised to learn that she was given a four year full scholarship to attend our local University.
We all knew Deana was a go-getter, but what came as a surprise to many of us was all the extra effort she continually dedicated into keeping orphanage she lived in open and functioning, especially after learning that the Wilsons who ran the orphanage for over thirty years, were intent on slowing down. Parenting was becoming more difficult by the day, and Deana became weary at the thought of them not having the strength to stay afloat. With that in mind she worked tirelessly to help the Wilsons in every way imaginable. She cooked, cleaned and did laundry without so much of a second thought. She even helped parent some of the younger children and taught them how to pray, hoping to take some of the burden off the Wilsons. She truly grew to love the place, for it was, after all, the only real home she had ever known. This was her way of giving back to the loving couple that helped raise her and taught her Christian values.
Even during her freshman year in college she still helped out at the orphanage while playing soccer at an amazingly high level and waited tables. At every opportunity I would take my family to her soccer games at the stadium and cheer her on. She truly excelled in her studies, as well and maintained a high G.P.A. We were, as can be expected, all so very proud of her, and nothing could prepare us for what happened next.
In the summer after her freshman year, Deana was driving home from work when her car was hit by a drunk driver. She died almost instantly. As you might imagine, the news of Deana’s death sent shock waves through my body and sadness throughout the town. We were all devastated. It was the worst thing to ever happen to our small community. As hard as it was at the time, we did our best to accept that God had different plans for her.
Years later we still feel a great loss and sorrow. As my daughter and her friends sat at the dining room table talking about their accomplishments and futures, the inevitable question circled the conversation. “What if Deana was here today, what would she be doing right now? What would she have accomplished?”
Knowing Deana the way that I did, and keeping her tremendous achievements in her short life in mind, I try to answer that question while writing my new book: “A Deal With God.” What ensued has been described by its readers as a thrilling and inspirational Christian Romance novel – a real page turner. I pray that you. too will be inspired by it.
CBM Christian Book Reviews gave A Deal With God a 9.9 on a scale of 10.0 stars. And they had this to say: A Deal With God-The Power of One is a unique love story inspired by a true story and real events. Author Michael Haden, delivers an entertaining and delightful fictional novel that is full of romance, real-life drama and intrigue. A true testament to the love and grace of God, revealing the power of perseverance and the power of one, this novel exemplifies absolute trust and faith in God.
Dean Polizzi-Author name- Michael Haden, is a soccer coach, husband, father and author of “A Deal with God”. To order “A Deal with God”, please go to: http://www.adealwithgodbook.com/