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Better Together
By Vittoria Allen

If you are looking for a good laugh, look no further than Ricciee and Ray Soriano. “Ricciee and I met like any other Christian couple…poppin’ bottles at the club!” said Ray.

Although the couple went to the same schools for their whole lives, it would take them almost seven years after college to meet and yes, at a club! The couple, full of life and laughter, will be married for almost four years this December. Not surprisingly, they both expressed that their spouses’ sense of humor is their favorite thing about them. “Ray can always make me laugh. Even when I’m mad at him he’ll say or do something and I can’t be mad anymore,” Ricciee said. “And when I am upset he is always first to give grace. He is a true peacekeeper.”

Yes, there’s God and yes there’s church, but there’s something in between all of that – community. Community is the real, tangible, life-giving proof that God wants us all to have a relationship with each other and with Him.

The Soriano’s have been attending Rock Church for over six years now. They started their journey in two separate men and women Groups that eventually combined into one big marriage group. Many of the people in their original groups were getting married and thought it would be a great idea to create a Group for married couples and as soon as the Soriano’s got back from their honeymoon, they were in!

The couple fondly remembers what an impact their community made on their relationship. From helping plan the wedding, to showing them what it looks like to actually do life with people. “We’ve been involved in so many baptism, parties, deaths, birthdays, babies, dedications, food, and ups and downs that it’s hard to keep count. We are even Godparents to several of the kids in the group,” said Ray. Both of them know without a doubt that having community to talk things through helped them get through those early years of marriage. “Our life group has truly become our second family.”

In 2015, Ricciee and Ray were in the middle of new jobs, moving houses, and praying about beginning a family. In June of that year, Ricciee received news that no one was expecting. After experiencing some odd symptoms and receiving many confusing test results, Ricciee was scheduled for a surgery to remove a papilloma that was believed to be causing some bleeding. Frightened of the pending surgery, she prayed for peace and confidence to go through whatever it was that God has planned. After the surgery and many tests, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“At first I was just so confused. I thought that I was a ‘good’ Christian. I went to service every week, tithed regularly, was involved in our life group, and even led some studies. I kept asking God why He would do this. Why He would allow all the pain, both physical and emotional. I asked Him to take it from me. But He reminded me that this was temporary. That he had a plan, and that whatever I was experiencing, He understood because He experienced it on the cross. That’s when I completely fell apart. I realized that nothing that I could ever experience on this earth could compare to what Jesus did for me,” she said.

I realized that the only security blanket I needed was Christ.

The battle proved to be difficult spiritually, physically, and emotionally. A single mastectomy and lymph node dissection left scars all over her body, leaving her to feel deformed and useless. The chemotherapy changed her skin and appetite, and she began losing her hair on Thanksgiving Day. One of her friends from their Group is a hair stylist and came over to shave her head. “I had come to realize that even though my outside self was changing, I was still me on the inside. I had always been insecure about my looks and my hair had become somewhat of a security blanket. In a way I could hide behind my hair. But with it gone, I realized that the only security blanket I needed was Christ.” Ricciee began to learn what it looked like to redefine beauty and God revealed to her a whole new meaning to the verse in Song of Solomon that says, “You are altogether beautiful…there is no flaw in you.”

Despite these battles, she never found herself angry with God. Knowing how easy it is to seclude oneself when facing these deep battles, she knew she had to fight that urge; stay in the Word, continue going to their Group, and to let her community lift her up when she needed it most.

“Ricciee always says this and I believe it to be true – that this battle was more for me than for her,” said Ray. “And I say that because between the two of us, she was the stronger one that knew how to handle it. For me, I was a wreck. I didn’t understand why God had put us through this when we’ve only been married for such a short time. We were not expecting this at all.” Despite Ricciee’s faith, Ray often found himself angry with and bitter at God. “I was extremely resentful seeing and hearing about people buying their dream homes and having babies as I felt that compared to us, it felt like a step back, because we had to deal with this issue. I even went through a bit of depression as I just stopped believing that our situation would get better.”

In January of 2016, Ricciee attended a women’s conference at Rock Church called, “Living Your Purpose”.  A woman approached her and said she had a word for her from God that He heals. In agreement, Ricciee nodded and this woman said, “No. God healed you. He wants you to know that He healed you.” Ricciee left the conference encouraged, but somewhat doubtful as she anticipated her 5th round of chemo in the following weeks. Could He have healed her already? Two weeks later, Ricciee went to her routine oncology appointment to check on how the chemotherapy was working before she did another round. To her doctor’s surprise, the results looked so good that he canceled her final two rounds of chemotherapy. “I just smiled and remembered the woman at the conference…’God healed you.’”

“We celebrated with what we know best…food,” Ray said. “We invited our Group out, had a big celebration at the buffet, and just graciously thanked everyone for the love and support they’ve given. Without this group, I don’t know how we would have survived going through Ricciee’s journey of breast cancer, with all of the daily prayers, the fund, the meal calendars, and everything in between that they provided.”

The couple is confident that this battle brought them closer together and also closer to the Lord. Speaking to them, you gain a sense of their certainty of knowing God always has a plan, even when it doesn’t make sense.  The journey taught them how to communicate and to not let the busy days get them distracted from being present with each other.  It also brought their community closer together. “As soon as our life group heard about our situation, they came together like clockwork and used their gifts and talents to the fullest immediately,” Ray remembers. The group came together to provide meals, finances, hair dos, and even a conference call line for people to pray for healing and guidance. The couple is endlessly grateful to God for bringing them through this and for bonding them closer together, but they are also even more passionate about the importance of community.

“If you like to eat, join a life group! All jokes aside, joining a life group is seriously the best thing that could have happened to our marriage,” Ray said. “Yes, there’s God and yes there’s church, but there’s something in between all of that – community. Community is the real, tangible, life-giving proof that God wants us all to have a relationship with each other and with Him.”

In agreement, Ricciee added, “It’s amazing to be surrounded by people who want to love and help you. Life isn’t always going to be good. Marriage isn’t always good. But to be around others who share the same beliefs, are honest with you, and just want to bring your closer to God… it is the best FAMILY that you could ever ask for.”

For more information about the Life Groups Ministry, click here »