Patti Leudeman Chiappa couldn't read or write until she was 14.
An English teacher helped her overcome dyslexia and encouraged her to write something for the school newspaper.
"That fueled my passion for writing," said Chiappa, now 39. She recently published her first book, Sara's Journey, a Christian novel.
Chiappa has written 28 Christian novels, she said, but this is the first published. It is based on some elements of Chiappa's life, including turning to God for help during particularly trying periods. She has been promoting Sara's Journey at various local venues, sitting behind a table, signing books, meeting people and sharing her message.
"I just want to share that God is always there for them. For me I was put down because of my dyslexia," she said. "They can overcome anything; God will help them through it."
As a child in New York City, both of her parents lost their jobs. The family moved into low-income housing, where drugs, gangs and crime were rampant. She said she later learned the apartment previously had been used as a central location for drug dealers.
She and her younger brother were often beaten up by teens in the neighborhood, she said. One day they were jumped after her parents had called the police on people selling drugs in front of their apartment. She found herself asking why.
Soon after, a friend brought over a music CD by a Christian heavy metal band called Stryper. Sitting in the bedroom of her apartment, listening to the lyrics, life changed for Chiappa, who was 16 at the time.
"They had a message of redemption," Chiappa said. "I got saved through listening to Stryper. … It just hit me that no matter what we were going through at the time, God was there for us."
She started praying and reading the Bible.
She felt trapped in the bad neighborhood but suddenly had a release. "We had to turn to God to get through that.''
Eventually they were able to move to a better area. She met the choir director at a local church and started writing Christian song lyrics for the choir.
The family moved to Georgia and she continued writing and going to church, running the church nursery. She expanded her songs and began writing books. She met her husband, Anthony, on a blind date. They have been married for 10 years.
They moved to Pasco County earlier this year after Anthony was laid off from his job as a school custodian. He got a similar job earlier this year at Longleaf Elementary School. He plays the drums and is trying to start a Christian rock band.
Sally Ramsey of Melbourne has known the Chiappa family for nearly 30 years.
"It's a lot of her dreams and stories from the heart," she said of the book. "She's a Jesus-loving person. Without that faith that you have only from above you certainly can't go through life's problems, and we all have problems."
Chiappa attends Calvary Chapel, a large church on Trouble Creek Road in New Port Richey. She and a friend have formed a Bible study class — they usually head out to the beach in Hudson on Wednesday evenings, she said. So far it's just Chiappa, her mom and the friend. She hasn't been talking the book up at church. "I'm kind of shy, I blend in with the crowd," she said.
So she shares herself, and her message, through her books.
"Everything I write is dedicated to God. It's my love song to God."
"Faith in motion" is a regular feature about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Story ideas are welcomed, via e-mail. Send them to [email protected]