When Angela Dittmar sang and shared her life story at an Aglow International women's meeting in Spring Hill in January, she was coming full circle.
It was at an Aglow meeting in New York in 1981 when Dittmar made a life-changing decision.
"I asked Jesus to be my personal Lord and Savior," Dittmar said. "This was after many years of many people talking to me, sowing seeds and praying for me. Even though I went to church as a child and as an adult, I never gave my life completely to Jesus and asked him into my heart."
At the time, Dittmar was working as a recreation therapist by day and singing in clubs and at weddings on nights and weekends. She sang professionally in bands all over New York, where she grew up.
"But it was not until I got saved that I started writing songs for the Lord," she said.
Dittmar, 58, of Spring Hill, has written almost 200 Christian songs, which she performs for free at area ministries, such as the Acts Community Resource Center in Hudson every second Saturday and at Aglow meetings and at local coffeehouses. Last month, she was the guest speaker/singer at a women's conference at House of Faith, a church in Hudson.
This month, she will perform at the Bridge Christian Life Center in Spring Hill and at New Life Ministries Church in Hudson, and at a community prayer meeting in April. She also will minister on behalf of Stonecroft Ministries in several states in New England this spring.
Robin Hodgeman of Spring Hill is a fan who has found inspiration from several of Dittmar's songs.
"The first time I heard Angela sing, it blew me away," Hodgeman said. "The song she sang, You Bothered With Me, is about how God puts his arms around us. It's become my theme song."
Hodgeman said she also found special comfort from Dittmar's music while undergoing an MRI last year.
Julie Kolb, who operates the Acts Community Resource Center with her husband, Dan, also finds Dittmar's music inspiring.
"We have an open market with people coming to get free clothes or eat a free lunch and yard sale-type items that people pick through, so it's a little gathering place," Kolb explained. "About a year and a half ago, Angela stopped in and asked if she could share her music and her testimony. We asked if she would come and start singing (at the market), and she was delighted to do that. She blesses many people. It touches many hearts as they sit and listen to her."
It wasn't always that way.
"When I was saved, the Lord started to give me songs for him and gently moved me out of the bar room, where I'd been prostituting myself by singing anything that anyone paid me to sing. I began to share my songs at church and at women's meetings, and in the early '80s I made a tape of my first 10 songs," Dittmar said.
But after recording the first 10 of the 31 songs she had written, Dittmar stopped composing for a number of years.
By then, Dittmar, who had married in 1976, was rearing two sons. Family duties, along with work as a therapist and later as an activity director for seniors, took up her time. Then, she went through a divorce that left her as a single parent. She remarried.
The years flew by.
In 2007, Dittmar was scheduled to have gall bladder surgery when other health issues caused the surgery to be postponed. During the time she was home, trying to gain strength for the surgery, she began going through papers in her basement. Her old songs, including the 21 she had never recorded, were in the pile.
"As I started to type up the words, the melodies began to come back to me, and I realized if I died during surgery I would have to answer for the fact that I had done nothing with the songs God gave me," Dittmar said. "The Lord called me back to ministry."
Her ministry took on her birth name: Angela Fiore in Italian, Angel Flower in English.
That year, Dittmar was asked to write a song for the residents of a facility in New York that was associated with the Elder Act Club, a part of Rotary Club. The song, Semper Fi, became part of the club's "Operation Santa" program for the troops and was recorded by Sony and sent overseas. The Elder Act Program was later presented to the United Nations, with the song a part of the project.
Last year, she was asked to write the campaign song for the Combined Federal Campaign for the United Way of Tampa Bay.
These days, Dittmar performs as a paid entertainer at several area retirement and assisted living facilities. While the songs she sings there are largely familiar, nostalgic songs written by composers from the '20s through the '50s, Dittmar ends her performance by asking residents if they would like to hear some of her songs.
"I tell the residents I am a songwriter and I write songs about the God I know is real and the God that I know really loves them," Dittmar said. "I ask if they would like to hear such a song, and they always say yes, and I sing."
The money Dittmar makes from her singing and her CDs all goes into her ministry, she said. She has released seven CDs. Singing Through the Sorrow, created for the bereaved, was completed in November, and Coming Home was released in January. Starting to Serve, the original 10 songs from 1982, will be available in April.
With 12 to 14 hours each day devoted to singing and song writing, Dittmar, who doesn't consider herself a musician, hasn't had the time to pursue having her work performed by other artists or even to arrange a full concert schedule. That, she feels, will come in time.
Her reward, she said, comes when she receives a letter online from someone who has looked at her website, from as far away as the Philippines, and let her know her work is being used in churches and ministries worldwide.
"I've found that if you make yourself available, God will use you and equip you," she said. "I'm just an ordinary person who is happy to share the songs he's given me and tell my story. It's a story of second chances, a story of forgiveness, a story of mercy. I just want to share that with others."