February 2, 2018

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

Speaker’s powerful experience helps students embrace message of faith

Debra Tomaselli“Bye, Mom, see you in a few.” Sara hopped out of my car, slinging her backpack over one shoulder. “Remember not to feel bad if the kids don’t pay attention,” she said. “They’re kind of like that to everyone.”

She raced across the courtyard, disappearing into her seventh-grade classroom at St. Mary Magdalen School. Soon the door would reopen, and the teacher would signal for me to join them.

Suddenly, fear arose. Why had I agreed to address the class about my recent illness? What if the kids ridiculed me … or, worse yet, what if they alienated Sara? What if my message got distorted, focusing attention on my situation instead of God? I wanted to bolt, but it was too late; the commitment was made. Nervously, I flipped open my Bible.

“Be strong! Be courageous!” Moses exhorted Joshua in the Book of Deuteronomy, “for you shall lead these people into the land promised by the Lord to their ancestors; see to it that they conquer it ” (Dt 31:7).

How perfect was that? I needed encouragement. And while I wasn’t leading people into the promised land, my goal was similar: I wanted the kids to embrace the gift of a Catholic education given by their parents.

I squared my shoulders and read on: “Don’t be afraid, for the Lord will go before you and will be with you; he will not fail nor forsake you” (Dt 31:8).

The teacher waved.

Strengthened, I entered the classroom, glanced at the crucifix, and began my story.

A mysterious illness had rendered me too weak to function. For months, I couldn’t drive my children to school, attend their sports events or volunteer in the classroom. Since, years earlier, I’d been diagnosed with a dormant cancer, my oncologist got involved.

“I believe this is the cancer,” he said.

Sara’s classmates prayed for me.

The night before learning the test results, I opened my Bible and read: “I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace” (Ps 34:1)

I cringed, knowing the next day I might begin battling the dreaded disease that claimed the lives of both my parents. Would I be able to praise God “no matter what”?

With that, an unexpected inner strength immediately arose, accompanied by an unworldly peace. Undoubtedly, I knew the power to give praise would persist.

Sara’s classmates listened, all eyes on me.

“We have a God we can trust in all circumstances, to the grave and beyond,” I advised. “There is no doubt about that.”

The illness, which wasn’t the cancer, ran its course, I explained. Good health returned.

Concluding, I urged the students to be thankful for the Catholic beliefs handed to them.

“Keep the faith,” I said. “You will find it is the most important facet of your life. Keep it, not because it will make you healthy or give you what you want all the time, but because it will give you great peace.”

It was an attentive audience. Nobody interrupted. Nobody smirked.

Instead, the kids sensed the power of my experience. They grasped the importance of faith.

(Debra Tomaselli writes from Altamonte Springs, Florida. She can be reached at dtomaselli@cfl.rr.com.)

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