July 24, 2009

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

How courage can win over fear no matter what the challenge

Debra Tomaselli“Bye, Mom. See you in a few.”

Sara hopped out of the car and slung her backpack across one shoulder.

“Remember not to feel bad if the kids don’t pay attention,” she added. “They’re kind of like that to everyone.”

She raced across the courtyard, disappearing into her seventh-grade classroom. Soon the door would re-open, and the teacher would signal for me to join them.

The knot in my stomach tightened as I wondered why I had agreed to address the class about my recent illness. Life would go on without my explanations, I reasoned. I wanted to bolt, but it was too late. I had already made the commitment.

My palms grew sweaty.

What if I embarrassed Sara? What if the kids ridiculed me? What if my message got distorted, focusing the attention on my situation instead of God?

Seeking peace, I flipped open my Bible.

“Be strong! Be courageous!” Moses exhorted Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:6-7. “For you shall lead these people into the land promised by the Lord to their ancestors; see to it that they conquer it.”

I wanted the kids to embrace their faith. As I prayed for guidance, I read verse 8: “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.

Although I remained healthy despite a lymphoma diagnosis, a recent illness had rendered me too weak to function. For months, I couldn’t drive my children to school, attend their sporting events or volunteer in the classroom.

“I believe this is the cancer,” my oncologist announced, scheduling a battery of tests.

The kids in Sara’s class prayed for me.

The night before learning the results, I randomly opened my Bible to Psalm 34:1: “I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace.”

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

Before I could even finish the thought, an unexpected inner strength arose in me accompanied by an unworldly peace. Undoubtedly, 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 said. “There is no doubt about that.”

The scans showed no progression in the cancer. The illness ran its course, and my good health returned.

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

“Keep the faith,” I emphasized. “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 smirked and nobody abandoned my daughter. Courage won over fear as I discovered a God who continues to lead me into deeper faith and trust in him, no matter what happens.

(Debra Tomaselli lives in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Her column appears in several diocesan newspapers. Her e-mail address is dtomaselli@cfl.rr.com.) †

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