January 29, 2016

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

In good times and bad, recognize God’s omnipresent image

Debra TomaselliI’ll never forget the moment.

I was a teenager, riding home from an outing to White Sands National Monument sponsored by our church’s youth group. Since my family had just moved to New Mexico, my parents, hoping I’d meet other kids, signed me up for the trip.

We met at the church, boarded a school bus, and chose seats. Being the new kid, I ended up alone, with an entire row to myself.

The bus chugged its way across the highway to our destination. When we arrived, I was amazed at the desolation of the desert and the towering sand dunes. At White Sands, the dunes are sparkling white, and they made a striking contrast against a stark blue sky.

The bus parked, and the leaders directed us, handed out kickballs and sleds, and set up food tables.

Some kids gathered and talked. Some played kickball. Others, like me, raced to the top of the dunes, hopped on the makeshift cardboard sleds and raced down.

I met Madelyn, a girl who was also going into seventh grade. Both of us had brothers, detested math, and liked sports.

I spoke with Danny, a talented athlete who made us laugh, and Mary, who was popular.

However, meeting the new kids heightened my loneliness.

Back then, there was no Facebook. No Internet. No texting. I missed my old friends.

I climbed a dune, and surveyed the barren desert. It stretched as far as the eye could see. There was no sign of life. No movement. No sound. It was silence like I’d never heard before.

There was desolate beauty in this place.

At dinnertime, the leaders placed me in Mary’s group.

When we boarded the bus for home, I returned to my solitary row.

Our leaders took roll call. They led us in prayer, thanking God for the beauty of nature and fellowship. They blessed us. We prayed the Our Father and three Hail Marys.

Then the engine rumbled to life, and the big yellow bus rambled onto the highway. A full moon lit the way home.

I cranked my window down, and cool air billowed through.

On the way, I pondered my circumstances, which felt as bleak as the desert we’d just visited. As I struggled with loneliness, something suddenly changed.

Abruptly, sitting there in that bus, none of that mattered.

Suddenly, I felt filled with the greatest love imaginable.

It wasn’t like parental love, nor was it like a crush for a cute boy.

It was greater than all of that.

I felt complete. I felt secure. I felt bubble-wrapped in love.

I felt happy, but I didn’t know why. It took nearly a lifetime to realize that on that day, in the midst of desolation … God showed up.

I believe that because everything did turn out all right. And throughout my life, time and again, in good times and difficulties, and even now, as I battle cancer, he’s revealed himself to me, filling me with courage, strength, love and unimaginable peace.

Oh, how he longs for us to recognize his omnipresent image.

Finally, I do.

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

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