August 30, 2019

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

You never know what God is going to do with your actions

Debra Tomaselli “Hey Deb,” Rick wrote. “I’d love to get your book, but what’s the best way for you to sign it for me? It would make it more special.”

Rick discovered my book through mutual friends, Facebook and Amazon. I felt honored that he wanted a copy—a copy signed by me.

Long ago, Rick and I were co-workers. At the insurance company we worked at, Rick was the go-to guy to say grace or offer inspiration. At one particular Christmas luncheon, Rick announced he’d received a Christmas letter from a friend, and he wanted to read it to us.

Everyone gathered around. Some sat on nearby desks. Others leaned against the grey cubicles. When Rick started reading, everyone fell silent.

The year was 1995, and the terrorist bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City had taken place that spring. The explosion killed 168 people, including 19 children, injuring hundreds more and destroying one-third of the building.

The letter writer, an Oklahoman, referred to that tragic event. He said specially trained dogs were brought in to search for survivors. He said one of the lessons learned was that the dogs, while searching for living people, became despondent when they found only dead bodies. The canines became discouraged. They couldn’t go on.

So firefighters and handlers hid in the rubble to give the dogs a living person to find. They discovered this helped, making the dogs feel confident, refreshed and hopeful. The canines were able to continue their work.

I was captivated.

The letter writer then turned our focus to Christmas. He related our lives to that of the dogs searching the rubble. He claimed we, too, need encouragement to handle life’s challenges. He said that’s what Christmas does for us. Collectively, at Christmas, he said, we pause. Christmas provides hope. It provides encouragement. It gives us a reason to keep going.

As I listened, a deep, inner conviction arose.

“I can do that,” I thought. “I can write a letter that inspires people. I can do that.”

And I did.

I went home and penned a letter about how I’d been diagnosed with cancer earlier that year. I wrote about how, standing outside that oncologist’s office in a downtown parking lot amid swirling traffic, honking horns and harried pedestrians, my husband and I held hands and prayed. And that somehow, amid the commotion, peace settled over us. I knew God heard us.

Looking back, I realize that letter was the seed of my “Emmaus Walk” column, publishing now since 2003. Last year, a collection of those works, My Emmaus Walk: True Stories of Faith, Hope and Inspiration, published.

Back then, who would have thought?

Probably not the letter writer. He didn’t know who’d read his words. Probably not Rick. He just shared the letter with us. And certainly not me. I wasn’t even a writer back then.

In fact, I would have forgotten the incident had Rick not asked me to sign his book. As I pondered what to write, the memory of that letter came flooding back.

Amazing, isn’t it?

We never know what God is going to do with our little actions.

(Debra Tomaselli writes from Altamonte Springs, Fla. She can be reached at

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