Archive for April, 2011

Emily’s Gift

The Mom lugged the overflowing basket of dirty clothes through the family room on her way to the washing machine, sidestepping through the obstacle course made up of toys.

Her bare foot found the Barbie shoe minefield left by her daughter. She yelped in pain, jumped forward, and stepped squarely on the Lego blocks left on the floor by her son. Frustrated and in pain, she dropped the laundry basket, pushed a bunch of toys off the couch and sat down, rubbing her feet.

She looked around the room and thought “This clutter is unbelievable! The kids don’t even play with half these toys anymore!” She yelled for the kids to come down from their rooms to the family room.

The tone of the Mom’s voice had the kids running. Nine year old Emily came in first, her younger brother right behind her. Both looked worried.

Spotting the kids, the Mom took a deep breath, and then said, “Look, kids. This room has gotten out of hand. We are overflowing with toys in here – and you don’t even play with half of them! We have another holiday coming up, and people will be bringing you even more toys! We don’t have any room for anymore!”

She reached for a bulletin received from the church on Sunday. Showing it to the kids, she continued. “There’s a Toy Collection at the Church. I want you kids to go through the toys in this room, and decide which toys you’d like to give to a child who doesn’t have any at all.”

“Okay, Mom” the kids sheepishly replied.

The Mom continued on her way to the washing machine in the laundry room. When she came back through the Family Room, the kids were going through the toys. The Mom told the kids, “I’ll be in the Kitchen, getting lunch ready. You can bring the toys in there to show me what you’d like to donate.”

A little while later, Emily came into the kitchen with an armful of toys. “These are the toys I’d like to give for the collection” she said. One of them took the Mom by complete surprise: Emily’s favorite doll. Flashes of Emily playing with the doll everyday, the tea parties and adventures in the backyard filled the Mom’s mind.

“Emily, that’s your favorite doll!” exclaimed Mom, “You don’t have to give that away!”

With wisdom beyond her years, Emily responded determinedly, “I loved her while she was mine, and I know another little girl will love her.”

Tears of pride in her eyes, the Mom hugged Emily.

Author’s Note: A special Thank You to Emily (and her Mom!) for allowing me to tell her story.

 © Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2011


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Bowl of Ice Cream Lesson

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid…BCP

I hung up the phone, letting my son, Mike, know that we wouldn’t be heading toward my parent’s with dinner as we had planned. We looked at all the food: there was a lot, and it was a meal we couldn’t freeze.

“Hey, let’s invite Bobby over to help us eat it!” Mike suggested, referring to his ever-hungry friend.

Bobby graciously accepted the impromptu invite, and joined Mike and I at the kitchen table for an informal supper. Conversation was light-hearted, the boys (excuse me, young men) retold school days and Boy Scout stories. They  even let slip in a story which I hadn’t heard before but they figured ten years out was safe enough to tell me now.

We finished the meal in good spirits. Noticing Bobby was still hungry, I started listing things he could have for dessert. When the list got down to the offer of ice cream, Bobby shared that ice cream was a treat he couldn’t resist, and cheerfully accepted the offer.

Mike stood up, and walked over to the refrigerator. I knew that there were at least three different containers in the freezer. Mike opened the freezer door, then started to call out the names of what was inside.

“There’s French Silk…”

“Oh, yeah! That’s what I want!” was Bobby’s quick reply.

“…sherbet, Strawberry”, Mike continued.

“No, I want the French Silk”, Bobby was firm on his choice.

It had all happened so fast. Mike had broken The Ice Cream Rule: French Silk was Mom’s Ice Cream. My kids knew this container was Off Limits, and Not to Touch the French Silk.  I felt a panic coming on – how to get out of the offer politely, with grace? Unfortunately, there was no reneging the deal, Bobby would have to get a bowl of the flavor he requested.  And I was having a problem with that.

Somewhat detached, I examined my reaction: possessive, even though it was a brand new container. Granted, the container advertised twelve servings, and even though I never seemed to get more than six out of the box, I would have had five left, but, hey, it was my ice cream!

Sometimes, I picture Christ’s face with bushy eyebrows, outlining his face so I could read his expression. At this particular moment, they were raised upright, one slightly higher than the other, the expression on His face saying, “You’re kidding me, right?”

He had used a simple bowl of ice cream for an object lesson. My selfishness took me a little by surprise: I thought of myself as a generous person. I gave money, food and clothes to charities, time to others. But, did I give with all my heart? No, to be honest, I didn’t. I still held back. Not only my worldly possessions, but with myself as well.

Oh no! If God wants me to share everything, does this include the “good” chocolate I have hidden in the top cabinet?

© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2011

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… And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20

It was predawn as I parked the car at the Captree State Park Boat Basin. A few of the charter boats were showing activity already: Captains and crews were quietly making their early morning preparations for the day’s fishing excursions. The rumble of a single boat engine broke the silence

I zipped my jacket up all the way against the chill of the air. The soft orange color of the dock lights lit my way as I walked out onto the fishing pier.

My morning adventure was actually an assignment: I was instructed to go watch a sunrise, to take no distractions with me so I could focus and experience all that happened as the sun rose.

I looked around at the predawn sky: the moon was still holding court, stars twinkling gently. Settling in at a spot halfway down the fishing pier, I turned so I was facing the Robert Moses Lighthouse. Predictably, the light flashed every seven seconds, keeping a rhythm to what I was about to see.

The color of the sky behind the lighthouse was slowly changing. Deep gray when I arrived, it slowly changed into an array of color: deep purple, then turned to purple, then deep pink. I saw clouds appear in the light; they seemed to be trying to pull the sun up from below the horizon like horses would pull a chariot. The color of the bay water went from a charcoal black color to gray, then to silver.

As it got lighter, the sea gulls woke up. Starting at the end of what I call  Gull Island, the end nearest to the emerging sun, a lone gull cry went out, as if sounding the morning alarm clock. The sleeping gulls near the crying gull woke up, and sounded their own cry. In turn, the wakeup calls continued down the island, until there was a loud chorus of sea gulls, squawking, calling out.

In wonder, I looked all around me. The bridge was now visible in the first light, and everything had a soft look to it. I listened to the early cries of the gulls, felt the cool of the early morning on my cheeks. I looked back to the sky behind the lighthouse. Deep pink turned to pink. The pastel colored clouds became more visible, and they stretched horizontally in both directions like loving arms, embracing all I saw.

The edge of the clouds became brighter, lit by the sun still not yet visible. The fiery edges of the clouds grew, and then the sun appeared on the horizon. It was a magnificent arrival of the day.

The sunrise was like a symphony, orchestrated by God; it was a powerful display of His glory and of His love for the world.

On days when I wonder where Christ is, I remember the sunrise, and am reassured that He’s with me. And always will be.

© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2011

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For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The strange sounds coming from the hospital room caught my attention. The rhythm of the noises sounded like talking, but not in a language I was familiar with.

It was my volunteer day, and I was on my way down the hall to see if patients needed anything.

When I walked into the room, I saw an elderly woman in the bed, a blanket pulled up partway over her thin nightgown. Her arms were flailing and she was “talking”. In chairs at the foot of the bed sat her equally elderly husband, and their thirty-something granddaughter. 

The granddaughter returned my smile and “Hello”.  The grandfather gave a quick “Hello”, and then returned his worried gaze back to his wife, his hands nervously clutching each other.  Love and concern for his wife showed in his eyes. I saw God in the grandfather as he looked at his wife. 

“Grandma has Alzheimer’s”, the granddaughter said with a gentle smile while looking at her grandmother. “She her own language. She knows what she’s saying but the rest of us haven’t figured it out yet!”

The grandmother let out a few more sentences, arms moving for emphasis. 

“Grandma was just brought here from the nursing home for treatment, and the move’s made her agitated.” The granddaughter looked at her grandfather. “And Grandpa’s very concerned. He lives at home with us.” 

We spoke for a little while, and the grandmother calmed down. Declining my offer to get fresh ice water for her grandmother, the granddaughter asked me if instead I’d sit with her grandmother while she took her frail grandfather to the Men’s room. I agreed. 

She stood up, then gently leaned over and helped her grandfather to stand. He continued to use her arm for support as they carefully made their way out the door together, then moved slowly down the hallway. The devotion of the granddaughter to her grandparents was wonderful – I saw God in her that day. 

The activity triggered more talking from the grandmother, this time without the arm movements. I pulled up one of the chairs closer to the grandmother’s bedside, where I could sit so I could hear her and she could see me. 

“It’s okay, they’ll be right back”, I tried to reassure her. She didn’t seem to understand. She said a few words, and then looked expectantly at me. Not understanding what she had just said, and noting the hour, I started talking about the dinner that was to be soon delivered, and babbled about what could be on the menu. The grandmother didn’t seem to understand me, either. 

“Here, let me pull these covers up,” I said, reaching for the blanket which had slipped even lower. The room was chilly, and I thought she might be, too. 

As I leaned over, my cross necklace worked its way free from the collar of my shirt, and the cross hung freely in front of the face of the grandmother. The movement was noticed immediately: she stopped talking, and her eyes opened very wide. 

“Oh my God!” said the grandmother, loud and clear. She then proceeded to speak in her language, yet by the rhythm of the words I understood her to be saying the Lord’s Prayer. Incredulous and caught off guard, I didn’t know what to do at first. I came to my senses to join her at the end with an “Amen.” 

She smiled. And that was when my eyes were opened and I saw Christ in her.

© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2011

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For an awesome way to start your day and get focused on Seeing God in the Ordinary,  take a picnic breakfast and watch the sunrise. This photo was taken on the Captree State Park fishing pier (The Fire Island Lighthouse is in the distance):

Sunrise Breakfast at Captree State Park

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It had been One of Those Days. The stress level at work had been exceptionally high, there was an unexpected expense at home, emails from both kids’ colleges announced a tuition hike, and I had cheated on my diet so much that the pants I thought I was going to wear to work wouldn’t zipper up all the way.

My mood after work as I traveled on the Parkway toward my evening class at the Mercer School of Theology could best be described as, well, grumpy. God was nowhere in my mind as I churned on the negative things of the day. “Stupid pants” I grumbled.

Surprisingly, the traffic was cooperative that late afternoon, and I pulled the car into the parking lot with a half hour to spare before needing to be inside. The sun was still up, and it wasn’t too chilly on this early Spring day. Needing a mental adjustment before class, I decided to use the free time to walk about the grounds of the Cathedral.

I headed across the lawn toward a bench in the distant meditation garden, and then sat down when I reached it.  The sun was warm on my face. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and then took another one, using a centering trick taught by a friend. The stress started to melt away.

I opened my eyes and was able to see more clearly around me. The bushes had hints of green showing, the trees had tiny buds. In the middle of the lawn, there was an area where crocuses had started to open, and the leaves of the daffodils had broken through the ground. I walked over, and squatted down to take a closer look at the blossoms – bright colors beamed up at me. One of the flowers had pushed through a small pile of leaves to reach the daylight. I admired the tenacity of the crocus – it didn’t give up, even under challenging growing conditions. A mockingbird sang its repertoire from a nearby tree branch, cheerful even at the end of the day. I remembered positive things from my day: the kindness of a co-worker, a smile from a stranger, the driver who let me cut ahead of him into the long line of traffic. I walked back across the lawn toward the school building.

I sat near the window in the classroom. From my seat, I could see the Cathedral. My eyes surveyed the architecture, and then were drawn to the cross at the top of the spire. Normally bright with the reflection of the sun during the day, the cross was now glowing with the angle of the setting sun. Glowing. It was somehow reassuring, and I knew things would be okay.

If I took the time to look around me, I’ll see God in the miracle of new growth, a smile, a kindness, the song of a bird, the setting of the sun. He’s always with me. Even on a stress filled day, when I push Him out, He shows himself; I only need to open my eyes. I can find Him in simple, ordinary things.

© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2011

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She’s known simply as “The Shopping Cart Lady”. A neighborhood eccentric, no one seems to know her name, where she lives, or where she goes to at night with her cart. Sightings of her walking along the main drag through town, or at the local shopping center, are casual conversation: ”Hey, I saw The Shopping Cart Lady today at _____.” 

The Shopping Cart Lady is a petite, rather frail looking elderly lady. Her frailty is deceiving; she quickly pushes a metal shopping cart, filled to overflowing with plastic bags, blankets, a pillow, and a dozen more bags tied around the outside, along the busy roadways around town. From my vantage point in the car, she always seems to wear a lot of clothes, no matter what the weather.

It happened that one day I saw her and her cart on the sidewalk parked two doors down from the donut shop I was going to for my coffee fix. She was standing in front of her cart, one hand holding on, facing the parking lot. I’d have to pass her and the cart to get to where I wanted to go.

This was the closest I’d ever been to The Shopping Cart Lady. I felt uncomfortable; it was easier to see her from my car window as I drove past rather than facing her oddity so near. Up close, she seemed even more eccentric than from a distance:  Her hair was unkempt, and she was wearing layers of clothing: a shirt, two unbuttoned sweaters and two unbuttoned coats, a couple of skirts of different lengths, mismatched socks, and well-worn shoes. As I self consciously nodded a “hello” to her, in her face I saw years of struggle. She continued to stare straight ahead.

“Why doesn’t someone do something about her?” I thought judgmentally as I entered the shop.

The donut place was busy, and I quickly forgot about her as I waited in line.

After getting my coffee order, I left the store.  Ahead of me on the sidewalk, I saw a teenage girl speaking to The Shopping Cart Lady.  The Shopping Cart Lady was looking suspiciously at the teenager.

The girl must have been in the donut place ahead of me, because next thing I saw was her smiling as she held out a bag with the shop logo on it, and a fresh cup of coffee.

The Shopping Cart Lady look startled at first, then gratefully reached for the offerings. She smiled back at the teenager, who waved as she continued on to her car, empty-handed, having given her breakfast to The Shopping Cart Lady.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Matthew 25:35

© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2011

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Be still, and know that I am God!  Psalm 46:10

We could hear the roar of the waterfalls before we saw them. Climbing over large rocks at Overlook 1, we reached the top, and then peered over the railing to the wonder before us. “Awesome” was a word which didn’t come close to describing the view of the Potomac River as it fell over a series of steep, jagged rocks, building up speed and force as it flowed through the narrow gorge.  The water level was low, so more rocks than usual were exposed, giving an impressive show for the viewer.

My sister Tricia and I were at Great Falls National Park in Virginia. We were joined at the Overlook by several families with children of all ages, small groups of college students, and couples our parents’ age. Excited voices commented on the size, speed and power of the falls.  The force of the water was shown by the debris it carried – a tree trunk and huge tree branches were caught up in the rocks, brought there by the powerful force of the water.

Looking for a quieter trail after leaving the Overlook, we followed a rocky path along the top of the cliff. We spotted a place which allowed us to hike down to the water through a steep, narrow gap. At the water’s edge, looking back toward the falls, the sight of the falls from the ground view was breathtaking.  As we climbed back up the gap to the trail, we noticed several trees which had been fallen by the fierce thunderstorm which had swept through the area the night before. Tall, mature trees had been toppled. A few were leaners, caught by the tree branches of a neighboring tree before they could hit the ground. Elsewhere we spotted tree limbs, twisted by the wind from their trunk, dangling dangerously overhead.

We continued our hike on the cliffs, along shade covered, twisting, turning paths, climbing over rocks when necessary. As we walked, we were amazed by the many trees which grew out of the rocks around us, some so large that the rocks were split open where the tree grew through them.

Taking a detour off the main trail, we decided to eat our picnic lunch in a bright spot about 75 feet above the water. We sat on a large rock warmed by the sun. We were downriver, below the falls where the river was calmer. It was quieter, off the beaten path, a gentle stillness in this space. We became quieter, too, and our eyes opened to more than we had realized was around us. As we ate, we noticed the smaller wonders around us: a tiny cedar tree was growing in the rich soil left in the crevice of a rock by receding flood waters; beautiful tiny yellow and purple flowers grew in the harsh environment. On the tree next to us, we watched industrious ants form a column going up and then down the trunk. We couldn’t figure out what they were doing for food. Tricia put a crumb from her sandwich into the bark; silently we watched to see what would happen. Within a few minutes, the crumb was covered with ants which may have thought they hit the jackpot.

Tricia quietly pointed to a bird on the Maryland side of the river. As she pointed, a dragonfly came near us. We stayed still, and watched as the dragonfly gently hovered, then landed on Tricia’s outstretched finger.  It stayed there for a magical minute, and then flew off.

It was at this point that I realized I had been focusing on the largeness around me – the waterfalls, the huge rocks, and towering trees. Yet, God was also in the small, quiet places. I had to take the time to sit quietly and be still, to see them.

© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2011

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What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? James 2:14

The memory of her huddling with her two young kids had haunted me for days. I kept putting the scene out of my head, but try as I might, it kept coming back. Finally catching on that I wasn’t in charge of this, I gave up, and let the memory play out:

The day had started out like a typical Sunday at our house.

“Do you think that maybe once this year we could get to church on time!?” I yelled up the stairs to my daughter, who was taking forever getting ready that morning.  “I can’t decide what to wear!” was the response. Turning, I tripped on the pile of shoes and socks left by my son in the living room. I swore they multiplied overnight.

“I’ll put them away!” he quickly responded to my glare, and gathered them up.

Remembering at the last minute we were supposed to bring donations for the food collection, I reached for something from the pantry cabinet.  The pile of cans on the upper shelf fell over and several rolled out, crashing noisily onto the kitchen floor. More grumbling as I packed some cans into a bag to take with us.

Finally, everyone was ready. Grabbing for my coat in the closet, I pulled out the one I was saving for when I lost weight. I put skinny coat back, next to the others that for some reason or other were stored in the closet, and finally found the one that fit.

After church, we went with the Youth Group on an Outreach trip to a local sandwich kitchen where we would help serve patrons sandwiches the had kids made earlier.

When the patrons standing on the line went down, I looked out over the room from behind the serving table. A woman caught my eye. She sat hunched at the end of a table, her two small children sitting close to her. Her eyes were what struck me most – haunted and hungry. Her coat was threadbare, worn over a couple of layers of clothes. The kids were dressed the same, and eagerly ate their ham sandwiches. The Mom slowly ate half of hers, then carefully wrapped the other half in a napkin and put it in her coat pocket. When the kids were done eating, she quietly took them by the hands and led them back up the stairs, her sock showing through the hole in her right shoe.

As the memory of the Mom and her two kids played out in my head, I recalled that the lunch sandwich kitchen was the only place open on a Sunday; the other local kitchens were closed.  What people ate at the sandwich kitchen was the only food some would have that day.

The Mom had saved the other half of her sandwich for the kids to eat for supper 

I was ashamed to realize what I had missed that day. I was blessed with such an abundance of food at home that it spilled out of the pantry. Food I donated was from that abundance, given as an afterthought. We had enough shoes to trip over, clothes to choose from and a closet full of coats for someday.

The poor woman, who didn’t have money for food or clothes, was sharing her sandwich.

I now saw God in the mom, and finally heard the message He had been trying to get into my stubborn brain.

© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2011

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But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16    

Crunch, crunch, crunch. My sneakers sounded a cheerful rhythm as I walked west along the water’s edge on the ocean beach in the early evening. During the day it had been cool and rainy; the sun had finally come out after suppertime. It was still cool, yet the welcomed sun warmed my face.

I was following Jesus’ example of going to a quiet place to pray. I needed to regroup, refocus after a rather hectic day.

Seeing God in the Ordinary was a theme that kept popping up in sermons I was hearing, devotions I was reading. Where would I see Him at the beach? As I walked, I emptied my mind. I let God fill it as He wished.

The steady roar of the ocean and the crashing of the waves on the sandy beach were a constant companion as I walked. My sneakers left their marks on the hard sand, just out of reach of the breaking waves. The tide was low and still going out.

The area ahead of me shared stories of the past few hours in the footprints left behind. I found myself praying for the anonymous people who had left the impressions in the sand.

A pair of large sneaker prints with tiny zigzagging dog prints next to them had me smiling as I visualized a hyper little dog being walked on a leash by its patient master.

A family had been by. The footprints left by the kids showed a game of tag had been played with the water. I fondly remembered the games my own children had played with the ocean when they were younger.

Seagulls and plovers had left their footprints, too, as they fed from the gifts of the sea. Ahead of me, I watched as four plovers created fresh prints as they chased the receding waves, their beaks drilling into the sand. When the next wave came upon the shore, the birds scurried up, turned, and chased the wave back out to the ocean, drilling again.

Further up the beach was evidence of a sand castle, the moat dug with a couple of large clam shells left next to it. I looked closer and saw from the footprints that it was adults who created the castle. I smiled at their youthful joy on the ocean front.

A pile of rocks had been tossed ashore by the pattern of the current. The stones, in a variety of colors, were smooth from being tossed in the surf for so many years. 

Clam, oyster, and scallop shells, all colors, shapes, sizes, decorated the beach. Evidence left behind showed that the occupant of a clamshell had been dinner for a hungry seagull.

The tide started to turn and I headed back, retracing my steps, walking higher up the beach as the waves crashed further up the shore with the incoming tide. In only minutes, the prints I had left when traveling the opposite direction were gone, erased by the tide.

I had gratefully become aware of the Lord’s presence in many unexpected places at the beach: the life-giving ocean, the power of the tide, the wildlife, the warmth of the sun. The footprints told many stories of His love and grace toward us. God is in the Ordinary at the beach.

© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2011

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