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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