by Toni Austin.
Toni has been working in the gift shop for eighteen years, and she has lots of stories. Here are just a few of them.
One day a big, burly man entered the shop. His shirt was open, and he was sporting several earrings and some large tattoos. When he walked towards the jewelry counter where I was standing, I didn’t know what to expect.
He leaned over the counter and pulled out a St. Christopher medal he was wearing around his neck.
"See this medal?" he said. "I have been wearing it for twenty years. I bought it here. And I never take it off, not even to shower."
Then, having said this, he proudly walked off.
On another busy summer day another man walked in. He was browsing in the religious articles section when suddenly he saw the lazy Susan we use to display our religious medals.
He became excited and asked, "Where can I get one of those? That is the very same thing we had back home in Russia, and we used it all the time. I have been looking for one like it ever since."
We checked our stock and fortunately we had a similar lazy Susan we could sell him.
He walked out delighted, his heart at rest.
In her shop, which we see as Our Lady’s shop, the Mother of God had used a condiment tray to comfort a stranger from a strange land.
The gift shop is not unaffected by the culture war.
On July 8, 2008, Madonna House made a public stand against abortion.*
The day after that, a well-dressed woman of about forty came up to the jewelry counter and asked to see a particularly beautiful necklace. I took it out of the display case and handed it to her.
We exchanged a few words as she examined it, and it was obvious that she loved it.
Suddenly she changed the subject; she started verbally attacking me about our pro-life action. She got more and more angry, so much so that she practically choked on her words. Then suddenly she stopped and became sad. She put down the necklace and walked away.
A little while later, a man dressed in good country casuals came to me and quietly said:
"I personally admire the courage and the integrity of your community in standing up for the truth. I am an obstetrician-gynecologist and have been for many years. I am head of this department in our hospital.
"From my experience, I know for certain that life in the womb begins very, very early, though I am not able to pin point the moment exactly. The woman you were talking to is my wife."
Then he bought the necklace.
This last story is one that the people working in the shop tell over and over, especially to engaged couples. They call it, "The Circle of Love."
Some years ago, a couple celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. The husband’s aunt gave the couple a beautiful blue sapphire and diamond ring.
They received it with joy and were talking about it. "God has been so very good to us," they said. "We love one another; "We are good friends. The children are healthy and are being educated well. We don’t have a lot, but we are doing well."
They decided to give the ring to God and brought it to the gift shop. As we do with all our valuable jewelry, we sent it to an appraiser in Toronto, and when it was returned, we put it out in our display case.
Some time later, a young couple was looking at rings. Pointing to one of them, the girl said, "If we get married, that is the ring I would like to have."
He went home, gathered together what money he had, borrowed some from his dad, and bought the ring.
When he proposed to her, she accepted. They went to his folks to get their blessing, and showed them the ring.
Looking down at it, they were astounded. "Where did you get that ring?" they asked.
"At the Madonna House Gift Shop," they said.
It was the very ring that they had given away!
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