When some people smile they can give you the impression that they still are frowning; when others smile, it can seem like their whole face can’t contain the joy within themselves. And then there is Mary (pseudonym). When she smiles, her face refracts its smile into a thousand differerent smiles that spread across her mouth, eyes, cheeks and out into the room.
Mary’s face, however, didn’t always know how to smile like this. Mary was born in Iraq and moved to Jordan with her family after the first Gulf War. She was born with a crooked body that made it impossible for her to walk, bent hands that remind one more of birds’ feet than human fingers, and a broken face. She was born into a Christian family, but for as long as she could remember she wanted to have nothing to do with God. Even as a little girl she remembers feeling nothing but anger towards God and towards those who told her that God was love. How, if God was loving, could He possibly have allowed her to born so disfigured that she couldn’t walk, run, and play with the other children—so disfigured that she hardly could find a reason to laugh, sing, or smile?
Mary’s mother grieved to see her eldest daughter so angry and so closed to God, but urged her to pray and ask God to show his love for her by healing her; but from Mary’s perspective, God already had His chance while forming her in the womb: if He couldn’t give her a healthy body there, He wouldn’t give her one after she was born.
So Mary grew up to be bitter towards God and often lashed out in anger towards her friends. When they hurt her or picked on her, she would fight back and say and do things intended to cause them to feel the pain she was feeling. It wasn’t a happy childhood, but it was the only way she knew how to survive.
One day Mary’s mother came into her room with some exciting news. There was a doctor in town, a French doctor who specialized in rehabilitative surgeries, and he was willling to see what he could do for Mary. She flatly refused. She was sure that her dream of walking had died long ago, along with her childhood hopes of being like the other girls at school. But to her surprise, she found that her dream of walking hadn’t died but was only buried beneath layers of anger and hurt and frustration and humiliation. Once her mother planted the seed of possibility of healing, Mary began to wonder if perhaps she could walk after all.
Quietly, and late at night so nobody would hear, Mary began to pray. At first her prayers were slow and simple; the desperate longings of her heart could barely be communicated audibly to the God she had rejected so long ago. Still, she began to pray often that God would indeed heal her; that He would show Himself strong in love towards her and hear her prayers. The bitter shell wrapped around her heart was ever so slightly beginning to crack.
Finally Mary decided to talk to her mother about the surgery. Working up the nerve took some time, but Mary had decided to trust that God would heal her after all. When she told her mother that she had been praying and would see the doctor, her mother was elated. She had been praying dilligently for her daughter’s heart to change and was sure that God could heal her if only her daughter would act in faith towards him.
The day of the surgery finally arrived. Mary quietly allowed her family to wheel her into the doctor’s office, praying fervently under breath as she was moved from her chair to the gurney and into the operating room. She didn’t stop praying when the nurse came to her side to prepare her for the surgery. She didn’t stop praying when the applied the sedative and even when her body relaxed into unconsciousness, her soul remained alert and awake. She remembers seeing the doctor bending over her and begin the surgery, but to her surprise there was another person working alongside the doctor. He looked into her face and smiled, and in that smile she finally knew the love of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He bent over her and whispered to her that she need not be afraid. And then He began to work again alongside the doctor; His hands held the doctors as they skillfully moved to heal her legs.
When the casts were finally removed, Mary could hardly wait to stand up and walk. There was no doubt in her mind that she would be able to walk since Jesus had been her physician. Slowly she swung her legs over the side of the bed and pushed herself up onto her feet. The first step was slow, but one foot moved after the other as she moved across the room to the waiting arms of her family. “I’m walking,” she cried. “Look Papa, Mama, I’m actually walking. He really does love me.”
Now, when Mary talks, she can’t stop smiling and her broken face refracts and breaks that smile into a thousand more smiles that move from her to her friends in the same way that she first moved across that hospital room to the embrace of her family. The love of God has peeled back the bitter and angry layers that swathed her heart for so many years and shines forth in the smile, the same smile Christ gave her, that speaks the truth of God’s love in a thousand ways to all those who will stop and see.