Ellen Cooper noticed the scars on the young woman’s hands--She couldn’t help it. The girl was a nail technician, after all. While most carry their scars under the surface, this woman’s were on display for all to see. Ellen wanted to ask about them, but didn’t want to be intrusive. She made sure she gave her a nice tip and, as was her customary practice, left a tract. This time it was one dealing with the message of the cross.
The next time Ellen came into the salon she requested the same technician.
“I wanted to ask you about what you left with me last time,” the girl said tentatively as she soaked Ellen‘s nails.
“It’s called a tract. And what would you like to know?” Ellen offered.
As she worked on Ellen’s nails, the young woman matter-of-factly related her life story. “My name is Natalie Mason, but that’s not my real name. I don’t remember what my name was because it changed so many times when I was growing up. It was Tammy a few times, Rachel, Wendy and Ruth. When I went into foster care they had no records I was ever born and let me petition the court for whatever name I wanted. I love old movies so I chose Natalie for Natalie Wood and Mason for James Mason.”
“I loved James Mason in ‘A Star is Born,’” Ellen said. “So sad, though.”
“I know you noticed my scars. Everybody does. I saw you doing the ‘looking-but-no-looking’ gaze. I’ve found I get two kinds of clients--those who ask me on the second or third visit about them and those that just never come back.”
Natalie reached into a drawer and unfolded an old newspaper clipping. It was from a tabloid with a headline blaring “Stigmata Baby.” She showed it to Ellen.
“That was me. This is what I have instead of baby pictures,“ she laughed in a resigned manner. “My father, who was known as Stan, Sam, Stu or Eddie, would astound a congregation with tales of the baby who had the markings of Christ. He told a good tale and he would wheel out a big cradle and hold up my hands for all to see the blood pouring down. What they didn’t know is that just before going on, he would make cuts into my hands. We went all around the country, just me and him. I never knew my mother. I thought it was normal like playing a game.”
“That’s a horrible way to grow up,” Ellen said with compassion.
“As I got older, I realized it was wrong and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I remember listening to an Easter message at one church and I felt so ashamed. I just kept looking at the cross.”
“What did your father do?”
“By that time, I was getting older and not as cute. He just took off one day and didn’t come back. It was actually the best thing that ever happened to me. I started going to school and slept in the same bed night after night. I saw so many kids who took those things for granted. Eventually, I learned how to do nails and came here because I always wanted to go to California. ”
“It is nice out here,” Ellen said.
“I read your tract over and over. I just can’t see how Jesus could accept me after all I’ve done.”
“You were a child. It wasn’t your fault and when you realized it was wrong, you stopped. Jesus will accept all those who ask him to come into their lives.”
“Even me? I remember offering my hand to my father before we went on.”
“We’re all sinners.”
“You don’t look like a sinner.”
“We’re all sinners,” Ellen repeated. “Give me your hands.” Ellen turned Natalie’s hands over to see the two cross-like scar on her palms. “When I see these, I see the cross. I see what Jesus did for us, for me.”
“Yes. And I can help you learn about him, if you want to.”
Natalie finished Ellen’s nails and they made plans to go to Ellen’s church on Sunday. When it came time to pay, Natalie refused a tip.
“You’ve already given me the biggest tip I’ll ever get. That’s more than enough,” Natalie smiled.
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