“No time for tangles,” Jack informed the other medics as he pulled his fingers from the two-year old girl’s matted hair and reached for the shears.
“Stop!” Nyla pleaded. “I’ll take care of her.”
“You?” Jack’s brows lifted. “You can’t even get close to her without gagging.”
Earlier, the stench of feces and urine on the toddler’s body had forced Nyla outside the missionary clinic and into the cool Appalachian air.
“I’ve adapted to the odor. Please let me help.”
“Oh, I see. You’re here to help,” Jack jeered before noticing that her eyes hadn’t left the child. “We’re calling her Ellie. She was apparently abandoned on a dirt road. Although we’ve found no infections or injuries, she is hungry and dehydrated. Bathing her may take a while, so feed her first.”
Jack placed the whimpering toddler in Nyla’s arms. Feeling her heart in her throat, Nyla reminded herself, You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
Minutes later, balancing Ellie in one arm and a basket of water bottles, food, and toiletries in the other, Nyla entered the communal bathroom. She set her loads on the floor and drew the curtain around the tub. Ellie howled for several minutes as Nyla prevented her dirty fingers from dipping into the bowl of oatmeal. Eventually, she accepted the steady pace of the spoon. With the last bite, Ellie’s eyes closed. Despite her eagerness to start the bath, Nyla allowed the baby to recline against her lap, satisfying the greater need for sleep.
Listening to Ellie breathe, Nyla stared at the green tiled walls and chided herself. As a novice in the nursing program, had it really been God’s will for her to offer her “candy striping” services to the interns on this mission trip or was she really just in the way? The night before their trip, they’d gathered at the church to pray and share their hearts. In an outpouring of love and gratitude for her Savior, Nyla shared her testimony as a new believer repenting from the destructive sins of her past. Surrounded by the safety and warmth of faith, her transparency seemed right, but now she felt foolish—exposed. Was Christ really sanctifying her, transforming her into a new creation? If so, why did she still feel dirty?
A few hours later, Ellie woke and Nyla filled the tub. But Ellie’s death grip on the tub’s ledge made it impossible for Nyla to lift her without bruising her skin.
Shedding everything but her underware, Nyla sat in the tub and wiggled her toes like puppets, furnishing each with a silly voice. The toes begged, “Ooh! Ooh! Clean me first, Nyla!” Ellie cackled, extending her arms to be lifted in. Losing herself in a warm tub of suds and laughter, Nyla gently scrubbed away the dirt that hid the child.
Even with extra applications of conditioner, it took three tearful, painstaking hours to detangle the baby’s finely webbed hair, which dried like soft, duckling down.
Nyla draped Ellie in one of her college tees and fed her water and banana slices. She laughed when Ellie sucked the mint toothpaste from her fingers as they polished her tiny teeth. But, it wasn’t until she patted Ellie to sleep in the nursery that she fully felt the burden of love for the radiant, discarded child. Please keep her safe, Lord. Provide her a home and fill her life with your perfect love. Let her come to know you as I do—as Savior and Father.
“You’ve worked wonders with her.”
Nyla spun around, finding Jack in the doorframe.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you. I just want to apologize for losing my patience and snapping at you earlier. Sometimes when I look into a waiting room filled with suffering people, I panic, forgetting that it’s God—not Jack—in control.”
“I’m sure my lack of experience doesn’t help matters. I’ve so much to learn about nursing and even about my own faith. Knowing the kind of life I’ve lived, you all must wonder about me, whether I’m sincere.”
“Hey, now. You should never feel that way, Nyla. We all have regrets. The thing to consider,” he said, clearing his throat and gesturing toward Ellie, “is this new life.How does it feel?”
Breathing in the scent of honeysuckle conditioner, Nyla stroked Ellie’s shiny hair. Then she studied her own puckered, purple fingers before smiling and admitting, “Clean. Very clean.”
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