I was born with a birthmark on my right hand and arm-—a bright red “port wine stain” which turns purple when I get cold. It made me different as a child; of course it would-—children don’t let something so unusual go by without remarking on it.
However, a memory from early childhood still haunts me. I was probably five years old, standing next to my mother who was chatting with a friend. My little ears pricked up when I realized I was the subject of conversation, and the comment I remember wasn’t meant to hurt, but it did: “Lela,” said my mother’s friend, “you really should consider getting that removed. It can make some people sick when they look at it, you know.”
I don’t remember my mother’s response, which is a shame, because of all the grown-ups I knew, she was the most gracious, Christ-like woman of them all.
I remember wondering, however, at that young, innocent age, why I had been “chosen” to be so different as to cause some people to become ill. It became another pebble in the bag of worry stones I would carry around for much of my life.
At the age of seven, I caught Polio. I didn’t know at the time that I had nearly died. Much of that period of time didn’t register in my consciousness.
Certain episodes stand out: the time I thought I had outsmarted the nurses who were coming to put scalding hot blankets on my poor little body. I claimed to need the bedpan-—and “needed” that bedpan for so long, I figured they’d forget me. I was wrong.
The time my precious little doll fell on the floor, and the nurse refused to give it back to me because once it had fallen on the floor “in the polio ward” it was no longer usable. Up until that moment I had not known what disease had put me in such isolation.
And “isolation” it certainly was. For weeks, I was allowed to see my parents only from a distance; then it progressed to personal visits only if they were swathed head to toe in sterile gowns, and not allowed to touch me. To this day, I experience a kind of “separation anxiety” causing painful feelings of abandonment whenever someone I trust chooses to be away from me simply for purposes of normal, everyday living. It takes all the emotional strength I can muster to convince myself that I am not-—yet again-—being abandoned. I’m getting better about that; but it has been a life-long battle.
Such things formed the adult I grew to be. They shaped me, made me who I am. My Christian parents dedicated me to God as an infant; so I don’t doubt that circumstances in my life were allowed by God. (And arguments could begin at this point, whether God allows or ordains, and how much of life He permits and how much He causes. That’s for another time.)
As I became independent, I began having interesting encounters with people I became acquainted with through work or other activities. Once I worked with a loud, foul-mouthed man whom I treated in my usual friendly manner. He stopped me as I passed his desk one day and said, “What is it with you? You work day in and day out with some pretty nasty people, me included, and listen to all this foul talk-—but still you seem to remain innocent and sweet. It’s almost like you have an invisible shield around you.” It was a joy to explain my faith to him.
Some time after I married and moved away, I received a note from a young man whom I worked with for only a few months. The note was from a foreign country where he was stationed in the Army. He explained that he had watched my life while we worked together, and it had caused him to seek out a church. He had become a Christian and married, and had dedicated his life to God. I simply don’t remember sharing Christ with him. But something (Someone?) reached him through me.
Those things that shaped me: the dedication of my life as an infant, a life of physical “marks” and disabilities, a broken marriage-—these made me the person God used for His Kingdom.
When I see Him face to face, I’ll not need to ask “Why?” I believe, at that moment, my only observation will be: “Ohhh….”
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