(A devotional thought from the book One Smile, One Heart)
The words of a stranger poisoned my teenage heart.
I had finished my four-hour shift in the shoe department at Target. I was feeling good. It was payday and I had a date in a few hours. I decided to try on the pair of purple heels I had been eyeing all morning. They would stylishly match my purple skirt. I slipped on the right shoe and admired it in the floor mirror. As I bent down to put on the left shoe, I sensed someone moving into my personal space. I glanced up to see an older woman stop beside me. I stood and backed away a few steps.
“What happened to your arm?” she blurted.
I was used to that question so I smiled and said, “I was born with one arm.”
But the stranger didn’t return the smile. She just kept standing there, staring at me, staring at my prosthetic arm. I took another step back.
Finally she spoke. “Well, someone in your family must have done something really bad for you to have been born with an arm like that.” Then the woman turned and walked out of the shoe department.
I stood motionless in the purple heels, watching her walk away.
Perhaps the poisonous words had gurgled in the stranger’s heart for a long time, waiting for exactly the right recipient. When she spotted me, she lurched into action—because I was perfect—young, vulnerable, impressionable. She heaved and the burning words expelled from her heart and spewed all over me. Did the woman feel relief? Did she feel contentment? Did she feel regret? Did she feel anything?
The thought that my arm could be a punishment had never entered my mind. My parents always told me I was special, that God made me the way I was for a reason. I accepted that and never questioned it. But now I was standing in purple shoes, drenched in poisonous words. They didn’t drip off like water; they stuck on like acid. They ate through my skin and oozed into my heart.
I bought the purple heels. I went on my date. I continued going to school and to work and to church and to extra-curricular activities. Life as a teenager was a new adventure and I was happy. Until bedtime… when the room turned dark each night… and I grew still… and my world became quiet… and I felt the gurgling of the poisonous words in my heart.
From childhood I was drawn to the inspiring verses and stories within the Bible. Even at a young age I read it almost daily and set personal goals to memorize parts of it. I escaped often to the shore of my grandpa’s pond where I kept a small Bible in a plastic bag under an overturned canoe. It was there, soon after my encounter with the stranger, that I stumbled upon the words in John Chapter 9.
As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:1-3 NIV).
My mouth fell open. I read the story again. I couldn’t believe the clarity of the words on the page! They were a direct message of explanation from my Heavenly Father to me. My arm was not a punishment issued to my family for doing something horrible. My arm was part of a plan to bring glory to God! I had been chosen to display God’s work to the world. What an honor.
That night as I lay still in the darkness and quiet, I felt no gurgling in my heart. Only joy.
“Above all else, guard your HEART, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV).