DaRT: Statues and Smiles

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Contributed by Julie Atwood

“Did you notice Jacob’s eyes? How dead they looked?”

As we scurry along the blackened Dallas street, its night sky lit up by only stars and neon signs, I ponder Brandy’s question.

Jacob. The first person my companions felt led this evening to envelop in prayer and in God’s love. Twentyish, fair-skinned, with a neatly-trimmed dark beard. Assuring us in pleasant tones that, “Things in my life are going fine.”

As always, I listened as my prayer partners—tonight Brandy and Natalie—drew young Jacob out with easy chat and concerned questions. “Where do you live?” I remember Natalie asking him.

“Over in Rowlett, near by that hospital.”

Only then I blurted, “Do you mean Lakepointe Hospital?” A quiver of excitement rippled though me, for I’d once dropped by that hospital to visit a dear friend who’d died two years before.

As we all gathered round to lay hands on him and pray, I felt nothing. Only blankness. An inner deadness . . . rather like Brandy’s description of his eyes.

“No, I noticed nothing,” I now admit aloud. He seemed normal enough to me. Not pacing, chanting, or flicking his fingers . . . not the way Robert used to do.

“Well, after awhile you’ll come to recognize the signs,” Brandy explains. “That blank and glassy stare he had indicates a person on drugs.”

Aloud I confess, “I guess I don’t know much about people on drugs.”

As we head off to scope out folks in the bus terminal, my own eyes once again brim with tears of self-pity. Along with the old question, What am I doing here?

On the bench across from me perches Natalie, chatting to a plump middle-aged lady with caramel skin and weary eyes. She’s conversing with the lady in her easy, cheery way, drawing from her smiles and a renewed brightness in her gaze. And across the room Brandy engages three young ragged-looking guys with her gift for asking just the right questions . . . questions designed to free the most shy or sullen to open up and share with her their life stories.

While I slump on my bench alone and silent as a statue.

No, Julie. Don’t go there. Tonight is not about you. Let Brandy and Natalie use their gifts of love and encouragement for others. The ones we’ve come here to reach.

Relief. Tonight God’s grace pours into me, allowing me to blink back my tears and swallow the lump rising in my throat. And only moments later, I find myself bursting into laughter.

We’re heading for an open square, packed with milling people of all sizes and colors. One woman rests alone on a park bench, a black silhouette against the glow of lamplight.

Brandy points to her, a stick-thin elderly lady whose gnarled fingers cup a thriving potted plant. “She looks like a possibility.”

As we draw closer, the old lady’s eyes seem to twinkle behind her owlish glasses. The lines seaming her face are curved up into a million smiles, and beneath them her full lips part into her broadest smile . . . as though at any moment she’ll offer us a cheery greeting.

But she remains silent as a statue.

Because she is one.

Sculpted from black iron.

The only life in her resides within her plant pot.

“Well, I guess she’s not going to speak to us,” Brandy observes with wry amusement.

Natalie grins. “Wouldn’t it draw a crowd, though, if she did?”

We all agree, exploding into giggles. For the moment, our waves of mirth puncture my last scrap of self-pity.

And as we scan the square for a live person to pray for—Brandy hurries over to a knot of young guys, while I remain with Natalie still checking the walkways—I see her.

Another elderly lady, her wrinkles also curved up into many merry smiles. And this one is definitely alive, for she’s clipping across our path with the brisk pace of a woman half her age. Like a queen adorned by a crystal crown—her snowy braid coiled atop her head—she lowers herself to another bench with graceful dignity.

“What about her?” I ask. While thinking, No doubt she stands out to me only because she reminds me of my nursing-home friends.

Natalie agrees. She also agrees, as always, to do the talking.

Greenleaf Marie—for this is her unusual name, a family name—turns out a joy amd a great servant of God. A teacher of nursing at El Centro Community College, her deep compassion for her low-income students radiates from her face and gentle voice. After she recounts their stories of rough lives riddled with poverty and drugs, we end up joining her in prayer for her students. Then bless her for her dedication to changing lives and her own daily prayers for these young people.

We move on. Pause to engage a uniformed employee who speaks only Spanish. Again I remain silent while my companions rattle on to him in flawless fluency. Catching only the word sonrisa, I guess they’re commenting upon his sweet and light-filled smile. Afterwards I learn that both Natalie and Brandy are native speakers, with Spanish as the first language they ever spoke.

I feel my own lips spread in a sonrisa. In this case it made perfect sense they did all the talking.

Now all shivering from the cold, we slip into a 7-Eleven Store for hot chocolate. Natalie offers to treat Brandy and me. Of course I say yes.

As we’re heading out the store, me glugging with pleasure my free cup of steaming creamy sweetness, Natalie asks, “Do we have time to go check on Robert before our train comes?”

“We do if we hurry.” Brandy quickens her step. “Did you remember to bring him a care package this time?”

“No, I forgot.”

I waggle my half-empty cup. “If only I knew you guys were planning to see Robert, I could’ve saved this for him.”

“Hey, that’s a great idea,” Natalie exclaims. “We can get him something from McDonald’s.”

In the restaurant, Brandy orders a hamburger and coffee. She gets the coffee right away, then waits for the burger. And waits. And waits.

Finally she thrusts the coffee cup at Natalie. “Here. This is taking too long, so you and Julie just take him this for now. I’ll catch up with you guys later.”

Natalie grabs the cup. Barrels out the door into the blackened street with me pounding at her heels.

Gasping for breath, we sprint up to his shadow against Robert’s parking-lot home. Natalie delivers the coffee into his outstretched hand. “We can’t stay this time,” she tells him between wheezes. But Robert doesn’t mind. He graces us both with his most radiant smile.

The joy-light flowing from his face burns into my memory. Warms me inside even more than my hot chocolate . . . or from my exertion as we race to catch our train.

As we meet up at the train stop with the trio who minister at the pizza shop—Henry, Cheryl, and Abby—Brandy also shows up . . . with glassy-eyed, possibly drug-addicted Jacob again in tow. She’s received her burger just in time to offer it to him, along with more words that communicate God’s love.

On the train ride back to Garland, I can’t help asking Abby, “How did things go tonight at the pizza shop?”

“Oh, man, it was so cool!” Her eyes dance with excitement. “You know that dude Lan, the one who’s studying to be a Buddhist? Well, tonight when we were talking about his healed leg, he asked, ‘How can I do that? How can I pray for other people to be healed?’

“ ‘You have to ask Jesus into your life,’ I told him.

“He wrinkled his nose and asked, ‘You mean I have to become a Christian?’

“ ‘I don’t think you know what being a Christian means,’ I said. ‘It’s not about being all preachy and judgmental. It’s all about loving folks, man.’

“Well, we got into a discussion about Buddhism, and I asked, ‘That’s all about striving to reach perfection, right?’ When he told me yeah, I said, ‘Well, Jesus is Perfection for us. He doesn’t ask us to do a thing but receive His Perfection.’

“Wow, was Lan excited,” Abby continues with a grin. “We offered to pray for him, and he said he’d really think about it.”

“Henry’s planning to take him out for tea,” Cheryl adds with enthusiasm, “so they can talk more about Buddhism and Christianity.”

From the seat in front of them, Henry nods in stoic assent.

I’m thrilled by their story . . . yet warring with my thrill another streak of shame and self-pity slithers in. All night I’ve been surrounded by evangelists, prophets . . . by even gifted teachers like Greenleaf Marie, who make a real difference in the lives of so many. And there I was with no words in my mouth. No pictures in my mind. No money in my pocket. Not even the ability to recognize symptoms of drug addiction.

For all the lives I impact, I might as well be that iron statue on the park bench.

“You did great tonight.” Brandy’s cheery voice slices into my gloomy thought as she plops down on the seat in front of me and warms me with her smile. “I’m seeing tremendous progress in you, Julie. You actually talked to Jacob.”

“Not to say anything prophetic. I only asked him the name of a hospital.”

“The point is that you talked,” Brandy assures me. “A time or two back you wouldn’t have done that.”

“You pointed out Greenleaf Marie to me,” Natalie adds from across the aisle. “You listened when God showed her to you.”

“I really heard from God about her? You don’t think I just picked her because I’m used to spending time with old people?”

They shake their heads smiling and continue. “When you offered your hot chocolate for Robert, God used you to inspire us. . . .”

Only my guilt was talking there, I can’t help thinking. If you’d mentioned visiting Robert when my cup was still full, before I took that first luscious sip, I most likely would have never spoken up. But I still soak in my friends’ affirming words, trusting them to be God’s words for me.

Then other pictures drift into my mind.

That lovely iron statue on the park bench. God used her state of “statue-ness” to throw me from self-pity into gleeful giggling with my friends. And He touched me through the beauty of her twinkling eyes and merry smile . . . a smile so perfectly captured by the sculptor that were it to come alive, it would radiate God’s light.

As did Robert’s smile when he received his cup of coffee. No time tonight for words to be exchanged between him and Natalie. But God did not need words to warm me with that smile’s glow.

He’s the One who can raise the dead to life. Who can speak new life into the dead eyes of an addict. Who can be Perfection for all of us who can’t achieve that on our own. And He’s also the One who can call forth joy and laughter from an iron statue . . . or from a homeless man’s bright smile.

Lord, I can trust You to love through me as well when I choose to follow You . . . the Sculptor of all statues and all smiles.


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