There was a moment’s silence as Sally stopped speaking. Dean was astounded. Was that what he had taught? Why did she believe it had shaken her world?
Her eyes were sparkling as she continued.
“That night I went home and shut myself in my bedroom. But instead of experimenting with make-up and hairstyles as I usually did, sulking at the waste of time of it all, I kept opening and closing my hands, rotating my ankles, bending and stretching my legs, watching the muscles move. I took my clear nail varnish off so I could see the nails in a natural state. It all fascinated me. I spent a long time thinking about how my muscles and bones worked.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about the story. The wonder of creation. The marvel who was me. Not in a vain way but in a new way, a humble way. I was created by a Creator who loved me, in spite of everything I was and anything I was not.
“Day by day a dream began to take shape. I wanted to learn how to help people who had problems with their bones or muscles to restore their ability to use them. My grandmother suffered from arthritis. I knew how it stifled her ability to move. Would it be possible for me to help her and others regain their mobility?
“I realised I would need to work hard if I was going to study medicine. So I did. I remember my aunt, who was my godmother, phoning me one day and asking me if I had ever considered being confirmed. I told her it would be difficult, as I had little time with my school work, but by this time I wasn’t opposed to the idea. She said something to me that was the final step to the life-change that was about to happen for me.
“She said, ‘Sally if you give time to God, he will give that time back to you. Every moment you spend away from your studies to be with God and learn more about him will be a moment he will restore to you.’
“I thought about this for a whole weekend. I also thought about your story, Dean. Somehow the two ideas blended and began to make sense. If I was to succeed as a rheumatologist – someone who works with bones and muscles – what better way than to dedicate my work to the Creator himself – who knew every bone, every tendon, every cell that made up these bodies? That Sunday night, I went to the local church where my parents worshipped. There was an altar call and I was kneeling in the front of the church before I realised I had moved. I gave my life to Christ there and then.
“It was in that moment I realised God loved me.” She paused, her wonder evident on her face.
“Me,” she said, her voice low with emotion, even after all this time. She was quiet for a moment, and then she smiled.
“That insight turned my life around. I began to study and passed my exams with flying colours. I won a scholarship to study medicine. No one was more surprised than I was. My parents were thrilled when I graduated and continued my studies to specialise.
“It was a far cry from my original dream of being a model, but it is fulfilling work and I love it. I have been able to work at some of the most prestigious hospitals in the world. I have also had the privilege of working with my husband, Doug, in some of the most primitive bush hospitals, in remote areas, helping people who struggle with arthritis, easing their pain and changing their lives. They come to me, desperate for help. I do what I can. When I’m able to help them in any way, it’s just the best feeling in the world.
“I met Doug at university. He is now a paediatric oncologist. We were both too busy for a relationship then, so drifted apart, but we met up again ten years later, at a medical conference in Singapore. We have now been married for five years.”
Sally swallowed. Now why did she have to speak of Doug? The familiar emotion building up inside her, threatened to overflow into tears. The longing for a child of her own would not cease. It seemed to overwhelm her at the most awkward times.
Change the subject, change the subject.
‘Not here, Lord. Not now.’ Her silent prayer darted to heaven.
She took a deep breath and continued.
“Once I’d heard the story of Adam, it was as if God gave me an idea I couldn’t forget. He has guided me throughout my profession. I have seen many miracles which go far beyond the capability of medical science. I have seen God use me to rebuild people’s lives.
“Back in 1990, I thought I was being so clever by skipping sport and going to the Old Testament class. But now I know it was all part of God’s plan!”
God? Dean stared at Sally, startled to hear her speak so much about God. What did God have to do with it? He supposed it was a subject that dealt with God, but he had never really thought about it before. It had just been one of many subjects he had taught over the years.
Sally looked around the room and then smiled at him.
She stopped for a moment as if to consider what she had said.
“The first step I took was listening to your story, Dean. Thank you for telling it to us. It opened my eyes and set me on my life’s path.”
She sat down and blew her nose, her emotion once again evident. There was an awkward lull. Should they clap?
“Thank you, Sally.” Simon’s voice was gentle as he broke the silence. He turned to the others.
“Some of you may not know that Sally is not just a rheumatologist (what a great word!), but an authority of note. Her reputation is worldwide. When do you leave for Africa again, Sally?”
“Next weekend. Doug and I will spend three months with Médecins Sans Frontières at a remote hospital in Nigeria. It’s a part of the work I love, although it’s pretty tough going.”
Dean was impressed. This petite woman was prepared to spend time in the bush, helping others, because of a story he had told? It seemed bizarre. Yet here she was, receiving the respect of her peers. It was quite amazing.
Simon checked his watch.
“We have time for another story, I think.”
“Bekka, it’s your turn.”
Dean looked with interest at the woman who now stood up. She was dressed in khaki pants and a shirt to match. In sharp contrast, she also wore jangly bracelets and a pair of vibrant red earrings which swung around when she moved her head.
“Oh, thanks, Simon.
“Hi, everyone. I haven’t had a chance to greet everybody yet, but in case you don’t remember me, I’m Bekka. I tended to keep myself to myself when we first met each other. I guess you could say I’m a loner.”
She said the final word as if it was a badge of honour, but the way she looked down at her boots and leaned forward to remove a piece of grass stuck to one of them gave Dean the impression she was using the time to gather her thoughts.
“I come from a loving family, but I always felt I was the odd one out. I have younger twin sisters, Paula and Alice. They were a complete whole in themselves. My parents were absorbed with one another. They love us too but didn’t have a lot of time for us. So it always seemed to be the four of them in two pairs, and me.
“I turned to animals. I had a whole series of rescue pets during my teen years. They seemed to find their way into my care. I learned to nurse them back to health and then released as many back into the wild as I could. It broke my heart to let them go. I kept those who would not have survived. There was a shed at the bottom of our garden – almost a barn, really – so I looked after them there. As long as they were out of the way, Mom and Dad didn’t mind. I earned pocket money to help feed them so I didn’t interfere with my parents’ lives and they didn’t interfere with mine.
“My mother was a nurse and wanted all three of us girls to follow in her footsteps. She dreamt of us all having a career in medicine. The twins obliged, happy to follow her lead. But I loved my animals. I wanted to spend time with them. Their love was unconditional. Although I had only known love at home, the love and trust I received from my charges were what I lived for. I longed to find work with animals but knew I wasn’t clever enough to be a vet. I was also certain my parents couldn’t afford to send me to university or pay for any self-funded tertiary education. So even animal nursing was out of the question. I couldn’t see how I was ever going to fulfil my dream.
“The story Dean told on that day made me cry. Let me tell you about it and then I’ll show how it gave me direction and enabled me to fulfill my dream.”