The Jewelry of Heaven
Written by: Cynthia Butler
Julie picked up the cross that her grandfather had given her when she was a child. She reached around her neck fastening the chain, as she did every day. The golden pendant would glint in the light of the sun as she walked to work. She wore it prominently just above her heart. It was not a fashion statement. It was an act of faith.
The necklace might have been what caught the eye of the man who walked into the call booth that morning. She wore no head covering, no burka, no ring in her nose; instead a cross hung above the collar of her shalwar kameez. He recognized right away she was not a Muslim like most of the other Pakistani girls he knew.
“Are you a Christian?” he asked her pointedly.
“Yes, sir.” She answered.
“Are you a Christian?” he inquired again.
“Yes, sir.” She replied. When he questioned her a third time she exclaimed in frustration, “Didn’t I tell you so?” She began to feel the pressure rise; it was like the heat of her father’s scorn. “You’ll bring shame to the family,” he had predicted. She was the first born; a daughter, not a son as he had hoped. “You’re nothing,” he had insulted her repeatedly, but that just made her want to prove him wrong. She had hoped to go to school and become a doctor, but after her mother took ill and her father broke his back the financial burden of the household fell on her. She had to lay aside her dream and work long hours to provide for her family. At only 16 years old she already carried more stress than many, but living with an abusive father had not made her doubt herself, and living as a religious minority had not made her doubt her God.
“You know Christians are going to Hell, and you’re living your life in the gutter,” the man told her.
Julie looked at him directly. “I know where I’m going,” she assured him.
“If you change to Islam,” he continued, “your life will be better. You will live like a queen. You will have everything.”
“I have everything,” she countered. “God gave me two hands, two feet, a perfectly healthy body. I can work. I have everything.”
“You work for so little money. If you change to Islam everyone will support you,” he claimed. Julie had heard this promise given to others before her. Sometimes a desperate Christian would convert to Islam in order to earn financial security. At first their decision would pay off. But in a month or so the support would cease and they would be on their own again. Regardless, she didn’t plan to sell herself or her faith for money.
“I don’t need anybody’s support; I can support myself,” she declared.
Undeterred, he laid money on the table hoping to bribe her to convert. “I’m trying to save your soul,” he pressed. When she declined him again he warned her “I’m giving you one last chance. You know that you’re going to Hell.”
“I don’t need your chance,” she refused, “I know where I’m going.”
Seeing that she would not be convinced with money or words, he turned to force. The man grabbed her and tried to rape her, but she slapped him. Throwing his money in his face, she asserted, “I’m a girl, but I’m not weak. Get out of here.”
“I’m giving you one last chance,” he repeated laying even more money in front of her. “Take all this and change to Islam. I’m trying to save your soul. You’re living in the darkness.”
“I know I’m living in the light,” she defied him.
“So you think Islam is in the dark?” he challenged her.
“You said so,” she confirmed.
Julie’s heart was pounding as the man stormed out of the building. He was gone, but was he gone for good? She had slapped a man who towered over her. She had proclaimed her Christian faith and had refused to turn to Islam. She was bold, but she was scared. She sat alone in the call booth, trembling, waiting for her boss to return. 10 minutes. . . 20 minutes . . . 30 minutes; her employer was still gone. Finally, Julie heard the door open, but it wasn’t her boss. As she turned her head to look toward the door she saw the violent man coming for her again. This time he carried an open bottle of acid in his hand. He slung the liquid toward her. She raised her hand and turned her head, but it was too late. The liquid slapped against her face and her arm, burning as it dripped down. Just then, an accomplice rushed in and yanked her hair back.
“We’re going to destroy the mouth that said ‘no’ to Islam,” the first man growled, holding the bottle of acid only inches from her face. Julie thrashed her body, struggling to wrestle free of their grasp, but the two men restrained her. She felt the acid running down her throat like fire in her esophagus.
Her attackers fled the building, and she ran screaming into the street. A lady from one block away heard her cries and came to her aid. She threw her head covering over Julie and led her to her house. Julie’s clothes were melting. Her skin was still smoking. She was walking through a nightmare.
The men who had attacked Julie were soon caught. They told the police and the crowd that was gathered that Julie had insulted Islam. With this one statement they were released, and the crowd turned against Julie. She had been taken to a hospital for treatment, but the angry mob threatened to set the hospital on fire if she stayed there.
“We’re not going to treat her,” the doctor decided. “We’re not going to put other people’s lives at risk for her.” So Julie’s family moved her to a different hospital, but they also refused to treat her. When a third hospital gave the same answer Julie’s mother ardently reasoned with the doctor, “When you got your degree, you swore that you would help whoever needed help, not only people who are Muslim. And now, she’s a Christian and you’re not going to help her?”
“She’s going to die anyway, so what’s the point of it?” he questioned her.
“She’s going to die,” her mother conceded, “But still, she is breathing.”
It seemed futile to him. He knew it might even be dangerous, but he finally had mercy on Julie and agreed to treat her. For 20 days the nurses put IV fluid in her veins and honey on her wounds. For 20 days the doctor told Julie’s family, “She’s going to die today.” On the 21st day, he was right.
Julie lay helpless in her bed. She could not talk, see, or move, but she could hear. Of all the faculties she lacked, she might have wished that her hearing was one of them on that final day of her life. But she heard every word her father said to her mother, and she could give no reply. The people of the town had been calling Julie every bad name they could think of. Even her uncle had talked about her as if she were a slut. Her father was tired of hearing all the insults.
“The doctor said she’s going to die. And if she lives she wouldn’t be able to speak or see. I’m not going to feed her for the rest of my life. Let’s throw her out of the window,” he proposed. “Nobody will know who did it.” His words cut like a knife. All of the suffering that Julie had undergone up to that point did not compare to the sting of his hatred. At once her heart was inflamed with hopelessness. She could hear her mother franticly resisting his murderous plan, but the damage was already done. Everything that once was hers had been taken from her: her beauty, her independence, and now at last, her will to live. God was the only one who could hear her heart as it swelled with anger.
“Why did You do this to me?” she protested. “I stood up for You, and You made me go through so much. I don’t want to hear one more word. I don’t want to live this handicapped life. If You care about me a little bit, take me.”
That night Julie’s condition worsened until she couldn’t breathe. She was in such pain; she thought that God was punishing her for blaming Him.
“You are making it so difficult for me because I said bad things about You. Just think how I felt when people were saying bad things about me.” But God was not punishing her; He was answering her prayer. Her body quickly began to shut down, and finally her heart stopped beating. Her life ended. The doctor pronounced her dead.
Julie’s spirit passed into God’s presence, and she felt peace that she had never experienced. There in the stillness, she wished that she could take back the things she had said to God, but He did not speak to her judgmentally. He spoke with words of comfort. And while Julie’s family prepared to take her corpse for burial, God proceeded to enlighten her about all the things He still wanted her to accomplish on the earth. Then Julie’s spirit returned to her body, full of heavenly encouragement; ready to start a new life. Her mother was standing beside her weeping when, all of a sudden, she saw Julie’s toe twitch.
“She’s alive!” her mother exclaimed.
But the doctor dismissed it. “That’s not possible. I have 35 years experience. There is no way.”
“No, she’s alive!” her mother repeated.
“You just saw your daughter die; you got shocked,” he assumed. “You’re crazy.”
Undaunted, she persisted, “No, I’m not crazy; she’s alive!” Her mother begged the doctor over and over to give her oxygen; finally he agreed, just so that she would leave him alone. The nurse applied the mask, and Julie’s mother waited expectantly. She listened to the hiss of the oxygen and watched her daughter’s motionless chest. 15 minutes passed. Julie gasped! Her mother called the doctor over immediately. He saw her lungs expand with air. He heard the sound of her breath. His mouth dropped open. The devout Muslim was flabbergasted. “Whatever she believed is beyond my thought,” he confessed “I’ve never seen anything like that.” What a source of joy these words were to Julie when her mother recounted them to her later! All the pain seemed worth it. God had shown his power and vindicated her faith with a miracle that could not be explained.
But the angry mob still wanted her dead. They heard the news that she had passed away and come back to life. It would be an insult to Islam if she survived, they thought. So they came to the hospital armed with guns. The doctor informed Julie’s mom of the plot. “It’s not safe for her here. Take her somewhere else,” he advised.
They left in haste and found a hospital that was willing to admit her, but the doctor didn’t think she would survive, nor did he wish her to. Over and over again he would state matter-of-factly that she would never see again, never speak again, and never move her hand again. It was disheartening to hear his negative prognosis day after day for 3 months.
“There is no improvement. If she lives she will be handicapped,” he said.
Julie started crying and praying to God, “You gave me a reason to live. You want me to fulfill your purpose, but how? How am I going to do this? I can’t speak; I can’t move my finger; I can’t even see. Living a handicapped life- that’s how I’m going to fulfill your purpose?”
Julie began to feel a burning sensation. It was different than the burning of the acid. It was an urge to move. In her discouragement, she resented this new discomfort. Was God putting her through more suffering because she had complained to him about her limitations? She thought, if only the fan could be turned on then maybe the burning would subside. But she could not let anyone know her need. She had to try to accomplish it herself. Without even realizing what she was doing she began to move her arm. For 20 minutes she struggled to pick up her hand and each time she did, she promptly dropped it again. At last, Julie got hold of the side of her bed and pulled herself up. Her wounds were open and bleeding. But the burning she felt was more powerful than the pain from her injuries. She stiffly turned and rose out of bed groping the wall blindly for the string that controlled the fan. She managed to turn it on, but it didn’t make a difference. A patient’s family member saw her standing against the wall and exclaimed, “She’s going to fall!” Julie’s mother ran to support her, crying out in joy to the doctor, “See. You said she would never be able to move. Look she’s moving!” Julie was struck with humility and gratitude. “I’m sorry I doubted you,” she prayed. She could see that God was beginning to restore her.
But the doctor was still pessimistic: “So what. If she’s moving, that doesn’t mean that she can talk or see. That doesn’t mean anything.”
Julie listened to the doctor’s skeptical assertion even as she was still confessing her own lack of faith. She had been guilty of unbelief, too, but hearing the doctor’s denial made her mad. “I wish I could talk to this doctor right now, God,” she thought. “I would tell him, ‘you went to medical school for 5 or 10 years, but who gave you a brain? Who gave me eyes when I was in my mother’s womb? Who gave me a voice when I was in my mother’s womb? If He can do it then, He can do it now.’” Julie longed to say all this to the doctor. She moved her lips forming the imagined monologue. To her surprise, she heard with her ears the same words she had heard in her mind. It was her own voice speaking them. Julie was overwhelmed. She stopped talking and began crying. Her mother burst into tears and hugged her daughter. “She can talk!” she rejoiced.
The doctor still refused to be impressed. “So what,” he reiterated. “That doesn’t mean she can see.” As Julie sat there and wept, her eyes started to itch. She had been bleeding and hurting all over; those sensations had been overshadowed by the excitement of her healing. But when she noticed the itching she began to pull bandages away from her face. “I see the light,” she marveled.
“You don’t see the light. You feel the light,” the doctor suggested. She insisted, but he would not believe her. He took a pen out of his pocket and held it in front of her. “What am I holding?” he tested her. “You’re holding a pen,” she answered. Then he raised two fingers, still unwilling to accept the proof he already had. “How many fingers am I holding up?” he asked. “Two fingers,” she responded. Julie’s mother was standing nearby, and Julie saw that she was wearing the color orange. “How many times have I told you, I hate that color? Don’t wear that dress,” she told her mother. The doctor was so mad that he stormed off. Her faith flew in the face of his own beliefs and those of many of his countrymen, but he had nothing left to say against her. How could he argue with God himself and the miracles He was performing?
It would be a long road to full recovery. More persecution awaited her (even attempts on her life), surgeries, and exile. But what God had given to her, no one could take away. And where the golden cross had hung around her neck, there was a new and lasting display of faith. It was a scar- perhaps the jewelry of Heaven. Nail marks were imprinted in the hands of Jesus, even in his resurrected body. So, too, Julie wears a badge of honor on her skin, and it is beautiful in the eyes of God.