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I started each day anticipating her smile. I remember well the first time I saw her. She seemed to be staring off into space. But as I walked closer, I saw that she was looking at me with focused eyes. I held her hand in mine and whispered her name into her ear. With much effort she uttered "hello." It was obvious that she had long lost her ability to speak clearly. Multiple sclerosis had taken over her body, and she was practically unable to do anything for herself. She was 80 years old, and yet in her smile I saw a little girl deep within her feeble body.


Ever since I first saw her smile, I haven't been able to start my rounds in the nursing home without first stopping by her room to hold her hand and just say "hello." I wonder if she will ever know the boost that her smile gives me. In her smile I am reminded that it is the simple things in life that matter. For just a moment, my harried existence is slowed enough to recognize that the human spirit is much stronger than the body.


How many times has her smile defied the feeble condition of her body? Her smile gives her a momentary escape from her body. She reminds those around her that there is much more to human existence than the outer shell of our body. Her smile helps me believe I can conquer any challenge that may come my way.


Caring for people whose bodies are failing, I am mindful of the privilege of witnessing the strength of the human spirit. I am reminded that life is much greater than the circumstances surrounding us. The human spirit can be invincible in the face of suffering, and its light shines most clearly when things appear helpless. Joseph, the young man sold into slavery by his brothers, is a shining example of maintaining faith despite horrific circumstances. As a result, however, Joseph became second in command to the Pharaoh of Egypt, and God used him to save the future nation of Israel through whom the Messiah would come (Genesis 37-45).


Satan afflicted Job with the worst of suffering, trying to get Job to give up on life and curse God. But, even after losing his children, Job said, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken way; may the name of the Lord be praised," (Job 1:21). In the end, God restored Job's health and family.


In John 4:23, believers are beckoned to worship Jesus in spirit and in truth. Our spirits can be worshipping God despite the painful circumstances of our bodies.


As I walk away from her room, I think of the attitude that compels a person to smile, the positive attitude that does not allow defeat. I heard it said that the last of human freedoms is the freedom to choose one's attitude, and I see this truth displayed daily in the lives of my patients. Truly, none of us are defined by our environment or the helpless state of our body. The ability to press on in life is granted to us by the Holy Spirit as we call upon his name.


The prophet Isaiah tells us, "But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired," (Isaiah 40:31, Amplified Bible). As I learn each day in my patient's smile, Jesus will renew our strength so that we can run and not grow weary in this life.

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