Power of Love
By Bailey Thomson
Gisella, who is our house guest for the holidays, has been learning to live
again. She lost much of her first life in a cruel incident two and a half
years ago when strangers threw acid on her. Her mental recovery has been
almost as difficult as her physical healing. But now she has reason to hope.
Members of the First Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa
met Gisella in Costa Rica.
Since the tragedy, she had found solace in her faith. Still, an old question
haunted her: Why had an attractive woman of 25, with a good education behind
her, suddenly faced the unspeakable? There was no explanation – only the
forgiveness she found in her heart.
Love does seem to conquer all. I have seen its
power in the selfless response of people who want to help Gisella be whole
again. They have held her hand as she left the sanctuary of her modest home
to venture into the world again. They have bought her airline tickets, secured
her lodging and calmed fears of enduring operations to repair her features.
Three doctors in our community will perform the
surgeries and other medical work. They are specialists of high reputation,
yet they are giving their services to Gisella. When they are finished, she
will be able to breathe and eat in a more normal fashion. She will also
be able to look in a mirror and admire what she sees.
Our family is the first of four to welcome Gisella
as her hosts. I count this privilege to be the greatest blessing of the
holiday season. We have shared through her eyes the excitement of seeing
our community as a stranger might – a grateful stranger at that. The holiday
lights, the material abundance, the festive mood all create a glow that
too often we miss through our preoccupation with the ordinary.
Gisella notices everything, and her questions
reveal a hunger for more. Why are American houses so large? Why does everyone
drive? Who buys this mountain of merchandise?
She is overjoyed with the simple gifts we present
her. A humidifier eases her breathing at night. Sweatshirts ward off the
damp cold. Colored pencils and sketch books occupy her quiet moments.
Above all, Gisella seems to cherish our conversations
around the table. At first, she offered only a few words in English, nervously
asking me if she said them correctly. Now though my wife’s tutoring, she
has grown more confident in speaking a language she spent months learning
in her previous life.
She wanted to be a bilingual secretary and work
for a big company. She came within weeks of achieving her goal following
graduation from business school. The incident ended the first chapter of
her dreams. Now she simply aspires to be independent and to discard the
surgical mask that protects her delicate skin from damage and from curious
stares. English may be her next ticket.
We have been careful with Gisella’s privacy, always
leaving the past for her to reveal. Once she showed us photos taken before
the incident, when she was beautiful on the outside. Yet she seemed to harbor
no bitterness toward her assailants. She told us about her slow recovery
in the hospital and the treatment doctors provided in Costa
Rica. Once one of them held her trembling
body and sang to her before putting her to sleep on the operating table.
A small Presbyterian church became her second
refuge as she recovered. A young man working as a missionary there befriended
her, and through him she met members of his Tuscaloosa
In her eyes, I suppose, only a miracle could explain
such good fortune after so much heartbreak. I do not dispute that interpretation,
because some things indeed transcend comprehension. To make a young woman
whole again speaks of medical science’s advancement. To know the love behind
that good deed reveals the human spirit and its connection to the divine.
Yes, we have all been blessed this season – all
of us who share this story and feel its power.