Upstairs the wind whistled through the bare boards and small tendrils of snow drifted through the wall cracks where the tacked-on cardboard did not quite hold. The cookstove downstairs provided the only heat for the house and what little heat came up to the bedrooms, cooled quickly in the frozen air. A little girl named Sheilagh, who was near death lay bundled up on her bed.
It was wartime in Newfoundland and she was worried about her two brothers, who were fighting in France with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
To Christians it was Good Friday, the 29th of March 1918, in that isolated Newfoundland outport. The harbour was blocked with ice. The cold cellars were empty, as that “long hungry month of March” slowly receded. Folks had little left but a bit of salt fish to do them until spring broke and the coastal boat arrived.
There was no doctor and all they had were some folk remedies. The end was near. It was now only a matter of time.
The old Preacher was ushered in and the rest of the family, gathered at her bedside, moved aside to let him through.
Speaking to the little girl, the Preacher said, “Sheilagh, my darling, are you all right with God?”
“Yes Pastor”, she said, her lips barely moving, her face pale and ghostlike. “I know I’m going to meet Jesus soon.” Then she paused. “I just don’t know if I will recognize Him.”
“Why would you not recognize Him?” asked the Preacher.
"Well”, whispered the little girl, “the picture in my Bible shows Him with blond hair and blue eyes, but over at my teacher Maria Lopez’s house they have pictures of Him with black hair and brown eyes and brown skin. There will be a lot of people in Heaven, how will I know when it’s really Him?”
“O my darling child”, said the Preacher, taking her tiny hand, “you will know Him from afar, His glory will shine and you will feel His love and His power before He even gets close.”
But the little girl didn’t seem convinced and the Preacher silently prayed for God’s guidance to ease the child’s worry.
He looked out the bedroom window and noticed the little white wooden crosses in the graveyard beside his humble church next door. Where the crosses were joined he could see the rusted outline of the nails holding them together. Suddenly he smiled, squeezed her hand gently, and said to her, “Ask Him to show you His hands”
Her eyes widened as if she was wondering how she could ask the Son of God to show His hands-- and for what reason!
“Yes, Sheilagh,” the Preacher said, “Ask the Lord to hold up His hands. If it is Jesus He will show you the scars, where they nailed Him to the cross. If He was willing to die for you, don’t you think He would show you His hands?”
“Of course!” she said, the trace of a smile appearing, as she remembered the song from Sunday School. “Of course, I shall know Him by the print of the nails in His hand!”
The preacher started singing the chorus of that old Fanny Crosby hymn, and the family joined in. The colour returned, momentarily, to the little girl’s face and her lips moved to the words...
Then, with a smile, her face sank into the pillow and she went to meet Jesus.
"I shall know Him. I shall know Him,
And redeemed by His side I shall stand,
I shall know Him. I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand."
Lyrics by Fanny Crosby