“She could have had it all – a life of comfort and luxury with a husband and children, but instead, she gave it all up for a life of servitude. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.” The church service was over, and several cliques had quickly gathered to discuss Florence Nightingale’s unexpected appearance. It wasn’t a surprise that she would come to church and worship. What was surprising was that she had come in such a poor state of health.
“Did you see how pale and thin she was?”
“Indeed, I thought she would keel over.”
They didn’t realize that she could hear them gossiping about her. Quietly, she put her bible in her purse, and placed her bonnet neatly on her head. Then, after tying it under her chin she stood up to go, sending a silent prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for the long, hooped dress that covered her shaking legs. Since returning from the Crimean War, her health had suffered greatly.
She gracefully joined other members of the congregation as they stood in line, waiting to shake the rector’s hand and speak to him briefly before leaving the church. She smiled politely, acknowledging those who greeted her, while ignoring the rude comments and gossip that floated about her. Truthfully, she was much too weak to deal with the pettiness of others, and though their rude comments hurt, she continued to smile and ignore the gossipers, refusing to let them see that their hateful barbs had found their mark, and pierced her heart.
“You know, she claims that God called her to be a nurse,” she heard a woman behind her whisper.
“Really!” Another responded, “Who does she think she is, anyway? She can’t really believe that God would speak to a woman.”
“Well,” still another one declared, “even if He did speak to a woman, He certainly wouldn’t call her to nursing instead of marriage!”
Florence’s serene face and posture belied the hurt and anger that ran through her. “Lord,” she prayed silently to Him. “Help me to love these selfish, gossiping, hateful women. Let me love them as You do, though they are cruel and ignorant.”
Florence’s thoughts drifted back to a time twenty years earlier, when she was only seventeen. Her home was called Embley Park, and one day, whilst she was in the gardens, sitting beneath a tree, she heard the Lord speak to her spirit, calling her to serve Him by giving her life to the service of others. Though she wasn’t yet sure what He was calling her to, it eventually became clear to her that God was calling her to be a nurse.
Seven years later, in 1844, Florence announced that God had called her to be a nurse, and on that day, the clouds shifted, casting an ominous shadow on the ground, as everyone she knew seemed to turn against her. In the face of great opposition, Florence had set her face like flint, refusing to deny this call from God, no matter what the cost. As with the Prophet Jeremiah, this call from God was like a burning fire, shut up in her bones, and she would have fainted if she had refused it. “Indeed,” she thought, “I’ve faced stronger opposition than these malicious gossips.”
Finally, Florence stood before the rector, offering her right hand to him. Tears filled his eyes as he looked on this young woman with love and respect, taking her proffered hand and placing a gentle kiss on it. “My dear Florence,” he spoke in a booming voice, drawing the attention of all who remained in the church. “I am overjoyed that you have chosen to honor our humble parish with your presence, for you are truly a woman of God. Indeed, I wish that every man and woman in this house of worship would hear and obey the voice of God as you have.”
Tears swam in Florence’s eyes, as she modestly lowered her head, while he praised her. “Thank you, Rector. Your message blessed me.”
“As you probably already know, dear Lady With the Lamp, a prophet is often without honor, in his own country and even in his own house, and so it is for you, because you have truly been called by God.” Startled, Florence looked up into the rector’s laughing eyes, as he blessed her. “Go in peace woman of God,” then bending, he whispered in her right ear, “and let God deal with the busybodies.”
Cheryl A. Showers
This post was written for The Speakeasy #161.
- Submissions must be 750 words or fewer.
- Submissions must be fiction or poetry.
- You must include the following sentence ANYWHERE in your submission: “The clouds shifted, casting an ominous shadow on the ground.”
- You must also include a reference to the media prompt. (Adele’s Rolling in the Deep)
This piece of historical fiction was written in honor of Florence Nightingale’s birthday, which was May 12.