A Soldier's Smile

A hospitalized Iraqi soldier changed how Rachael Washington of the Washington Projects viewed life's rough moments.
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Life-Changing Moment: When Rachael Washington toured Iraq last Christmas to brighten the soldiers' holidays with performances by The Washington Projects, she met a hospitalized Iraqi soldier who changed how she viewed life's rough moments.

The soldier had been fighting alongside the U.S. Army when a bomb exploded. He had shrapnel in his face, metal bars supported his neck, and he couldn't move at all. Still, he lay in his hospital bed telling jokes and grinning, thrilled to be having visitors.

"When I came into the room, his whole face lit up," Rachael says. "He was just laughing up a storm."

Counting It Joy: The soldier's best friend had died beside him in the bomb blast. To remember him, the man kept a bag of shrapnel from the bomb. "He was very sad that he lost his friend," says Rachael. "Still, he was so happy because he thought, I'm going to go on and remember this person."

although he obviously still suffered from his grief and physical pain, the Iraqi soldier made the decision to honor his friend through the way he lived out his life. His attitude reminded Rachael of one of her favorite verses: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall in various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience" (James 1:2-3, NKJV).

"We can choose how we want to react to our circumstances," says Rachael. "This soldier chose to count it joy."

Rachael was amazed at how brightly the Iraqi soldier shone with his attitude, even in the midst of suffering. "I thought about how long he'd be sitting in that hospital. Seeing somebody who would have to learn patience was like watching that verse in action. He just made the choice to learn joy instead of being angry."

Transformed: Rachael returned home on Christmas day. It took many, many hours to fly to America—not the way she'd prefer to spend the holiday. But the soldier's glowing smile lingered in her mind. When she remembered the soldier's outlook in his much tougher situation, Rachael adopted his positive attitude. "To sit there and complain was not an option," Rachael says. "It was obvious to me that I needed to be different after that experience."

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