“Okay, give me a big smile,” the photographer said to Natalie Omer of West Valley City, Utah, as he snapped her senior picture.
Natalie had no idea that would be her last big smile for some time. Three hours later, her face would be destroyed.
That afternoon, the energetic redhead went about her duties as track team manager, measuring shot put distances. Perhaps the senior prom was on her mind—she’d been asked the week before. All she knows is that it was between heats, and no one was supposed to be throwing. So when she heard the call, “Heads up!” the last thing she expected was to see a 12-pound ball of iron hurtling toward her.
A thrower had tried to get in one last practice throw. His shot smashed into Natalie’s face, crushing bones, blackening eyes, knocking out teeth. Blood was everywhere. Fortunately, Natalie’s memory fled, and she doesn’t remember a thing.
She does remember, however, waking in the hospital more than 24 hours later. Her pain was intense, but she had a question she wanted answered immediately. “Who did this?” were her first cognizant words through bruised and swollen lips. “Find out who did this!”
Her mother said she’d find out. She’d been so concerned over her daughter she hadn’t thought about whoever was responsible for the terrible accident, but now knew she’d better.
“Mom,” Natalie murmured. “Find out who did it, and tell him that I’m okay. He doesn’t have to worry. I’m not mad. It was an accident. I forgive him.”
Natalie’s mother was stunned. “Those wouldn’t have been my first words or reactions,” she admitted.
Several months later, Natalie, smiling again, talks about the accident. Her jaw is no longer wired, and she hardly notices the metal plates embedded in her face, or her permanent false teeth. “The doctor said I could have gone to the prom afterwards,” she says. “But my face was purple and my teeth were gone, so I decided not to. I did graduate with my class though,” she laughs.
“I really think I had help in forgiving the one who did it,” she reflects. “I never felt any anger, but I worried that he thought I might. My injuries were physical and could heal. But his injuries were emotional, and he might have to carry them for life. I don’t want him to be miserable. These things happen.”
Just to make sure, Natalie wrote him a note as soon as she got home from the hospital, telling him she didn’t hold him responsible. Since he was from another school, she told him she’d even like to meet him in person—after she healed, of course. She knew it would make him feel worse to see just how bad her injuries were.
“I learned so much from this,” Natalie says. “I learned how supportive my family, friends, and ward could be. I learned a lot about the power of prayers and blessings. And I learned about the power of forgiveness. It would have been pointless to have to heal bad feelings on the inside while I was trying to heal on the outside. Forgiving quickly was just as good for me as it was for him.
“So I guess you could say I learned a lot about Christ, too,” she added. More than many of us ever do.