Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Memory that Haunts Me Still~In the Robe-Room

The question struck me this morning...out of the blue

What ever happened to that little girl in the robe-room?

It was my senior year of high school, and I was in the Seattle, WA area on a trip with our Concert Choir. We had been touring there; performing and competing. Near the end of our trip, we were to perform at a church and then stay for a meal in the church basement. I don't remember all the details of the church, but I remember the room where we changed into our choir robes. I remember it because it terrified me and left me with an image forever burned into my memory; an image of a girl...

I only remember snapshots of this event. I remember the room was large, and quite vacant where we changed into our robes. I remember a wood floor and the walls were lined with those shelves that have the bar under them to hold hangers for hanging coat or other articles of clothing. And I remember seeing the wheelchair on the side of the room opposite the door through which we entered. And I remember seeing the girl in the wheelchair.

The wheelchair was turned toward the wall. FACING the wall. And her hair was dark brown, like a chestnut.

I quickly walked over to her. I stood in front of her so she could see me. She was in a contorted position, her limbs were curled up making her immobile. I said, "Hi, Sweetie..." in the long-drawn out way that you speak to a small child so as not to frighten her. She smiled, and moved her mouth as if trying to respond. No sound came out, but I knew that she was warmed by my presence. I raised my right hand, and I caressed her cheek. The smile grew larger, and she moved her cheek into my hand the way a kitten presses into your hand when you pet it...she basked in the touch, in the affection.

My stomach began to turn. Why was she here? Why was she kept in a room behind a closed door? We were at a CHURCH!!! Why had someone closed her away as if ashamed of God's creation?

I knew I had to sing for these people, but I knew I could never eat with them. I could never break bread with them and pretend like their actions weren't horrific and cruel.

I turned her wheelchair around so she was facing all of us and I proceeded to change into my choir robe. I didn't want to leave her there, but I had an obligation to fulfill.

We sang, and the congregation clapped. And it was time to change back into our street clothes and join the church downstairs for supper. I went out to the bus. I was too nauseous to eat. I was upset. My mind was racing. Some of my friends came out to the bus and told me that they had asked someone from the church about the girl. The response had been that she preferred to be in that room. She didn't like to be where all the people were and all the noise was. I knew that was a lie. Why would the door have to be closed? Why was she pushed up against a wall~facing the wall? I knew that any child who nuzzled up to me, a stranger, the way she did was craving touch, warmth, affection, love...

I think I remember trying to go back in. I think I remember crying softly to myself as our bus pulled away. Dr. C (our director) would not allow us to talk or even listen to music when we were preparing to sing, but since we were done I was able to put my headphones on and escape to my mind.

She was perfect. She was God's creation. And she was hidden away by people who didn't understand the basic needs that human beings have. We were made to worship God. We were designed to praise him. And they were keeping her from that. But were they?

No. Because the Bible tells us that some day, we will all fall down and praise the God who made us. And that if this earth ever stops praising him, then nature will cry out~the rocks and the trees will sing his praises. That little chestnut-haired girl, with no voice, and no movement from her limbs was praising God with her smile, and her eyes, and her nuzzle into my hand. You can't hide her away no matter how you may try...

Why did that image come back to me today? Was it being home in Stillwater? Was it reading an article in the Star Tribune about a friend from high school and a facebook group she created to reminisce about life in Stillwater? Or was it maybe that the little girl's soul became a part of my soul when we connected that day two decades ago? Maybe without a voice of her own, I am the only voice she has. So, I felt compelled to tell her story here so she has a legacy that her family wouldn't give her. Maybe God brought me that church to start stirring my passion so I could be a better mother to my daughter who might not look like other daughters, and might not talk like other daughters; but who is the perfect image of God on earth as she dances and sings in the aisles of our church.

So how do I end this narrative? How do I close this thought? Maybe I can't. If 20 years passes and I still remember so clearly a little voice-less girl with whom I only shared 10 minutes of my life~then maybe I'm not supposed to have closure on this. I will let her image haunt me in order to keep my passion burning. I can't wait to meet her in heaven some day so we can rejoice together and cast our crowns at our Maker's feet, lock our hands, and twirl and dance~and let our hearts sing...


  1. This was beautiful. I believe God places people, things, events in our path throughout our lives to prepare us for our own future. You were prepared for Evie Jo through your meeting with this little girl... your love for Uncle Joel... every moment you ever shared in the presence of a person with special needs, ever interaction, it was a lesson and a preparation. When I was a kid, I was changed forever by a book called "Karen" about a child with cerebral palsy. There were always books. "No Language, But A Cry" (emotional disability), "Dibs - In Search of Self" (autism), "Light a Single Candle"(blindness) - all books that prepped me. My aunt Jeanne (intellectual disability) prepped me. My aunt Lucy (intellectual disability) prepped me. As I got closer, my love for Kelly and her daughter Caroline prepped me. Then Jennifer being a preemie... and finally Sam. My Sam. Knowing him I suppose it's possible that this young girl became aggitated and overstimulated by the noise in the sanctuary, but to leave her in a room alone facing a wall seems odd and a bit careless, if not completely neglectful. She clearly was reaching out to you. She definitely stole your heart forever in that 10 minutes. She changed you. Consider how great her purpose must be. How many people were changed by her? So much power in her silence. In 10 minutes she gave you the power to blow people away with your words 20 years later. That's pretty incredible. That's just God's tapestry. Again. Thank you so much for sharing this story. It's yet another reminder of how mighty is our God.

  2. Tam,
    I remember that choir trip - although I do not remember your experience. You have such a soft heart for people in need - it is beautiful! Keep writing girl, you are awesome! I'd really like to know when you are back in town next as I really want to meet up face to face :)

  3. Thanks, Gret! I'll keep you posted!



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