Her whole right side was paralyzed. She could not extend her right arm, which had a permanent bend, and the fingers on her right hand looked like long chicken's feet matted together. Her right leg was twisted, and her deformed right foot turned inward. Even her lips were a little twisted on one side.
As this little girl was growing up, her mother was so angry about her child's condition that she would often attempt to straighten out the deformed hand and foot by vigorously turning and twisting them, but without success. When those efforts didn't work, her mother would beat her and put her in a closet out of her sight.
The little girl's father was more compassionate and understanding. He loved his daughter. All her life he tried to teach her the ways of God, to shelter her from harm, to comfort her when people made fun of her, to hold her when she was sad, to encourage her in her school work, and to sweetly discipline her when she needed it.
One day, after their deformed daughter had grown into a teenager, the parents were devastated and appalled to learn that she was pregnant.
It was too much for the girl's mother to take. She said she was already taking care of a crippled daughter, and she was not about to take care of her baby too. The girl's father, however, wanted her to stay in the safety of their home after the baby came, in spite of the embarrassment and sadness of this situation. But the mother was insistent: Her daughter and the baby would have to get out of her house and make it on their own.
So when the child was born—a little girl—this unwed teenage mother found work as a maid cleaning "the big house" while living with her baby daughter in servants' quarters. She toiled away with her one good hand and foot.
A Surprising Change
Two years later, both she and her baby became critically ill. Her mother was contacted and asked to nurse the baby back to health, but she still refused to bring her daughter's baby into her home.
The young woman's father, however, contacted his own sixty-year-old mother to ask if she would care for the sick baby. He promised to provide financial help and to do all he could to assist her with this child.
This woman, who was a true woman of God, eagerly accepted this responsibility of caring for her great- granddaughter. With all the love in her heart, she was determined that this child should live.
So the little girl was brought to her and her husband, and the crippled young mother was told that her baby would be returned to her when they both were well.
The young child's life was wonderful with her great- grandparents. They loved God with every fiber of their being, and they led the little girl to Christ—she gave her heart to the Lord as a four-year-old. They took her to church all the time, where she especially learned to love the hymns that were sung there.
Sometimes the girl and her great-grandfather would play "Prayer Meeting." They would pray long "prayers," and "read Scriptures," and sing, sing, sing. One of the great-grandfather's favorite songs was this one:
I shall not, I shall not be moved;
I shall not, I shall not be moved,
just like a tree that's planted by the water,
I shall not be moved.
The little girl kept this in her memory.
There were occasions when the girl was taken to her mother's parents to stay for a while at their house. On these visits, her granddaddy loved her, played with her, took her to movies and the park, gave her rides on the train, and even took her shopping.
But it was much different with the grandmother, the woman who earlier had refused to let this child live with her when she was a baby. After the grandfather went to work, the grandmother would shut this little girl up in a dark, smelly, insect-infested closet to sit out the rest of the day, with no food or water or conversation. Just before time for the girl's grand- daddy to return home from work, her grandmother would bring her out from the closet, clean her up, and act like all was well.
The little girl did not know why she was put in that closet; her grandmother told her it was to keep the iron from falling on her (likely story). But the little girl had been taught to obey adults, so she went into the closet upon demand.
She was scared in that closet. She had nothing to do in that closet. All she knew to do was to sing, because of what she had learned in church and from playing "Prayer Meeting" with her great-grandfather. Sometimes she had to make up words when she couldn't quite remember them all, but she did her best to sing the songs of the church, like "Throw Out the Life Line," "Nearer My God to Thee," "Rock of Ages," "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," "The Old Rugged Cross," "Amazing Grace," and "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know."
She would sing herself to sleep in the closet; and when she came out of the closet, she was not angry, bitter, hurt, or damaged in any way. What a miracle! The Lord had received this little girl's innocent praise and had rewarded it with a little abundant life of joy.
Discovering the therapeutic power of Christian music was not an instant revelation for her, but one that evolved over years of applying it during periods of hurt, disappointment, neglect, questionable hope, anger, disillusionment, lack of harmony, unkind deeds, financial difficulties, seemingly unanswered prayers, and disbelief. In this way, these moments would become a time of spiritual growth.
Are you wondering who this person is, who had such an unpromising start in life as the child of a cast-out, unwed teenage mother?
I'll tell you.
The only name on that baby girl's birth certificate was "Baby Girl Morris" (a fact that she didn't discover until decades later, after considerable investigation). But the name she grew up with (and which was listed on her baptism and school records) was Thelma Louise Smith—until she married at age twenty and became Thelma Wells.
Yes, it's me!
In all the closets of my life, I have learned to sing.
Life is full of ups and downs, uncertainties, issues, and situations. But in every one of them, God gives me peaceful consolation that when I sing praises to Him, He hears me and rejoices over me.