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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Teacher (10/26/06)

TITLE: Maddie’s Delight: The Secret Life of the Girl Next Door
By April Bailey


After my parents divorced, I visited my dad on weekends at his home in the suburbs. At some point during my short stay, I’d inevitably end up on the front porch alone, work demands having trapped my father in his office. It was during one of these solitary moments that I first laid eyes on Maddie, the wheelchair-bound girl who lived next door.

With hands twisting up in a mockery of play, the little girl sat paralyzed by disease, frozen in a slice of life unknown to the rest of us. Her mother talked to her and laughed sweetly, as if hearing the child’s voice. But there had been no response from Maddie, not in her manner, not in her eyes. Not once in my viewing did she acknowledge her mother’s presence—a stroke of the hair, a one-sided embrace. Not once. But each weekend, the woman brought her daughter into the yard, out into the sunshine. Locked in her unknown world, Maddie seemed completely unaware of her surroundings, and I wondered why God would allow a person to be like that … so helpless, so vulnerable, so pathetic.

Fascinated perhaps by the spiritual quandary of the situation, I continued my observation, studying that little girl’s face and movements with more brain power than I’d utilized all year in school. My concentration paid off one Saturday afternoon. Maddie had just been wheeled onto a sunny patch of lawn.

“Oh, look, Maddie!” her mother squealed. “A butterfly!”

I saw the thing, flitting about their heads. And then, staring in disbelief, I noticed Maddie as she sat a little straighter, smiled a definite smile and loosed a giggle to the air. I jumped to my feet and blinked wildly. She responded to a butterfly?

Chasing it with my eyes and refocusing, I noticed the insect’s adornment—the most brilliant of blues. Almost shimmering. Stunning. And after the dance, Maddie’s delight landed on her outstretched hand. While her mother retreated to the porch and a novel, Maddie entertained other friends. A falling leaf, dressed in gold, held court in the breeze before resting on her lap. Cool droplets from my dad’s sprinkler rode the wind to anoint her cheek. Each time, she reveled ever so slightly.

Weekend after weekend I saw Maddie interact with the details of God. She found great pleasure in the miniscule, the simple, while able-bodied me moped on the porch like a pile of mud. Maddie lived a life without words, in silent, joyous conversation with Creation. Hers was not a life that held the promise of school, work, marriage, parenthood or old age. Relationships for Maddie were of a different sort. Hers was a secret life of rendezvous with butterflies and kisses from amber leaves.

I didn’t see Maddie again after that winter. But in the garden, near her favorite spot in the yard, stood a small wooden cross, with her name painted down the front. Affixed to the top … a beautiful blue butterfly.

Because of Maddie, I watch butterflies now. And amber leaves. And perfect snowflakes. I see how the earth cries out in color and majesty in praise of the Father, and I rejoice with these displays as Maddie did. She taught me to appreciate the simple things God made, the things we tend to take for granted, the things we tend to ignore. A silent, paralyzed little girl showed me a secret life too often overlooked by busy, vigorous people.

It was a valuable lesson from a lowly, invisible girl. Maddie. What better teacher?

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This article has been read 1162 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Karen Chatham11/02/06
This brought tears to my eyes. Thanks.
Pat Guy 11/02/06
Awesome perfection ...
Suzanne R11/05/06
Very touching. I love the contrast between her and you, the able bodied one, sitting like a pile of mud!

Venice Kichura11/05/06
As a sub for a paraprofessional for special needs students, I really enjoyed this! Masterfully written!
Allison Egley 11/05/06
I really enjoyed this. It's amazing the way people react to things when we don't think they can, isn't it? God really as a way of connecting His creations to their Creator.
Joanne Sher 11/05/06
You paint a picture - no, a masterpiece - with your words, especially the last couple paragraphs. This is absolutely lovely! And what a lesson. Bravo!
Betty Castleberry11/05/06
Oh, what a beautiful to remind us all to stop and smell the roses. This was wonderful, and the descriptions lovely.
Betty Castleberry11/05/06
I meant to say beautiful *way*.
Phyllis Inniss11/06/06
This is so great. this article is a teaching lesson in itself to others as Maddie taught you to appreciate the things that seem ordinary and that people overlook. It was written in a truly touching way just as the things of nature evoked a response in Maddie.
Amy Michelle Wiley 11/06/06
This is beautiful. Well done!
Beth Muehlhausen11/08/06
Lovely. I first fell in love with this phrase: "the little girl sat paralyzed by disease, frozen in a slice of life unknown to the rest of us" - and then these sentences: "Relationships for Maddie were of a different sort. Hers was a secret life of rendezvous with butterflies and kisses from amber leaves."

Simple, convicting, true, altogether brilliant.

Helen Paynter11/09/06
This is very, very beautiful. Many congratulations.
Monique Jordan11/09/06
What a delightful and profound story. Thank you for sharing your gift.
terri tiffany11/09/06
This was wonderful! Congrats on your win!!
Sally Hanan11/10/06
April, I don't think I've seen you on the boards. This was exquisite.
Val Clark11/10/06
I can see why this one won! Very visual and insightful writing and a touching read.
Valora Otis11/11/06
This is the most touching, descriptive, fluid challenge piece I've read to date. Congratulations on your win!