“And a little child shall lead them.”
by Tammy Vice as told to Linda Owen
We were your ordinary family. My husband, Rudy, worked long, hard hours so we could take vacations. My daughter, Allison, enjoyed school and had a passion for horses. When I wasn’t being a mom, I was wrapped up in singing and songwriting and making frequent trips to Nashville. Then Morgan was born.
Until age two, Morgan met all the developmental milestones. At 18 months, she spoke in three- and four-word sentences. She went from being busy and bubbly, always enjoying my attention, to a point where she wouldn’t look into my eyes. Instead of answering simple questions, she began to echo my words back at me.
I felt that something was wrenching her away.
It took me a year to convince my husband and parents that something was wrong with Morgan. Even the doctor patted me on the back and said my daughter would catch up. I felt so alone and hopeless. I knew she needed help, but no one would listen to me except God.
One night when Rudy went into her room, he sat down on the floor with Morgan and tried to get her attention. I walked away for a while to give them time alone. When I came back, Rudy was holding Morgan in his lap, tears rolling down his face. “No matter what I do,” he said, “I can’t get her to look at me. Something’s definitely wrong. I don’t know what it is, but we need to find out.”
Diagnosis and disturbance
We received the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in 1997. Finally, we had a name for what was turning our family upside down. We were told how important early intervention was, but finding that intervention was yet another maze. Almost two years had passed; Morgan was now five. Time seemed to be flying by, and our daughter wasn’t getting the help she needed.
Sometimes Morgan would lash out when she was confused or afraid, screaming and kicking at anything and everything within her reach. One day a woman came up to me and said, “You’ve got to get a handle on her. She’s disturbing others.”
I had a good cry. That experience helped me realize how important it is to educate others about autism.
During our search for answers to what was happening to Morgan, I escaped into my songwriting and singing for comfort and fulfillment. Hours of plucking the guitar meant less time feeling helpless and afraid. Whenever I could, I played writers’ nights in clubs or traveled to Nashville to pitch and sing my country songs to publishers. It wasn’t about success in the music business but about putting more energy into something that was working for me. Through writing and singing, I escaped the pain, rather than handing it to God.
One morning, following a week of trials with Morgan’s turbulent behavior, I was exhausted and mentally unable to cope. After Morgan and Allison, now a teenager, went to school, I sat down to read my devotional. That morning I emptied all my emotions out to God. I told Him I was ready to do whatever it would take to get my daughter back. I would sacrifice my music if that was what He wanted. I realized that I had been putting my creation of music ahead of my Creator. I had to get my priorities back in order.
After that tearful, soul-searching half hour, I opened my devotional. God had heard my prayers, for the title for that date was “The Power of Music.” I stared at the words on the page, knowing that I was forgiven and that God had given my music back to me. Right then I promised to make my music for Him. From that day on, the lyrics of my published songs would reflect my joyous relationship with God and others.
Move to Nashville
Things fell right into place. Rudy and I knew we had to move because help for Morgan was not available in Alabama. We prayed every step of the way. When we found out about the TRIAD department at Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center in Nashville, which specializes in autism treatment, Rudy found a job at a car dealership in that area. Our house sold in six weeks, though other houses in our neighborhood had been on the market for more than a year. We moved during the summer, giving us time to settle before the new school year began.
God also helped us to find a warm and welcoming church family. Although worship time is orderly and reverent, Morgan has livened things up a bit. One morning her teacher was giving the welcome and announcements in the main sanctuary. She began with “Good morning, everyone,” to which Morgan replied from the balcony, “GOOD MORNING!”
Her teacher looked up, smiled, and said “Good morning, Morgan.” A few giggles and smiles were passed among the church family, and the service continued.
About the same time, God gave me the opportunity to record for GodsChild Records, a label that distributes religious country and gospel music. Rudy and the girls were thrilled the first time they heard my voice on the radio. I have been blessed with several hit singles. My song “Help Me Break the Chains,” which is about Morgan, has been used as the theme song for several chapters of the Autism Society. Another one, “Blue Rose,” was inspired by my father, who fondly calls Morgan his Blue Rose “because blue roses are delicate and require a lot of nurturing before the fullness of their beauty can be seen.”
The right path
Morgan, now nine, is doing much better with the help she’s receiving at Vanderbilt. Although her language has a mechanical sound, she speaks — sometimes using appropriate lines from cartoons and videos. At times she uses pictures to communicate if she can’t think of the word. She attends a local elementary school and goes for speech therapy and occupational therapy at Vanderbilt.
Slowly, Morgan is coming back to us. She looks at us when she speaks and even has a sense of humor. We still have a long road ahead, but at least we’re finally on the right path.
Whenever Morgan learns something, our family celebrates. Though she doesn’t understand spiritual things, I credit her with my own spiritual growth. Her simplicity has brought me closer to God. I tell everybody that in trying to reach her, I see God trying to reach me. Unfortunately, I don’t always listen. But I am reminded of Jesus’ call to be like a simple child (Matthew 19:14) — open to everything.
Not all days are perfect, but I’m glad they’re in God’s hands. And I’m finally finding that “peace that transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7, NIV).
I know God has a plan for our lives — something bigger and better than we imagine. Allison brought me to Him as I stumbled through being a first-time parent. When the busyness of life let God slip away, Morgan brought me back to Him on my knees.
I watch Morgan’s gift of joy and how she goes to a place in people’s hearts that I can’t. I wouldn’t trade the trials because of the relationship I have found with God through them. I’m so thankful He picked me to care for one of His blue roses.
* * * * *
Tammy Vice is a member of the Board of the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee and spokesperson on national public service announcements for the Autism Society of America. As an advocate, she seeks to educate the public about autism.
At concerts, Tammy tells her audiences how autism affects the entire family both physically and mentally. When she sings “Blue Rose,” she challenges everyone within the sound of her voice to seek out the blue roses in their community.
A portion of the proceeds from her album Miracles Can Happen, featuring her No. 1 single “That’s the Way,” goes to the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee.
For more information, see http://www.tammyvice.com.
Visit Linda’s Web page at http://www.angelfire.com/zine2 /lindaowen-writer/index.html
About the Author
Linda Owen is a regular writer on religion, retirement, travel, and general interest subjects for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Christian Reader, On Mission, Houston Chronicle, and Dallas-Morning News. A former pastor, Linda writes Bible study curriculum and daily devotionals for the United Methodist Publishing House. She lives in San Antonio, TX.