Avelynn Pate shares the story of her daughter Marita—who defied the odds to learn how to walk and talk, and who ‘oozes with love’.
I was born and lived in Zambia until I was five, as my parents, Tom and Daphne McKenzie, were Salvation Army officers there. When I was 15, my mother died suddenly of a heart attack. It was very traumatic and shaped me as a fighter and strong woman—but strong in God, because God has always been in my life.
At 20, I married my husband John. After five years of marriage, we had our first, longed-for baby, Marita. It was a traumatic birth and she was born with hydrocephalus (commonly known as ‘water on the brain’). We were told that she wouldn’t live past a few days. But three weeks later, we took her home from hospital. Then, we were told she most certainly wouldn’t make it into double figures. She had many operations, and we were told her brain would never develop.
I refused to believe this. I said, ‘No that’s not going to happen—I will love her and teach her language and she will develop.’ And she has! This year, Marita turned 44 years old. This is not my story, it is hers …
I loved Marita and involved her in normal life. In no way did I treat her as sick or with a disability. I got on the floor and showed her how to crawl. At seven, she learnt to walk on crutches.
When Marita was a baby, I talked to her heaps. A therapist taught me and Marita to develop eye contact, and I read her picture books. I believe when the language centre of the brain has been damaged, it can be re-trained—I know this, because Marita did it! Today, she talks like a book—she is a great talker.
As Marita grew up, her care became too difficult and so, with much pain, she went into professional care. She has stayed family-orientated and we connect regularly through phone calls, dates and overnight stays.
She went blind at the age of 20, but has never lost her faith in Jesus. She loves Jesus and loves the Army. She loves her brothers and her family. She just oozes love.
Recently, I did a spoken word workshop with Rosy Keane of Women’s Ministries. Here is an excerpt from the poem I wrote for my daughter:
My beautiful daughter! You are precious!
But they say you need an operation; You will be disabled; Your life expectancy is short. So, they say.
But I believe God has a plan. I believe that you have a potential to be realised. Y
ou smile; you fight. So many operations. Then meningitis at three.
We prayed for a miracle, and yes! You lived!
They say you will not walk; will not talk.
But I believe your brain can be trained. You smile, you laugh, and yes, in time—His Time—you sit up. You crawl! You are amazing! …
You love the Army and you love to sing. You are enrolled as a junior soldier! And later a senior soldier.
You blossom and make your way in life. You are now blind. You embrace this pain and you do not complain.
You communicate your wants and desires. You have a voice to be heard. You know you have rights. You are so special!
You love family. Clothes. Fashion. Jewellery. Make up. And coffee! … Time for a café date? What café today?
By Avelynn Pate(c) 'War Cry' magazine, 20 October 2018, p11 - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.