“Forever Autumn”

October 6, 2015 at 11:59 am


"Autumn's beautiful heart is, in so many ways,  the  Divine Artist's signature on the portrait of her life."

“Autumn’s beautiful heart is, in so many ways, the Divine Artist’s signature on the portrait of her life.”


written by Debbie Allen

When lazy summer days disappear every year under the shadows of the fall season; I sense the Hand of the Divine Artist brushing His most lavish changes onto the canvas of our world.  My eyes are captivated by the trees; as emerald leaves surrender to the kaleidoscopic beauty of bold tangerines and russets, shades of scarlet and deep plums.  Every year I find my heart scarcely able to contain the unmatched beauty of His Fall Glory!  But, all too soon the leaves drift down to the cold, brown earth; each a silent message from Heaven that the Artist is again at work.  This time He white-washes the canvas; leaving only the barren trunks of those same once beautiful trees, shivering along the horizon.  There are no leaves.  There is no color.  What can be the purpose of His brush strokes?

“Why, God?” I ask, watching my favorite season slipping away.

“Why strip these trees of their beautiful autumn raiment, leaving them to weather the coming storms without a decent covering?” “Where is Your Gory to be found in such a scene?”

I’m quite sure the Divine Artist’s Brow must have wrinkled at such a question coming from such a finite mind.  For not long afterwards, it seemed as though He tapped me on the shoulder, took His brush between His Fingers and began painting me the most vivid picture of autumn I could ever have imagined! One I will never forget.  Let me explain.

You see, I took on a part-time job at the end of the summer this past year.  Every morning since August, I stand in the midst of rows and rows of orange lockers; located in a girl’s locker room at a local middle school.  I am, who the girls deem, “The Locker Room Lady.” I am the one who stands in the doorway, arms crossed and a half-smile; ready to blow the whistle if things get too out of hand.  I hand out hair ties, retrieve lost gym suits, and referee dirty sock fights.  Though my job description doesn’t list it, I’ve also found my place among these girls as an official heart-monitor.  The one who steps in and listens to the bleating hearts of twelve-year-old love stories and fourteen-day romances gone awry.

Major drama here, I might add!  Something I’m not accustomed to; being the Mother of three boys.

Let me put it another way.  Watching sixty to seventy girls a day in this locker room setting is not too far removed from my days of watching ants in an Ant Farm with my boys when they were growing up.  Except…now I’m sealed in on the other side of the glass with the ants and the ants I’m watching seem to all be on steroids!

These unique, two-legged, middle-school Creaturettes tunnel furiously in and out of each other’s lives, gathering any little tidbit of love, friendship and acceptance they can find to keep their self-esteems alive in the hours ahead of them.  They run helter-skelter over each other’s hearts, and in and out of each other’s minds; feeding on the little crumbs dropped there by their peers.  Miraculously, they seem to thrive on this steady diet of carelessly misplaced words, vain opinions of who they are, and unrealistic expectations of who they should be.  It’s all part of living up to an unwritten Rule of Thumb that I’m convinced must be posted above every Creaturette’s tunnel entrance.  A rule which if written out, would no doubt read something like this:

“You are not who you are.

You are not even who others think you are.

You are who you think others think you are.”

          With a rule such as this in constant play, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the locker room is no safe haven for these girls.  It’s a rough ‘n tumble, ant-eat-ant environment where someone’s world is always at risk of caving-in.  Sounds a lot like the real world, doesn’t it?  A frenzied place of constant clamoring for love and acceptance.  If you can’t dig yourself into all the right places while the world’s eyes watch you do it; then, in the spirit of Ant-Farm mentality, your world is quickly reduced to a place where there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide!

In any case, life is full of such hindrances and the locker room is no exception.  By the end of the first week as the Locker-Room Lady, I thought I’d grown accustomed to all of the sights and sounds of so many different personalities colliding in a girl’s locker room.  The wind-tunnel effect of several hand dryers blowing full blast.  The ear-shattering squeals emanating from multiple giddy, teenage girls.  The echoes of twenty locker doors all slamming at different times.  All of these things combined made it impossible to actually hear anything in here.  But, one day, right in the middle of all of this controlled chaos; I managed to zero-in on someone’s faint cries echoing from a nearby bathroom stall.

“Can someone help me, please?” I heard a little voice cry out again.

Walking toward where I thought the voice came from, I listened for a moment.  Nothing.  There were two stalls so I bent over casually to inspect the ground for a pair of feet.  To my surprise, I instead found a pair of eyes looking back up at me from under the first stall door.

“I…I can’t get this door open…could you please help me?” the girl asked me softly.

“Sure thing.  Just stand back while I push on it.” I warned her, having been a prisoner in this same stall the day before.

Wham!  Bam!  A couple of hefty jolts with both my hands and the door flung wide open.  That’s when I came face to face with the owner of those two chocolate-brown eyes; now peering back at me from under thick strands of shoulder-length, licorice-black hair.

“Thanks.”  The girl said, speaking just above a whisper.

I introduced myself as the new Locker Room Lady and watched as she brushed her hair out of her eyes with a multi-scarred right hand.  A hand missing all of its four fingers.  Not much more than a fleshy palm with an appendage to the side that had been fashioned to serve as a thumb. No doubt, this was the very reason she’d struggled with the door in the first place.

“I…I’m Autumn,” she said to me, pulling back the curtain of bangs veiling her face.  As she did so, she exposed the face of a young girl whose entire countenance appeared ravaged by angry flames some time in her earlier years.  Trying not to stare, my eyes were quickly drawn back into hers.  It took every ounce of concentration in me not to shed the tears I felt welling up inside of me for what life had been allowed to take from this girl at such a young and tender age.  Oh, how the mother in me wanted to throw my arms around her at this moment.  To run interference for her and try to protect her from the awkward stares and abrasive comments I knew would come from the other girls.  How my heart broke as I watched the other girls glance in her direction and then walk, not just by her, but, around her; like she didn’t even exist. Watching Autumn walk away from me to follow her peers into the gymnasium; the mom in me began to cry softly; while the more brazen, Locker Room Lady proceeded to question God about another of His seasons in Life.  This time…the uninvited season of change that descended into this young girl’s life.

“Why God…why these brush strokes?” I asked, still in shock.

“Why leave her so exposed in this cold, cold world?”

“Where is Your Glory to be found in this scene?” I whispered for the second time in a week.

This time my words didn’t just fall from my mouth.  They, instead, flowed from the depths of my heart.  A heart in unexpected anguish.  A heart with no answers for my own questions.  A heart now made ready for the Divine Artist to step down into and set up His Easel to Paint.

Over the next few weeks, I watched Him paint a portrait of this young lady for me. Her assigned gym locker ended up being right around the corner from where I stood for most of my supervisory time in the locker room.  This allowed me to remain within earshot of many conversations that took place between Autumn and some of the other girls.  Curiosity drove the girls to tunnel a lot deeper into Autumn’s past than I would ever have dared to go.  As I listened to the other girl’s chatting back and forth, I soon learned that Autumn began her life as an orphan; left on the steps of a two-story Chinese orphanage.  She was abandoned by her birth-mother shortly after birth. When Autumn was eleven months old, a fire swept through the orphanage, consuming everything and everyone in its path.  Numerous babies and children lost their lives this day but, not before the wrath of the fire inflicted its permanent damages on her.  Unrecognizable and a near-casualty, baby Autumn spent an extended time in the burn unit of a Chinese hospital.  Nurses and doctors cared for her around the clock; treating extensive burns to her head, face and body; including her right arm and hand.  Burns which left her blind in one eye and bearing the tragic scars that now placed her on a low-eligibility list, concerning Chinese adoption status.  However, Chinese adoption status was no match for the Hand of God in this matter.  For, waiting back in the United States was a family who deliberately chose to adopt this living miracle; above all the other children made available to them.  She arrived in the United States as a toddler and since then, has undergone repeated surgeries and multiple skin grafts.  These surgeries will remain a necessary part of Autumn’s life for as long as she continues to grow and change.

Over the next few weeks, my desire to shelter her never went away.  But each time I felt compelled to run to her assistance, I also felt the Hand of the Artist holding me back…tugging on me as if to keep me out of the way of the portrait He was still painting for me.

“Just watch,” I heard Him whispering into my anxious heart every day…”Just watch.”

And so I did.  Every day I watched the other girls flock to the full-length mirrors, hanging on the ends of the locker bays like ants drawn to sugar.  There they stood, beholding their own reflections; conducting their own mini-beauty contests.  By the time I watched them put a third layer of mascara onto already foot-long lashes, I could almost hear them chanting in their hearts,   “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…It’s true; I’m the fairest of them all!”

Then…I watched Autumn standing in their shadows unnoticed.  She paused there only for a moment; long enough to share a tiny corner of the same mirror.  Though she had no lashes and no vision in one of her eyes, I watched a smile quietly invade the scars stretched so taut across her face.  A beautiful smile.  One that told the story of a grateful heart, uttering with every single beat, “I’m here…and just thankful to be alive!”

I watched the girls banging on their locker doors with both fists in frustration when locker combinations didn’t open up on the first try.  Unwilling to try again, they always hollered out for the Locker Room Lady to, “…”bring us the key!”

Then, I saw Autumn crunched down silently on her knees before her bottom-row locker. I watched as she turned the combination over and over and over again with great difficulty.  Never did she utter a complaint or think to call out for help.  I suppose that in a lifetime that has been filled with endless moments of frustration, this is only one more time of her choosing to not give up.  One more time for her to be thankful for the full use of her one good hand.

On Picture Day, I watched some of the girls break into tears because the picture on their school I.D. didn’t reflect the perfect, unblemished image they hoped to project to the outside world.

But…Autumn only tucked her I.D. away in a book bag with a shrug, claiming, “It’s just a picture…it’s not the real me.”

My heart melted at her words.  Autumn may live inside of a thirteen year old body, but she speaks with a level of wisdom that most adults never reach in a lifetime.  It is the wisdom that comes with learning to see life from the inside out.  A Heavenly Insight, daily reassuring her that the contours of a person’s face should never be given a higher priority than the shape of a person’s heart.  Her beautiful heart is in so many ways, the Divine Artist’s Signature on the portrait of her life.

I stand amazed every day as I watch this young girl whom the world has deemed less-than-perfect , helping to make the world around her a more perfect place to be.  She reaches with her one hand, farther than most of us will ever be willing to go with two good hands.  Though blind in one eye, she never fails to see the needs of those around her.  She has plenty of reasons of her own to cry over…but instead, she saves those tears for the times I’ve seen her sitting on a locker room bench consoling a broken-hearted peer.

There is a quiet strength that abides deep within Autumn.  One that allows her to withstand the coldness that surrounds her.  To live above the Locker Room’s unwritten Rule of Thumb, which dictates, “You are who you think others think you are.”

How fitting that her adoptive parents should choose to name her Autumn.  She is a beautiful reflection of the Fall season.  A season marked by change.  A season that mirrors so well, the meaning of self-sacrifice…the quiet surrendering of a beautiful raiment, so a cold, brown earth might be touched and changed for a time by its leaves of gold.

The Seasons of Life sometimes offer us branches, stripped bare and standing in wide open abandonment on a whitewashed horizon in a cold, cold world.  At first glance, most of us find it too difficult to see past the barrenness of such a scene.  Some of us will even go so far as to question the brush strokes of the Divine Artist; daring to ask Him,

“Why? What purpose is there?”  or even,  “Where is Your Glory to be found in such a scene?”

Whether looking at His portrait of a young teenage girl named, Autumn; framed in the chaos of a girl’s locker room…

Or gazing out across the barren branches of trees, shivering along the whitewashed horizon of a Fall landscape…

Hear His Voice. Just watch, while He sets up His Easel in your own heart to Paint.

The Divine Artist’s Answer will always be the same.

Because the branches are bare… My Glory shines brighter there.”


“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the Heart.”  (I Samuel 16: 7b NLT)