She sits at the table and screams.


The first time you hear it, you’d be crazy not to glance over. Is everything okay?  Oh, it’s just a kid screaming near your table at Applebee’s. But you glance again when you realize it’s a 6 year-old kid.

Mom tries to calm her little girl, caressing her hair, offering a cracker, whispering in her ear. Your first thought? Mom shouldn’t be speaking so gently to a 6 year old screaming in public. If my child ever acted like that…

Don’t worry. Even before you shoot an annoyed look in her direction, Mom is painfully aware that her little angel is interrupting your dinner conversation, and she worries that you think she’s a “bad parent.”

If the noise stops and you can enjoy your meal, you don’t think twice about it. But if the volume rises, your blood pressure crescendos as well. You might even speak to the manager. At the very least, you wonder to yourself or your family: Why can’t this Mom control her child? Why are they ruining my dining experience? Why don’t they just go out to the car?

I’m glad you asked since “the car” is actually how we got to this point.

Five years ago, this beautiful 6 year old was an infant locked in her car while the temperature inside hovered around 160 degrees. And if you think a squeal during your meal is loud, imagine what it must have sounded like while she cried for almost 2 hours strapped in a car seat in the middle of July in Nashville.

The Mom you’re irritated with in the restaurant? She wasn’t a Mom back then. She was just a PT (Physical Therapist) at Vanderbilt assigned to work with this little girl who, by some miracle, beat the odds and survived her hellish ordeal. But the prognosis was bleak: Her brain injury meant she’d never walk, talk, or feed herself. Birth mother signed off. Put her in an institution—let the taxpayers take care of her.

But Future Mom had always wanted a child, so there was no way she was going to let them cast aside this little fighter. She hoped for better. She prayed for better. And she knew better. There was more to this little girl’s story.

And she was right. So she named her Joy.

You may have been too irritated to notice, but Joy walked into the restaurant with her Mom. And Joy is feeding herself. And despite the occasional squeal or outburst, Joy is also communicating by speaking. (She uses sign language too…are you bi-lingual?)  But I think she communicates best when she squeezes your neck and presses her lips to your cheek and makes that soft “kissing” sound children make. And then she throws back her head and laughs out loud.

My cousin Donna pays the check, generously tipping the servers for their kindness because it’s nice to get out of the house sometimes, you know? And Donna holds Joy’s hand as she walks out of the restaurant.

The great storyteller preacher Fred Craddock was fond of saying, “Jesus could hear a tear on a cheek.” I think we need to be more like Jesus because there’s always so much more to the stories of people around us—if we’re willing to listen.

photo by Robin Thompson Parish

photo by Robin Thompson Parish