Thursday, October 6, 2022

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Little Madeline

The girls’ dormitory was a beehive of activity on my first Saturday morning at Kent Academy. Fifteen little gals formed a line that stretched out the door of the large bathroom in the first-grade hall. It was time for our weekly hair wash.

My New School

While the other new kids chatted and laughed, I shifted nervously, twisting my hair around my little finger. When my turn came, I stood on tiptoes, ducked my head under the tap, and shivered as the stream of cold water ran over my hair and neck.

Trying not to splash her clean blouse, the Big Sister, a lofty junior-higher, lathered up her palms and scrubbed my straight, brown hair. Trickles of water crept down my forehead, reaching the corners of my eyes.

“Ow, ow, ow! My eyes are burning!” I cried.

“Stop squirming,” she said. “You’re fine.”

“But, the soap! It’s in my eyes!” The homemade, lye-based shampoo was a red-hot lava flow, with a slow but steady creep I couldn’t halt.

She pressed a cloth into my hands, saying, “Here, use this. And settle down.” I grabbed the washrag and tried to stand still, while balancing on my toes and holding my head under the faucet.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried hard to stop unwanted tears. I couldn’t bear being called “cry baby” again, like yesterday

When my hair was squeaky clean, I finally rinsed my eyes, but the sting lingered. I padded across the wet cement floor to the narrow wooden bench beside the laundry bin. There I sat, straight and tall, while another Big Sister combed out my hair. With each vigorous stroke, my head jerked backward as she battled the tangles on my tender scalp. Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried hard to stop unwanted tears. I couldn’t bear being called “cry baby” again, like yesterday.

Once finished, she ordered, “Now, run out to the playground and have fun with the other kids.”

“Grrrr. I don’t want to go outside. I want to stay in my room and play.”

“But you must go outside. All growing kids need sunshine and exercise! Or else you’ll get rickets.”

Finding My Way

My shoulders slumped. Sliding off the bench, I shuffled into the hall and nearly bumped into a classmate. Sheena stood just on the other side of the doorway peering in.

 “I don’t want to go outside either. Let’s hide in my room!” Sheena giggled, grabbed my hand, and down the hall we raced to her bedroom. “We can camp out in the wardrobe and read until the lunch bell rings,” she declared.

Together we turned the pages in her favorite book, Madeline, and I exclaimed in delight over the bright, colorful pictures. Then Sheena recited the story, one her mother had read often to her, of a young girl who lived away from home, just like we did. Dressed in matching yellow coats and hats, the young French student and her classmates walked through their town “in two straight lines.”

I will never stop feeling homesick, I thought. I was lost without my family … so far from all that was familiar, safe, and dependable

Sitting cross-legged in our hideaway, I felt tears filling my eyes for Madeline and me. Just three weeks ago I had celebrated my sixth birthday, surrounded by a dozen friends in our sunny front yard, on our rural mission station in the village of Egbe, Nigeria. Now I was 500 miles from my cozy home and had been in this dorm for seven long days. I will never stop feeling homesick, I thought. I was lost without my family … so far from all that was familiar, safe, and dependable.

Blinking back tears, I confided that every night in bed my throat got all choked up. I could hardly breathe. It felt like I had a pile of heavy rocks on my chest. “Who will take care of me here?” I asked.

My sweet, trusting ally told me the words that comforted her in the long nighttime hours. “The Lord is my Shepherd,” she said.

Debbie (left) and Sheena (right) secretly holding Debbie’s hand.

Then she whispered, “And I’ll be your friend”

Looking back

I often wonder how I made it through that first year at Kent Academy, placed in a new environment, living with monumental changes, and navigating through many developmental “firsts.” Yet God always provided an oasis of calm and quiet, amid what seemed to me cacophony and chaos, an inevitable by-product of life in a school compound with 300 boys and girls.

Although I missed my parents and two little brothers immensely, God kept me secure in his arms. I’m grateful I didn’t sink into an abyss of fear, anxiety, or depression. Later that year I learned to place my trust in God to keep my soul safe for eternity. Even at that young age, I somehow understood and accepted his promise to forgive my sins and provide assurance of salvation.

As a special bonus, I made good friends who were also sensitive, introspective, and shared my love of books. Over and over, I gathered strength through sharing the trials and triumphs of the fictitious characters I met in those stories. Like little Madeline.

Link It to Your Life

As you look back, can you identify ways God provided restoration for your soul? How do you see God sustaining you today?

Father thank you that you shepherd me tenderly, each day of my life. Help me to always run straight to you any time I’m in trouble.



Born in Alameda, California, Debbie Jones Warren moved to Nigeria with her missionary parents before her first birthday. Debbie and her husband, Chris, now make their home in Castro Valley, CA. They have three amazing, accomplished young adult children. Debbie enjoys collecting china teacups and hosting teas for friends and neighbors. You can read more from her at



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