Sister’s Keeper

This is just a little story about God’s provision.

Right after Hope was born, a dear friend wrote me:
“I think you will find that Hope will form a special attachment to Rhema and will become protective and caring in a way that will be wonderful to see.”

Believe it or not, his words troubled me. Although it was very apparent that Rhema had autism, I still found myself in denial. Rhema is quite capable. She won’t need protecting, I thought.

(People say not-so-smart, even hurtful things some times. My friend’s words certainly did NOT fall into that category. But I realize that at that time in my life, I was angry and extra-sensitive. Just about anything anyone said to me could be twisted into something negative. Nowadays I try to extend a little grace when people say things… most of them mean well, and I was probably just as clueless once.)


Yesterday we took the kids to a place called Monkey Joes – an inflatable play zone. They know this place forwards and backwards. But it was extremely crowded and, lately, Rhema seems to be really struggling with crowds.

slide_poseShe quickly ascended the steep stairs of the inflatable slide. But after she made it to the top, she got “stuck.” Stuck for Rhema does not mean that she is afraid or incapable of completing the task.

For whatever reason, she just loses her way. 

For a long time, Rhema remained at the top of the slide completely engrossed with her hand that she was bouncing and twisting… back and forth, back and forth… in front of her eyes. Lots of children came and went, but Rhema seemed oblivious. By the time, Hope and I came over, Brandon said, “She’s been up there for over 20 minutes. She won’t come down.”

Hope eagerly climbed up the rungs. Still a toddler, she’s a little slow but she always makes it to the top. When she got there, she paused for a minute by Rhema’s side. Then she went and sat down at the top of the slide.

“Get Rhema! Hope. Get Rhema!” Brandon called.

I think I shouted a “Get Rhema” as well, but I was a non-believer. I did not think Hope could get Rhema down the slide. Hope could barely stay on her feet with the older, taller children bouncing all around her.

Sometimes I think I want to spare Hope. I don’t want her to become discouraged. She tries to talk to Rhema, but Rhema won’t look at her. She tries to offer Rhema a toy or a pretzel, but Rhema won’t take it. She tries to hug Rhema, but sometimes Rhema pushes her away.

We watched Hope stand up from the slide and squeeze her way past kids and wedge herself behind Rhema. She hugged her legs. She tried to push her. “C’mon Rhema. C’mon.”

Rhema wasn’t budging. Hope tried for a little longer before giving up. She returned to her seated position at the top of the slide.

Hope. Get Rhema! Get Rhema!

There was a sense of urgency.

Hope scrambled up again. I could see that she was going to try and lead Rhema by the hand this time. It was not going to work, I was sure of it. To take Rhema by the hand you must have a strong grip – if you weakly hold her hand for a second, you can forget it. She will become either an escapee, an immovable fortress, or a wet noodle on the floor.

But Hope, in 2 year-old determination, grabbed Rhema’s fingers. As if she were rescuing Boots himself from the Gooey Geyser, she yelled in her best Dora the Explorer voice, “Pull! Pull! Puuuullllllll!

I think she knew. She knew this was more than physical. Rhema was in her own world again, and with all her might, Hope was pulling her out.

Rhema went with her.

To the top of the slide. As if waking up from a trance, Rhema got her bearings and happily slid down the slide. Hope followed, squealing all the way down.

Brandon and I looked at each other, wonder and joy in our eyes.

“Thank you, Lord,” he breathed.

Thank you for providing a sister, teacher, protector, friend who loves enough to never let go. 

Some of you get exactly why this means so much.

18 thoughts on “Sister’s Keeper

  1. I will never forget when we lived in Hawaii and Scooter, my oldest, grabbed ahold of Pumpkin Pie’s dress to keep her from darting into the parking lot at the commissary. We were at the van and I had groceries in my arms and Pumpkin Pie had not started school or any therapies yet; I don’t even think she had been officially diagnosed, and she was VERY inside herself at all times; she could wander across a parking lot completely oblivious to everything around her and she had no “herding instinct” at all (the urge to stay in the group you are in). I was worried as I held the groceries because I could not grab Pumpkin Pie and try to keep her out of the parking lot until I got the groceries set down in the back of the van.

    I looked down and there was Scooter, who was barely four, holding tightly to the back of Pumpkin Pie’s little Hawaiian dress that she was wearing. I had NOT told her to do this at all and at this point she did not even know what autism was. But she has always been able to sense, even before diagnosis, that Pumpkin Pie was “different” and that she lacked a sense of danger moreso than other toddlers.

    I actually teared up when I saw her doing this without being told. Seriously, I got a lump in my throat to see her watching out for her sister like that.

    And here it is a few years later and we are doing the Specific Carb diet to treat yeast and Pumpkin Pie has multiple food allergies, and The Destroy Boy, her younger brother, is always asking “Does that have gluten and dairy in it? Is Pumpkin Pie allergic to this?” He is SOOO concerned that she not eat anything that could hurt her. You would think he would complain about us having to give up so many favorite foods, but he does not.

  2. Wonderful story. The Rhemas (and Joys) of the world bring out amazing things in their sisters. It’s all the more stunning because Hope is so young!

    And now, cue the Dora soundtrack — we did it, we did it, we DID it, yeah! lo hicimos, WE DID IT!

  3. What a beautiful moment, Jeneil. Thanks so much for sharing it. Your last line (or, actually, the next-to-the-last line) was my favorite:

    “Thank you for providing a sister, teacher, protector, friend who loves enough to never let go.”


  4. Oh, Hope.
    What a perfect name for Rhema’s sister.

    I love these kids. We’re raising the yin and yang generation under our own roofs – and they don’t even know it.

    When I hear TV commentators yammering on and on and on about what it’s costing OUR COUNTRY to care for these 1 in 150, I think a lot of things, and your blog is way too nice for me to post a lot of those thoughts. But one of my nicer thoughts is that they seldom realize how amazing this generation of siblings is going to be. Under our own roofs, we are raising our own success stories. Surely that’s newsworthy?


  5. Your Hope is my Zachary. Since he was a toddler people have always said “he is going to be one AMAZING man”. He’s 9 now to his autistic brothers 12, but he is the guidance. And while Daniel has mostly ignored Zachary’s pleas for attention and play, things are changing. Daniel will ask Zachary to play hide and seek and other games that are probably not things Zachary would choose to play, but he happily does it to keep Daniel engaged. That has been the most precious gift lately. To see Zachary’s eyes light up (and Daniel’s) as they play happily together.

    Once Daniel went into the tubes at McDonalds play land and wouldn’t come down. After 30 min, I actually had to ask a stranger to watch toddler Zachary while I crawled in the tubes to drag him out. It was the worst nightmare. I was panicked that this person I left Zachary with was a maniac while I was desperately trying to get Daniel out! Things like that are far in the past. I hope it helps knowing that!

  6. What an amazing bond between the two sister’s! I think you’re right. I think she KNOWS Rhema. She knows where Rhema goes. Praise God for her sensitivity and obedience to the Spirit of God.
    Thank you. Thank you for sharing your life experiences with all of us. You have no idea how much your blogging bless my life. Really, it helps me to be a better mother and prayerfully a better person. Thank you ,Neily, for your strength and sharing.

  7. Yup, with ya’…again. When they were very young and Reid so violently disturbed by sounds and distractions, I recall thinking God should have made him an only child, rather than a twin. Life might have been more peaceful. But of course, He was so wise to give him the teacher, counselor, conscience and companion that Allie is. Like or not, he has been a social creature since conception and she remains his closest friend. God is good.

  8. I am so reminded of my sweet Sue who will ask for her brother, “Does it have gloooten? ‘Cause my brover can’t have glooten!” It’s amazing what they learn even as toddlers. She will get his shoes for him and is so nurturing. It’s amazing to see. Your post brought tears for sure.

  9. Ok I am reading through blurry tear-filled eyes now. The love of a sibling is an amazing thing, I love her Dora quote, “puuullll!”

    When you talk about Hope trying to talk to Rhema and Rhema not looking at her, that really hit home. A few months ago Cuddlebug finally got frustrated with his little brother’s lack of response and started asking me a lot of questions about why Bitty doesn’t answer him, why Bitty walks away when he talks to him (having autism himself, he doesn’t care much about eye contact, but we have spent years teaching him and Bearhug that it’s important to at least look in someone’s general direction when you talk to them, and he didn’t understand why Bitty seemed oblivious to that “rule”). It was quite ironic, b/c I can remember kids we encountered asking me the exact same questions about them when they were younger.

    I told him to keep talking to his brother, because even though he may not answer, he hears you and he knows you love him. Not long after that I heard him explaining to someone at church, “Bitty doesn’t talk, but he hears me talking to him and he knows I love him!” Cuddlebug and Bearhug get just as excited as we do as Bitty develops his communication skills, I think they really help him a lot without even knowing it.

  10. Pingback: Rhema’s Hope « Autism In a Word

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