Rhema went through a phase in which she was extremely sensitive to various types of clothing. She loathed socks and shoes, shirt sleeves had to be pushed up, and pants with buttons or zippers or anything “heavy” were not tolerated. No hard or scratchy materials, no tags. 

For her, dresses were absolutely out of the question.

But in my mind, she had to wear a dress to church on Sunday. That was my thinking, anyway. From the moment the ultrasound technician declared she was a girl, my mother and sisters had stocked the closet full of beautiful, elegant dresses. Nowadays, people do not really get dressed up for church, but I grew up in a culture where you always wore your Sunday best to service. It was not about vanity; it was about revering God and trying to give God your best. Even though church happened once a week, every Sunday service qualified as a special occasion.

O.k., so it was about vanity. For me for Rhema, at least. She’s the granddaughter of a pastor, for heaven’s sake. She may hurdle the pews, color her face with an ink pen, spill juice, stick her head in a wind tunnel and mess her hair Medusa style, but she was going to do it in a fancy dress, dagnabbit!!!

And so the battle would rage on Sunday mornings. I would launch a surreptitious attack:  

1) Give her a popsicle

2) Ever so casually slip on a tagless, cotton T-shirt

3) Quickly come from behind and throw her dress over top, hoping the fabric would not offend.

It would offend. She was like a pig in a dress, contorting, thrashing, tantrumming and nearly ripping the dress off, popping buttons, tearing lace. Then we would repeat the steps, she and I. If I managed to get her buckled in her carseat with a dress on, she would disrobe as soon as she was free.

Finally, one morning during Dress War, Brandon said quite simply, “Just let her wear pants.”


The thought had never crossed my mind. He gave me a look that said, ‘It’s not the end of the world.’

We were already late for church and I was battle weary, so I finally waved the white flag of surrender.

I knew it was my pride.  Rhema was already so obviously different.  Her special needs made her different. Her diet made her different (she’s the only kid with GF pretzels while the others eat animal crackers). I didn’t want her to be the only girl without a dress on.  Especially when she had a closet full!

She was down to one or two pairs of “soft” pants that she actually kept on (sometimes). She always wore them to school, so they were worn and faded.

But for months she wore those same pathetic pants to church every week. One child at church always liked to point out that ‘Rhema wore that last Sunday.’

It sounds silly now, and it was.  But my mind was set on the way things should be.  So many of my expectations for my “perfect” family and my “perfect” kids seemed to be crushed, and this dress thing was something I was trying to hold on to like a stubborn child [thanks, Shanda!]. Truly, it was me who was done up on the outside, but undone on the inside.  “The LORD sees not as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7

Looking back, I am now grateful that this is one of the small ways God had to humble me.  Of course, there have been other expectations for her life – our lives – that I have had to re-adjust (such as “typical” kidnergarten — that was a hard one for me).

But lately, my focus has shifted to see all the ways God goes beyond my expectations. Rhema is my shining example, and every day she makes me proud. More times than not, she manages to do something I think she’s not ready for, and she does it well. Just when I think I’ve got her figured out, she’ll surprise me with something new. 

At first, autism crushed my expectations. Funny thing is, now, my expectations are greater than ever before.

My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. Psalm 62:5

Rhema on Easter 2009. Check out those shoes!
Rhema on Easter 2009. Check out those shoes!

19 thoughts on “Dresspectations

  1. I’m thinking how lucky we are to have husbands with a fresh perspective, level head and practical advice! And how blessed we are to have a God who lets us have our cake and eat it too!! Good, better and best things come to those who wait…on Him.

  2. It’s amazing how when we let those battles go, life just gets easier. She’s amazing. So is Brandon, for letting you know it was OK. It is OK. Rhema is Rhema. Rhema is beautiful and wondrous, whether in Easter finery or in ratty pjs. Rhema is love.

    As are you.


  3. Wow, she is BEAUTIFUL :)!!!

    I loved this post. Made my eyes all teary! Youre writing seems to do that to me! I can totally relate.. to the expecations. i loved the way you tied it up at the end.

  4. She is beautiful. Whatever she’s wearing. And she is growing up very fast! Wow.

    They’ve got so much to teach us, don’t they? (I’m obviously still working on the vanity thing with Joy’s buzzcut and scar — though am seriously considering joining her in that look later this summer.)

  5. This walk (or run )with Autism has made you and Brandon wiser.Isn’t it funny how we think some things are so important at the time and later we look back and say what was the problem?I could tell you a lot of stories of things I put such emphasis on and later could not for the life of me remember why.
    Keep on keeping on Jeneil and Brandon Rhema is teaching you a lot.
    Love, Gramma Smith

  6. I really struggled when my 4 year old daughter decided that she was “done” with dance class. I had hoped (expected) that dressing up in ballet clothes and spinning phase would be a much larger part of her life than it was; she really does look just as adorable in a soccer outfit though…expectations sometimes sneak up on us; things we didn’t realize were important to us suddenly magnify and we have a choice on how things move forward.

    Oh these girls…God’s greatest tools to instruct us! 😉

    Rhema is always adorable- dress or no dress – but I’m so glad you were able to get a great photo of her all dressed up!

  7. I went to see the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”, a darling show about a group of adolescent misfits who can spell. Onto the stage stumbled a messy, unkempt, overweight kiddo with his shirt hanging out. He was busy picking his nose. Another character greeted him with a cheery, “Hello,” and this boy shoted back, “Shut up!”

    “Diver!” I whispered to my companion. And as messy and unkempt as he was, the audience loved him.

  8. Aw. She is so cute.

    I remember the dress wars well. So not worth it, right? But we hang on trying to fit them into an uncomfortable box. Our kids teach us so much. I adore Rhema, and Riley for making their mamas less rigid.

  9. Rehma looks beautiful, like the shoes, but I LOVE the hair. My son has ONE (count them ONE) pair of pants that he will wear to his regular sixth grade class. A father in our neighborhood bought him two more pair of pants (very kind but money was not the problem fit and material is). I cringe when he leaves for school, but he’s 12 I can’t change his mind or his clothes. So I hold my breath and hope we can figure out this sensory issue before he goes to Jr high.

  10. Jeneil, will I ever read one of your posts with dry eyes? 🙂

    Girl, I felt your mother’s heart wanting your baby in a dress! And, my heart melted at Brandon’s simple, quiet, and oh-so-wise suggestion that you just let Rhema wear what felt comfortable to her … even if it was an old, faded pair of pants. And, my heart broke at the kid who pointed out that Rhema wore those pants “last Sunday”! And, then my heart warmed, and I smiled as I saw Rhema’s picture in her beautiful Easter dress! She looks so pretty! I don’t know if she kept the dress on or not, but I’m glad you got a picture of her in it before she took it off! 🙂

    It’s not quite the same thing, but I remember going through a similar thing with Katy. Being from the south, I dressed her in monogrammed and smocked outfits … complete with BIG bows in her hair. When she was almost 2, we moved to south Florida, so far south that it’s not really “the south” anymore. Anyway, the kids didn’t wear smocked outfits or bows in the hair there! She threw a tantrum on her 2-year-old birthday because she wanted to wear a t-shirt instead of the outfit that I had chosen. I “won”, but I later wondered why I had made such a big deal out of it. I know it was because I wanted her to look the way I wanted her to look … especially since a van-load of our relatives had driven all the way from SC to FL to celebrate her birthday.

    In 4-year-old preschool, she announced that she would no longer wear bows in her hair. HORRORS! Gulp. Hard swallow. Really?? All I get is 4 short years?? I managed to convince her to wear hair bands for a while, but that didn’t last too long either. It was HARD to let go and let her start to exercise her right to choose things that were negotiable (like t-shirts and hairstyles). She’s 12 now, and it’s STILL hard!

    I could keep on typing, but I’ll stop now. I’ve almost written a post myself! Thanks for sharing that story, Jeneil. I’m sure it resonated with many moms out there!

  11. sounds like brandon is from my school of dressing. a running joke between ashley and our nanny how easy it is to tell when i have dressed baby maya — something on top. something on bottom. suitable for whatever the elements are, but often ridiculous in color combo, fit, and cerrtainly not up to the images ashley has of her cherubic daughter dressed as cute as she wants her to be, especially for church. i’ve stopped trying sunday mornings, except if there is an obvious “she wore that last sunday” option

  12. A lovely gift to you after years of “fighting the thing.” My son surprised me the other day. He’s eight and is dyslexic. He rarely sits for anything! When I walked through the dining room, I saw him sitting quietly, book open, and finger tracing the lines on the paper. He was reading silently, and I nearly dropped over from surprise. Indeed, a lovely gift to me after years of “fighting the thing.”

    Keep expecting, friend. God’s got more in store from Rhema.


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