Thank You

Holidays have been kind of bittersweet for me the past few years. Rhema still does not “get” Christmas or birthdays. And, honestly, it took some of the fun out it for us as her parents. Why make a big fuss when Rhema seems to have no clue or care about such things. Last year we did not even put up a tree, and instead relied on the grandparents to do Christmas (as we have done for the past few years).

This year has been different. With Brandon deployed, our annual trek to Michigan was not really an option (how we miss them). This year it has really been my desire to make Christmas special and meaningful to Rhema and Hope. But I had no idea where to start – I’m not naturally good at this stuff.

Enter Jess and her family. Luau came over and put up our tree, and Jess gave me lots of ideas and sent Rhema-safe decorations (pom-pom garland and tinsel).

And then, this weekend, they brought Christmas to us. Luau dressed up as Santa, Katie was an elf, Brooke was a reindeer (and Jess came as Jess.)


Oh, if you could have seen the look on Hope’s face when Santa came through the door, bearing gifts galore!

She was literally frozen for a moment — wonder, surprise, excitement, dreams comes true. It was the kind of moment that a mother treasures forever. (Most of these moments have come for me in seeing others love my girls, and nothing touches my heart more).

During the visit, Hope asked to see Santa’s Nice List. (Up until this point she had been very concerned that she might be on Santa’s naughty list… due to transgressions committed earlier in the week). Santa had come with just about every prop in the book, but he didn’t bring his list. Jess quickly came up with the excuse: “Oh, Santa left his list at the North Pole.”

While Brooke dazzled me with her drawings of Boots, Benny, Tico and Isa and all the cast members of Godspell, Katie worked on her own little project. Some time later Katie produced a piece of paper with lots of names written on it; across the top it said: Nice List. And Hope, of course, was the very first name on the list. And Santa, of course, showed Hope that she was indeed on the Nice List.

Katie cares about the details. The entire time her focus was on making this a special time for Rhema and Hope.  She is 8 ¾ years old, and there’s no doubt this girl is already having a profound impact on this world. Katie and Brooke both were so amazing and sweet. I seriously think Jess and Luau should write books and teach seminars on parenting. These two little girls are the best of the best.

When it was time to go, I stood Rhema to her feet and told her to give a high five to Santa. She had not acknowledged Santa or shown any interest in him. But when I stood her up, instead of giving him a high five, she clambered up his legs, climbed over his big belly and right into his arms. It was PRICELESS… and perfect.


And she didn’t want to let go – I had to pry her out of his arms! Rhema doesn’t give her hugs to many people. But I’m convinced that she recognizes love. And it made me wonder (again) if she actually understands more than I give her credit for… like maybe she does get the idea of Santa. Truly it seemed that in that room with Jess and her family, just about anything was possible.

Jess came with the gifts and well-wishes of many dear bloggy mamas. For the past few months I have been receiving ‘encouragement packages’ from friends – some of whom I have never met. Seriously, the timing is always impeccable – a package arrives just when I’m having a particularly rough day. (Thank you, Michelle, for the way you inspire kindness).

Try as I might I can’t be eloquent about this. The love and support we have received has been like nothing I have ever seen or could have imagined. It’s like God really did open the windows of heaven and is heaping blessings upon my family. The only thing I can liken it to is the gift of grace through Christ – so lavishly given, so very undeserved.

I can only say thank you, and hope you know that that does not come close to conveying our gratitude. Thank you for the thoughtful gifts. Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for the prayers.  Thank you for the cards and letters to Brandon. Thank you for being here, and thank you for sharing in our lives.


30 thoughts on “Thank You

  1. ok, here’s the thing – you know how you thought you knew what love was when you were younger .. and then you had a child and found out there was this whole other dimension you never could have imagined? well, i thought i had a pretty good idea of the spirit of Christmas until this weekend, but girl, I had NO idea.

    the joy that we took from being in your home and the love and warmth that came from you, your sister, your niece and your little ones .. the look on hope’s face when she saw santa at her door, her drawings for him – delivered rapid fire, rhema clutching that little fan that we hoped upon hope might be something she’d enjoy, and then finally, the incredible moment when rhema went running to santa, hugged him and clung to him – well, those are the greatest Christmas gifts we’ve ever gotten by a long shot.

    we are the ones who are so blessed to have you and your family in our lives. thank YOU for everything.


  2. “sniffle” (ok who am I kidding, more like waterfalls)

    I am so moved…I am speechless.

    I am so very happy for you Jeneil. Thank you Jess and family.

  3. How wonderful, the true spirit of Christmas.

    Kayla hasn’t gotten it either, but I think we are moving closer. I see her sitting and staring at the Christmas tree lights and she even attempted to open a Hanukkah present. So hopefully when she realizes there are musical flashing toys (yes, we indulged her in even more) under that wrapping paper she’ll be a little more enthusiastic.

    As for recognizing love, I can never figure out how Kayla determines which strangers to randomly hug. During one outing at the crowded Bronx Zoo, she just walked up to some mom, grabbed her hand and gave her a big kiss! How she picked this lady out of the crowd is beyond me. Fortunately, the lady was very nice about it! But Must.Work.On.Boundaries!!!

  4. Jeneil, you are a blessing to so many people, sharing your life and faith through the blog and through just being who you are.

    Of *course* your family is on Santa’s nice-list! Thanks so much for sharing the joy by writing about it. Just wish I could have come for the Santa-party too (Jess, you & yours are utterly amazing.)

  5. That is fantastic. I am so glad you have so much support. Jess and her family are amazing (from what I’ve read!) Happy Christmas.

  6. We do not have the ability in words to properly convey the gratitude we feel toward all of you for your astonishing kindness, love, and thoughtfulness.

    I just say “thank you” for taking care of my family while I am away.

    • brandon – it is truly the very least that all of us can do. though your beautiful wife holds down the fort with her signature strength and quiet grace, there is no doubt that you are missed.

      stay safe and come home soon.

    • Brandon,

      It is you that we should be thanking. You and your fellow soldiers provide the freedom we all enjoy here at home. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for protecting my family.

  7. Great friends.

    You know you’re loved when someone is willing to trek out in a blizzard in a hot-n-heavy Santa Claus suit for you.

    (Jenn E said exactly what I was thinking.)

  8. Wow. Such a beautiful, joyous post. Jess and family, little Hope, Rhema, all of it. I do believe kids with autism recognize love above all other language.

    Love is also in the allowing of others to express theirs. May you continue to have the love you put out into the world reflected back to you. That’s how it works, you know.

    ; )

    Happy, happy Christmas to you and Brandon and the girls.

  9. Wow, what a beautiful and amazing experience. I love the pictures, especially that last one. 🙂

    Yes, Rhema recognizes love, and your family has that in abundance!

    Wishing you and your family and very Merry Christmas!

    And Jess, ya’ll rock!!

  10. That is so sweet, how Rhema jumped into Santa’s arms! I definitely believe you that she recognizes love… and I am sure she does understand more than she is able to show! I am glad Rhema and Hope had fun with Santa!

  11. Oh, you guys! You two families are the living epitome of grace, Christmas, and love. Pass the tissues.

    Jeneil, I can tell you from my experience. I strongly, strongly believe that Rhema is picking up on so much more than we know. I am lucky enough to have a son who talks. And I know it is luck. From how he acts and his body posture and his not looking straight on at anything, you would think he wasn’t getting anything. But he does. And the only reason I know some of it is because of talk. Christmas and birthdays were hard – abstract. But the minute something concrete (like Santa) enters, yes, it’s obvious. Rhema gets the love, she gets Santa, she gets so much more than we know. She just can’t tell you … yet. Hugs to both families. You are truly inspirations.

  12. Pingback: Love in Winter « Autism In a Word

  13. Pingback: Typical Time « Autism In a Word

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s