“Clap your hands… shout to God with cries of joy.” Psalm 47:1
Rhema attends a small school for children with autism that is the best kept secret in the state. The teachers are miracle workers. And everybody knows everybody, and it just feels like family there.
A few weeks ago I attended a graduation program at the school. Parents, siblings, grandparents and friends huddled into the gross motor room for the ceremony.
When the Integrated Kindergarten class came out, I recognized almost all the kids in the class. Many of them started out with Rhema in the public school at the age of three. Oh, to see them now! I felt so proud of them as they sang their songs and received their little diplomas. I exchanged teary smiles with their mothers.
Then it hit me that they had autism.
I had sort of forgotten.
The children standing before me could speak, answer to their names, follow directions, hold conversations, participate in group activities, sing, read, write. My child with autism does none of these things. The contrast was devastating.
I looked down at the program and saw my daughter’s name listed under the Intensive School. Such a huge gap between “Integrated” and “Intensive”, sometimes it seems to make all the difference in the world. Rhema = Intensive. Of course. That’s what she is, that’s what she needs. But why does it still crush me sometimes?
I was anxious. What in the world were they going to do with Rhema? She would not be able to perform as the other children had – there would be no reading an essay or singing along to a song. Would she even respond to her name being called to receive her certificate?
When Rhema’s group came out, she was guided to her chair with one teacher beside her and one teacher behind her. She would not look directly at the audience, but she had a huge smile on her face and her whole body looked like it could barely contain her excitement. She flapped her hands, swung her feet back and forth under her chair, knocked her knees, laughed out loud.
In an instant, my dismay left me. Her joy was catching.
A recorded song played:
“Clap your hands, clap your hands!”
With the lightest prompts – a hand to the elbow from teacher Kate – Rhema squealed, put her hands together and clapped for all she was worth. (Later Kate told me that Rhema had never done it independently before – they always had to “hand over hand” her. For years Rhema has had trouble flattening her hands to clap. Her fingers would always curl in.)
And I was done for.
Lord, if this is it, if this is all there is – I thank you! For she can hear the words “Clap your hands.” She can, with a little assistance, follow that instruction. She has hands to raise and all the motor planning and coordination it takes to put them together. And she has pure happines in her heart and on her face. I won’t compare, I won’t count any losses today, I won’t take this for granted. Thank you, thank you, thank you Lord.
But there was more. Of course there was more.
“Stomp your feet, stomp your feet!”
Kate helped Rhema stomp her feet.
Then Rhema bounded out of her chair and began jumping up and down.
The recording followed: “Jump up in the air, jump in the air!!!”
(This was her favorite part, and she almost jumped herself right out of the room.)
Next the teachers sang a song that had each child’s name in a verse. Rhema’s name was first and it was clear she knew they were singing to her. While they sang her verse, she tilted her head up and fixed her gaze on a spot on the ceiling, grinning all the while. When the song said, “Stand up and take a bow”, Kate helped her out of her chair. But instead of taking a bow, Rhema clapped her hands wildly. (I’m telling you, my girl stole the show. 8) )
She lacks nothing, I thought. At times her challenges may seem so pronounced to me and others; and no doubt autism robs her of many things. But in that moment, I only saw a child, complete, filled to overflowing with love, joy, contentment. And it was so enough.
“…And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Eph. 3:19
My “disabilities” are not quite as obvious as Rhema’s, but oh, they are there. In this life I have found my soul in an empty, destitute state… wanting, needing something to make up for my lack. The Bible verse reminded me – Rhema reminded me – that only God, full of fullness itself, can fill those places in me… so as to leave nothing wanting. Col. 2:19 says, “And ye are complete in Him.”
So I took a cue from my daughter. I raised my hands and clapped and cheered like we’d found the hidden treasure.
Lord in You, we are filled full of all that we need.