“I don’t understand Your ways. Oh but I will give you my song, give you all of my praise…”
~Rita Springer, Worth It All

I try to hear her, grateful she has so much patience with me, with this world.

Every day Rhema is learning to speak our language. She must continuously be prompted to say and approximate words, and every once in a great while a word will come out so crystal clear and spontaneous that it bowls us over. But her preferred language seems to be one of repetitive intonations, humming and “self-singing” (or so it sounds to us). In public, people often don’t realize there’s anything different about her until the vocalizations flow out of her mouth like a river. On the phone once while I sat next to her as she made her babbling sounds, the pharmacist asked if that was my baby in the background.

Hope tells me in dramatic detail how she bit her tongue while chewing a Starburst and how it hurt so bad she couldn’t even cry. Her language is so descriptive, she’s eager for me to commiserate. And suddenly it hits me that Rhema’s probably bit her tongue before and I didn’t know. And she’s probably had a sore throat and I didn’t realize it or been too cold or too hot or afraid or anxious about something. And she couldn’t tell me. And while I try to anticipate her needs – (I am constantly thinking about these things – Does she need a sweater? Does she need to go potty? Is she thirsty?) – I cannot imagine how many things I’ve missed.

I try to hear her, grateful she has so much patience with me, with this world.

She struggles, too, and I hear it but I don’t understand it.  I often have no idea what’s in her head, how to reach her? Lord, please show me how to be her mother.

It’s our last gymnastics practice of the season. Tomorrow is the Summer Games, and all of the girls on the team are working hard for the big day. I’d gotten my hopes up that Rhema would be able to participate, but weeks ago the coaches gently told us she was not ready. And as she darts around the gym and her coach tries to communicate with her, the blinders are off. I see how positively not ready she is, how disabled she seems even among her teammates on a Special Olympics team. (Amazing how alone you can feel even in a group of mamas and children with special needs). I am so thankful that she is able to run, jump and move so well, I am. But “nonverbal autism” puts us at a loss that feels too heavy – does she feel it, too? – and I let disappointment and discouragement ripple through me, invade.

On the way home we have to make an unplanned stop at a grocery store bathroom. I peel off her leotard, have no choice but to throw away her soiled underpants. She stands there as I clean her up with wet paper towels, and she hums a peaceful song into my soul. I hear her, grateful she has so much patience with me, with this world. Soft soprano in a dirty bathroom, floating high, and it’s so pure and lovely and full of faith it breaks me.

I want to sing like her.


12 thoughts on “Heartsong

  1. I have no words to ease the all too familiar ache and sting of feeling alone in the crowd of our own people. But I can tell you that you are doing such a beautiful job listening to and following your sweet girl’s song. It may feel like you are “faking it” but you aren’t. You are connected to her in ways indescribable.

  2. Our children are very different in a lot of ways … but in this they are alike. I often wonder how many important things have I missed. When we take him to the dentist and they say he has cavities – were they hurting? When out of nowhere he screams – What am I missing? It’s so hard but at the same time it must be so much harder for them – and yet they smile and laugh and play. It’s amazing the patience they have with us. I love how you put that.

  3. You know that verse that talks about the Spirit interceding with groans that words cannot express…Rhema speaks to God like that, I think…in Spirit language.

  4. Oh, I like Jett’s interpretation.

    That you think of Rhema being patient with you is such insight, Jeneil. She is so blessed to have you as her mom, her advocate.

  5. I like to think of that moment, in the dirty bathroom, as the moment that all parents truly want with their children. We’re trying to get past senseless earth talk to get to there.

  6. So beautiful! I love it. To be given one of those beautiful special blessings of connection at such an inopportune and improbable time. God is faithful.

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