The story I’ll tell… and tell and tell

2015 - Photo taken by Kerrie James

2015 – Photo taken by Kerrie James

I expect that soon Rhema will take over this blog and you will see less of my words and more of hers. And I couldn’t be happier about that!

I do want to share here a bit of her story from my perspective. A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at my Bible study about Rhema’s amazing journey:


I am so happy to share a story with you today.

God has entrusted me with two sweet girls and one generous husband. Rhema is age 12 and Hope is 9.

Rhema’s name literally means “word” or “thing said”. Before she was born we chose Romans 10:8,9 as her theme verse, and I’ve recited that Scripture to her every night at bedtime for the past 12 years. “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart. That is the word of faith we are proclaiming that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.”

At age two Rhema was diagnosed with autism, apraxia and a rare and stubborn seizure disorder. These things robbed her of her speech. A neurologist also informed us that she most likely suffered from aphasia which is an inability to comprehend language, also known as “word deafness.”

I thought it was all a cruel cosmic joke. My child named “word” could not speak or understand a word.

For years we struggled under the weight of Rhema’s diagnoses, challenges and needs. Brandon was in the Army and was away a lot – he was deployed to Iraq three times, with each deployment lasting a year or longer. Caring for our girls fell heavy on my shoulders. And I think I put on a good face, but inside I felt isolated and alone and angry and bitter and heartbroken. Even though I could not see what God was doing I had to make a choice to believe that He was and is faithful.

My daughter’s struggles did not go away – even now she can still have very hard days with overwhelming senses, self-injuring behavior, aggression and seizures. But God was doing a healing work in our family, and in many ways, it had nothing to do with autism.

I had such a longing to have a real conversation with my daughter and for her to be able to  share her thoughts about… anything – her favorite color, why she was upset, or if she hurt, or what she liked. At age 11, standardized tests indicated she had the receptive and expressive language of a 12-month old. But there were little signs that caused me to believe that she understood far more than we thought. We began telling her that we would never give up on helping her communicate better, that one day she would be the storyteller.

In 2015 we took her to WI and TX to learn a teaching method called RPM, Rapid Prompting Method. It involves teaching a student to point to the letters to spell words and sentences on a simple stencil board or letter board. It was a total paradigm shift for us because it meant teaching age appropriate material to Rhema as if she really understood everything. For her, pointing was a challenge because she lacked the motor planning to form her hand into a point. But we came home, and I was determined to keep teaching her using this method.

First, we studied the book of Exodus. Because Rhema, like Moses, needed to find her voice. In the beginning I would read from Exodus and then ask her a question about it, writing down 2 choices and spelling the choices out loud. “Did Pharoah want to kill all the Hebrew boys – B-O-Y-S or girls G-I-R-L-S?” And then I would encourage her to point to a choice.

There was something sweet about studying the Bible that way, letter by deliberate letter we were believing more and more. It was like God was spelling it out for us, inscribing it on our hearts. One night we read Exodus 4 and I sensed that Rhema could really identify with Moses. “O Lord, I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and tongue.” The LORD said to Moses, “Who gave man his mouth? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” ~Exodus 4:10-12

After our study time I wrote the following:

“I have indeed seen their misery… and I have heard their cry. I know their sorrows.”

We’ve been reading the book of Exodus. Rhema and I. I write that casually, as if it is nothing new. But we sit and I read to her and ask her questions about it, and I believe that she is listening and understanding. Well, that’s never happened here before, and it’s remarkable.

I write out the words God spoke to Moses through the burning bush: I have seen, I have heard, I know.

He tells Moses that He has come down to rescue the people of Israel. He is sending Moses to deliver them from their slavery and oppression. Moses protests, saying, ‘Who am I that I should do this?’ No doubt he is thinking of his inadequacies, his unworthiness, his past failures and fears, his “slow tongue.”

God says, But I will be with you.

I ask her about it, writing out different choices on paper. What did God say to Moses’ objections?

She waits. She lifts her hand and slowly, purposefully points. That beautiful, hard-won point. Her finger presses the words, But I will be with you.

“He will, Rhema,” I whisper. “Always. He will.”

When I cannot, He will.

And if she remembers in the moments when she feels so alone, little girl standing at the window, always on the outside looking in, that she is indeed seen…

And if she believes that when she can’t speak, that she is heard…

And if she trusts that when no one understands her quiet sorrows, that she is known…

by the God who wonderfully made her and whose love for her is indescribably extravagant, measureless, endless…

that is enough, more than enough.

No matter what life brings if she will touch those words, cling to them, hold them close to her heart,

‘But I will be with you’

Then this mama’s heart rests and rejoices.

She has all she’ll ever need.

After a full year of studying together every night, she spelled her first sentence of open communication with me. We’d been doing a lesson on the Lord’s Prayer, and I asked her if she could tell me what she prayed for. I held up the stencil board and she spelled “I H-A-V-E M-Y V-O-I-C-E.” I asked her again because I couldn’t believe it, and she spelled it again. She was telling me that she prayed to have her voice.

It was the most incredible moment of my life because I knew that God had done it. Rhema word. And the moment she spelled that she prayed to have her voice, she had her voice. God answered her prayer then and there.

So that was March 16th of this year. Every day since has been like a dream as she tells us – through pointing – remarkable things. We are getting to know her in new ways for the first time. God is indeed with her mouth and He has given her a beautiful voice. Like Zechariah whose tongue was loosed, she is full of praise and thanksgiving to Him.

This is the kid who makes noise in church, colors with markers in the hymnals, runs laps around the sanctuary and has been known to do the low crawl under the pews from the back of the church to the front. Her favorite part of church is the end where she can race to the fellowship area and drink all the lemonade. To this day she struggles to make it through a church service or Bible study, and yet she has a faith story as God has cultivated a real and genuine relationship with her.

For the children and grandchildren in your lives – speak the God’s Word over them, read it into their ears. It might not seem like they’re listening or they understand or even care. But God speaks their language perfectly, and His love translates.

“Nothing happens to happen

My hope is in the Lord

I have high hopes that I will speak someday

but if not I will speak in my heart

I will say I love the Lord

He gave his life for me so that I might live

He has given me my hearts desire

He is so good to me

He is so much love

I am His”


Once upon a time I would have given anything, really anything, just to hear her thoughts. Now I have pages upon pages of words she had spelled and I have written down – in notebooks and journals, on desks and the floor by my bed, on the ironing board… and of course Facebook.🙂 Her words fill the rooms of our home and our hearts.

In all the silent years, it seemed like God was silent. But all along He was, and is, speaking.

And now I am the speechless one. There are no words to describe my amazement and joy, my gratitude to Him. Our God is a God with perfect plans. He sees and hears and knows us. He comes down to deliver us. He teaches us what to say. He performs wonders in our midst. And He is with us.


We’ve been slow to update the blog, but there’s lots going on and many new things have been happening for Rhema.

This week I posted the Rhemashope Facebook page:

Rhema is participating in a science “club”. The lesson will be at age/grade level and she will join kids her own age. We’ve been waiting to be a part of this for months. Will you pray for us that it goes well?

I wanted to share the letters we wrote to the club a couple weeks ago:

Dear [Club],
I have so much I want to tell you
My hope is to be a scientist
My true strong desire is to be a scientist
I really want to say that I love science because so much of God’s glory is in nature and in us
Nothing makes me more happy to than to study science
My hope is to come to your club and see you soon
I so want to speak with you my heart could burst but I will wait until Wednesday
I hope my body will cooperate so I can stay in class
Thank you for having me

Dear [Club],
Thank you for inviting us to your club! I wanted to tell you a little about Rhema. She is your age, and she has autism. She does not speak with her mouth. She is able to communicate her thoughts by pointing to letters on a board and spelling words and sentences. She is also learning to type. Sometimes it takes a long time, but she is so happy to communicate in this way after twelve years of silence.

Autism makes it hard for Rhema to control her body and manage many things that come easy for most of us. She is very sensitive to sounds so she will be wearing noise cancelling headphones when she comes to visit. She will probably color with markers and may hum softly – these things are calming to her when the world often feels overwhelming. But don’t worry she will be listening very closely to the lesson! She is also shy and may cover her face… and she may be too excited and need to leave early, but I want you to know that coming to your club and learning science together is truly a dream come true for her!
Thank you all,
Rhema’s mom



And the next day there was this:

Before we went to the Science Club, Rhema was really struggling. She’d been up all night, and her senses were very much ‘out of order’ (her words).

As she tried to communicate her thoughts she intermittently bit her hand and fingers, rocked, and hit herself. It worried me to see her struggling so. She said:

“I may need to leave early
because my motor skills are bothering me
I hope my body will cooperate
but if not I will praise the Lord
He is so good to me
He made my body
so I will trust Him”

She humbles me.

We went to the Science Club. As some pointed out, just getting there was an accomplishment. Rhema sat between Brandon and me; she colored, tore paper, hummed, walked around, listened and learned. The students and the teacher were such gracious hosts. *She made it through the entire thing!* It was not easy for her, but she did it. Towards the end I asked her if she wanted to say anything, and she spelled two simple words on her board:



I had such a good time in science today

I will never forget it

It was a dream come true

Thank you so much for having me

So much to say about how I learned about science today

I loved hearing about the domains in the book and seeing the groups on the board

It was so interesting to hear about nothing I had heard before

I loved learning about nothing I had heard before

Tomorrow is full of possibilities now that I have been to science class

I must thank the Lord for my mother arranging this for me

Chosen my path in life

I want to be a scientist




“So Rhema, let’s review. There are certain principles or rules in math that are known as properties. What did we learn about these properties? They are…?”


“Yes. Do you remember the name of one of the properties?”


“You’re right. That’s the one that says no matter the order of the addends the sum is always the same. What’s another addition property?”


“Yes. That’s the grouping one that says (a+b)+c = a+(b+c). Right? As you said, these properties are always true. Can you think of anything else that is always true?”


Her colors


She does not draw figures or objects. Only lines and spirals and color – lots of color. She calms when the page is filled. Her fingers, face and pants are often stained with her colors. Her papers are everywhere in our house. I wonder if they represent how she feels inside – busy, swirling, full. I don’t know. But I think it’s beautiful.
-Rhema’s mom, December 2015

I love watching her create these masterpieces. They’re not random. Multiple colors in her hand at once sometimes, yet intentional strokes with each color at “their” time. I particularly like when they are accompanied with a song. It’s pretty perfect.
-Chelsea, Rhema’s former teacher


i love to remember when i was young and could color all the time

so much i want to say about how i love to color

every time i try to say what it means i get tongue tied

so much joy comes when i start to think about how coloring makes me feel

it is something i cant explain

i love reds and greens and blues and browns

i love the way the tones run together

it soothes me so much that i cant stop inventing new ways to color

my favorite thing to draw is swirls like vincent van gogh starry night

my points are smartly drawn and every line has purpose

i try not to steal markers but i cant stop sometimes it is too comfortng

when i color the world is my friend

so thankful to God for colors


Hard conversation

Um… so.

The other day Rhema led me to her stencil board.

Yes, she took my hand and pulled me over to the table and picked up her stencil board. That kind of initiation just does not happen all that often, or ever. She had something to say. I sensed her urgency, and I was all ears.


I gulped and my head pounded. There had been a couple times before when she told me she was mad at me, but it was for seemingly simple things like when I took her blanket from her because it was in desperate need of washing, or when I snatched an important paper away from her marker-wielding hands. But this. This was something altogether different. Her words were a ton of bricks on my heart.

“Rhema… I am sorry. When do you feel I have belittled you?”


I wanted to deny. And cry. And make excuses. But truth is truth.

“Rhema, I used to always say that you understood words and things happening around you. But on some level I must not have believed it because I was often careless, engaging in conversations about you right in front of you as if you weren’t there. Even if you were unable to comprehend language, I should not have done that. And now I know with certainty that you listen and understand everything… but I guess you’re telling me that I still do that sometimes… treat you as if you are not a hearing, thinking, caring person. I’m so sorry. I must do it without even realizing it.”

I put my forehead to hers.

“Thank you for telling me. Every letter you point to, every word you spell is honest. And you’re right, you are so very loved by me. Even more than you know. Will you forgive me? I’ve made many mistakes and still have so much to learn. Will you continue to be patient with me? Will you help me by letting me know when I am treating you differently or making you feel… small?”

My gracious girl answered,



We have conversations now. Precious, hard, amazing conversations. It is a blessing I hope to never take for granted.

And the girl whom everyone thought could not understand… helps us understand.

IMG_5872 (1)


Rhema and I studied waterfalls – the science of waterfall formation, types of waterfalls, famous waterfalls. All of this in preparation for the day our family would hike with a small group to Auger Falls in the Adirondacks.

It was a beautiful day for a hike. We struggled to keep Rhema walking, moving in the right direction, and staying in the appropriate areas. I wasn’t sure if we were brave to have attempted the excursion or just plain foolish.

But we made it to the waterfall. We learned that Auger Falls got its name for its resemblance to the corkscrew shape of a drill bit. Sounded like my insides, my heart all spiral-y and twisted. The Falls were a great sight, but I was distracted. Distracted about Rhema’s safety and how hard it was and so much sadness in the world and things going on back home and…

Alexis, one of our guides pulled out her Bible and read Psalm 29.

“Rhema,” I whispered loudly. “We studied that Psalm and now she’s reading it here at the waterfall!”

“Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.”


Our group continued hiking along the river, but Rhema could not continue. We went back the way we had come, accompanied by a guide.

Back at our cabin I asked her thoughts on the Falls, and she spelled this on her letter board:

“I loved seeing the waterfalls especially when we approached the area beside the trees.

It was so lovely to my senses.

I will not have mediocre thoughts about God again.

I am truly thankful for the experience.”

On sound

I think that sound is so interesting

It really makes me want to learn more

Nothing makes me happier than to study science

As an autistic person I can hear songs in trees

I can notice my songs in the small things like motion and sound

I can hear songs when no one is listening

How lovely it is in my ears it sounds so sweet

It is perfect pitch

I can hear whatever sounds sound like to me

I can also hear music in the wind and waves

It is so lovely in my ears

I can be thankful I can hear so much