My hope

When Hope was just a toddler, I wrote the following:

This girl is only 1.5 years old, but she has BIG personality. She is expansive, full of life, rarely shy, always chattering away to family and friends, doggies and cars that pass by. She never acts like she’s the new kid on the block, even though she has only been on the earth a short time. She has the wonderful ability to lighten the mood wherever she goes; unfazed by chaos, she will greet you with a grin so wide that her eyes squeeze shut. She is the merriment of my life.

Hope’s nature helps me understand what it means to “abound in hope.” Abound can mean to “overflow” or “exist in great quantities, a surplus.” When I gave my heart to Christ, He gave me a hope that no matter what happens in my life, I will one day see His glory and live with Him. I know no greater hope. But I only just realized that this kind of hope is one that spawns even *more* hope. I picture hope bursting at the seams, running over, uncontainable. Where there is progress and good news, there is hope. Where there is regression and sorrow, there is still more hope. Hope is plenteous; it never runs out.

…I want to exude this kind of Hope hope. God is the God of hope.


At age eight, she still abounds in hope and fills my heart everyday.

Recently she made a “Stress Pocket” for me and told me to take it to work. She explained that I could pull a card from it whenever I felt the need. I asked her where she came up with such an idea. I thought perhaps our friend Katie had told her about her birthday gift of special cards to her mother. Hope just smiled and said, “I thought of it myself. And I did it one-handed. Haha.” (She broke her wrist a few weeks ago).

I put the Stress Pocket on my desk at work and forgot about it… until one day last week it caught my eye.


I pulled out the instructions…


{This is your stress bag. When you are feeling stressed pick a card (any card) and read it. Hopefuly, you will be encouraged. Your done!}

So I pulled out a card:


{Cast all your cares and anxitey on him, because he cares for you.}

I could have dissolved into a puddle right there on the spot. My girl was ministering to me, not with her own words but with the ancient words – God’s Words – that alone have power to change my heart, lift my soul, spur me on. Even at a young age, she knows these Words, she’s proved them, and they are spirit and life. How I desperately needed to remember and believe that simply He cares for me.

I didn’t know if I was allowed to pick another card, but I couldn’t resist. I laughed when the next card I pulled had hearts and smiley faces and said, “Pick again.”

This was getting fun.


{“Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.”}

Over the past few days I have pulled more cards and each one is a treasure.


{“Fear not for I am with you.”}


{“do not worry about anything instead pray about every thing.”}


{“consider it pure joy whenever yo face trials of meany kinds because you know that the testing of your faith developes persevearance.”}


Thank you, dear Hope. How you have overflowed my days with love, laughter, joy, and sweet hope… words can never tell what a gift you are to us all. I am blessed beyond measure to be your mommy.

Doing something

We have many rituals, many little things we do the same way every day.

From the way she makes me sit on the stool next to her in the bathroom to where and how she eats, walks, sits, comes and goes – everything has a pattern and must be done in a particular way.

Our routines around RPM (Rapid Prompting Method) practice are quite established now. Terre, our therapist extraordinaire, comes on Saturday mornings and she and Rhema have their own way of working together.

When it’s time for a session with me, she gets up and heads down to the basement. She settles into her broken-down arm chair and hands me the remote. She knows I won’t turn on the TV, but handing the remote to me anyway is part of the process.

I read a story or do a math lesson. She scribbles on paper. I write words and numbers, hold up the stencil board and prompt her to stick her pencil through the letters. We “talk” about it all… how Moses persevered, how Leah found beauty and worth in God’s eyes, and how the yellow in Joseph’s coat must have been brilliant.

At the end she hands me the remote again and pulls me to sit in the broken-down chair with her. She wraps my arm around her and pulls the table in close as if to tuck us in. Silently we sit and watch the same old nursery rhymes. Together. It what we do.

Sometimes I think that through our RPM practice we’re finding a new pathway to each other through a complicated maze. A place where I get a glimpse of the more she has to share, and she discovers that she can indeed share it and be heard. Other times, try as we might there’s no making sense of that board of 26 letters. We’re looking at each other across a great divide. Pages and pages of written on/scribbled on paper like our own Morse code litter the table, the floor, the room.

Nauseating, deep discouragement and panic set in… will we ever make it? Will we find the way again?

I dare to pick up the book again – the Jesus Storybook Bible. Joseph, the dreamer, has been sold into slavery in Egypt. It seems all his big plans have been cruelly ruined. I read to her, to me, “But God had a magnificent dream for Joseph’s life and even when it looked like everything had gone wrong, God would use it all to help make the dream come true. God would use everything that was happening to Joseph to do something good.”

And so the story goes…

But God had a magnificent dream for Rhema’s life and even when it looked like everything had gone wrong, God would use it all to help make the dream come true. God would use everything that was happening to Rhema to do something good…

Take heart.

It’s doing something. Working something.

I don’t know what the “gone wrong” looks like in your space, but I know that nothing is wasted in His hands.

When Rhema was a baby I began quoting Romans 10:8-9 to her as I put her to bed. It’s another ritual – more for me than for her, I think. (And now, Hope too, requires I say the verse to her at bedtime as well). If I’m not there to put her to bed, I slip into her room after she’s asleep and whisper that verse. In the past I’ve written it on her bedroom door.

“Rhema, the Word is near you; it is in your mouth…” I touch her lips.

“…and in your heart…” I trace a heart on her chest.

And one day out of the blue, when she was five years old, she said words in her verse. ‘Mouth’ and ‘heart’ and ‘saved’. I hadn’t known she was listening or remembering or even caring. But the words had made their way into her heart and they’ve never left.

Our many feeble attempts, our messes of paper, pencils, stories, numbers and letters. Our never ending, seemingly meaningless routines. Our long days of trying and praying and hoping. I can’t always see it, but I have to believe. It’s doing something good.


What’s mine

When Rhema was three, she had a portable DVD player that in many ways served as a security blanket for her. (This was before iPads!) We’d play her favorite nursery rhymes and Barney videos over and over. Before going to bed she’d always want a video of a live George Strait concert. That little player got us through doctor appointments, air travels, and long term EEG monitoring in the hospital. It was a constant for her.

One Christmas we flew to Michigan to visit grandparents and family we don’t get to see very often. Rhema’s young cousins were naturally quite interested in her DVD player and kind of hijacked it without realizing it. Rhema let them. In a space that was not her home, where everything was different and unpredictable, she shared the thing that brought her comfort. Brandon took a picture and I keep it on my dresser to this day because it’s a perfect reflection of a kind and patient heart, a willingness to move aside, to share. What’s mine is yours.


Last night, after the girls had been fed and bathed, I made myself a bowl of ravioli for dinner. I set it at my spot on the table and went to the refrigerator for a cup of juice. Rhema came and sat down in her chair, reached for my bowl and began eating. I groaned. “Silly goose. That was mine.” But she’s always felt free to help herself to whatever. (I kind of love that.) I thought of splitting the meal with her but she’d already topped it with a mountain of cheese, and ravioli and sauce slipped and squirmed through her fingers. I sat down next to her as she ate.

Watching her reminded me of when I was twenty years old working in Ethiopia at one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the homeless, the sick and dying. I lived in the women’s quarters and a patient would often slip into my room at night. Without a word, she would sit on my cot and eat my toothpaste. We did not speak the same language so she would just smile at me as she made a meal out of my toothpaste.

My time in Ethiopia was like no other and my love for the people was so strong I really gave little thought for myself. Whatever I could do or give, I did, I wanted to help. I gladly took my clothes from my suitcase and gave them all to streetgirls.

Without hesitation Rhema reached over, took my cup and gulped down the drink. I laughed and echoed words from my heart felt long ago on the streets of Addis Ababa. What’s mine is yours.

Our lives are filled with the weight of too many demands. The things I really want to do I cannot do – it seems there’s no time left for it at day’s end. And often what I am doing just doesn’t seem good enough in my eyes.

The God who spared not His own Son, is the most generous of givers and we are the most blessed of receivers. It occurs to me that this stuff – ‘all that has been in my life up to now’ can be given to Him who gave all. The One who said, I am yours.

Call it extreme or “devout”, but I hope this, pray this, want to live this: In the kitchen in a heap of deferred dreams, and even in suffering, we come near and dance Freedom’s dance. We fall on our knees in joy and thanksgiving, unclench our fists. We lift up our loves, our empty cups, our suitcase of not-enoughs and guilty pasts, that thing we long for most, our small and big. All of it, an offering. Take this from my hands, everything I have. What is mine? I belong to You.

In the waiting

The rugrats were finally in bed. The husband had been put away and could not make pig faces at me. My glass of milk was on the counter. My warm peanut butter chocolate chip cookies – my reward for the day – were fresh out of the oven. I couldn’t wait so I lifted a cookie off the sheet before it had time to cool and it crumbled in my hand. I gobbled it. Oh well.

“For ye have need of patience…” ~Heb 10:36

Aw, shoot.

I grew up memorizing Bible verses in the King James version and to this day they pop in my head at opportune and inopportune times. (My favorite verse is/was always “But Lord, he stinketh!” – John 11:39)

I was incorrect in saying that we would pick up where Soma left off. Ha. No. Rather we’re starting at the beginning. Right back at square one.

Every day we do our RPM sessions and it’s… not horrible. If it were horrible I’d be eating five cookies. I’m only eating four.

The incredible progress we saw with Rhema in Texas (and in Wisconsin months before) seems to have missed the plane home. But I’d been warned to expect this. That Rhema might be slow to open up. That this learning to spell is hard stuff. That it will take time and practice, practice, practice. That as my friend Lydia said, “Communication is an incredible gift, but it’s a massive change, and, well, some of us are a bit unsure about change, even the very best kind.”

But oh I’m hungry to have a taste of the communication Soma and Rhema shared. It seems like the waiting is harder now that we know what is truly possible. It’s like we’ve found the lock but now we must work on the combination.

Charles Spurgeon, my favorite, says that we can cheerfully wait when we are certain that we shall not wait in vain. So I’m trying to let go of my timetable and my worries and just enjoy the practice. The practice of RPM and working with my girl, and the practice of waiting.

There is a new closeness in our family now that Rhema has given us a glimpse of a part of her we’d never known before. When I used to talk to her I could only hope she understood my words. Now, I completely believe she does. Our conversations are sweeter because of it. And she seems delighted, she’s been wearing a beautiful, contagious soul-smile.

Yes, there can be joy in waiting.

A Rhema smile, 2012

A Rhema smile, 2012

Finding the Lock – Part 3

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…”
~Ephesians 3:20

Rhema started Day 3 off by bolting into the building and attempting to swipe markers from the office. But the main office door was locked, and Rhema was not happy about it. She was resistant to walk away from the door. Soma pulled out a stencil board and a pencil and asked Rhema about the door. With a little prompting Rhema poked the pencil through the letters, spelling LOCKED. And then she calmed.

We moved to the classroom and as Soma began the lesson we realized that Rhema had cut her hand, most likely during the struggle at the office door. Soma said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I must have cut you with the pencil.” She looked at me and apologized, “I feel horrible.”

Rhema touched the scratch on her hand.

Soma said, “I’m so sorry. Does it hurt?”

She held up the stencils.

Rhema spelled, IT WAS MY FAULT.

You guys. I just sat there frozen in disbelief. I couldn’t even breathe. So often it has seemed to me that Rhema was not even aware of her actions. Who was this person? Taking responsibility, seeking to remove guilt from another. How did she even know the expression ‘It was my fault’?

Unfazed, Soma continued with the lesson as if my whole world had not been forever altered.

It was a geography lesson and I was in a haze. I vaguely remember Rhema being prompted through spelling words like river, meander, mountains, glacier, plains and delta.

I “came to” when Soma announced Rhema would be given a multiple choice test on what she’d learned. She explained to Rhema that this is what they do in school – they give tests to see what information the student has retained. Rhema selected the correct answers to the questions. I had to guess on one of the questions because I did not know the answer. Rhema got 100.

She asked me what Rhema had done in math. Huh? I mumbled something about patterns and counting. Soma started off with simple addition and subtraction and progressed to showing her how to add and subtract 3 digit numbers. Soma quizzed her non-stop for about 15 minutes and included math problems and reasoning. This child who cannot verbally count to ten. I watched as if in a dream as she pointed to number stencils and answered every math problem correctly.

Soma asked her, “Is this easy or hard? Tap E for easy or H for hard.” Rhema tapped the E and then Soma encouraged her to spell the rest of the word. EASY.

Well, that did it. The math did me in; my mind thoroughly blown.

Hope leaned over and whispered that I was “crying a little bit.”

I got on the phone and blubbered to Brandon, “Get on a plane to Texas. You’ve got to see this. You’ve got to see what’s happening.”

Brandon got to Texas for Day 4 of RPM camp and was able to see Rhema do math problems and answer questions. Her emotions seemed to be all over the place during her sessions that day. She cried at one point and spelled SAD – the first time she’s ever been able to communicate an emotion like that. Soon after, she was in a super silly mood and one of the last words she spelled in her session was DAD.


Coming home was strange… even our house feels different somehow. Rhema is the same girl she’s always been with the same challenges and needs, yet everything about her and everything around her feels illumined, forever changed.

The task of picking up where Soma left off and continuing to teach her to spell on the letter boards is daunting. The first couple days back have been hard. I’m scared to death we’ll botch the whole thing, but we’re giving it all we’ve got. We know too much now.

These hidden treasures are in all of our children. I believe that now more than ever.

God has done this amazing thing in our lives. It is indeed the gift I have prayed and waited for (and I know many have prayed along with us – thank you!). He signed his glorious name on it all in love. I am overwhelmed and humbled by such grace and generosity. Five years ago I wrote here: I want to tell everyone I know that God is the Speech Maker. With Him, nothing is impossible. He alone can give words to the one with no voice.

Come and listen.

Can you hear her?


Finding the Lock – Part 2

“While they were saying it couldn’t be done, it was done.”
~Helen Keller

Day 1

When we arrived at our RPM training, Soma was waiting for us. As in standing in the parking lot, waiting. It was as if she already understood that walking in and sitting in a waiting room would have been difficult for us. She was ready.

I was a bit star struck, having read her books and heard so much about her. Before I could say a word she ushered Rhema into the building. She had a sense of urgency about her; she would not waste time on introductions.

Rhema and Soma. Same height. :)

Rhema and Soma. Same height. :)

Immediately she began a lesson on markers – Rhema had managed to grab some on the way in. She spoke with her as if they’d known each other for years. Never once did she use “baby talk” or simplify her speech. Even though Rhema hummed and rocked and scribbled vigorously, Soma conversed with her as if she was listening and understanding everything.

I quickly realized Soma was not only teaching lessons in spelling, math and history, but also lessons in life. She gave advice as if she were passing on gems of wisdom like an old friend.

“Wait. Everything has it’s time.”

“Life has discipline. Strive for discipline. If you don’t, how will they know how intelligent you are?”

“Always respect your teacher.”

Methodically she taught Rhema to spell by instructing her to push her pencil through letters on a stencil board. It was tedious work. I’ve been trying to do RPM with Rhema at home for a few months so it was not unfamiliar to her.

As we were leaving that first day, Hope handed Soma a picture she’d drawn. On the back of the paper she’d written,

Dear Soma, Thank you so much for teaching my sister. There is nothing I want more than for Rhema to talk to me or wright. Love, Hope

Day 2

What happened next, I cannot explain. I am still trying to process it and make sense of it. I watched in utter shock and amazement as ‘better than my best dreams’ happened right in front of me.

Soma gave a lesson in poetry, teaching Rhema to spell the main words in each stanza on the 26-letter stencil board. Then she focused the lesson on rhyming words. She would circle two words in a poem that rhymed and ask Rhema to come up with another rhyming word. To my great surprise, Rhema consistently spelled out rhyming words. Words like SLEEP and PEEP, GROW and KNOW. She often needed help spelling the words correctly, but they were clearly words she thought of herself.

It was stunning to see my silent girl participating and following along. I did not know if she would understand the questions let alone respond in a meaningful way. I kept wondering, Is this really happening?

{I want to clarify that RPM is not FC (Facilitated Communication). Moral support and verbal prompts are common, but there is no physical prompting (as in hand over hand or hand to elbow) for the student when touching/tapping letters. During Rhema’s sessions, Soma periodically repositions the pencil in her hand to encourage her to keep going, but all of the letter pointing and tapping is performed by Rhema.}

Next Soma did an exercise where she would say a word from the poem and ask Rhema think of something that went with that word. “Not rhyming words this time,” she instructed, “Just any word that comes to mind.”

I did not expect this to go well.

Soma wrote the word “morning”. Rhema spelled PANCAKES, only needing some prompting for the last few letters. I don’t think Rhema’s ever eaten pancakes – she doesn’t like them – but on a recent Saturday morning Brandon and I made a big production over pancakes. We tried to make gluten free, dairy free, egg free blueberry pancakes and failed miserably. We had laughed about it. Rhema had been there, of course. She’d been around, in and out of the kitchen, stealing popsicles. Though no one had spoken directly to her, she was taking everything in.

Rhema spelled PANCAKES. !!!


Our pancakes

Soma asked her for more words to go with “morning” and Rhema pointed to more letters: BIRDS and SCOOL.

When given the word “star”, Rhema tapped the letters: IT SHINES.

It. Shines. I kid you not.

My jaw was on the floor. My heart was pounding. My head was spinning.

When it was time to take a break Rhema bolted into an office and grabbed pens and highlighters off the desk. Later, during a lesson about David Livingstone and exploring new places, Soma reminded her that there are some places one is not supposed to go.

She lectured, “Like into the office without asking. And like the cockpit.” (I’d told her about our troubles on the plane.)

Soma continued, “What would you tell me about that?”

Rhema spelled SORY.

I blinked.

Oh, my heart. About everything that had happened on the plane… she was saying sorry. Really? Really? I’d felt so low, so discouraged and now, was God redeeming that struggle somehow, giving me a gift I could never have imagined? It was too much for me to handle. In that moment I couldn’t speak. (Later I would whisper to her, It’s ok, sweet girl. It’s ok.)

I played it over and over in my mind. For the hundredth time I wondered if it was real, if I had imagined the whole thing. I couldn’t wait to get the video recordings of the RPM sessions so that I could make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

I prayed, God, I feel like a child on Christmas morning. I think the gift we’ve waited on for so long is right in front of us. But I’m afraid. Afraid to open it and discover that it’s not the right one. I want to shake it, flip it, turn it over in my hands. Even with everything that has happened… before I can trust this and let my heart hope, I have to see more.

Coming right up…

*Ed Note: For more information about RPM, click here:
A great news story on RPM from last week:–autism-communicate/31214179/

**Ed Note: Rhema’s remarkable success (detailed here) is due in large part to the amazing teachers at her school who have taught her to love letters and numbers and enjoy learning!

Finding the Lock – Part 1

I’d love to skip this part, but I need to start at the beginning.

It seems to me the stories that spread – or the ones that stick in my mind – are the ones where someone has been ignorant or disrespectful or unkind to a person with special needs. I want to add to the stories of not one person but many people who showed incredible patience, compassion and understanding to a family with special needs.

Our flight to Dallas was 3.5 hours long and Rhema did well for the first hour, giggling and coloring on the barf bags. Hour #2 she held my hand and closed her eyes and hummed. I could tell she was getting anxious and I silently prayed that she could keep it together until we landed. Somewhere during Hour #3 she decided she’d had enough. She handed me my purse as if to say, “Let’s go”, took off her seatbelt and tried to leave. I grabbed her around the waist and held on for dear life. I knew that a little stroll up the aisle was not what she had in mind: she wanted out. She fought me and shrieked as I told her it was not time yet and we had to stay in our seats. All the while I held her, I prayed please God help me, God help me.

She broke free and bolted up the aisle. I followed her as she tried to open doors – any door to get off. She tried to open the emergency doors but I was there to stop her. She opened bathroom doors looking for the exit. To my horror I realized she was heading to the front of the plane, straight for the cockpit. We were practically wrestling in the aisle as I tried to hold her back. She crashed into people. She accidentally caused a man in first class to spill tomato juice on his shirt.

“Ma’am! Ma’am, do you need medical assistance?” By now two flight attendants were involved. One blocked the cockpit door and another helped me move Rhema – completely escalated – back to her seat all the way to 36B at the back of the plane.

There were two more instances of Rhema escaping and trying to exit the plane during flight (on two separate flights). I don’t even know if she understood that we were still in the air, she just wanted to go home. She had to be held down by me, flight attendants and a couple other passengers.

The fear, the feeling of being out of control and powerless was one of the worst experiences ever for me. It was not lost on me that she was feeling the same things and sadly our special kids must experience it often.

The man who was wearing his tomato juice ran up and offered his electronic tablet. “She can play with this! Will that help?”

A woman who’d undoubtedly been hit by flailing arms gently tried to talk to Rhema.

As we panted and held her, I said to a flight attendant, “I am so sorry.” She replied kindly, “Don’t be sorry. This is ok. We’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”

The men in 14A and 14B traded seats because we’d never make it back to row 36 where Hope still sat. We’d have to sit for landing. We muscled Rhema into a seat and I sat next to her. I noticed her lip was split. She jumped into my lap (all 11 years and 100 lbs of her) and I held her for dear life. A flight attendant got a seat belt and somehow strapped it over Rhema as she sat on my lap, and then she ran to her seat just as we landed.

Another woman made eye contact and mouthed, “Are you ok?”

I nodded even though I was so very not ok.

The man who’d been seated in 35 B came to me with my backpack and Hope. He offered to continue carrying my backpack as we made our way off the plane.

In the terminal in Austin it took some time for us to find the wheelchair assistance we’d requested. Hope found him, a white-bearded heavyset man whose mannerisms reminded me of my father. He pushed Rhema in the wheelchair and although he’d never met us before he instantly seemed protective.

As we walked toward baggage claim he asked about Rhema. “What does she do well?”

We’d just lived through a nightmare on a plane and he was asking me what she did well.

I shrugged. “Well… she… um. She. She hums. She sings. Well, not words. She doesn’t speak. But she has a beautiful voice.”

He nodded knowingly.

“A gift. There’s always a gift.”

At the car rental place there was a long line, much to my dismay. I went to a kiosk and was able to do a video call with a car rental agent. During the call Rhema escaped the wheelchair and tried to pry the phone out of my hands. I explained to the woman on the screen that my daughter was autistic. The agent excitedly began telling me about a class she was taking on developmental disabilities. She happily lectured me on the fact that Rhema may not show it but she understood so much. As we hung up she said, “God bless you in Texas.”

Our wheelchair man who I could have hugged showed us to the parking lot and to the rental car. He bid goodbye to Hope and Rhema and said, “Y’all be careful now.”

I’m sure there were some frustrated people on our flights. But throughout our travels not one person was unkind or showed disdain. Instead it was quite the opposite. There is still much work to be done, but if you ever wonder if autism awareness/acceptance is spreading, let this story be proof that it is.

We faced more struggles that day – even things like walking into the hotel, getting on the elevator, getting food – proved to be very difficult.

By evening, I was incredibly low in spirit. I felt foolish not brave. I felt horrible for the way we’d inconvenienced so many people. I thought I’d made a big mistake taking Rhema on a journey she simply couldn’t handle. I was angry that it was so hard. In spite of the wonderful help we’d received all day, I was bitter. When we were seated on the plane and I was holding Rhema begging God to help me hold on and she escaped, those moments, that’s when I needed the help.

I texted my sister, “It was worse than my nightmares.”

She texted back, “Now God will bless bigger than your best dreams…”