***The following is the first of a two-part story. Every syllable is raw, full of grace, and the wondrous power and faithfulness of God…who hears and sees us wherever we are. It is written by my dear friend, Jeneil Russel. The story that is about to unfold before you is powerful. I cry every single time I watch the video and read the story. And for those of you who are walking the long, often wearying road of parenting children with special needs, I pray that this series will inspire you to keep the faith, keep praying and believing that God has a bigger plan within your obedience and faithfulness. He is so good…in ALL things.
Rhema…“The spoken Word of God”
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 14 and Hope is 11.
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 14 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 informed us that she most likely suffered from 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. My husband, Brandon, was deployed to Iraq three times, with each deployment lasting a year or longer. Caring for our girls fell heavy on my shoulders. I think I put on a good face, but inside I felt isolated, angry, 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. There were little signs that caused me to believe 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. For her, pointing was a challenge because she lacked the motor planning to form her hand into a point. But when we came home, 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 two choices and spelling the choices out loud. “Did Pharaoh 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.”
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.
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. 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 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 just to hear her thoughts. Now her words, in abundance, fill our hearts.
In all the silent years, it seemed like God was silent. But all along He was, and is, speaking.
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.
***Below is a video testimony of the Russel family and their journey with Rhema, helping her to find and discover her voice. If you would like to follow their story, you are invited to go to their website, Rhema’s Hope, or visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rhemashope.
Please be sure to follow next week’s Worship Wednesday post, which will feature Rhema’s own words. When I approached her about considering doing a guest post for me, she was so enthusiastic and has such a heart to encourage others with her story. Her words, wrought with much concentration and care, are so worth reading. She will inspire and challenge you to aim higher…I know she has for me.
Video used with permission.