A few simple words from a special-needs daughter inspire great joy in her mother.
Posted in , Apr 11, 2012
Everything was ready for my trip. I was one of five speakers traveling to Florida for a “Sharing Our Faith” conference. I headed to my daughter Kelly’s room to say good-bye. At the door, I heard Kelly talking to herself and stopped to listen. “Okay. Tomorrow. Spelling test,” she murmured.
I loved the sound of Kelly’s voice, and I didn’t hear it nearly as often as I wanted. Kelly was born with a rare syndrome called Cornelia de Lange. The genetic disorder had caused multiple problems, including severe reflux and heart defects, as well as developmental delays.
Talking was especially hard for Kelly. She communicated mostly in two-word phrases. Names she shortened to a first or last name—never both together. At the high school where she attended special-education classes, the students and teachers hardly ever heard a word out of her.
Even at home she never initiated a conversation and rarely made eye contact. But alone in her room, she sometimes spoke to herself in a stream-of-consciousness way. Whenever I heard her, I would stop and listen.
“Kelly?” I said, stepping inside. “It’s almost time for me to leave for the conference. I’ll be back on Monday. The day after your birthday.”
I hated to be away the day my eldest child turned 18, even if she didn’t mind. There was a time, after Kelly was first diagnosed, that an eighteenth birthday seemed impossible.
The conference kept me very busy, but whenever I had a moment to myself I thought about Kelly. The night before her birthday I called home to check in. I spoke with my husband, Larry, but as usual Kelly refused to talk on the phone. “We’ll wish her happy birthday for you tomorrow,” Larry promised.
That night I had dinner with the leader of our team. “Why don’t you come with me to the church where I’m preaching in the morning?” he said. “You could give your testimony.” It sounded like a great plan.
I went back to my room to prepare. I didn’t need much practice to deliver a talk on how my faith came alive years before. I’d told the story in front of many a congregation. Yet this time, when I started to practice alone, something felt wrong.
“This is the only testimony I’ve got, Lord,” I said. “What else am I supposed to talk about?”
The answer was clear: Kelly.
As of her birthday tomorrow I’d have loved her for 18 years exactly. I needed God to be a little more specific about what he wanted me to say. But when I prayed for an answer, all I heard was, Trust me. You’ll know.
When I arrived at the church the next day, I was nervous. Inspiration had not struck me during the night. In minutes I would step in front of a church full of people still not knowing what I might say!
I grabbed the service bulletin and scanned it for the day’s readings. Luke 13: 10-17, where Jesus laid hands on a woman suffering from a disabling spirit. “She was made straight, and she glorified God.” The woman had been troubled for 18 years.
Eighteen years! Kelly turned 18 years old today! I turned to the pastor. “I think I’m supposed to give my testimony after the Gospel reading,” I said.
When the time came for me to speak, the words flowed out of me. I told the congregation how special Kelly was to our family and to everyone who met her. I’d given testimonies before, but not like this. God was at work in this room. I could feel it.
“While most of us are busy searching for how to serve him,” I concluded, “Kelly always knows how to just be a child of God.”
When I finished, the entire congregation spontaneously sang “Happy Birthday to You” to Kelly. I couldn’t think of a better birthday present for her. Afterward several people came up to tell me how much joy and hope her story had brought them.
“My son is a special-needs child too,” a young mother told me. “Listening to you talk about Kelly reminded me how blessed I am to have him.”
“Any time I see a child who’s different, I’m going to think about your daughter, Kelly,” another man said. “Maybe they can teach me how to be a child of God too.”
So many people had been touched by Kelly on her birthday—it felt like a miracle God was working just for her. And I had gotten to share in it though I was miles away from her. Thank you, Lord, for this gift!
The rest of the day went by in a blur. I didn’t even get a chance to call Larry and tell him how the day started. I did tell my teammate, Tom Herrick, as we were leaving the conference that night. Tom was a longtime family friend, and we were all looking forward to him visiting for a few days—especially Kelly.
“I’m going to sing a big ‘Happy Birthday to You’ to her,” Tom said.
“She’ll love that,” I said. I took out my cell phone and dialed. I expected Larry or one of the boys to answer—
“Kelly?” Kelly did not answer the phone. “Happy birthday!” I said.
“Mommy, I’m eighteen,” Kelly said. “I’m an adult now! I cleaned my room today. It’s all ready for Tom Herrick.”
I was so shocked by her response I could barely speak.
When Kelly gave the phone to her father, I could hear the joy in his voice. “She just woke up this morning and started talking,” he said.
And then I thought back over the day. The service this morning, the scripture from Luke, and the testimony it inspired from me—all along God had been preparing me for the great breakthrough that was to come. The release of Kelly’s sweet, angelic voice was a miracle!
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