A mother longs for many things, but nothing possibly more than the uttering of four colossal words from the mouths of her babes..”I love you mommy.” Such a piercing proclamation of love proves that words are indeed some of the most powerful forces on earth. Proverbs 18:21 reveals that ‘the power of life and death are in the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.’ Simply stated, what you say matters deeply, so choose your words wisely, as they indeed will leave an impact.
I can recall some of my son Nathans first words. He was about four years old when he started to form some sentences, except those sentences were in the form of an echo. You see, children with autism often use a matter of speaking known as echolalia. This term refers to the automatic repetition of vocalizations made by another person. For example, I vividly recall holding my precious boys face in my hands and swooning..’I love you Nathan.’…and his immediate reply was without emotion,… ‘I love you Nathan.’ Yep, echolalia is like a verbal revolving door that goes round and round in aimless repetition. While sincere words can move the hardest of hearts; words that come rolling out without thought or substance simply fade into the air, like a mist that is seen for a moment, but quickly vanishes.
In time, Nathan would soon start to regurgitate catch lines and phrases from commercials, radio, and TV shows. Again, this type of language felt very empty, and would not be regarded as ‘functional’ language in the typical world. As I daily took in the verbal mazes and winding oral paths in which Nathan traveled, I would long to hear what was truly in his heart. How did he feel? What was he thinking about? Was he truly in there???? Would my little replicating parakeet of a boy blaze his own trail and start flying to new language heights?
By the time Nathan was ten years old he had easily spent over a hundred hours of his life in speech therapy. That does not include the endless verbal exercises his drill sergeant mother would make him do ad nauseam! And he truly gained so many incredible skills in those years, but for some reason, the continued deficits seemed to stay at the forefront of my mind. I wish I had celebrated the victories more and focused on the delays less.
Case in point…. It was open house night at Poplin Elementary School. Nathan was entering the fourth grade, and I was eager for him to impress his new teacher, and mystify his previous ones. I wanted them to be amazed at how well Nathan could converse with them, and we had been practicing a simple game in which I was certain Nathan had mastered. The game was for Nathan to give a simple answer to a question, and then for him to repeat the very same question back to the one asking him. We did this over and over…and over and over…Did I mention that we did this a lot? Now for some questions this game will not work, but for many, it will. ‘Nathan, how was your summer??.’ In reply he might say…’Good, and How was your summer?‘ Yes, yes, yes. Nathan almost never asks another person about themselves, and so I figured this would really blow their socks off. Of course, I was simply asking him to be a little parakeet once again really. Hadn’t it been a critical goal to have him speak of his own mind?? I knew he had his own thoughts, and they were so valuable, but he rarely let those out to others. My heart pondered it, but I was all about him making the best impression that night…or so I thought.
And so we continued our practice in the car…’Nathan, how are you?’…’Good, and how are you?’….‘Nathan, are you excited for school to start?’….’Yes, and are you excited for school to start?’….On and on I would put him through these drills as we pulled into the school. As we entered the building, his first chance to impress came in seconds as staff and school mates would ask the very same questions we had just covered. But this time, my boy just kept walking. He might smile, he might give a one word answer while walking away, but never once did he stop, give his answer eye to eye, and play back the same question in return. Why wasn’t he playing our simple game any more??? Oh, I was so frustrated. I took him aside in the hallway to remind him how easy it all was. But there were so many people, so many noises, and so much chaos, that he just could not jump through the verbal conversation hoops that I set before him. He was getting flustered and I was not helping matters with my obvious disappointment.
As we approached our final hallway to leave, Nathan’s speech therapist Kelly Reynolds came walking out of her room. Now Kelly is a trusted advocate for Nathan. She has worked with him for a couple years now, and knows and adores him. She believes in Nathan, and that is something he can feel deep within his heart, with no words needed. She is physically beautiful as well, and he winks at times when he talks about her!! As I saw her smile and reach for Nathan, I hoped against all hope that he would at least play our silly repetitive question game with her. I wanted more than anything for Nathan to just answer her question and ask her one right back. What better person to really impress than her? That was all this mom was hoping for.
Ms. Kelly hugged Nathan and asked him that anticipated question that we had prepped over time and time again….‘How was your summer Nathan?’ I held my breath in anticipation for what he might say. I even played the regurgitated conversation back in my head, hoping the words would telepathically get into his brain. But sir Nathan Nelson did not play along. Instead, he took one good look right into her eyes and said four colossal words of his own…
‘I HAVE MISSED YOU.’
At that, I was silenced in every way, with tears streaming down my cheeks. My hope for him that night was so small, and so belittling really. He had so much more to say, with just a few simple and honest words. Ms. Kelly grasped the enormity of the moment as well. His face lit up with her reply..’I have missed you too buddy.’
Our walk to the car was filled with precious silence. I was humbled once again by my special son, and reminded that he has his own beautiful and unique voice. He means what he says and does not feel the need to impress those around him. He is what he is, and what you see is what you get. He has no hidden agendas. He is delightfully refreshing, and I as his mother need to embrace that in the richest way possible. I told him that night in the car that what he said to Ms. Kelly was awesome. “I know,” was his immediate reply.
Jesus reminded us all to choose our words wisely, and to mean what we say. He had no use for idle words, which run rampant in our societal circles today. Look at how The Message translates His poignant message to us all….
The Message (MSG)
33-37 “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.
It is good to mean what you say, and not put words in another’s mouth. This mom has learned her lesson!!
Here is a picture of Ms. Kelly…and one of my precious Nathan too of course. He is a dream.