We have been and will continue to be very careful about the things we share about our children. They have a right to privacy, a right for the world not to know every detail of their backgrounds, histories, diagnoses, challenges, and personal information. I want to protect them, to make sure that I am being very careful to guard their lives and stories with care and intentionality. But I struggle to hold it in when there are monumental breakthroughs, critical turning points, undeniable victories in their lives. I want to shout these to the world, to remind everyone that the hard days are SO WORTH IT, and that God is a big God who does big things worth celebrating. Sometimes, those do need to be celebrated quietly, privately. But other times I feel prompted to share, because maybe there is someone out there who needs to be reminded that God is still working miracles today, every day. I know…because I watch them unfold in my daughter’s life all the time.
Our daughter Jianna is a completely different person today than she was when we met her. I don’t want to go into too much detail about how hard things were for her back then, but I will say this: she was a prisoner in her own world. Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, she had a vocabulary of about 16-20 words at age 4. She didn’t know how to connect with other people. Her entire world was wrapped up in her iPad, which she was using all the time. She much preferred technology over human interaction, and she rarely made eye contact.
When Husband and I decided to move forward with adopting our two kids, we knew it was going to be challenging. We knew the facts: children with an ASD diagnosis were very hard to match. People were afraid, unfamiliar, intimidated by something that is so mysterious and hard to understand. To be honest, after we met her, we were afraid too. We loved her, because we had chosen to love her, but we didn’t know where to go from there. How would we connect with this child? How could we unlock this little girl from the isolated world she lived in? We prayed. We prayed A LOT.
The answer came quickly. As we spent more time with Ji, the key to reaching her became increasingly apparent: music. That girl was born with a song in her soul. Anytime a song with any kind of beat came on, she would rock and bump her head against her chair in flawless rhythm. She would sing in her sweet little voice the words she didn’t understand, usually mispronouncing them, but singing them all just the same. Likewise, if a non-preferred song was played (aka anything without a fast, driving rhythm), she would LOUDLY verbalize her disapproval and clamp her hands over her ears.
The problem was that most of the music she favored didn’t lend itself to meaningful interaction or true emotional connections. You can only sing nursery rhymes and the finger family song so many times before you want to chop your ears off. And we were more than a little horrified at some of the words to Beyoncé and Ludacris songs that our 4 year old was singing. We needed to find music that could help her connect and engage with the world around her, and even more importantly, music that was full of truth and hope and light. So one day, before she even came to live with us, my husband added the Hillsong Young and Free album into her iTunes. At first she showed no interest, but over time, she was drawn to the music. She was drawn to Jesus in the music. Suddenly this little girl was singing about freedom in Christ and chains being broken. It was beautiful. I wasn’t sure she truly understood any of it. But I knew it was good for her heart and mind and soul. We prayed that the Gospel truths she was listening to would penetrate her heart well beyond the fun rhythms. We prayed that she would be given ears to hear the hope in the words she sang. And God is answering that prayer.
A few weeks ago, Vertical Church Band released their latest album Frontiers. Ji has liked VCB’s stuff in the past but this album has had a different effect on her. This album has taught my girl to worship. I was sure, like all the music she has listened to in the past, that she would be most drawn to the more upbeat songs. And while she does enjoy those, the two songs she asks for most are entirely unexpected. The first is Come Holy Spirit. Y’all…I have never seen this child worship like she does with this song. Eyes closed, hands raised, singing so loud I feel like the car windows are going to shatter. I cry almost every time. From day one, we have been praying for the Spirit to engage her heart. Watching that prayer be answered is the most beautiful thing in the world. “COME HOLY SPIRIT COME….FALL AFRESH ON ME!” she sings with all her might. She senses the presence of God all around her and she is beaming. Her countenance is full of joy and life and the assurance of belonging as she worships.
I’ve always believed that people with special needs which affect their minds have the potential both to be more vulnerable to spiritual attack and more in tune with the Spirit’s prompting and movement. We have prayed daily for special protection for her mind, for God to speak to her in a way she can understand, and for her to be drawn to Christ in her soul and spirit. It’s very simple for Ji…when she worships, everyone else disappears except her and God. There is something very special happening between her and her Creator, something that I may never comprehend this side of heaven, but feel so grateful to be able to witness. I believe God is speaking to her in those moments, reminding her who He is and how deeply He loves her, teaching her the truth of His Word.
Is that hard to believe? Maybe this will convince you. Just last week after a time of worshiping in this way, her eyes popped open and she looked me right in the eye and declared with utter certainty and calm confidence, “Jesus is God. Jesus loves Jianna.” It took my breath away. Immediately she said, “Mama, Always Have!” Still stunned, I complied and hit number 10 on the CD. Her eyes closed again and she settled back in her seat. Unlike literally every other song she loves, this song is very soft and slow, with mostly acoustic guitar and no loud dominant drum part. When this song comes on, everything changes. She stops rocking and banging her head against the seat. All of the self-stim behavior slows and she becomes still and peaceful. Her face lights up. And she sings:
You love me, You always have
You choose me, just as I am
You love me, You always have
Yes. Yes and amen.
Thank You, Jesus.