As Sophie’s second birthday approached, her lack of speech became more concerning. Her therapists continued to assure us that it was normal given all her developmental challenges. She had overcome so much already by this point in her life. I was (and am) so proud of all that she accomplished thus far in her short life. But, her pediatricians were more concerned.
Because of her stagnant development in speech, Sophie’s pediatrician encouraged me at her two year well visit (ironic how these “well” visits for her always focus on what’s NOT well) to consider enrolling her in developmental preschool when she turned three. I nearly cried. I had quit my job just a few months before this point to stay at home with my kids. I was leaving a career in teaching — teaching! But all my efforts to teach Sophie to speak were falling flat. I had no desire to send her to preschool; it was against my natural grain, against everything I had planned and considered for educating my children. (I’ll spare you the rant against the public education system and all that is wrong with it right now.) (Garrr!) Instead, I began to try and open my mind to see what God might have for us in this. Maybe there were people with whom we needed to interact. Maybe other lives that God wanted to touch through Sophie. Maybe a lesson in humility for me. I knew that it was going to need a lot of prayer. A whole lot of prayer.
As Sophie’s mental and emotional development continued, her lack of speech became increasingly frustrating for her and for me as well. Her little personality was emerging in all its cuteness, but she was unable to express her wants and needs. She understood everything that was said to her and around her, but no words would form on her lips. There would be times that we would both be in tears because I simply could not understand what she was wanting or needing. So, so frustrating. We worked off of storyboards; we worked on signs, but it all falls short of real speech. I wish that I could say that now I have the answer to this dilemma, but I still don’t. This is still an every day struggle for us. Sophie has learned quiet a few more signs, and that helps, but there are still many times where she cannot convey what she is wanting or needing, let alone being able to just express what she is thinking, wondering, or feeling. (Although, in spite of a lack of speech, I still think she finds ways to ask “why?” over and over again. So we haven’t missed out on that toddlerhood joy.)
Over these silent years, I have longed to hear Sophie’s words. I still long for that. Three years is a long time to not have any meaningful conversation with someone that you love. Yes, I know that Sophie and I communicate in other ways, but there’s just something about words. What is it about words? I can’t figure out why they are so important to me. But, I do know that in Sophie’s continued lack of speech, I have been mindful of how God must long to hear my words to him. There are days where I hardly find time to address him at all, let alone tell him how I love him, how thankful I am that he has chosen me as his child. There’s something missing from a relationship when communication is scanty. If I haven’t called my mom in a week, I can spend over an hour bending her ear, catching her up on all the exciting [read: mostly mundane] details of my life as a stay-at-home-mommy. We fall out of touch with friends when they change jobs, or churches, or move away, because we don’t keep up communication with them. There is something powerful about the bond that words can create, the intimacy that they can foster between two people. I am especially touched by the power of the written and spoken word; it’s just something about the way that I was created. In my longing to hear my daughter’s words, to connect with her, to build intimacy in our relationship, I see God’s longing for those same things from me. He longs just to hear my questions, my feelings, my thoughts – more than just my wants or needs. I would love for Sophie just to be able to pour her little three year old thoughts out to me. In the same way, my Father longs to hear what’s on my heart. How loving a Father we serve.
As Sophie approached her third birthday, a routine visit to the doctor produced another possible diagnosis. Her pediatrician brought up the possibility that Sophie may have apraxia, which is basically an inability to speak because the brain fails to coordinate the muscles properly that are needed for speech. I’ll be honest, this thought broke my heart because this apraxia is a lifelong condition, not just a speech delay. Up until now, I’ve functioned under the belief that Sophie’s speech will catch up. If she does have apraxia, it’s possible that speech may be a lifelong struggle for her. My heart broke. But the Lord quickly brought much truth to mind. I first thought of Moses. He told the Lord that he couldn’t go and speak to Pharaoh because he didn’t speak well. Well, God used him to lead an entire nation out of captivity. So I guess speech problems are no barrier for the Lord. Duh, right? But if you’ve ever had a possible “disability” spoken over your child, you know the thoughts and fears that quickly try to enter your mind. Life will be hard. Life will be different. She won’t be accepted. Well, that may be, but God has a plan, and he’s much bigger than all that stuff. The second Scripture that came to mind was of the blind man about whom the disciples asked “who sinned that this man was born blind?” and Jesus replied, “Nobody. He was born blind so that God could be glorified.” This passage reminded me that Sophie is God’s creation, and he did not make a mistake, and that he will be glorified through her life. Such good news! When Jesus walked this earth, he healed many people who were called mute. They could not speak, but this was not an obstacle for Jesus. Maybe these truths seem obvious to you, but I love how God quickly brings Scriptural truths to my mind to overcome the doubts and lies that the enemy speaks. So, while I don’t “feel” great about this possibility, I believe, and I trust. And I know that God is up to something. Words are so important to me. They have always been. I need to hear affirmation, thoughts, feelings out loud. And, ironically, my daughter has no words. I’m learning to find love and connection in other ways. It is so unbelievably against my grain that it just has to be the Lord. He’s working on me. I’m believing and longing and waiting for the day when I will hear Sophie speak, whenever that day may be. Her future is in his hands.