I have loved God and the Bible for as long as I can remember. I was seven-years-old when my daddy built me a wooden pulpit. I put on my plaid three-piece wool suit on a snowed-in Sunday to deliver a message on obedience to my family in the living room. Then, one day as this wonderful invention showed up at our house–a VCR–I picked up a flair for the theatrical as I would rewind and rehearse lines from the likes of “Anne of Green Gables.” The love of communication in writing, speaking, theater and sharing compelling stories has always run deep for me. It’s funny how you can trace those traits way back even to your childhood.
Little did I know that language and expression that I loved the most would be whisked away from my only son, leaving me wounded and speechless before my God. An autism diagnosis at age two for our little boy, Josiah, was so swift, so final, with the words, “No known cause. No known cure. Lifelong.” My deepest question was, “Wow, what happens to hope when there is no hope?” Everything that I loved, believed in, and thought I knew about God got tested. If Jesus was Burden-Bearer, I knew somehow I would have to see if He would be that for me when the pressure of sickness, work, marriage, loneliness, finances, and spiritual wrestling dog-piled on our lives.
Like so many things—impossible things—we are told to accept them and to learn to manage and to cope. The world is always trying to get us to just face facts and not to get our hopes up. “Your daughter is dead, Jairus. Why bother the teacher anymore?” But just when the facts start to get locked in as the “final answer,” if we listen hard enough, we will always hear Jesus say the same words He said to this dented father: “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Does the same Jesus we serve today still sound like this?
It’s a complex road these days to a simple faith like this: don’t fear; just believe. I’d been desperately pursuing healing for five years, and learned so much about what intimacy with God, my identity in Christ, and my inheritance really meant to living out a Christ-following life. But despite our gallant efforts to help our son, my boy still was “severe,” nonverbal, stuck in the quicksand of autism. Life seemed frustrated.
And then, one day, something finally happened! The striving started leaving and peace settled in. Psalm 68:9 happened. “You, God, sent a plentiful rain, and did confirm your inheritance when it was weary.” After praying and praying, “Lord, let it be on earth, just like it is in Heaven,” I was given a rare opportunity to see the veil between Heaven and earth get very thin as my son unexpectedly typed his first sentence on his iPad, “God is a good gift giver.”
That message started what has been now hundreds of stored, typed pages of Josiah’s conversations with me. They have revealed him as a wise, funny little guy who can write beautiful poetry and lyrics, and has been given access into the heart of God that he has never been taught on this earth. Josiah’s words on an iPad have told of God’s unfolding love for us, His ways, His instruction, and even strategies for victory over the enemy. Truly, as we wait for the full reality of Josiah’s healing, we have seen the kingdom of God come near us through a boy who had no voice, but shouted RESTORE! Lord, may our story give You glory. You truly are a good gift giver!
Tahni Cullen worked in ministry for 13 years at a large, multi-campus church in the Twin Cities, MN, first as a communications and marketing director and then as a ministry director and pastor. When her son Josiah was diagnosed with autism, she blogged through the ups and downs of their early journey at www.hopingnotcoping.wordpress.com and she and her husband, Joe, produced an award-winning documentary called “Surprised By Autism.” Drama and speaking are passions of hers, and she has helped script and perform two hour-long women’s ministry variety shows. She also led the launch of special needs ministry assistance for kids within her church. Recently leaving her job to invest in her son’s typed communication, and to write and speak, Tahni is passionate about sharing God’s hope and healing. You can follow her son’s writings on Facebook at Josiah’s Fire.