Sacred Echoes

My first day of student teaching was a memorable one. Mostly because of one of my students … Jerome.

Jerome moved like a bouncing ball, lumbering from one part of the room to the next with a seemingly boundless energy. Though he didn’t often make eye contact, he had a broad smile that lit up his face.

I was training to work as a special education teacher and was assigned to a summer school class of 4th and 5th graders with autism and other cognitive impairments. It was a lively place, to say the least.

Because of the way he experienced autism, Jerome had very limited verbal language abilities. His primary means of verbal communication was through echolalia. Echolalia is a condition in which people repeat words or phrases as a way of contributing to conversation or as a verbal tic. It’s a common occurrence in some people with autism.

Jerome’s echolalia was unique in that he almost exclusively used phrases from SpongeBob SquarePants when talking to others.

If asked how he was feeling, he might smile and sing “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?”

If upset because he couldn’t play outside during class time, he sometimes furrowed his brow and yelled “Stop it, Squidward!”

If excited to head to the cafeteria for lunch, you could hear him sing “Who wants a crabby patty?”

Though he couldn’t access the right words to communicate what he was thinking and feeling, the content and tone of his SpongeBob-isms helped us understand Jerome’s state of mind.

In a way, SpongeBob SquarePants was Jerome’s life text. To the extent he understood what he had seen and heard, the stories he heard watching that cartoon helped him tell his own story.

Scripture is my SpongeBob.

I don’t experience autism. I don’t need mediated communication like Jerome does. But I find that as I try to describe my experience, to write my life, to string my story together, I keep coming back to stories that have already been told.

In my delight at an open door that seemed impossible just days ago, I am Miriam:
I will sing unto to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously.

In my sadness over saying goodbye to my grandmother, not knowing if this might be the last time we are together, I am Nehemiah and the Isarelites: Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

In my shame about returning again and again to the same disordered thoughts about eating, food and my body, I am David: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

When I don’t know how to pray –

When I’m not sure what would comfort –

When I want my words to “stick” –

I find myself replaying these truths passed down through scripture again and again.

For nearly all my life, I’ve been reading the Bible – learning it’s stories and memorizing it’s truths. Some are so familiar it is as if they are my own. I’ve held them in my head and meditated on them in my heart.

And wonderfully, the scriptures have become a sacred language that lets my soul speak when intellect fails.

I repeat it to myself –

Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God.

I tell it to my hopeful friend –

He has made everything beautiful in it’s time.

I sing it to the God I long to know –

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.

I’m realizing God’s Word speaks to me but it also speaks for me.

It’s telling my story.

There was a thrill of connection when Jerome would talk to us, even though it was SpongeBob speak. When he would smile and take my hand and ask me to go to the Krusty Krab I knew he was inviting me to go with him to see something he wanted to share, even though he couldn’t say what or why or where. It was nonetheless delightful to be invited into his world.

I wonder if God hears me pray the prayers of Mary and thinks the same thing. My heart is so filled up with joy that “wow” or “thank you” don’t seem enough so I return again to her lovely hymn of gratitude and it becomes mine.

For he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

Amen.


 

Thanking God today for the gift of the scriptures. Friends, is it telling your story? How does the Bible speak for you in this season?

Lindsey Smallwood

Lindsey Smallwood

Lindsey Smallwood is good at relationships and bad at dancing. A former pastor and teacher, these days she works, writes and raises her babies in Boulder, Colorado.
Lindsey Smallwood

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  • Haydn used to use Spongebob in a more minor way. Tarter Sauce was his frustration phrase. 🙂

    • So funny. I had never even seen SpongeBob until I met Jerome. Now I know the difference between a Krabby Patty and Bikini Bottom. So there’s that.

  • Jessica

    I love the bit about Miriam! Beautiful words….

  • I love this. I’ve been calling them “Trigger verses” for a long time and I’ve got quite a few.

  • I love this, Lindsey! I have a son on the spectrum, so this story warms my heart. And the scripture that is currently telling my story? I’m seeking to have Jesus be my “one thing” so I love these verses from Psalm 16:
    Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 1-2
    The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, I have a beautiful inheritance. 5-6

    • Good one Kristin. Beautiful verses.

      Love those spectrum kiddos, I really do. <3

  • This was beautiful.

    And also, spongebob made me grin.

  • Really nice piece. I love how you related another’s experience to scripture.

  • Andrea

    God is always speaking to me through His Word – and through His Holy Spirit

  • I find that God often speaks to me through others, especially children. Thanks for warming my heart today.

  • This is quite simply put, beautiful. I love how when delving into scripture those phrases and words can pop to the surface so readily and when needed. Thank you for reminding me to memorize more. I never regret when I do.

  • I love the comparison. I can completely tell that scripture is becoming part of my language too. The more I read it, the more I teach it to my daughter through singing and praises, the more it becomes how I relate to the world. It feels like I see God around me more the more I seek to hide His word in my heart. Beautiful post!

  • Thank you for sharing. God truly is great, and the scriptures are so comforting. You definitely have a way with words. I enjoyed reading your post. Keep spreading the good word!

  • Lovely, faith filled post my friend. I love how you have incorporated Bible versus truly into your life and bring them to mind when you need them! My BIL has autism and also does the repeating thing, but you taught me something, because I hadn’t heard the name for that! Thanks and God bless.

  • Pingback: When You Need to Hear a Story | Middle Places()

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