TOMMY…we loved him just because, not because of
Diary of an Ordinary Little Miracle
(“TOMMY” was first published in March 1985 issue of
THE JOYFUL WOMAN, Chattanooga, Tennessee and used by permission.)
As foster parents, little did we realize just what our future would bring when we wrote on our application, “will accept deaf or handicapped children.” This seemed to be the natural step to take since both my husband and I knew sign language. The only deaf children we had ever had any close contact with were those in various church ministries where we had served during the past fifteen years.
During the month that lapsed after we submitted our application to the Social Services department we began to prepare our three children for the possibility of living with a deaf family member. Our two daughters, ages 7 and 5 were very much excited about the prospects of having a deaf brother. We would have to wait and see what effect, if any, this would have on our seven-month-old son. My own responsibilities as pastor’s wife, mother, and kindergarten teacher caused concern as we pondered and prayed about this new phase of family ministry, yet with deep convictions we knew that this was God’s leading.
One afternoon early in August, Tommy’s social worker called. “Tommy is three-years old, and is being evaluated for a number of physical problems other than deafness. He cannot walk, and has no form of communication. We are asking for you to use your background with children, and knowledge of sign language, to help him develop his own form of communication. “Can your family take him for a few months and try to work with him?
Now that the call had actually come and a definite decision must be made, many conflicting emotions surfaced. Family devotions took a different direction that evening as we gathered around the table for our usual prayer and Bible reading. We discussed the additional responsibilities for each family member and the absolute necessity of looking to the Lord for guidance. After a time of prayer we were all in agreement that this little boy should come. Our youngest daughter excitedly shouted, “I’m going to be a missionary to the deaf right here in my very own home!”
After making arrangements at my son’s nursery school, purchasing and additional baby bed, and collecting “big boy” toys, we were ready for his arrival. As we waited, we daily prayed for the little deaf boy who was coming to stay.
On August 22 our special adventure began. Tommy was carried into our home and placed on the floor where he immediately began crawling on his hands and knees. I first noticed his physical appearance as lacking cleanliness. His hair, dirty and knotted looked like it may have never been brushed or washed. From his throat came a continuous raspy, monotone sound that seldom changed except in volume, and rarely ceased except to draw breath to begin again. He showed no interest in the colorful array of toys, but instead, crawled about in a disoriented manner as would a puppy scouting his new surroundings.
That evening as we made preparations for bedtime the reasons for Tommy’s untidy appearance became apparent. We first tried to comb through the tangles in his hair but quickly realized the impossibility of the task. He would not tolerate our touch. To eliminate this daily obstacle we cut his hair very short, which he fought vehemently. When we placed him in a tub of toys, he immediately began clawing, kicking and screaming. His eyes reflected the terror that is seen in the eyes of a small animal when he becomes trapped by his predator. Already we were beginning to comprehend the enormous task that lay ahead of us.
Dressing Tommy after his bath sapped all of our remaining energies and totally exhausted our emotions. The night stretched before us like a rushing train with no caboose in sight. After Tommy was dressed for the night we began helping the other children prepare for bed. During this time Tommy crawled from one wall to another like a caged lion, continuously screaming his own special sounds until finally just before 2:00 A.M. he fell asleep on the floor. Our attempt to gently lift him into his bed was met with a fresh display of wild temper. When two hours later he slept again, we decided to leave him where he lay on the carpet.
Totally depleted both physically and emotionally we collapsed into bed only to find that sleep eluded us. The turmoil within our hearts sought the peace of God in the endeavor we had undertaken. Finally that peace came and we fell asleep claiming God’s promise that if we would wait upon the Lord He would renew our strength…we would mount up with wings as eagles.
Day Two – August 23
This morning we were awakened by the sounds of Tommy crashing his head against the wall. He was wild and filthy and demanded all the strength my husband and I could exert to change his diaper and clothing. He ate nothing at all yesterday and today he drank only one-half an ounce of juice from his bottle.
Day Three – August 24
Tommy seems to want no one to touch him for any reason. After the usual head-banging and screaming had ceased he slept restlessly in his crib.
Day Four – August 25
Tommy slept through the night although he had many restless moments. He awoke in a wild rage this morning tearing everything within reach from the walls, while also banging his head against the crib. We set him on the floor but the head-banging continued. He cannot, or will not sit in a chair and has not yet allowed us to bring him to the table for a meal. We placed his food on a tablecloth spread on the floor hoping he would eat something. He grabbed the food by large handfuls and slung it against the walls and furniture. He seems to be totally withdrawn and without any form of communication. His mind seems to be locked inside his body.
It has only been five days since Tommy came to our house. Although we are very tired we are also much encouraged. After much prayer we realize we’ve been treating him as the poor little deaf boy, instead of the wonderful kid he is. We are admonished to “train up a child in the way he should go…”(Proverbs 22:6 KJV) Love without boundaries is not love at all. We cannot allow this destructive behavior from our other children; therefore we must not allow it from Tommy. Lord, help us begin NOW to train him in the way he should go.
Tommy is quickly responding to love within set boundaries. After a particularly difficult battle of wills today he realized he must stay in his chair during a meal. The fighting spirit seemed to suddenly vanish and was replaced by a huge grin. Immediately the exasperation I had felt only moments before was gone and the time was ripe to teach another lesson. Picking up a bowl of applesauce and a small spoon I rushed to Tommy’s side and began to feed him. He ate with a growing appetite and seemed proud of himself. I, too, was proud of him and found tears coursing down my cheeks with this new, major breakthrough. Once again, my “strength is renewed”.
Tommy has learned the sign language word for “no” and generally obeys the first time. The head-banging and fear of water continues but he is making much progress in other areas.
He now sits at the table for every meal and allows me to spoon feed him, although he will make no effort to do it himself. This afternoon I pushed a dump truck across the floor and he returned it to me while capturing my attention with his sparkling eyes. As if in celebration of this great feat he rocked back and forth on his knees laughing all the while. I laughed too.
Tommy has come to understand the signs for eat, come, no, and love. He responds now to our gentle touch and welcomes our hugs, although there is no reciprocation. He laughs often and is a beautiful child. Routine things such as baths, clothing changes, and diapering continue to exercise our total physical endurance each day.
Tommy has been seen by all the professionals in the areas of his specific needs. All of them seem to be in a dilemma about his prognosis, although they all agree that he probably won’t ever walk or do much more than he is doing now. We just can’t accept this yet. Even if they are right and he does have cerebral palsy, brain dysfunction or both in addition to his total deafness, we believe there is a precious little mind of an adorable little boy trapped inside this uncooperative body just itching to get out. We just have to find the key to unlock the right door
We are constantly sending prayers heavenward that we’d be given eagles wings. Lord I know that the added responsibility is great, but please, Lord, before Tommy must leave us to return home, let us reach him and find the key that will unlock his life to a brighter future.
This week has brought so many wonderful little miracles. Tommy began walking on his toes and seldom crawls anymore. Tonight he picked up a spoon and fed himself each time we filled the spoon. He laughs and plays most of the time and except for bath time and clothing changes he is a delight to be around.
My, how this little boy has changed. The head-banging and temper at bath time are unchanged, but everything else has. He is like a new child. Throughout the day he will surprise us with bear hugs. He sleeps in his crib with his teddy bear, and drinks from his own cup…usually spilling part of it. He loves to play outside on the sliding board. We are beginning to feel great frustration with Tommy’s professional team. The doctor said since he wouldn’t demonstrate in the office that he could walk, he didn’t need shoes and would therefore not write a prescription for specialty shoes. We purchased baby high tops and cut them all apart and then re-constructed them so he could have shoes to wear when he played on the playground.
Lord, we just know we’ve heard the air stirred by the wings of eagles throughout these months. Keep being our source of strength in the days ahead as we prepare to let our Tommy return to his own home.
Tommy will be leaving tomorrow, and although we have known all along that he would return to his parents, our hearts have denied this fact. We’ve grown to love him and feel great heaviness in our hearts. How can we express to him why he is leaving? Will he remember us and the things he has learned while in our home? Will he even be aware that we are no longer a part of his life? Father, we need your very presence as we “wait on the Lord”.
Today is Thanksgiving Day. We have so much to be thankful for. I guess uppermost in all our minds today is the fact that Tommy left yesterday to go home. He came to us needing so much and taking much from us. Lord, what he took from us is nothing in comparison to what he has given us. We saw him bloom and become a bubbly, happy little boy.
When we asked for your strength You touched our lives by letting us see the locked doors of Tommy’s life begin to open. You blessed us with his presence and You changed us by his life. On this day, and each Thanksgiving Day in the future we will again thank You for Tommy.
January – Four Years Later
Today we visited Tommy in the home of his parents. We found that soon after he returned home he had surgery on his feet, making it possible for him to walk easier. Had it not been for the time in our home where he demonstrated his ability to walk, the surgery would not have been attempted. He lives in an affectionate world with his parents, and though he is unable to attend a formal school, he seems to have a joy for living and a love for life. The sparkle in his eyes remains.
When we look back over this diary we can scarcely remember the physical and emotional strain it placed upon our family. We know that only in Christ could we have had the wisdom and strength that was daily demanded. We have learned to fully trust the words of Isaiah 40:31 (KJV), “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
Though we no longer have contact with Tommy, his memory lingers in our home. We keep his picture before us as a reminder to pray for him regularly. We pray that one day he will come to know God’s love for he is truly one of God’s own little lambs.
Tommy taught us to love life, to rejoice in just the daily little things, he taught us patience, and he demonstrated for us the truth about love. It is given just because…not because of. We truly thank God for the privilege of being a part of his life.
“TOMMY” was first published in March 1985 issue of THE JOYFUL WOMAN, Chattanooga, Tennessee.
*”Tommy” is not his real name; this article is his real story.