Nick and Deanne Snell, with their children, Eden, Salem and Ezra. Photo by Jennifer Maxwell
After the exchange of greetings, Susan explained his results. “We realized that we need to change all of Salem’s goals.” She kindly went on to say that they had a hard time eliciting communication from him and, most of the time, could not get him to interact with them. She asked me if he was typically like this at home. “Yes,” I said quietly, “he’s basically in his own little world.” They both nodded their heads in understanding. As we were saying our goodbyes, Susan observed, “See, right now, there is no Maddie in his world.” I looked at Salem as Maddie enthusiastically tried to get his attention by waving, but he gazed right past her as if she wasn’t there. I drove home in tears.
For the next few days, I was lost in my thoughts of how much I wished I could draw Salem out of his little world and bring him into mine. Having him shift in and out of the two worlds is heartbreaking. While telling God how hard this was, a thought occurred to me. “Maybe this is how God feels about me? How often am I stuck in my own little world of worries, frustrations and escape, when God is constantly trying to draw me out and into His world? How sad it must be for Him that I keep slipping back into my own self-absorbed world.” As the apostle Paul says, The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6 NIV).
As I’ve been pondering this concept, I was struck by this verse: But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:10, 11 NIV). Why do I live as though I am dead, when I can live alive in Christ through the Spirit? How much energy have I spent on trying to achieve things before I am physically dead, while making myself more spiritually dead in the process? And, if am already alive in Christ, but because of sin and Satan, I easily fall back into my mind-world of death, how can I stay alive?
Of course, spending time with Jesus, the Life Giver, and allowing Him to slowly transform us is a given, but I think there is something else. In all of my life experience, there is nothing else I have ever done that has made me feel more alive than sharing Christ with others. Christine Cain once said, “Freed people free people. Hurting people hurt people . . . the abundant life is to be able to set other people free.”
The most alive that I can become is when I live connected with Christ and choose to help free others from their lives of spiritual death. That’s what Christ did for me. That’s what He did for all of us. He came to the earth to do what was necessary for us all to LIVE. And if we are His followers, we are meant to go out and free others by telling them about Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:13-14 NIV).
One morning as I was getting ready to take Salem to therapy, I picked up a book to read while I sat in the waiting room. But something nudged my heart and told me not to read that, but to keep my eyes and heart open to those around me. I whispered, “Lord, if there’s someone who needs You, help me be ready to share.” In arriving to therapy, I noticed the woman and her son who came to therapy every Thursday morning like me. I decided to sit right next to her.
As soon as our boys were picked up by their therapists, I introduced myself and we soon began chatting like old friends. She opened up to me about moving from India, her practices as a Hindu, and how she was shaken when her seven-year-old son was diagnosed with autism. She told me how hard the journey had been and how she still couldn’t find peace or resolution over the matter. Then, with an expectant heart, she asked, “How do you cope with your son’s diagnosis?”
I was honored to share about the hope I have in Jesus . . . that even though Salem’s condition is hard to deal with now, I know it is short, and I’ll get to spend eternity with him completely whole; that his condition is one of the greatest gifts I have received in my life because I actually long so much more for Jesus to come back; that God can take anything horrible in our lives and make it into the greatest blessing. I was witnessing to myself as much as I was to her. Life was filling up inside of me, and I got to see Life fill up inside of her. “Thank you so much for sharing that with me,” she said. “That helps me more than you know.”
Salem has made progress since that day of his evaluation. Maddie and I are seeing more hints of language forming. I am grateful for all the work she has and is putting in to set Salem free from his little world. And I am forever grateful to the One who put in the hardest work ever done to set me free. I pray Jesus will help me continue to choose life in the Spirit and set others free in Him.
So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36 NIV).
Andrews University graduate Deanne Snell, along with her husband Nick, are now serving in California at the Azure Hills Church.