Think of a moment when God did something profound in your life. Maybe it’s your salvation story or a time when God proved Himself during a desperate situation—we all have moments when God shows up in our lives. And what’s our first reaction? We can’t wait to tell anyone and everyone who is willing to listen.
But what if you couldn’t speak? How would you communicate the magnificent, awe-inspiring story God has given you?
For Ella McDonald, God revealed a snippet of how powerful His love is.
This summer, Ella served at the Joni and Friend’s Murrieta Family Retreat. On the first night, she noted her camper, Daphne, had limited communication, often shortening her speech to small, choppy phrases. While Daphne was not considered fully nonverbal, Ella still wondered how she would be able to relate and communicate to her eleven-year-old camper.
“Even though I’ve been around and worked with people who have autism, I’d never had a camper with autism,” Ella recalled. “That definitely made me feel a little shaky coming into the week.”
As the days passed, Ella felt like she was struggling to establish a good method of communication with Daphne.
“One of the hardest things for me was not knowing what Daphne was saying or what her phrases meant,” Ella said despondently. “For example, she would say to me what seemed like random phrases such as, ‘LAX airport’ or ‘watermelon shampoo.’”
Since Daphne was highly sensitive to noise, Ella would often lead her out of a room full of activities to a quieter place, attempting to find ways to entertain Daphne’s short attention span.
One day, Daphne stumbled upon a blank, white, dry-erase board and began to scribble little phrases.
At first, Ella assumed that the phrases were scattered, nonsensical words coming from an eleven-year-old girl’s vibrant imagination. But as Daphne remained fully transfixed by her white board scribbling, Ella began to realize a pattern in this young girl’s phrases.
“One thing that I noticed,” Ella noted, “is every time Daphne would always write the same two phrases ‘God loves me’ and ‘Jesus loves Daphne.’”
Gradually, Ella realized that like puzzle pieces, the disjointed phrases developed into Daphne’s testimony.
“When I was telling Daphne’s mom about her daughter’s writing on the board, she told me that Daphne writes the phrase ‘God loves me’ practically everywhere they go,” Ella relayed. “It’s Daphne’s unique way of witnessing to people. When nonbelievers see Daphne writing that phrase somewhere, they’re always amazed. It’s Daphne’s own way of evangelizing to nonbelievers!”
Daphne’s talent gave Ella a new and profound perspective on disability, showing her that everyone is ultimately created to glorify God.
“Daphne showed me that everyone plays a vital role in the Kingdom of God,” Ella shared. “Everyone, whether it’s someone with a disability or not, has some kind of talent or characteristic that God can use to minister to others around them.”
The biggest lesson Daphne taught Ella is simply how big God is. Ella said that “there were times when I would question or doubt if Daphne actually understood what the phrase ‘God loves me’ meant. But after spending a week with her it was so apparent that Daphne truly does understand the concept that God loves her, and not only does she understand it, but she writes it everywhere she goes for people to see.”
May we be encouraged to use our unique talents to glorify our Savior!
Grace Shaffer is currently pursuing a writing degree at Pensacola Christian College while drinking copious amounts of coffee. She also served as an intern with the Joni and Friends Cause4Life internship program the summer of 2017.