Despite nearly two years of therapy, when our adopted daughter, Ruth, turned 3, she displayed the physical abilities of an infant. Once, during a rare family dinner at a local diner, Ruth, who had cerebral palsy and was deaf, raised her fisted hand to click a spoon against her teeth.
“Did you see that?” I burst out.
The server, taking our order, rolled her eyes, as if asking, “What’s the big deal?”
“She can’t do that!” I exclaimed.
Another time, at our library, I laid Ruth on the floor, and she flipped from her stomach to her back. Flip, flip, flip — just like that, she rolled over seven, eight, nine times. A milestone! The smile on Ruth’s face told me she was as thrilled as I was; but after that day, I never saw her do it again.
Each night before bed, our 6-year-old, Gabriel, clasped his small hands together and prayed, “Dear Jesus, please help Ruth walk and talk.”
Ruth tried, lifting her scrawny legs to jerk each foot forward as my husband, Dana, or I held her upright, but walking independently didn’t seem likely. Neither did talking. It hurt to see Gabriel’s prayers go unanswered. The rest of our family’s too. Yet, perhaps, God’s purpose was higher than ours. Perhaps instead of healing Ruth, he intended to heal us of our selfishness and pride. Wouldn’t that be a miracle?
Had Ruth been able to sign, I’m not sure we would have considered a cochlear implant. The idea of surgically embedding a computer chip in my daughter’s head bothered me — even more so after our sign language teacher placed two fingers against her skull like fangs to show me the sign for “implant” — the same sign as “vampire,” only pressed against the head rather than the throat.
Such is the dread many deaf people feel toward the technology threatening their language and culture. But it was increasingly clear how much Ruth was missing. While our daughter Lydia, who was also 3, naturally absorbed language from the constant stream of sound swirling around her, Ruth needed to be directly taught each new word. This became even more obvious the day Lydia announced, “I know where babies come from.”
“You do?” I asked, wondering what her older brothers had been telling her.
“They come from Africa!” she declared.
In contrast, Ruth didn’t know what Africa was, let alone that she’d been born there. Dana and I hoped a cochlear implant would expose this hidden world of sound, but first, we had to convince New England’s top cochlear-implant team that Ruth was as bright as we believed.
“How are they going to do a psychological exam on a child who can’t point or speak?” I asked Dana that May, speeding down Interstate 95 through the pale, budding woods of New Hampshire on our second trip to Boston Children’s Hospital.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “Ask, ‘What do you see in this ink dot?’”
His guess was as good as mine.
Two hours later, we wheeled Ruth into the hospital’s Waltham office and met the people who would decide whether Ruth would hear. Always eager to meet new people, Ruth was grinning.
“Is she always this happy?” Dr. Johnston, a speech and language pathologist, said as he led us down a narrow hall.
“Usually,” Dana said truthfully.
Laughter was Ruth’s native language. I often thought that God had packed her extra full of joy to make up for all the things life had taken away. While our two boys watched a movie in the reception area, Lydia snuggled up on Dana’s lap as we sat in Dr. Johnston’s office, with Ruth in her stroller.
“You’ve been signing to Ruth for about a year now,” she said, as two other members of the implant team joined us. “How many words do you think she knows?”
“Twenty? Thirty?” I turned to Dana. “Family names mostly, and everyday objects, like book, bottle, bed.”
Dr. Terrell Clark, a pediatric psychologist, leaned forward. “And how does Ruth express herself?”
“With her eyes, but in other ways too.” I described how I’d recently let Ruth watch the movie “Babe,” which is about a talking pig. “Ruth started wailing. I thought she was hurt, but when I ran to check, I realized she was upset because a pack of dogs in the movie were chasing the sheep. Later that night while we were eating, I told Dana about it. The moment I signed ‘dog run sheep,’ Ruth began crying again.”
“Dogs scare you?” Dana asked now, signing each word.
Ruth poked out her bottom lip and tears flooded her eyes.
“Sheep okay,” I signed. “Movie pretend.”
“Let’s see what else she knows.” Susanne Russell, an occupational therapist, plugged a table fan into an electric box attached to a large, flat button switch that she placed in front of Ruth. When Sue pushed the button, the fan turned on, automatically switching off a few seconds later. “Your turn,” she signed.
Thwack! Ruth whacked the button.
One hour of games later, the team estimated Ruth’s receptive language — what she understood — at eight months old, about the length of time we’d been signing. To track her progress, they asked us to bring her back in July. So began one year of testing during which Dana or I drove Ruth to Waltham every two months while juggling Ruth’s many appointments and having her measured for a pediatric wheelchair.
The blue polka-dot chair we picked up one month later was wonderful for Ruth, but lugging it up the 12 steps to our front door was nearly impossible. Ruth’s therapists suggested we move. Instead, with help from a state grant, we built “Ramp Everest,” a 60-foot walkway that wrapped around our front shed before connecting to a 30-foot stone path, which Dana hand dug through our front lawn.
Before the rails were up, the program manager, Brad, who was blind, arrived to inspect it. I nervously held my breath as he swung his long white cane over the unprotected edge, afraid he’d fall to the bone-crushing rocks below. His slow, steady progress reminded me that we were to walk “by faith, not by sight,” as the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7. Faith in God, I was starting to see, began where faith in myself ended. Dana and I couldn’t anticipate the obstacles ahead. We simply had to feel our way with faith, one step at a time, trusting God to guide us.
Excerpted from Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores by Meadow Rue Merrill, copyright 2017 by Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts. Used by permission. All rights reserved.