The incredible night my Autistic son taught us all a lesson about faith


On September 15, 2012, a profound statement glowed from an iPad that changed my life in a moment.  But perhaps more astounding than the message was the messenger: an unlikely little boy just shy of his seventh birthday.

My Josiah couldn’t speak, he had a fleeting attention span, poor eye contact, and little body control. To look at him, you wouldn’t suspect he had much capacity to think clearly, and certainly not to be deep.

Josiah had once been a typical-developing child who hit all his milestones. Then at twenty-two-months, he suddenly and rapidly lost his words, social connections, and play skills. The boy my husband and I once knew looked like someone had switched off his light. We felt like a bomb had exploded in our faces, leaving us speechless and grief-stricken in the shrapnel.

This diagnosis: Autism. No known cause. No known cure. Lifelong.

With little direction from doctors, we raced against the clock to try what was considered the most successful therapies. We tried special diets, alternative natural medicines, and even dives into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. We prayed too. A lot. But where was God? Did He even see what was happening to our boy?

When Josiah’s fifth birthday came and left and he still hadn’t regained his speech, we had to face the painful reality that our only son would be in the 40 percent of people with autism who remained non-verbal. Despite all of our best efforts, he still had landed firmly on the “severe” end of the autism spectrum.

That September night, however, a divine gift landed in our dining room. For the last several months I had been doing lessons with Josiah using a method that taught kids to spell as they pointed at letters. I’d been making slow incremental progress—until that moment.

While reading to him from the children’s Bible about how Jesus healed the blind man, I waited for him to spell the word “heal” on big alphabetical buttons of his iPad. Instead he typed something different, and my mouth dropped open. “God is a good gift giver.”

His first independent sentence! Where had it even come from? Until this point, he had only communicated through pictures and simple one-word spellings. As the days moved on, “God is a good gift giver” became our life statement, and God began proving its truth to our family.

One letter at a time, words poured off Josiah’s pointer finger and onto his iPad. He began to write beautiful quotes and poetry that captured my heart, drawing me closer to God. I watched Josiah become more confident and less frustrated. Joy and hope sprang up from dry wells. Dreams re-emerged. With everything I daily witnessed, faith became more fun, charging me with expectancy.

In the face of suffering and loss, even the most faithful Christ-followers ponder the question, “Is God good?”

But I’ve learned to ask a slightly different question: “Do I truly believe God is a good gift giver to me personally?” Therein lies the true test of your faith.

James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

Jesus made an audacious claim: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart… So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).

Clearly, we encounter many difficulties that try to make us doubt God’s goodness toward us. A bad doctor’s report. A scary label. The list goes on.

But what if God suddenly intercepted your life to captivate you by His goodness? That’s what He did for me. It was simply a gift. And that’s why I’m too thankful to stay quiet about it.

Tahni Cullen is the co-author with Cheryl Ricker of Josiah’s Fire: Autism Stole His Words, God Gave Him a Voice, and with her husband, produced the award-winning documentary “Surprised By Autism.”