Monday, December 30, 2013

It's Not You, It's Me, Really.

A Skit to Consider:

The Stage is set. Picture a Cafe, tables and chairs spread comfortably, soft lighting, but not too dim . . .

A man sits alone at a table, obviously waiting for "that someone special." A waiter comes by, and the man indicates that he should bring "2" of something. The waiter leaves, looking back with a knowing gleam in his eye.
The man leans back in his chair and smiles the smile of the truly content.

And Enters his Lady.

She steps in, looks around expectantly, and her face takes on the same glowing smile that he has been wearing.

The Man stands as she approaches and pulls out her chair for her. He kisses her cheek as she sits, and he joins her. They begin to talk, and it is clear that they have some "catching up" to do, but shortly the conversation slows, and they drift into happy silence.

And now, we lean in closer to hear them better. For this is no chance encounter. And this is no common meeting.

The Lady looks at the man, down to her plate, and back up to him. It is clear that she has something she wants to ask him, but is working up to it.

At last she leans forward, grasping his hand in hers. He leans in as well, smiling in delight.

Her: There's something I've been wanting to ask you. . .

Him: Anything, just ask.

Her: But it's a bit silly.

Him: Go ahead. Anything.

Her: Do you promise not to laugh?

Him: From the bottom of my heart.

Her: Okay. (she reddens slightly, but presses on) You love me, don't you?

Him: (Smiling broadly)With all that I am.

Her: (relaxing, and reddening a bit more) Well, what I want to know is this: What is it about me that made you love me?
(The man shows some surprise at the question, not alarm, but perhaps a bit of amusement.)

Her: (hastening to explain) This isn't a trick question or anything like that. I really want to know.

Him: You really want to know?

Her: Yes.

Him: Okay. . . .  Nothing.

Her: (shock and a bit of confusion on her face)What?

Him: (smiling just as fondly) Nothing.

Her: (She smiles as if this is a joke, but his expression doesn't change. She is VERY confused) What do you mean "Nothing"? It can't be nothing. SOMEthing had to have made an impression.

Him: No. Not a thing.

Her: (no smile now) ok, you DID say that you LOVE me, right?

Him: Yes, definitely.

Her: Okaaaaay, so what was it?

Him: What do you mean?

Her: Well, (she glances around, embarrassed to have to say) was it my virtue, my personality, my appearance. . .

Him: Ah. No. None of that. You really don't have any qualities that stand out all that much.
(Her jaw drops. She pulls her hands out of his, hurt plain on her face)

Him: Oh! No, don't take it like that. I don't mean anything bad by that.

Her: How can you not?

Him: Well, let's be honest. (she makes a gesture that says "by all means, why stop now?") Okay, how about your appearance? (she leans back, arms crossed across her chest. her expression reads loud and clear "its your funeral, bub") You are pretty. No question, but you're not the prettiest person alive. There are thousands of people all over the world that are aesthetically more pleasing than you are. (He holds up a hand) that's not a criticism; it's just the plain truth. But really, would you want me to base my love for you on how pretty you are? That could change at any time. This way I can whole-heartedly say that I would love you just as much if you less pretty as I would if you were more. It has nothing to do with that.
(She still isn't happy, but she isn't getting up to leave. . . yet.)

Him: Alright, your personality. You're young. You're still learning new things about the world and yourself. You are still discovering things about who you are. You may find that something that had no interest for you last week is something you could devote your life to next week, or next year. Would you want me to base my love for you on something that could change? In order to keep my love, you'd feel confined not to grow as an individual.

Him: And let's not get started on your Virtue.
(Outraged, She begins to stand, but He reaches out and places a forestalling hand on Hers)
Be honest, would you want anyone to base their love for you on how perfect you truly are?
(She sits back down. Pauses for a moment, and slowly shakes her head "no".)

Her: (after a moment more) So if it's not any of that, why DO you love me?
(At this, His smile brightens again to the beaming glow He wore at the beginning of the conversation.)

Him: That's easy. I love you because of who I AM.

Her: Say what?

Him: Everything about you can change. Your appearance, your interests, your successes and failures--they can all change drastically from day to day. If I base my love for you on ANY of those things, then you run the risk of losing it at any time.

BUT, if I base my love for you on WHO I AM, then you can never do anything that will jeopardize that love.

Her: How is basing your love on YOU any different than basing it on me?

Him: Because I'll never change.

Her: How can you claim that?

*                                    *                                           *                                                         *

A Good question, Don't you think? 

Well, here is something that may put it into perspective: What if "He" is God, and "She" is you?

Just something to think about.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Different, Not Less Part 2

I really debated on wether to say more on this topic or not. At first, I felt like maybe I was going to bore some you, the readers, with this. But then I thought, if people don't want to read it, they won't. I'm not charging, or promising anything (except honesty), and it's MY post. This is my blog about me. And about my life and walk with God.

So if I stop where I left off in the last post, I don't get to say some of the most profound (to me at least) things.

So, if you're interested, read on. If not, change the channel, and we'll see you next time.

My dear and very good friend Rebecca pointed out that I do not show the typical signs of social awkwardness and incompatibility with sarcasm that is common with those with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder--Autism and Asperger's). Rebecca has spent years working with special needs children, so she is by no means an uninformed commenter, but there are a few things to consider.

First, MOST people who are recognized as having ASD are children, or they are adults with more severe cases.  In fact, a vast majority of adult autists only discovered that they WERE autists because  they had a child with ASD and realized as they went through the process of diagnosing their children that the "symptoms" were things that THEY had dealt with. The reason for this is largely because high functioning autists have generally just been labeled as "odd" in the past, and they have learned to adapt, cope, and deal with their differences.

Children's behaviors are more marked due to lack of experience in self regulating their emotions and responses, lack of a "real" understanding of social norms, and lack of emotional/social maturity. They think differently, reason differently, make cognitive connections differently, and HAVE NO CLUE that anyone else does it differently than they do. For the most part (and I speak generally and of the high functioning individuals) they think that people are being difficult, or they can't understand why people don't "get" them. Over the years, many autists have their differences hammered into them, and they figure out how to fit in, and what, generally, to expect from others.  This helps, but if you read the comments from the adult who HAVE realized their autism, you find that there is a marked sense of "relief" (not the best word, but it points in the right direction, emotionally) that there is a REASON for the differences, and that there are others who DO think in some of the same ways, who also struggle with the strange things that "other people" don't seem to have a problem with. . .

All that to say, the reason that I don't seem to have the social awkwardness is because I've learned how to "behave." The hard way.

I was the "nerd." I was the "dork." The WEIRDO. I had only a few friends through the years, and very few of them were CLOSE. Part of that was the fact that my family moved every four years or so (my dad was in the Air Force), but it was also because I couldn't figure out how to connect with kids my age.

I did pretty well with adults, but I didn't talk like kids. I couldn't be "cool," couldn't quite understand the fads, the trends, couldn't understand why some things were funny, and other things weren't. I remember wanting to make kids laugh, and doing things that made me cringe inside my head, but I'd be caught up in some kind of emotional momentum, and do and say STUPID stuff, and not be able to back off or down even when I could see that it wasn't working the way I wanted it to. A lot of times I just made kids mad at me, and I didn't know why.

Looking back, I can see that I was just too much. I was trying too hard. And I did a LOT of things repetitively. I made noises with my mouth, just clicking, tapping, "musical" noises ( or so they seemed to me). I tapped on my desk compulsively. I wasn't nervous, as I was often assumed to be, I just had the rhythms in my head and they wanted out. I knew that the rhythms were "right." They matched the pattern in my head; they fit with the music in my mind.  I couldn't figure out why it sounded so good to me (quite soothing, peaceful) and yet it bothered others. Most of the time I just felt like they were looking for something to complain about. . . I did this sort of thing in conversations as well. I'd repeat a line that I thought was funny, or thought SHOULD be funny, sure that everyone would see how great it was any second now. . . Oh, well.

That pattern lasted well into my twenties. I'll get back to that.

Sarcasm has never been a problem for me. . . . . . . Well, let me rephrase that: I have never had a problem understanding sarcasm as humor.

Mockery, however, That I learned the hard way.

I have a very vivid memory of the first time I realized that the kids around me weren't being kind, but were mocking me.

I was playing basket ball with my classmates at recess. It was the fifth grade. I was terrible at it and knew it, but that's what we were playing, so I tried.

One of the kids tossed me the ball, and I took a long time to make the shot, but I actually made it! I was so excited! Another of my classmates said, "Ben can do pretty good as long as you give him plenty of time and just let him take the shot."

At first, I agreed. "Yeah, I thought. If you'd do that I could be a good team mate."
Then I noticed the laughter.
And I realized that he hadn't meant it as a nice thing. That somehow, while saying I could be good, he meant I was bad.
And I realized that I was the only one who hadn't known that's what he meant.

I didn't trust compliments for years after that. But I DID spend a LOT of time watching people to see what they meant when they said things, and to see if WHAT they said was the same as what they MEANT. I learned sarcasm/mockery because it hurt to much not to. I learned it, and got GOOD at it. And I used it. It took rather longer for me to realize that sarcasm didn't help with whole "making friends" thing.

I realize that this is not the happiest of topics, but there is a happy ending coming.

For example, learning to understand what people MEAN despite what they say, has helped me tremendously as a teacher, both in classrooms and in mentoring others in ministry.  I don't know how to explain it, but there are so many little clues in a person's body language, where they look with their eyes, their tone of voice, and things you know about them and more that all work together WITH a person's words to make up their meaning. Sometimes a person KNOWS that they are not saying what they mean, and if you listen to the PERSON and not just the words, you can sometimes catch that. . . At least, it has worked for me.

In fact, I can look back a nearly all of the things I've had to overcome and see where God has used those things to equip me rather than tear me down.

There has been a great deal of tearing down, but He has always been there to pick me up. He has even CAUGHT me on occasion.

God has brought me through this "adventure" and crafted success from the journey.

Going back to the social aspect.

When I graduated from HighSchool, I wanted nothing to do with school EVER AGAIN. So I asked God what he wanted me to do.  God's answer baffled everyone but me. (It didn't baffle me because he wasn't asking me to go to school.) The funny thing was, that it baffled EVERYONE else BECAUSE I wasn't going to school.  Like I said before, people thought of me as smart. They thought it was a waste for me not to go to school. God told me to go paint houses.

That seems strange at first, but I realized a few years later, and it is even cleared to me now, that he was teaching me how to work with and communicate with people.

I was working with carpenters, tile and flooring men, brick masons, and painters, and GOD TOLD ME TO. So I couldn't run away; this was where I was SUPPOSED to be.

Well, in case you don't realize this, these kinds of workers don't have a great deal of patience with social awkwardness, or insulting sarcasm. And many of them can be  . . . aggressively impatient about such things. So, I watched them too. And I learned to talk so that people understood me.  I learned that just because you know all the best words doesn't mean that those words will WORK best.  I had to learn to do the opposite of what I had done in the past. Instead of learning to understand what people meant despite what they said, I had to learn to speak in a way so that they would understand me (my intentions, WHO I was, that I was worth listening to, that I wasn't just some weirdo. . .)

It took a long time, but I learned.

And YES. I did deliberately set out to learn these things. I didn't know why it was so hard for me when it seemed to come so naturally for everyone else, but I HAD, HAD, HAD to figure it out. I HAD to make people understand me. I HAD to make them listen and get it.

While I was a painter, I also worked at a Christan radio station with my best friend. We also worked together painting.  God used that to get me more comfortable with public speaking. First the radio--and we did a wide variety of things, from requested music to skits and humorous "commercials" and more. From there, my aunt conned me into some dramas and plays at our church, and one thing led to another. I gradually got past my fear of public speaking ( a must for anyone with ministry goals).

We eventually sold the painting company and opened a coffee shop/eatery, where God started to work on my problem with crowds, but that is actually still a work in progress.

Anyway, there is obviously much, much more, but the point is this: I Am what I am. Just because I don't show all of the problems does not make me less autistic, nor does it make me "cured" (God forbid), it just means I've overcome. That God is Good. I'm still learning about how I work/think/ "tick." but since this discovery, I've made breakthroughs I can't begin to explain the significance of.

My post about joy was part of/a fruit of this discovery about me. I'm finding a freedom in my life that I've never known, and it's showing up in the strangest ways, but I can see how the ways are connected.

Here is a small example: For as long as I can remember, I don't eat or drink after others. At ALL. I will after my wife, but that's it. At the thought of eating after someone else, my mind immediately supplies vivid images of all the germs, bits of food, slobber, drool, backwash, etc. . . . . (ACK!) and "No. Thank. You." My kids are the worst. I will go VERY hungry before I'll put "dirty little CHILD-yuck-mouth-germy-my-God-do-you-know-what-they-put-in-those-mouths" food near my face.

After this revelation about the Joy of the LORD, I went on a field trip with my oldest son. While there, he had a root beer float. He drank about 1/3 of it.

I finished it.

I won't say I did it absently. I held it and thought about it. but when I came to the mental point where I would normally go into convulsions of revulsion at the thought of eating/drinking after someone else, it was like the issues came up, I could hear the objections in my head, but they had nowhere to land in me--nowhere to take hold.


I don't know how to explain how that is related to the autism. All I know is that I can see the connection.
I know who I am (mostly), and I know what I've been through, and the point is not to show "what's wrong with me" or to gain a label or an excuse. The point is that there is an answer. I'm not broken, I'm different.

I'd like to suggest that ASD, while it does encompass many individuals who's struggle is and has been FAR more than mine, I think that it should stand for Autistic Spectrum Distinction, NOT Disorder. Disorder means we don't do things "right." That there is something wrong with us, when in reality, we just do it differently. But because of that, we see things that others do not. MOST of the "DISORDER" comes from conditions that tend to compound WITH ASD, of from the misunderstanding of those around the individuals.

I'm no expert in this subject, so you could argue with me if you choose. But just remember: ASD is Different--NOT LESS.

And God is BIGGER and makes no mistakes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Different, not Less

So, I'm a bit strange. (I know, I know. Some of you are laughing or saying something like "you don't say"--much sarcasm imbued) But it's more than you know. It's more than I knew. As strange as I have seemed for years, almost no one has had any idea how strange it has been inside my head.

Not even me.

I know. That sounds strange, but understanding sheds light on the shadows we live with.

I have been like a child afraid of the dark--afraid of the shadows and shapes that linger beyond what reason and self-assurance can assuage. Picture a child that, in the dark, sees the shadows and fears their shapes, KNOWING that this one is just a coat draped across a chair and that one is a lamp with a hat on it--KNOWING, but still fearing. And self-destructively critical because he DOES know, and can't stop being afraid, but there's no helping it, so he just gets used to being afraid and ignoring it. But you can't make it go away just by ignoring it; you can only learn to live with it and minimize its power in you life.

I'm not afraid of the dark, but there have been (and are) things in my life that I have known were different, things I didn't understand about myself, things that were WRONG with me that I basically forced myself to ignore and learn to live with.  Many of these things I have actually overcome. Many I still have to deal with.

As a child, I often found myself loathing the touch of others. Not always ( which actually made it more confusing), but often when someone wanted to hug me or just put a hand on me, it would make me mad/tense/irritable. For a season in my youth, it made me violent.
But I WANTED hugs. It was desperately important to me that people would still be willing, would still WANT to hug me; I just hated for them to try. It made me feel trapped/confined--like walking through the woods and your clothes keep getting snagged on branches or having spider webs get on you and you can't seem to get them off.  Logically I knew there was no danger or threat, but YOU try to just leave a spider web on you. . . hmm?

I'm passed that one. God did an amazing work through some awesome people in my life. One man, in particular, was very instrumental in this. He's a hugger, you see. And not just little hugs; no, he's the hug you way past what's comfortable kind of guy. Thing is, I knew he meant it. I knew that this was how he said he loved me and accepted me, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings. . .  So, between that and some mind-blowing things God was doing where my self-image and identity were concerned, I found a place where I can hug and be hugged. It's a good thing. :)

I've also been highly sensitive to sounds, particularly high pitched ones or "crowd noises," but also sharp reports.  I flinch quite noticeably when a hammer hits a nail, or a nail gun goes off. I have a completely irrational "fear" of balloons (it's called globophobia, if you're curious). I KNOW it's just a balloon, but they set me completely on edge. When I see a child running around with a balloon, my first thought is inevitably something like "there's an accident/tragedy/disaster waiting to happen."

But the worst was always crowd noises. In a crowd, I would have a terrible time trying to think straight. I could barely follow any conversation, even if someone was right in front of me, I would keep getting pulled to a snippet of conversation here--a phrase there. It's like I'm compelled to try to follow every conversation in the room. . . and I CAN'T.

Keep in mind that I'm explaining a lot of this through the lens of hindsight; most of this just drove me crazy--I had no idea why: "There was just something wrong with me."

My default facial expression is "serious." I have had to learn to express emotion in acceptable ways over the years. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone yell at me or treat me harshly because they misunderstood the expression on my face. I've had people tell me that I looked like I thought they were stupid, when I was just listening intently. I've had teachers get mad at me because I looked like I "hated them" or like I was trying to look  . . . I don't even know. . .  Again, it's not all the time. . .

I had to learn to look people in the eyes when I spoke with them. I can't remember who it was, but one of the adults in my much younger life stopped me one day and told me that it was important to look people in the eyes/face because it made people feel like you weren't telling the truth (or something like that), so, as uncomfortable as it was (it made me feel exposed/vulnerable--like deliberately forcing your hands to your sides and sticking your chin out to be punched), I taught myself to look people in the eye. My natural inclination is to watch people's mouths or to look away and listen.  Especially when someone is sharing something emotional, where THEY seem vulnerable. It's REALLY hard to look at that.  . .  But not as hard as it used to be.

I have had to teach myself to smile when I greet people. This is not because I'm not genuinely happy to see them; I just don't naturally smile. I had to train myself to do it so that people could tell that I was happy to see them. It's habit now, but not a natural one.

I don't get claustrophobic in small places; those are actually very comfortable to me, but I can be in a very large place full of people and feel like I can't get enough air--I have recently learned that what I often experienced in grocery stores and other similar situations were "mild" panic attacks.  I still deal with this, but I've grown and learned how to cope in most situations.

I'm intelligent.  (You are probably wondering why I would list that with things like sound sensitivity and social claustrophobia.) The thing is that I've spent most of my life feeling stupid. INCREDIBLY stupid. I would walk into a room where no one had ever met me and be called the "genius" without even saying anything; I would have teachers and my parents all point out how smart I was, but then I would get a school assignment and be completely lost about how to find the answers.  I'd read a chapter in History and know the story, but then the questions would always seem to be about things that never occurred to me as important--most of them seemed so random that they seemed designed to make me fail, and then I'd see that I was one of the few that didn't get the answer. . . I'd work entire pages of math, totally sure that I was doing it right, only to find out that I had done every bit of it wrong. And I had no idea why. People would tell me how sad it was that I wasn't living up to my potential, and I'd be clueless as to how to do better--I'd study and still not know the answers. . . .

It wasn't until I went to college to be a teacher and started learning about different learning styles and being in classrooms where discussions were encouraged that I began to understand how my mind takes in information.

I'm highly auditory. I have been able to listen to people and take in most of what they are saying, and, in some cases, repeat it back word-for-word.  In conversation I can usually work out the meaning of what someone wants to convey, and the conversation is part of what makes it "stick." The thing is that while I'm talking or they are, my mind is flitting all around, making connections, drawing from other experiences and associations and using ALL of those things together to make the information accessible. I see patterns in things and the patterns make "three-dimensional" "pictures" in my mind, not necessarily about the individual concept that was being taught or discussed, but the "grand picture" of how that concept fit into the world as I know it. This ability was beyond useful in college classes, but I found that if I tried to take notes, one of two things would happen: 1. I would take terrible notes because I was trying to follow what was being said--making connection, etc..., or 2. I would write furiously, getting as much written as possible and have absolutely no memory of what was said. I would then have to go over the notes and try to piece together what I wrote with whatever memory of the lecture I could pull up. So I don't ever take notes any more. My memory is more reliable. For me at least.

There are other things that I have found out recently that make me different than other people. I think in pictures and concepts and then put those into words. When you speak to me, I see what you're saying as concepts or images and process them that way. Often my mind is randomly casting out for connections and will draw up puns based on how you said what you said, or based on the images that your words inspired. Through extensive reading and a love of language, I have learned (and am learning) to use language to bridge the gap between concept and words. Metaphors are more than poetic description to me; they are often LITERALLY how I think of something. If I say there was an ocean of people, rest assured that in my mind, I am picturing crowds of people moving like waves, waves that can crash over you, in which you can be lost and drown. It's more than a literary device for me. It's how I think.

But people don't talk like that, so I've learned not to either. . . mostly. I am happily learning how to tap back into it for the purpose of writing, though. :)

What's more, I've discovered that I see things--patterns, meanings, connections--that others don't see. I've written critical essays of literature on stories and poems that professors have been teaching on for decades and have pointed out things that they had never seen before. And I've done it over and over again.

In a previous blog post I talked about how I apparently have a gift where literary analysis is concerned; I now know why.

I mentioned in that post that God had shown me how to take that and apply it to my Bible reading.  I saw many things. SO many that I started to discount the ideas and connections I was making until Go d told me that He MADE me so that I would see things that others missed.

I am finally coming to understand what is different about me. I am finally beginning to see the pattern in me.
And it has a name:


I have done extensive research on symptoms and characteristics from the low-functioning to the high function ing--from the Autistic to Asperger.  I have read personal accounts from other Autists and found voices calling out from "out there," and they all say the same thing: "I understand."

I read an article  (<--click a="" about="" among="" and="" but="" came="" dealt="" different="" do="" else="" for="" have.="" have="" herself="" i="" in="" it="" known="" like="" lived="" many="" me="" naturally="" no="" of="" one="" other="" others="" p="" read="" same="" saw="" see.="" seemed="" she="" someone="" sounded="" talked="" teaching="" that="" the="" things="" to="" was="" ways="" where="" who="" with="" woman="" world="" yourself="">
I recently watched the movie Temple Grandin and was AMAZED at how well the way that noises and images were portrayed. At one point, I stopped the movie and turned to my wife and asked, "When people talk to you, do YOU see pictures like that?" She said no, and I suddenly realized that I always had, and here this movie was saying that this particular characteristic was unusual.  . . . Huh. I never knew.

I think, based on my early language development, and my over-all desire to have social relationships, that I would probably be classified with Asperger's, but due to the changes being made in the classification system, they, the powers that be, are doing away with the Asperger's Syndrome label anyway.

I think I much prefer Autist.

Gah! When I look back at my life and think on the times when I was so socially awkward and couldn't seem to figure out WHY I was different and HOW to be like others. . .  and it all makes sense now. Life, experience, and, most importantly, GOD have allowed me to make enough connections that I can get along fine in most situations. I still have problems in some, but I press through for the most part.

I am SO BLESSED!  Knowing WHY doesn't change anything, but it DOES lift off the burden of "What's Wrong With You!?"

Now I know that it's not that there's something wrong with me, I'm just made to see things differently.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

So I Guess I'll Write Something. . .

So, I've been in a hard place lately. I've been frustrated by things I couldn't even put my finger on. I'd just be going along fine, and suddenly, I'm so tense and irritable I could hardly see straight.

I've been frustrated at work, at home, in my writing, and in my relationship with God (and others).

I've been increasingly bitter about things that I would have sworn weren't even issues, but that I couldn't seem to get past--I'd just suddenly have something spark a memory and I'd be instantly angry and incredibly bitter.

I knew the problem had to be unforgiveness; all the signs were there. And I just kept getting angrier and angrier. I was snapping at everything.

It broke for a little while a month or so back when I was hit by the realization that I didn't know how to have joy in my walk with God. I mean, I experienced it when I was teaching, or prophesying, but to just walk around with joy? I had no idea.

My church had a combined meeting with several other churches that are affiliated with us--we do this twice a year--and when the meeting was over, our pastor called the pastors of the other churches up and encouraged everyone to come up and seek a blessing or get prayed for.

Well, I'd spent the whole service feeling like my heart had been weighed down by a tombstone. I heard the message--about how God wants to move in the Spirit and in Power in His church again--and I agreed WHOLE-heartedly. I knew it was true. And I knew/know that I can hear God, that I can feel Him move in the Spirit, that I have heard Him SAY that this is what He wants. . .

And yet.

There I stood, feeling like my heart was suffocating.

So I went forward. I went to a pastor and his wife that I knew fairly well, and explained the situation--briefly.  The pastor prayed for the dam inside me to break and for the life to flow in me again, AND I FELT IT! And then his wife looked at me and said that it was so good to see me smiling. She said that when they came in, she saw me, and I looked so serious!
Ever have one of those moments when someone says something and it hits you "right there"? I felt those words like a blow to the heart.
And I heard God. He said "You're trying too hard." and "You've forgotten My joy." Echoed softly by the quote, "The joy of the LORD is my strength."

And that's how the "funk" broke for a little while. You see, I had an answer, sort of. I at least had a direction to look. So I looked, and looked, and looked, . . .

And gradually, the funk came back. Harder and more brutal.

I thank God for my wife and for my children. My children are a constant reminder that I'm not free to allow myself to indulge in stupidity, and my wife is a constant, and the God-send that defines "help-meet" for me. She saw the turmoil in me and was understanding. She stood in the gap and freed me to back off when the strain and stress were pushing me to the breaking point. And, she sat me down at last and told me it was time to figure this thing out and fix it.

I wanted to fix it. I'd been trying to fix it. I knew all the advice that I would give to someone going through the same thing, and I KNEW it was the right advice, but it just wasn't working.

About a week before my wife had the "sit-down" with me (I'm smiling as I call it that, she was so kind and apologetic as she tried to explain it), but anyway, about a week earlier, I was at work, beating myself up about the rut I was in when God gave me an image of how I saw my ministry and my relationship with Him.

I was standing in a great hall. There was only one door, and I was standing right next to it. Meanwhile people were coming to hear from God, and as they came I would press my ear HARD against the door, hear what God was saying, and tell the people what I heard. It was great to be able to hear Him, and awesome to be able to help others hear Him, but, while in the vision it was satisfying, as I watched it happening, I immediately saw the problem, and then heard God put it into words. The problem was that I (and all of God's people) wasn't supposed to be listening from the outside; I was supposed to be in His presence. What God said was, "You've been working so hard at being the 'good and faithful servant' that you've forgotten to be my son."

I revisited that scene several times up to the night that my wife spoke with me, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't get through the door. I looked, and there wasn't even a door knob. It was heart-breaking.

I shared all of this with my wife, and she prayed with me, and I still felt miserable. (Sorry, but it's true.)

The next day--possible the day after--I was listening to a Christmas album by David Phelps. The first song of the album is Joy, Joy. It's one of my favorite songs of all time. It is so passionate, and I have always felt that it embodies the passion that God felt when Jesus was born. So I wasn't terribly surprised to find myself tearing up while I was listening, and then...

I suddenly realized that one of the reasons that I love that song is the abandon with which Phelps sings it. It's one of the reasons I love to play my saxophone in worship--I can pour out my heart through it.
And I heard God say, "You bottle too much up. You hold too much back. You suppress things that I put in you because you think that they aren't how 'things are supposed to be,' or that they don't fit your image of what you're supposed to be or be doing."

--I hate playing softly when I play my horn. It leaves me breathless; NOT because I've run out of air, but because I've held back so much that the air I have in my lungs is empty. I feel like I'm left with a lung full of wasted potential.

I've been working on a story about an interview that an angel has with someone. The interview starts as the angel steps in and runs off a demonic nightmare.

Well, when I sat down to write the story, I started at the beginning--with the nightmare. As I wrote, I drew from nightmares I'd had in the past. . . and they kind of took on a life of their own. I didn't want to sell them short; after all, I had actually experienced these, and I figured that I could just write it down and edit out anything that didn't work.

There ended up being a lot of it.  I really felt like it was too much, and that it took away from where I wanted the story to go, but I left it in and sent a copy off to my Alpha Reader, known in Blogger Land as "Rebecca at the Well," to see if she felt the same.  She did. She actually said it was borderline (if not crossing the line) horror. She had lots of other comments which were spot-on what I was already seeing myself, and I was initially encouraged, but then I got bogged down by the fact that I'd just poured so much into what I'd written, and it was all wrong.  I couldn't just edit bits out, I had to completely rewrite it, which I started to do, but then it didn't have the right "voice." And that's when the funk was already hitting hard.

I went to a men's meeting, from which I was supposed to go with a dear friend to talk some of these issues out with, but he got called away so I ended up staying and talking with an old mentor of mine. It was good. I got to talk about my writing, and my hope for it. I explained the trouble with the angel interview story, and, at the end of it, he told me a long (and fascinating) story, ultimately leading to this: "Don't worry about what you're writing. Don't make it HAVE to look a certain way, or fit a certain mold. If it's what you feel like writing--then write it."

Now, you have to realize that the last four paragraphs flashed through my mind in about two heart-beats. One second God's saying that I'm repressing myself, the next, all of that flashes through my mind, and then God says, "Yes, even the horrific nightmare stuff was supposed to happen. That wouldn't have poured out if you hadn't been bottling it up. It serves a purpose too."

None of this made sense to me. All I could see was me standing next to the door in that vision, wanting to scream in frustration at not being able to get through.

Then, in the vision, I heard a voice behind me saying, "I'm not ON the other side of the door."
"Then why can I hear You hear," I nearly sobbed back.
Then, in a voice so compassionate it hurt to hear, He said, "Because you WANTED to hear me."
I found myself arguing, trying to fight the implications in that. "But I've had to concentrate, I've had to try so hard to block out distractions, I've had to--"
"No," God interrupted like a gentle avalanche. "You didn't."

And all at once it made sense. I've been like the tree straining to bear fruit, caught in the lie that my efforts had anything at all to do with the fruit that showed up--I strained and fruit showed up, so I thought that I did it, but God was telling me that the fruit would be there whether I strained or not. I would hear Him whether I tried or not, whether I was distracted or not--as long as I WANTED to hear Him. It really had nothing to do with me at all.

I was free.

And then I heard in the song the lines "Jesus has come to bring, Jesus has come to bring JOY!"

I'm not going to lie to you: I cried. Right there at work. I cried, gasping for breath. Because I could feel the Joy. I could FEEL it. I still do.

Not ten minutes later something came up that directly related to some of the things that had been setting me off before, and it didn't even phase me. Imediately, several side issues jumped to mind, and I recognized them as spiritual attacks. And THEN. . . I realized that all of the "unforgiveness" I'd been beating myself up over wasn't actually unforgiveness, it was distraction and frustration that the enemy had used to beat me down and keep me feeling defeated, but that God used to prod me until I could finally understand.

So now I'm having to learn how to be me again. And to figure out what that means. I can do what I feel led to, however I feel led to. I can write whatever I want--God says He'll use what He wants to--I don't have to try to make it "fit."

I just can't wait to try out all of this new freedom. I don't know how to relax into this. I've always felt like I had to live up to "something." So this is so strange as to be completely foreign, but I have hope again, and I've felt joy. . .

And that's a start. :-)
Here is a link to that song. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Milestones and Road Signs

I'm a bit unusual.

(I know.)

But, more specifically, I'm unusual in that I have been given certain milestones in my life to look to.
And most of those I was given in advance...

When I was 18, I knew that I would be in business with, and, at some point, in ministry with, one of the best friends I've ever had, Scott. I didn't know how or when, but I knew that God had that for me. By the time I was 19, he and I were running a commercial painting company and cohosting a Christian Radio program (and eventually we were leading a youth Bible Study for a while).

By the time I was 20, I knew that I would be married the year I turned 25, that I would be (was supposed to be) engaged for a year; I would have two children (I even knew they'd be boys and what their names would be/mean).

I was married, after an engagement of exactly 1 year, on January 1, 2004. I turned 25 January 12, 2004.

I know that sounds like self-fulfilling prophesy, but I talked about it with some people when I was 20. They know how it played out.

I now have two sons.

There have been countless other examples of these things; I could list them, but I don't want to bore anyone.

The thing is, the next one is next year. And I don't know what it is.

I have known for 15 years that the year I turn 35 is supposed to be very important. I've had theories, but I still don't know. I have worked, studied, applied myself in every way I could think of to try to be ready for whatever it is, but I still don't know.

With all of the other "future milestones," I had road signs. "4 years to Marriage on right"   "2 years to First Born Son--No U-Turns" etc...

So it is highly frustrating to be on the verge of this next thing and not know what's there.

I have to trust that God knows what He's doing. (He's certainly gone to a lot of detail proving it to me.) I also have to trust that He has prepared me and knows how to make up the difference in where I will fall short.

I'm not really worried, like I said, God has proven Himself more than faithful. So I guess I'm just throwing this out there so that when whatever does happen, this will be a record that I "knew it was coming"--that God gave me a "heads up."

I'm putting it out there for God to use to show off (show up).

Just thought I'd share.

God Bless!