Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Ok, who is this kid? Music makes a difference.

As I posted previously, my son plays in the bell choir at our church.  It’s a good way for him to be part of a group, learn to take direction, and make music– one of his passions.  (I give great kudos to his hand bell choir director, who has learned how to work with my boy and been very patient. I bet he was a great band teacher and school administrator prior to retiring!)

The bell choir plays about 4 times per school year.  Usually, I am my busy self and it dawns on me the Saturday afternoon before the Sunday morning performance that my son needs to have his clothes, shoes, etc. ready.  More than once we’ve had to run out at the last minute to get him dress pants or shoes that fit.

This time, however, was different.

I reminded my son, “Hey, remember what tomorrow is?”

“What?” he replied.

“Bells!”

“Oh yes!  Mr. F. wants us to wear green.”

“Green?”
“Yes, we are supposed to dress like it’s spring.”

“Oh.  Well, I don’t think you have anything green.”

“Yes, I do.  I am going to wear my Hawaiian shirt because it has green in it, my light brown pants, my brown dress socks, and my dress shoes.”

Waaaat???  Planning ahead?  My son?

After I recovered from the shock, I asked him, “Do you have those things ready?”

“I’ll go up right now and get it ready, Mom. OK?”  He ran upstairs to his room.

“Ok,” I replied. I had to sit down.  This was amazing.  I had this feeling of relief that I didn’t have to do it, but at the same time I felt a sadness that I wasn’t as needed. But mostly I was relieved.

A few minutes later, my son called from upstairs,

“Mom, I need to go out to get a new belt.”

“Why?” I called.

“Well, does my blue belt match my Hawaiian shirt?”

Okay, by this time I was about to faint because never has my boy cared about matching.  But I recovered quickly, and said, “Yes, the belt matches.  There is blue in your Hawaiian shirt, too.”

“But Mr. F says green.”

“I don’t think Mr. F. cares about your blue belt.  He said ‘spring,’ right?  Not just green.”

“Yes!  Okay, thanks, Mom.”

Huh.

My boy proceeded to lay out all of his clothes, including his socks, shoes, and belt.  The next morning we were actually early for the dress rehearsal because he was ready in record time.  He even complimented someone at church on their shirt.

Double huh.

Music makes him want to prepare and get up in the morning. Music is helping him be independent.  I have hope that my husband and I may indeed be empty-nesters.  And that’s a good thing!

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Overnighter with youth group

Since my son had such a great time at Camp Amp, I decided that he was ready for an overnighter with the church youth group.

Oops.

Don’t get me wrong– the youth workers and kids were great.  My son was with his buddy from school.  I think that the event was not the right fit.

We also were in the busy summer season, and as parents we didn’t take the time to get more details about the event.  So, the amount of preparation we could do with him was minimal, to say the least. (Pun intended.)  Then we got him to the race late.  Yes, it was one of those days.

This overnighter was the annual Amazing Youth Race, modeled after the tv show.  It really is a cool event.  I was happy that he wanted to go, and looked forward to his becoming part of a group.

At the end of the first evening (the race was from 5:30  on a Friday to 5:30ish on Saturday) we received a call that he needed help.  He didn’t seem unhappy, but did say several times that he was tired.  Turns out that the pace of the race was very fast and he needed coaxing to keep up with his team.  The driver and the leaders thought it might be best if a parent was with him on Saturday.  They didn’t get “prep time” for Philip, either, I realiced.

On the bright side, he was very happy to get to his campsite and eat tons of twizzlers. 🙂 He was settling down in his tent.

I decided to get to the campsite early on  Saturday morning and let him decide what was best. I was willing to be his race buddy or take him home. When I arrived at the camp, he was eating a very healthy breakfast of Sunchips (he chose that over the healthier options) at a picnic table with the other kids.

“Hi, Sweetie!  Are you having fun?”

“Mmm hmmm.”  (Crunch crunch crunch.)

I let him finish his chips and then took him aside.  “Do you want to race today?”

“Well, it’s very fast. When I run fast it takes all of my energy.  I just want to go home.”

“Are you sure?  I could stay with you and race, or we could go home.  It’s up to you.”

“Yes, let’s go home.”

“Okay, let’s go pack up your stuff and then let’s go tell Pastor J.”

We went to pack up and then we walked to Pastor J.

“Pastor J?”

“Yes Philip?”

“The race is just too fast for me.”

We then talked over with Pastor J and Mrs. H., the other adult leader, what he had decided to do.  They were disappointed that he was leaving, and told me some funny things that he said / did at the event.  They gave him a race shirt and a prize bag to take home.  And of course he grabbed some Twizzlers on our way out.

I think that my boy wasn’t quite ready.  And that’s okay.

I am very proud of him for trying something new.  I’m even prouder of him for voicing his needs.

Way to go, buddy.

It takes a village

Not so “light” memories flood my over-analytical mind.

As I have shared, I am an ordained pastor, currently on family leave.  Right now I find it impossible to take good care of my family and be a minister of a congregation.

Sometimes I wonder if I could do both, if the church truly behaved like…well… the Church.

I accepted an invitation to speak at my church about the responsibility of the congregation to care for all of it’s children.  In my tradition, the church is a family.  As members, we vow to nurture one another, provide a community of love and forgiveness, and to pray for one another. We claim our identity as part of the “family of God,” the “Body of Christ, where no part is more important than another.”  We promise to support and  care for one another.

Sadly, in my experience, many times these promises have been empty. Many times, I’ve found more support outside of the church than inside.

Once, I pastored two small churches full time, while parenting a very active toddler.  Like many parents of children on the autism spectrum before the diagnosis, I knew something was “off.”  I didn’t know what it was, so I did the best I could.

Some well-meaning (?) church members  told me that if I was only a better mother, he would behave better. Others said that I should quit my job and be a stay-at-home mom he’d be more well-adjusted.  Someone advised me to spank him.  Another told me that I  wasn’t a good example for the other moms in the congregation. Being a first-time mom, I thought these people might be right.

So much for a community of nurturing, love, and forgiveness.

I was perplexed. I was trying my best, but was very frustrated. I inquired about taking a parenting class offered by the county government. But when I spoke to them, they asked me if I would like to teach the parenting class.

I began to realize that was doing the very best I could, and that there might be something else going on. I called early intervention, and eventually my son was diagnosed with autism.

How did my church respond?  It was mixed. There were some people who supported me wholeheartedly and said they’d be there for me and my family no matter what it took.  Others seemed to have an “I told you so” attitude, and I heard one person say, “Well, no wonder!”  Overall, I felt alone and scrutinized.

The emotional toll of the nay-sayers, the attackers, and accepting a diagnosis was too much.  I left.  My journey to healing and acceptance began.

We found a faith community where we are accepted and included.  When my stepson moved in, I was even more grateful for this community. My church is not perfect, but they really care and want to include all of us. They have done many things “right.” They are open to education and learning. They have helped me to lighten up a bit.

I now train faith-based and non-profit organizations to welcome and include people with special needs and their families. I hope they will learn from my story, good and bad, and be open to others who are different and actually celebrate those differences.  I hope that others will see the lighter side of autism and other differences, and the joy that comes from acceptance and welcome.

As one of my colleagues says, “Thanks for listening with your eyes.”

Autism and Alleluias

Struggling with my Christian faith has been a constant in my life.  You may have noticed that I am an ordained pastor, and for now I am taking a break.  I am wondering what my future holds.

So now there is a book that I just am “chomping at the bit,” as they would say in my native Oklahoma, to read.  It’s called Autism & Alleluias by Kathleen Deyer Bolduc.

I was so happy to meet Kathleen at my church in 2007.  She spoke at a “Mother to Mother Luncheon” for moms and caregivers of people with autism.  I had read her book His Name Is Joel: Searching for God in a Son’s Disability, in which she wrote about her search for a Christian community for her family, including her son who has autism.  I cried, I laughed, I sobbed, and I prayed my way though this book.  I couldn’t believe it when I heard that she was going to come to my town, to my church, to speak to me and my friends and other moms.

I was privileged to take Kathleen and her sister to dinner that night.  The flames of my dream of being a writer and public speaker were fanned!

At the time, I was actually on staff at my church, teaching about spiritual gifts, helping people find places to serve, and advocating for people with disabilities– after all, they have gifts and skills, too.  At the same time, I was becoming frustrated with my job and what I perceived as lack of forward movement.  I was lonely in my spiritual journey. Talking with Kathleen helped me to see that I wasn’t alone in my “loneliness” in my faith community.  I have talked with other people, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, who feel the same thing in their communities.

I ended up quitting my job not long after the luncheon.  I had several reasons, but the greatest was my frustration and loneliness.  I began to really evaluate my faith and what I perceived God telling me to do next.  I pulled back from my involvement at church, and took time to rest.

Last fall, I scheduled a session with a spiritual director, who helped me discern my passion and my longing.  I began blogging not long afterward.

I know now that my passion is for inclusion of people of all different abilities, not only in faith communities, but in life.  No more shunning or pigeon holing or discounting the gifts and talents of all people.  People with autism and all differences deserve to live out their purposes and passions in supportive communities, and to know, without a doubt, that they are valuable and precious.

I have been told that I am a “prophet,” that I am a pioneer and ground breaker in the Christian community.  Sometimes I want to throw in the towel. I struggle to let go of anger, fear, and to keep from isolating myself and my family in order to “protect” us from the stereotypes and the “well meaning” comments of others.

That’s why I choose to write about the “lighter” side– to keep my eyes on the prize, to not give up hope.  It’s like therapy for me.  I hope that my readers will not find me too much like “Pollyanna” or think that I have an easy life.  I am simply writing about the “alleluias” in my life, to keep me and my family going and to hopefully give hope to other families, not matter what their faith may be.

Thanks for reading. Now, I’m off to find Kathleen’s newest book.

Evil Dr. Porkchop, pasta, and church

I am happy to say that my church has come a long way.

This morning, the topic was managing finances.  The pastor mentioned a website called feed the pig. He explained that the pig was not a person, but rather a piggy bank. He pointed at the piggy banks in the nearby table display, which happened to be located at the front of the room where everyone could see.

Philip and I were in the front row,  his favorite spot.  When he heard about the piggy banks, Philip raised his hand.  I got that tense feeling, wondering what he would say, and tried to get him to put his hand down.

The pastor did not “call on” Philip, so Philip stood up, hand still raised,  and walked up to the stage.

“There’s another piggy bank… he’s “Evil Dr. Porkchop!” he said loudly, referencing his beloved Toy Story 3 movie.

“Yes!” the pastor said, and kept right on going.  There were little chuckles in the congregation.  Philip sat down, started drawing in his worship folder, and the rest of the service went very smoothly.

I am already thinking of social stories to write, explaining when speaking to the pastor is appropriate.  At the same time, I can remember a time when I probably would have been told to “do something” about him.  Now, he’s just accepted as part of the family. More and more often, this church family advises me to lighten up.

During our closing song, Philip looked over at the previously mentioned display table and noticed some vases with varying amounts of pasta in them (don’t ask me, I have no idea…), and decided to accompany the musicians by “playing” them with a plastic ink pen.  I chose to “lighten up.”  He kept the beat, being the fantastic musician that he is, following the tempo as it slowed near the end.  He loved hearing the different pitches and being part of the worship team.

Maybe we’ll start thinking about having him be the church percussionist…