Experiencing the God of hope in the prison of spiritual autism…Dave Lynden

Dave LyndenIn today’s seventh and final installment of David Lynden’s blog series on Spiritual Autism he examines how God reaches out to us and breaks through our static routines to reveal Himself to us.

Being the parent of a special needs child is often a journey of constant despair. You ache for the many things your child will probably never enjoy or experience. With autism, you pine for some kind of deeper connection that you know will always be impaired. Sometimes, it can feel like a kind of prison. But, in this small moment, I suddenly realized that God was taking my routines and trying to break through to connect with me. With this little crack in the wall, I could feel God burrowing through the walls of hopelessness with a small glimmer of a promised world renewed; of a deep blue Pacific Ocean, of a place where the bars and cement block walls that kept me away from my son and kept me away from my God would one day crumble to dust.

Some more puzzle pieces were snapped into place. Yes- I had simply watched a movie. But, what I had really watched was the story of the Bible, particularly the Book of Exodus. I don’t know how I had missed it all those other times, but when Andy had escapes and Warden Norton goes to the wall safe to make sure the financial books Andy kept were still there, he found that Andy had replaced the books with his prison-issued Bible. Norton opened the cover where Andy left him a little note- “You were right, Warden. Salvation lies within.” And then, Warden Norton flipped open the Bible to where Andy had been hiding his rock hammer. It was in The Book of Exodus!

Tim Robbins Shawshank RedemptionBut unlike the Book of Exodus, there is more completeness to this story. Our hero stories all stir a desire for hope, for redemption, but they leave us looking for the bigger story. This movie, however, took this desire a step further. It was the story of the Exodus- a people under bondage and a heroic figure who leads others to freedom and an encounter with the presence of God. But, Andy was not a Moses-figure in the story. He was a Christ-figure in the story. He was an innocent man thrust into a horrible world filled with guilty men; men who could not even admit their guilt- that is, all but Red who jokingly called himself, “the only guilty man in Shawshank.” And wherever Andy- this one truly innocent man- went, he brought renewal and restoration and hope. His escape from Shawshank Prison was a virtual death and resurrection as he crawled through the sewer pipes under the earth for 500 yards before emerging alive, reaching towards the heavens after shedding his prison uniform and feeling the rain on his face. And then he drew his friend Red out of despair and into a new land; a friend who was imprisoned not just by iron bars and cement block walls, but also by fear and guilt and hopelessness. He instilled the promise of hope in Red and then gave him the means to leave this hellish world behind and join him in a completely new and beautiful place that had been all but forgotten. And there, on a heaven-like seashore, Andy embraced his redeemed friend.

When these puzzle pieces fall into place, I sometimes “feel” God with something other than a sense of vision or hearing or smell or touch. I feel God as I see myself as part of a larger story with little moments of hope.

  • A moment of hope with my little boy, who broke from his routine to whisper to me that he loved me.
  • A movie I have watched so routinely that I had missed how it suddenly became part of a bigger story of redemption crying out about the power of hope.
  • Another reading of The Book of Exodus where God redeems His enslaved people, brings them out of oppression and establishes a reunion where His presence would reside in the midst of them. God brings His people not simply out from slavery, but into this elusive “relationship” with Him; into a new land, a new world.

Routines that had lulled me to sleep had suddenly begun to burst with a sense of hope. And this prompts a question in my mind. From where does hope come? False hope certainly could come from our own attempts to make an unlivable situation livable. Perhaps some people can conjure up this false hope better than others. Or maybe the people who refuse to hold onto something false and live in despair are the only ones living in truth. But, I have a hard time believing that. There is something to these stories that reflect something from this bigger story that just does not seem like a coincidence to me. Why do they keep telling the same story over and over again? And why do these stories finally point us to hope? Why do stories of hope live on in our memories, while stories of despair tend to die? Is it simply because we prefer being sedated by an unrealistic hope or because we instinctively know these stories are true in some sense?

Micah in tree 1The story of redemption had suddenly bounded over this barrier in my head that said, “A relationship with God must be attained through the same sensory system that interprets the rest of this world I live in.” This was a difficult barrier to get past. Since I could not see, smell, taste, touch or hear God, I guessed that I could not actually have a relationship with Him. And yet, maybe He meets us in our world of sensory input and basic needs and familiar routines to awaken the mind. We see little moments of redemption- the beauty of music or the truth in a piece of art or a small display of kindness in a world that sometimes scoffs at such sentimentality…or a rare moment when a little boy whose mind seems imprisoned in routines and repetitions breaks free and whispers a sincere, “I love you” to a father who wonders if he truly understands how much he means to the father. And in these small hours, these little wonder, we see hope within reach. Maybe God is whispering to us through the little moments of hope amidst the routines of life. Maybe God is breaking through our static system with a narrative that woos us to a more fluid place of hope, whispering to us, “I love you.” Maybe those flickers of hope are actually little signals to us. Maybe those glimpses of our deepest heart’s desire resonate in our stories that are burned onto the hard drive of our minds. Maybe God is helping us out of our spiritual autism with something right before our eyes. These are among my hopes and I do not believe that they are hopes that are merely sentimental, but rooted in something real and rich. And so I hope.

    • I hope that my connection with Micah continues to be less and less impeded.
    • I hope that my connection with God continues to be less and less impeded.
    • I hope that this world to come is as green and lush as it is in my dreams.
    • I hope.

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Square Peg Round HoleKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource on the topic of Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development. This page includes the blog series Dr. Grcevich and Mike Woods developed for Key Ministry, links to lots of helpful resources from other like-minded organizations, and Dr. Grcevich’s presentation on the topic from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit. Click here to access the page!

 

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The Front Door…Online Church For Families Impacted By Disabilities

Front Door Logo

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Luke 11:9-10 (ESV)

Our team at Key Ministry is honored to welcome you at The Front Door.

The Front Door is an exploration of the use of technology to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with families impacted by disability.

We believe The Front Door represents a new expression of Christian community…an online extension of the local church through which children and families may be introduced to Jesus Christ via technology in environments chosen by their parents and caregivers at times of the day when families impacted by disability may be more receptive to teaching and discipleship.

We know that very real barriers to church attendance exist for families impacted by all disabilities. While we at Key Ministry are uniquely focused on helping kids, teens and families impacted by mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities to overcome the obstacles that exist to full participation in the life of the church, The Front Door is intended to be a resource for local churches to reach out to families impacted by the full range of disabilities and bridge the barriers that prevent families impacted by disability from being full participants in the life of the local church.

The Front Door is not designed as a substitute for “bricks and mortar” church…it represents a strategy to connect families impacted by disability with churches in their region prepared to welcome and include them. The Front Door is intended to serve as a catalyst to families worshiping in the physical presence of other Christ-followers and experiencing the ministry of a local church.

We intend for the Front Door to be a reflection of the DNA of Key Ministry as well as the DNA of our partner churches. We seek to provide the families joining us and our partner churches at The Front Door an experience that is…

  • Highly relational
  • Grounded in ministry to families
  • Innovative, collaborative and generous
  • Supportive of churches called to connect with families impacted by disability in their home regions

We intend (through our partner churches) to offer more than simply the ability to attend worship services online. We seek to help families…

  • Connect online to churches with a physical prince in their home regions.
  • Provide online worship and online community to teens, facilitated by carefully screened pastors and experienced church volunteers.
  • Offer many opportunities for participation in highly interactive online groups.
  • Identify service opportunities for kids and parents to use their gifts and talents in the service of Jesus’ Kingdom.
  • Share resources with parents to support them as they seek to raise their children in the faith.
  • Create opportunities for adult education, book studies and topical Bible studies of areas of special interest to families impacted by disability.
  • Initiate individual and group opportunities for prayer.
  • Make personal connections with individuals and families who can help facilitate their inclusion in the life of the local church.

578524_10151266419728410_502320352_nWe’re honored on this Easter Weekend to collaborate with Community Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas in launching our first Front Door “campus.” We’re grateful to the staff at CBC for their willingness to work together with us on this project. We’re especially grateful to Nils Smith, the visionary online pastor of CBC for helping to make The Front Door a reality. The content of the Easter worship services presented this weekend will originate from CBC.

You or your friends may worship with us at scheduled times over Easter weekend by visiting the CBC Front Door campus at http://go.mediasocial.tv/cbcfrontdoor. Log in through Facebook or Twitter to chat with our worship hosts or post prayer requests. You’ll also have opportunities to explore current small group opportunities available through CBC.

We’ll be updating our worship schedule and adding services as the weekend progresses. Here’s the current schedule (all times Eastern)…

Thursday, April 17th: 10:00 PM, 11:00 PM (9:00PM and 10:00PM Central)

Friday, April 18th: 4:00 PM, 5:00 PM Eastern

Saturday, April 19th: 5:00 PM, 6:00 PM Eastern

Sunday, April 20th: 7:00 AM, 8:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM, 9:00 PM, 10:00 PM, 11 PM

We at Key Ministry very much appreciate your prayers and encouragement as we embark upon this new adventure. We know that in order to reach people no one else is reaching, we’ll have to try stuff no one else is trying. If you’re praying for us or have a word of encouragement to share, can you leave us a message below or on our Facebook Page? Most of all, can you help us by sharing the links we’ll be posting to our worship services and group activities with families who need to experience the love of Jesus Christ?

In His Service,

The Key Ministry team

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:9-11 (ESV)

Worship schedule most recently updated Friday, April 18th, 5:25 PM Eastern Time.

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The Whispers of Hope…Dave Lynden

Micah TickleIn the sixth installment in David Lynden’s blog series on Spiritual Autism he examines how God offers us “little rays of hope” in the busyness of life…and the importance of holding onto that hope.

Hope is what we are really striving for in this world of static systems. We can sometimes get glimpses of a world that once was, a world long forgotten, a world where we knew God and did not need clichés that, quite frankly, no one really believed when it came to this “relationship with God”. But, these glimpses fade away so quickly, it is like grasping at smoke. And it so easy to get lulled to sleep by the routines of life that we miss both the small moments, these little wonders of everyday life as well as the startling jolts out of the routine that shout out unexpectedly that there is a God who wants to know us and a world to come that will restore all that was lost. I have had many of these moments in the midst of Micah’s routines. It seems as though God uses my own routines to insert little opportunities for me to break free from my spiritual autism and see true hope. I caught one of these moments while putting Micah to bed one evening. I caught another moment sitting in the living room just after tucking him and his siblings in for the night and watching one of my favorite movies…for the twelfth time.

School BusNow Micah has a set routine for just about everything. When he heads outside to get on the bus for school, he steps just outside the garage and finds the same spot and hops back and forth five times. And when he gets off the bus, he checks the mailbox and then hops five times up the driveway before settling into a skip/walk the rest of the way to the house. And when it is time for bed, he turns on the fan (for the white noise, I assume, since it is not pointing towards him), sits on his knees at the side of the bed and then picks up some imaginary something-or-other from the carpeted floor and pretends to toss it into his bed…five times. Then, I lie next to him in bed and read a story to him while he gets situated. His favorite is a children’s Bible with lots of pictures, though he also loves the book, Man Gave Names to All the Animals by Bob Dylan (I read it in my Bob Dylan voice for both of our entertainment). Then, we turn out the light, I sing him a Jewish prayer called the “Shema” followed by my own prayer for him at the end…and then comes another routine. He calls out for a “zerbertz” (blowing farty noises on his belly) and then a “Mike Tyson” (an ear nibbling), another zerbertz, another Mike Tyson and three “tickles”, a spasmodic all-out tickle attack targeting the belly, knees, feet, neck and -as he calls them- “underarm pitties”. Finally, I tell Micah, “I love you, Micah” and he responds by saying, “I love you, Micah”. I then correct him by saying “no” and then point at myself, to which he then makes the adjustment and says, “I love you…daddy”. Then, and only then, is Micah ready to settle in for the night.

So, one night we read our book and did the zerbertz, Tyson, tickle routine. I finished with, “I love you, Micah” and he whispered, “I love you, daddy”. I kissed him goodnight and trudged downstairs to watch one of my top ten favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption…for the twelfth time (yes, I have my own routines). The movie had just begun when I suddenly realized that Micah had said, “I love you, daddy” without the correction. I pondered that little ray of hope before settling into my own routine of watching the story of Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) and his friendship with Ellis “Red” Redding (played by Morgan Freeman) and a story all about hope.

Shawshank RedemptionIn a nutshell, The Shawshank Redemption is a story about a banker who is suddenly dragged out of his normal world when he is found guilty of murdering his wife and her lover and transported to Shawshank Prison. Andy has a very rough beginning to prison life. His education (he was a banker) makes him something of an outsider and he is targeted by a savage group of inmates who call themselves “The Sisters”. But, eventually he begins to not just move along with the routines of prison life. He begins to find redemptive things to do. He begins a friendship with Red and starts introducing the inmates to the concept of hope. He finds hope everywhere- in the music of a Soprano duet, in helping inmates attain their GED, in shaping his own chess pieces with his miniature rock hammer in order to engage Red in chess matches for a time to simply play. He is able to take the library with a few Reader’s Digest books and some magazines and turn it into a first-rate prison library equipped to give the inmates an education and the hope to make it on the outside.

Andy gets used to the idea of confining his own hope within the prison walls until a new inmate, Tommy, puts some past experiences together and Andy’s innocence is able to be established. That hope is dashed by Warden Norton (the tyrannical slave master in this hero story) who is using Andy’s financial skills to cover up all of the money trails he is making through scandalous dealings outside the prison gates. Norton has Tommy shot and makes it look like an attempted prison break. But, these years in prison have also given Andy the chance to burrow a hole from his wall to the sewer pipes with his rock hammer. He escapes Shawshank and flees to Mexico to a place on the Pacific where all of the horrors he has lived through can be forgotten. But, before he goes, he pushes Red to make a promise to him. If Red ever gets out, he must look for a particular field in the town of Buxton, and for a particular oak tree in that field where Andy had proposed to his wife…and for a peculiarly placed, black volcanic rock at the base of that tree where Andy has left something for Red. The tree is a symbol for Andy- it is the place that pictures a world almost forgotten, a place where tragedy and horror had not yet invaded into Andy’s life. Red, who has all but lost hope of living in a world beyond his prison routine and settled into the static systems of life behind bars, promises Andy that he will. Soon afterwards, Red is released and finds the rock. There under the rock, just as Andy had promised, is an old tin box. And in that old tin box is a large sum of money and a note from Andy encouraging Red to meet him in Mexico. “I will keep an eye out for you and the chess board ready”, Andy writes, “…Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.   And no good thing ever dies.”

Red sees hope within reach and grabs it. He boards a bus, breaking parole and heads off to reunite with his friend. And as the film draws to an end, we see Red taking the bus to Fort Hancock, Texas and we hear his voice gently narrating this little moment of wonder-

“I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”

The film ends with Red and Andy reuniting on the beach in an embrace of friendship and peace for which they could only have dreamed. There I sat, some two plus hours after having tucked in Micah, having heard him break the routine to whisper, “I love you, daddy”. I could see his face in my mind, looking right into my eyes and beaming from ear-to-ear with a smile as beautiful and brilliant as a field of wildflowers in full bloom. “I love you, daddy.” I had done this bed time routine so often, this moment of hope had almost slipped right past me. It fled so quickly, it was like grasping at smoke, except I had stored it in my mind. And then, I watched The Shawshank Redemption. In fact, what I had watched was yet another movie that told the story that was burned onto my hard drive- a story of a hero and a force of evil attempting to enslave; a story of redemption and restoration and the whispers of hope.

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Key Ministry-NewEver wonder if the often-quoted statistics about divorce rates in families impacted by disability are true? Check out Key Ministry’s resource: Special Needs and Divorce…What Does the Data Say? In this article, Dr. Steve Grcevich reviews the available research literature on the topic of disability and divorce…and draws some surprising conclusions! Check it out…and share with your friends!

Posted in Autism, Spiritual Development | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ten truths for parents of kids with autism…Colleen Swindoll-Thompson

Colleen and TobinEditor’ Note: Colleen Swindoll-Thompson (pictured at right with her husband, Tobin) originally authored this guest post in April, 2011. The lessons shared here are as timely today as they were three years ago. Here’s Colleen’s post…

Shock. Disbelief. Anger. Hopeful. Bewildered. Relieved.  Words that represented my feelings leaving the doctor’s office that day; and feelings that wave through my soul like the sea swells through the oceans.  My son was diagnosed with Autism 15 years ago; 1 in 10,000 children were diagnosed with the same lifelong, no cure disability.  The icy, windy winter afternoon, it was clear that Jon’s life, my life,  and all of life would not fit the picture I had painted.

In it all, I want you to know, you are not alone. Finding a “new normal” is not easy.  Life is challenging. But you are never alone.  There is much loneliness, but you are not alone. Jesus Christ experienced everything you endure; He walked through the anguish and walks with you today. He encountered social battering,  religious rejection, and was betrayed by His closest friends.  Christ had siblings who didn’t understand their brother. He wept, He begged God to find another way, and eventually, He was killed.  But, that was NOT the end of his life; this was the beginning of life eternal.

Today, 16 years into Jon’s life, his complicated disabilities have not been reduced, they have grown.  His diagnosis includes: severe Tourette ’s syndrome, autism, intellectual and global developmental disabilities, ADHD, OCD, ODD, and complicated trauma syndrome. He has endured bullying and profound mistreatment. Yet, in it all, I have more freedom, more joy, more hope because it is birthed and grown by the grace of my sovereign, faithful, good, unlimited God and Heavenly Father.  Dear friend or parent, if I may offer you some rays of hope in the dark tunnel of autism, may our Lord be honored and your soul be filled with hope.

Limited to 10 truths, I pass along the following lessons I’ve learned:

1)      I have learned: You cannot handle the burdens of life. If you could, would you need a Savior. Strength to carry on is given by God alone so depend on Him.

2)     I have learned:  There is a profound purpose in loneliness and isolation.  Darkness reveals the true condition of your soul which is being refined through fire.

3)     I have learned:  Rejecting the help of others reveals pride, not strength.  Part of soul care means humbling oneself under God and accepting His grace.

4)     I have learned:  Misplaced hope is not true hope.  Therapies, studies, doctors, specialists, examinations, report cards, school advocacy, diets, answers will never provide you with a final answer and renewed hope.  Hope comes only from the Lord.

5)     I have learned:  True forgiveness is tough when judgment, rejection, and betrayal come our way.  Forgiving or resenting is a choice; forgiving is a command. Asking God for help to forgive opens our soul.

6)      I have learned:  There is a vast difference between ‘the God of my Bible stories” and “the God of the Bible”.  Abiding faith does not come from false beliefs but from the truths of God; immerse your mind on what is true.

7)     I have learned:  God is NOT required to answer our questions.  Entitlement demands answers; God is never required to give an explanation.

8)      I have learned:  Resentment reflects my selfishness. Finding relief is not what God promises; becoming self-less brings relief.

9)     I have learned:  God’s love is unconditional.  Authentic faith is cultivated when we believe God embraces us with His love.

10)    I have learned:  accepting Christ as my eternal Savior is the only way on the journey of life with autism. In Christ, there is eternal hope and joy.  Life is tough, but God is always good and faithful.

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Square Peg Round HoleKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource on the topic of Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development. This page includes the blog series Dr. Grcevich and Mike Woods developed for Key Ministry, links to lots of helpful resources from other like-minded organizations, and Dr. Grcevich’s presentation on the topic from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit. Click here to access the page!

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Mike Woods: So I Send You…Missional Special Needs Ministry

So I Send You Key MinistryMike Woods is serving as a resource to churches requesting assistance from Key Ministry. Mike is sharing a monthly blog post on “missional” approaches to special needs ministry and sharing strategies for how churches may become more effective at serving persons with disabilities and their families beyond their walls. Here’s the second installment in Mike’s series…

The church that Jesus designed is made for impact—highly transformative impact at that. And if we take Jesus at his word when he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21) then we must realize that our being “sent” must be part of the basis for how we do ministry…to include special needs ministry.

“As the Father has sent me…”

Jesus talked a lot about being sent by his Father. Over and over again, he talked about the reason for his existence, and the reason for what he was doing.

“As the Father has sent me…”

Jesus accomplished His mission by going to those who were out of relationship with Him. His ministry was grounded in the nature of God, who is a sending God.

The whole Bible is about the mission of God. God chose a people to carry out His mission to bless the world. God sent his Son to carry out His mission. Now, Jesus gives the mission to those who call themselves “Christ followers.”

“…so I send you.”  

Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

Jesus gives us His mission. This is why church as a gathering place is not enough. Church is a gathering of people who have a relationship with Jesus. It is also a group of people who are being sent by Jesus into the world, to live as He lived, to serve as He served.

We’ve been called to enter into the lives of people in our communities. We have been sent to leave our place of security, to risk ourselves, to travel to the places where people are, to go onto their turf rather than to expect them to come onto our turf.

We’ve been called to become missionaries in our own communities, to understand our culture, to creatively engage the issues of the day. We’ve been sent into the world by our Lord just as He was sent.

The Four Phases Of A Missional Special Needs Ministry

I’d like to suggest that there are 4 phases of being “sent” that Jesus modeled. These phases can serve as a way for thinking about how to “do” missional special needs ministry:

Move Out

The first phase of a missional special needs ministry must be a willingness for us to move out—to simply make a decision to go to the people that we want to serve, wherever that might be. For most of us, what is required to engage in missional special needs ministry is to rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the desire to reach out to others, to take a risk and get involved in what God is already doing in our disability communities.

In my previous post, Special Needs Ministry: Salt Block or Salt Shaker? I talked about the Joy Prom that we hosted at our church. I was surprised that only a relatively small percent of Joy Prom guests returned as guests to our church. Why didn’t they? The more I dug into the question the more I realized that our special needs ministry needed an outreach component.

I recognized that we needed to be out in the Orlando disability community ministering to those who don’t see church as welcoming. Or worse yet, those who’ve been told, “We don’t have anything for you here.”

I recognized that our ministry needed to Move Out. If I was going to lead the way for others in our Special Friends ministry and in our church, I needed to be the first to move out. You cannot lead others to places where you yourself haven’t been.

Move In

The second phase of a missional special needs ministry is to determine what group of people you want to impact. The intent of this phase is to identify the people group you want to serve in order to start making meaningful connections. Move In means you have to be purposeful in going where they go, hanging out where they hang out, and doing what they do. Move In is the component that involves:

  • Proximity: God’s way of reaching the world was to incarnate Himself in Jesus. God moved into the “neighborhood.” Therefore, our way of reaching the disability community should likewise be incarnational and have a Move In component. Proximity means that you need to take the initiative to be physically near those you want to serve.
  • Frequency: proximity locates Christian’s among the disability community, but frequency increases the opportunities and familiarity needed to develop credibility in the disability community. Frequency is the key that moves from you identifying with the locals to actually becoming one. This is exactly what Jesus did through the incarnation.

We had eight special needs group homes attend our Joy Prom. In the Orlando community, this is the disability group that has the greatest difficulty getting to church. Transportation issues, group home policies, staffing, and medication requirements are a few of the obstacles to attending church on Sundays.

This group is the group of people that I decided to “Move In” with. The way that I accomplished this was to contact two of the group home agencies that participated in Joy Prom. I contacted the Russell Home and the Primrose Center. I started volunteering at both agencies in their group homes each week.

Move Alongside

The third phase of a missional special needs ministry is building deeper connections and creating genuine and authentic friendships. This is the phase where you get to know the people you serve, the ones you serve with, and they get to know you. It’s all about relationships.

This is especially needed in the disability community because of the level of relational poverty that exists. Poverty is the state of being extremely poor. Relational poverty is the state of being extremely relationally poor…having very few, if any, friends.

We are a relational people because we have been created in the image of a relational God. And one of the most painful things that a person can experience is loneliness and relational isolation. Negative reactions, assumptions, and stereotypes make it extremely difficult for people with disabilities to find and maintain positive interpersonal relationships with others who are not family or paid providers.

Friendship is a gift that the body of Christ must offer because we image the One who sat on the margins of society with those whom the world considered unlovable. The truth of the Gospel can only be understood when it is manifested in the lives of people who have experienced and been transformed by the love of Christ…and it is shared with others through genuine friendships.

I’ve been volunteering now each week for six months. As a result of the relationships with staff and administrators that have been developed, I’ve been given the green light for our church to start providing weekly activities for residents of both agencies! Bingo, House Party, and Chillin’ & Grillin’ are the initial activities that will serve as the bridge for members of First Baptist Orlando to offer the gift of friendship.

Move Toward

The final phase of a missional special needs ministry is to move our new friends toward Christ. Look in the mirror. The person you see is exactly the kind of person God wants to use to bring His love and grace and the message of his Son to the disability community.

Move Toward is more than just proclamation of biblical truth, though this is an important part of this final component. It is also about loving people, serving them, being models of Christ’s grace, and telling them your story of God’s presence and love from within the relationship you’ve developed with them.

Spiritual conversations don’t have to be forced and uncomfortable. They should be a natural part of our lives and overflow into our newfound friendships in simple organic ways.

I look forward to sharing some of what God’s doing thru our ministry as we continue to try and live “sent.”

What are some of the successes and challenges you’re facing as you strive to make a difference in your local disability community?

Mike WoodsIn addition to his consulting work for Key Ministry, Mike Woods currently works as the Director for the Special Friends Ministry at First Baptist Orlando.

Prior to joining First Baptist Orlando, Mike worked for nine years as the Autism and Inclusion Specialist for a large St. Louis school district. Mike has also worked as a Parent Training Specialist for the nationally known Easter Seals agency: LifeSkills. He’s a Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst (BCABA) and senior-level certified Crisis Prevention Instructor. Mike has conducted workshops for a variety of churches, several national level autism conferences, and various annual state conferences on topics pertaining to autism.

Christ-follower, husband, dad, choco-holic, and peanut-butter lover! Mike is passionate about faith and special needs. Mike is happily married to his lovely wife Linda and is the father of three wonderful boys, all three of whom are on the autism spectrum (yes, all three!).

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Key Ministry-NewEver wonder if the often-quoted statistics about divorce rates in families impacted by disability are true? Check out Key Ministry’s resource: Special Needs and Divorce…What Does the Data Say? In this article, Dr. Steve Grcevich reviews the available research literature on the topic of disability and divorce…and draws some surprising conclusions! Check it out…and share with your friends!

 

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The power of stories…Dave Lynden

Dave_Micah_iLyndenIn the fifth installment in David Lynden’s blog series on Spiritual Autism he continues his Wednesday discussion examining the power of stories that we tell, rejoice in, and hear over and over again…and how, through these stories we strive to fill in the puzzle pieces and reach for something that brings all of the stories together into a coherent whole.

Watching Micah delight and obsess over stories that drew him in forced me to look at my own spiritual autism and how God is penetrating through those barriers of static systems and isolation and a very closed world. God does it by inviting us into a story that, deep down inside, we know is true because it cannot help but resurface with every story we tell.

TolkeinThis is the argument that was made by the author of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien to one of his colleagues at Oxford- a man he called “Jack”. Jack was a brilliant professor of literature in the early part of the 20th century. He was also an avowed atheist. But, Jack had come to respect and even enjoy Tolkien’s company. Tolkien, of course, was also professor of literature at Oxford and both of these men dearly loved mythology, the ancient hero stories- sometimes even learning languages like Old Norse and then translating the myths out of their original languages so they could be read for the simple, sheer enjoyment of the stories themselves. Around this time, Jack had also begun to seriously question his atheism. Indeed, around the summer of 1929, Jack had professed a belief in God, though he had not adopted any particular faith.[1]

One blustery night (September 19th, 1931 to be exact), Jack had dinner with Tolkien and another literature professor at Reading University- Hugo Dyson. After dinner, the three men walked along Addison’s Walk discussing the purpose of myth. In the midst of the discussion, Jack began to wrestle out loud about his questions with Christianity. Specifically, how could one man’s sacrificial death 2000 years ago help us in the here and now? That comment led to a question from Tolkien and Dyson that went something along the lines of- “Why does it so bother you to hear of Jesus’ self-sacrificing death and yet you can read about similar acts of heroism and sacrifice in the myths and be moved by it? You are too hard on the gospels as they present Jesus as the self-sacrificing savior considering how much pleasure you get from mythology’s self-sacrificing heroes.” Jack, of course, responded, “But, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver.” In other words, the great stories of old Norse mythology about Thor or Balder, they are enjoyable stories, but they are not true, so you put no stock into them, no hope into them. To which Tolkien responded, “No, they are not [lies].”

And as they walked along, the author of that epic story of Frodo Baggins and the ring of power and the Dark Lord began to explain that all myths are trying to tell the one true story, the story over which humanity continually obsesses.

CS LewisJack listened intently. He posited a question- “You mean the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us the same way other myths do, except this one really happened?” The three men chatted until 3:00AM. Tolkien finally went home while Jack and Hugh Dyson finished their conversation. Tolkien began composing a poem titled Mythopoeia to capture his thoughts on the truth of myths which find their zenith in Christ, sending one manuscript to Jack (marked “for C.S.L.”). Twelve days after that conversation, Jack, better known to the world as C.S. Lewis, wrote to another friend, Arthur Greeves:

“I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ- in Christianity. I will try to explain this another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it.”[2]

It is the power of stories, stories that we tell and hear and rejoice in over and over again…like a feedback loop. In our own spiritual autism, we continually rewind these myths to catch our favorite parts and to see the glimpses of hope in them. And sometimes we even catch ourselves, from time-to-time, breathing in these same myths and moving past the joy of the plot and the heroics to asking if they are somehow ultimately true, if perhaps they are pointing us to a true story of hope and if they may, in fact, be inviting us to participate.

Micah TVSo here was my little guy, Micah, standing in front of the TV, wrapped in his royal blue fleece blanket jumping up and down, clapping and laughing as he watched his favorite stories over and over again, reminding me of what I do, what we do, how we strive to fill in the puzzle pieces and reach for something that brings all of the stories together into a coherent whole. God’s story starts with a creation of all things good and a fall that poisoned everything. It was a fall that introduced both death and a despot into the world and made enslavement the norm. But, the redemption part of the story, the hero part of the story, begins with an exodus and that is something I can join in on the jumping and clapping and laughing because all of our stories tell me it is true. The myth-makers and writers of sagas gave us these raw materials to reconstruct a true hope as we find it in God’s true tale; a tale which God Himself obsesses over. Or as Tolkien wrote in a section from Mythopoeia:

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme

of things nor found within record time.

It is not they that have forgot the Night,

or bid us flee to organised delight,

in lotus-isles of economic bliss

forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss

(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,

bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).

Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,

and those that hear them yet may yet beware.

They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,

and yet they would not in despair retreat,

but oft to victory have turned the lyre

and kindled hearts with legendary fire,

illuminating Now and dark Hath-been

with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

[1] Carpenter, Humphrey, Tolkien- A Biography, pub. by Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977, p. 146

[2] Carpenter, p. 148

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Square Peg Round HoleKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource on the topic of Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development. This page includes the blog series Dr. Grcevich and Mike Woods developed for Key Ministry, links to lots of helpful resources from other like-minded organizations, and Dr. Grcevich’s presentation on the topic from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit. Click here to access the page!

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Obsessing on the story…Dave Lynden

Micah TVWelcome to the fourth installment in David Lynden’s blog series examining Spiritual Autism. Today, Dave looks at a commonality we all have with his son (Micah)…our propensity to obsess on seeing, hearing and telling the same story, again and again. Here’s Dave…

I don’t know what it is about watching Sesame Street in reverse that makes my 12 year old son Micah just downright giddy, but that VHS tape is getting some real wear-and-tear from the constant rewinding and playing, rewinding and playing. There he is, every Saturday morning, wrapped in his favorite fleece blanket like a royal blue “kid burrito”- his black, noise-muting headphones on, his stuffed tiger in a stranglehold under one arm while the other arm remains free in order to hit the “stop”, “play” and “rewind” buttons. Sometimes he sits in a laundry basket that he brought downstairs.

Other times, he freelances throughout the living room. As the tape plays, he will hit the rewind button, stand back, and watch a scene in reverse- laughing, clapping and hopping up-and-down only to start the process all over again. Now he doesn’t do this with the whole tape, but only with certain scenes. It is like his very own manually-driven feedback loop. The same scene shows up again and again (albeit in reverse). He seems obsessed with this video.

Then again, he obsesses about a group of stories. We routinely read and re-read…and re-read again stories like Eight Silly Monkeys, Ten Little Ladybugs, Ten Rubber Duckies, Ten Little Dinosaurs, The Monster at the End of This Book, Tickle Monster. They never get old…for him. I was pondering what it is that causes him to obsess over these stories. True, a lot of them are counting books. Several of them feature monsters. Yet, there is something else that acts as a common denominator and it is this- they all engage him to enter their story. Some of them let him touch and feel textures on the pages. In some, the monster speaks directly to the reader. The Tickle Monster book requires me to stop and execute various tickling as the story indicates. The Sesame Street characters in the books and on his videos look right at the audience and speak directly to Micah. Steve from Blue’s Clues engages his viewers to participate. I think his obsession is connected with connecting; with a story that invites him in, that involves him, that finds some deep need and makes a point of contact. So there he is, either on Saturday mornings or in his bed for the bedtime story- laughing, clapping, rejoicing with the story he is invited to participate in. Somehow, the story reaches past the autism and finds a contact point.

Mind PuzzleI am not so sure this is a trait exclusive to children with autism. In our own way, we too have this odd, little habit. What we do is we tell the same story over and over again. Oh, we use different characters and different times and different settings, but we still tell the same general story, and it is a story of redemption. I think we do it in order to see the bigger story that we are living in. I think we do it in order to fill in more pieces of the puzzle, to join in, to participate, to connect beyond passive observations. Perhaps, like our glimpses of the paradise long lost, this “common story” is another primal memory that God has downloaded into our hard drive; one in which we can access bits and pieces by playing it out again and again. In fact, let me give you a couple of examples of how we keep telling the same stories in something of a feedback loop.

The stories we tell…again and again

ThorI love watching the more recent movies that have brought my favorite childhood comic book heroes to the big screen. It is one of the things my oldest son, Josiah and I do whenever the latest one hits the theatres. One of those movies is Thor. The story follows a hero (a Norse god) who is sent to earth for his arrogance and recklessness. Thor can only return to Asgard (the heavenly realm he calls home) after proving himself worthy. Through his experiences, he learns humility and servanthood while here on earth. And when his friends’ lives are threatened by the forces of evil (in particular, his envious step-brother Loki), Thor makes Loki an offer to save the town that is being attacked. He freely offers up his own life so that Loki’s anger would be assuaged, shielding his friends from further violence. Of course, it is at that moment when he proves himself worthy and is raised from death by the chief Norse god (his father, Odin) to overcome the forces of evil and to lead a new path out of danger and into safety. So what kind of story do we see? A story of heroic death that produces salvation for others, a resurrection and a new way forward!

I saw the same story in the Harry Potter movies, especially in the last installment- Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (Part Two). Harry is the “chosen one”, the only one who can defeat the evil sorcerer, Voldemort, who threatens to dominate and enslave the earth. But, in order to break Voldemort’s power, Harry must allow himself to be killed by his nemesis. Harry’s death suddenly makes Voldemort vulnerable, all but sealing his fate. Thus, when Harry returns from death, he leads a rebellion against the forces of evil, defeating Voldemort for good and bringing safety and security to a once-broken world. So what kind of story do we see? A story of heroic death, salvation, resurrection and a new way forward! Déjà vu!

Frodo-Lord of the RingsI saw this story yet again in J.R.R. Tolkein’s epic trilogy (and my favorite work of fiction), The Lord of the Rings in which a very ordinary hobbit becomes a self-sacrificing hero, offering his own life to save Middle-Earth and to break the power of evil. You’ll see this story in modern movies like Armageddon, Braveheart, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, etc… Different characters, different settings, but the same story. I could go on. We are telling the same story! Dare I say obsessing over it? Death/self-sacrifice, resurrection, salvation, a new world! You get the picture! It’s a feedback loop! These, and so many others, are the stories we tell over and over again in a sort of joyful dance.

Most of us are not hopping around the living room in our underwear, wrapped in a blue fleece blanket with a stuffed tiger under one arm, while the story is being told again (at least, most of us would never admit to doing this). But, why else do we keep obsessing over the telling the same story? My suggestion is that we not only find great joy and hope in these stories, but that such joy and hope is produced because God has embedded this story deep into our conscience. The “spiritual autism” that isolates us from others is penetrated, in part, by a story God has weaved into the fabric of our very being. And in that sense, it is not only we who are obsessing over a story, but God who is drawing us in- connecting with us, telling us we are part of the story! We keep hearing and telling the same story and it brings us to laughing, clapping, jumping up-and-down only to start the process all over again. Could it be that no matter where we are coming from as far as our views on God, the story of the Bible or our personal beliefs, we know deep down inside that we are yearning for a world where we will experience freedom from the enslavement of despair, doubt, oppression, sin, brokenness and isolation? And that such a world will only be accessed through the strength and sacrifice of a hero beyond ourselves? Even the notorious atheist philosopher Frederich Nietzsche, having declared God to be dead, nevertheless looked for a “superman” who would arise and bring hopeless, helpless humanity to a new world of freedom. Even Nietzsche had this story inscribed on his heart, even if it was quite warped from the original tale. Watching Micah delight and obsess over stories that drew him in forced me to look at my own spiritual autism and how God is penetrating through those barriers of static systems and isolation and a very closed world. God does it by inviting us into a story that, deep down inside, we know is true because it cannot help but resurface with every story we tell.

Mind photo courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

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Key Ministry-NewEver wonder if the often-quoted statistics about divorce rates in families impacted by disability are true? Check out Key Ministry’s resource: Special Needs and Divorce…What Does the Data Say? In this article, Dr. Steve Grcevich reviews the available research literature on the topic of disability and divorce…and draws some surprising conclusions! Check it out…and share with your friends!

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Join us for a conversation with Emily Colson

Inclusion Fusion updatedWe’d like to invite all of our readers to join us today for A Conversation With Emily Colson, available beginning at 12:00 AM Eastern Time on Monday, April 7th through Inclusion Fusion at Key TV.

In our conversation, Emily discusses how she came to faith, the value she places on being an active member of a local church and the “the pain of not being pursued” that she experienced when she was unable to attend church for five years because congregations in her area weren’t yet equipped to support inclusion of her son (Max).

In Emily’s blog for Autism Awareness Day, she shared “I always knew Max needed the church, but no one could have imagined how much the church needed Max.” Her uplifting account of how God has used Max to be a blessing to the people of her church are an inspiring reminder that persons with special needs also have gifts and talents to contribute to the work of the church…and a reminder of how the church is diminished without the inclusion of families impacted by disability.

Here’s how to join us…

Click HERE to access Key TV.

Emily’s talk will be available at Key TV every hour on the hour at Key TV on Monday, April 7. Feel free to watch the interview…or refer your friends to the interview at ANY time during the day.

Emily will be LIVE in our “chat room” from 12:15 PM-1:30 PM Eastern and from 9:00 PM-10:15 PM Eastern.

For this Inclusion Fusion event, we’re requiring guests to log in with their Facebook accounts. Doing so allows participants to join in the chat, and makes it easy to invite others to join us for Emily’s conversation.

Beginning Tuesday, April 8th, we’ll have lots of additional resources available at Key TV for pastors, church staff, volunteers and families to support inclusion at church and faith development at home in conjunction with Autism Awareness Month. During the daytime, we’ll offer great resources for church staff, including video from…

  • Dr. Cara Daily on practical tips for including kids with autism spectrum disorders at church
  • Katie Wetherbee with tips to address bullying at church
  • Jolene Philo on how churches can support parents of kids with special needs

In the evening, we’ll feature resources for parents, including…

  • Interviews with Chuck Swindoll and Colleen Swindoll-Thompson
  • Strategies for parents seeking to explain abstract spiritual concepts to kids with autism spectrum disorders
  • Understanding the impact of Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids

We’re looking forward to you joining us for Emily Colson on April 7th…and making use of all the resources available through Key TV and Inclusion Fusion!

Emily Colson Promo

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Square Peg Round HoleKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource on the topic of Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development. This page includes the blog series Dr. Grcevich and Mike Woods developed for Key Ministry, links to lots of helpful resources from other like-minded organizations, and Dr. Grcevich’s presentation on the topic from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit. Click here to access the page!

Posted in Autism, Inclusion, Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry, Spiritual Development, Stories, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exercises for overcoming our spiritual autism…Dave Lynden

Micah in tree 1We’re pleased to present the third installment in David Lynden’s blog series examining Spiritual Autism. Today, Dave shares three spiritual strategies to help us overcome our spiritual autism.

Using our sanctified imaginations a little might help us move this elusive relationship with God into a more fluid way. So let me suggest a few exercises that I have found to be very helpful in overcoming our “spiritual autism”.

  • Locate yourself in God’s story

As we grow closer to God, the difficult thing is knowing where we have come from- not just individually, but also collectively as human beings. The world as it once was is so hard to grasp. It is much like a dream- a wonderful, vivid dream that we do not want to wake from and yet, when we are awake, we lose the dream quickly from our mind’s eye. The cares and speed of the day sweep those visions into the air like a small dust cloud that quickly dissipates in the wind and disappears into the background of the outdoor world. A person with a more fluid relationship with God will work hard at seeing the world that God created and then see the heights of our fall from grace in a broader context. As we locate ourselves in God’s story, we are on the other side of a perfect world, that like our dreams, escapes our minds and imaginations much too quickly! At the same time, we are being drawn towards an ending in which all things come to a climax of restoration, having seen the plot take a sharp turn away from the downward spiral of despair at the cross and the empty tomb.

This is so important because without a metanarrative (the larger story we find ourselves located in), the day-to-day events feel like individual and unrelated moments. They easily break down into a black-and-white evaluation of what happened and why. We experience a difficulty, for instance, and try to figure out if we had it coming, if it was fair or unfair, if there is someone to blame? The event is not seen against the backdrop of any larger story and thus its’ meaning to us is relegated to a static sentence is a chapter-less existence. This is symptomatic of ‘spiritual autism”.

The story of the Bible starts us off “in the beginning” when the relationship with God was unhindered and fluid. It shows us how we ended up where we are currently at and then where we are going. In other words, the beginning of God’s narrative offers us the background for the pages and chapters of our day-to-day moments, encounters and troubles in life. The world as it once was gives a point of comparison and contrast. It allows us to see our moments from the 30,000 foot perspective.

Milky WayI remember when I was on a mission trip in the mountains of Guatemala and for the first time ever, I saw the Milky Way. It looked like someone had smeared the stars across the black sky! And a friend of mine who had served in the military in the Middle East told me that in the middle of the desert- far from any artificial light- the stars come right down to the bottom of the horizon. Beauty- be it in nature or in the perfection of a newborn baby or in a piece of music that has the markings of genius and soul- these are all glimpses into a world that once was; these are all traces of a world that has disappeared, but not completely.

Yet, from this 30,000 foot vantage point, there are also many pictures of the brokenness as well. The same desert my friend found himself in was due to the Iraq War. We were in Guatemala because we were trying to aid a church in dire poverty. And beautiful newborns can still grow up to be quite rebellious. All of this points us towards the upcoming chapters and where the plot will turn next.

Relating to God starts with finding your location in the story He is telling. The relationship, like any other relationship, starts with context. Otherwise, it is simply a functional relationship like that of a bank teller and a person making a deposit or withdrawal from their checking account. No eye contact required.

  • Understand how you are the one disconnecting

Whenever I talk to people about their feeling of disconnect with God, it always seems- whether consciously or unconsciously- that they seem to blame God for the problem of unfamiliarity. Rarely do I meet people who both struggle to know God AND at the same time see themselves as the ones with the problem. But, one of the most important first steps in relating to God is to see yourself in a way that you may have never considered before- that the communication breakdown is on your shoulders, not God’s. There are practices to help us shift perspectives. For Tom, it was an hour with a special needs child and the task of trying to look through God’s eyes to see himself. For others, it might be asking an honest friend how often you miss things being said to you or how frequently you seem to tune out in the middle of a conversation. If we do this with others, we surely do it with God!

  • Don’t confuse activity with connection

Culturally speaking, we are so into “doing” that we struggle with “being”. We are notorious for checklists and events and noise and busyness. Dallas Willard wrote about the potential terrors of ceasing the busyness and just listening when he wrote,

“Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God. And in that quiet, what if there turns out to be very little to ‘just us and God’?”[1]

Connection comes from multiple sources- through service, through Bible study, through the Spirit’s healing power- but to practice the presence of God, to slow down and listen, well…I have rarely had anyone walk away from an extended time of silence and solitude and say to me, “What a colossal waste of my time!” One of the biggest red flags of spiritual autism is the inability to be still, to quiet oneself, to set aside the compulsive need to occupy all space with an activity or with sound. The din of such frenzied activity actually drowns out the possibility of connecting with God. It exchanges fluidity with God to a static system.

More aware than we might realize

I think that there is another line of reasoning that we typically get backwards. Not only do I think we tend to see our disconnect as rooted in God instead of in ourselves, but I also think we have it backwards in terms of who is pursuing who. Some of the suggestions above might convey the idea that we are the ones pursuing God. In fact, it is just the opposite. Over and over again, the biblical storyline pictures humans as straying sheep that the Shepherd must go after…or we are lost coins or prodigal sons. God is the one pursuing us. That is the point in God’s story of Jesus’ arrival to this planet- to pursue us as one of us; to encounter us in our isolated, spiritually-autistic routines and confusion and sin. Yet, there is a response to this pursuit. Soon, if we are engaged with God, we realize that He is the one coming towards us, re-connecting the lines of communication and we respond by moving towards Him…and discovering new levels of fluidity, new levels of awareness.

Like I warned Tom, Micah is much more aware of what is going on around him than he lets on. But, a lot of that is from me and my wife pursuing Micah. It is us who began initiating tickle time after school- 30+ minutes of going upstairs, away from the distractions and just playing and tickling. And now, as Micah has seen the value of this time, it is him who grabs one of us by the hand asking for “tickles” or “upstairs” or “Mike Tysons”. The time we have spent with Micah has caught his attention and now he responsively pursues us for more connection. But, the connection has also enhanced the fluidity and even now, in all of the severity of Micah’s autism, he has begun to break out of his static systems…most recently through telling a joke.

Micah TickleA “joke” may be a slight exaggeration. How about using humor in his interaction with me? So there we were, in his room. It was after school tickle-time. He asked for interaction- “I would tickles please, I would like tickles please” and I tickled him, and then waited. “I would like tickles please, I would like tickles please.” More tickling, more waiting for the next request. Suddenly, Micah sat up, looked me in the eye and got this enormous grin on his face. “I love you…MOMMY!” “Mommy?!”, I said as he began to giggle. “Do I look like Mommy to you?” “YES!!”, he shouted followed by a long, gut-splitting belly laugh. And as we laughed, I saw the functional, choreographed, static system briefly dissipate. I saw trajectory- from a world of fluid connection that fell into chaos that substituted routines for real relationship to the end for which God intends it. I saw myself with God in the brief moments when He breaks through my own autistic, chapter-less existence and into His grand redemption story. There is no equation for this. There is God pursuing us through Jesus of Nazareth and us beginning to make eye contact again.

[1] Willard, Dallas, The Spirit of the Disciplines- Understanding How God Changes Lives, pub. by HarperCollins, 1988, p. 163

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Emily ColsonEmily Colson will be joining us on Monday, April 7th at Key TV for the next installment of our Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Symposium. In A Conversation With Emily, she shares from her heart regarding her family’s experience of church while raising her son (Max) who has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Emily’s interview captures the incredible ways in which God blesses congregations that pursue families impacted by disability…families without which the church is incomplete. The video interview with Emily will be available every hour on the hour. Emily will be available to chat live at the Inclusion Fusion site from 12:15 PM to 1:30 PM Eastern and from 9:00 PM to 10:15 Eastern.  Join us for a remarkable discussion on Monday with Emily and invite your friends!

Posted in Autism, Key Ministry, Spiritual Development | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Becoming more fluid in our relationship with God…David Lynden

Micah TicklePastor, Old Testament scholar, husband and father David Lynden presents the second segment in his blog series examining Spiritual Autism. Click here to read the first installment in the series.

I have a friend named Tom, who I have been investing in as a spiritual mentor. Tom is a very enthusiastic, very driven person who started off his journey as a Christian with an amazing zeal. Along the way, Tom began to be involved in more and more activities at the church until he began to feel a certain level of spiritual fatigue. The feeling of disconnect with God was also still evident, which confused Tom since it seemed logical that if one reads their Bible more and comes to more and more church activities, the connection should begin to grow, right? And yet, it had not.

“Man! I just feel like I am spiritually tired and God still seems so distant. What do I do?,” he said.

Having gotten to know Tom and his git-‘er-done, gung-ho spirit, I wondered if he had substituted events for relationship; if he had assumed that there was a simple equation like- Bible study + small group + ministry involvement = closer connection to God. It certainly seemed like a static system of fixed movements. So I gave him an assignment involving our son with autism.

“OK Tom, here is what I want you to do. If you are coming to church this Sunday, I want you to spend one of the hours watching Micah. And as you interact with him, I want you to think of yourself as God and Micah as you. In other words, use this little moment to see yourself through God’s eyes and tell me what you learn about yourself and your relationship with God.”

Tom, who is both very willing and very teachable, ran with it. I saw him that Sunday morning near the end of second service. The sweat was beading on his forehead. He was smiling, but clearly exhausted. Micah was twirling about the atrium while Tom was catching a breather. The service was ending with a time of dedication prayer for our graduating High School Seniors. Micah, who had lulled Tom into a false sense of security (one of his best tricks), saw his chance and made a break for it, running into the Worship Center while everyone prayed, with his eye on the drum set at the back of the platform. Tom’s eyes widened and he launched himself after Micah before he disrupted the service. Thankfully, my wife headed Micah off at the pass. Later that week, we debriefed. I asked Tom if he knew why I had given him that assignment.

“I think so. When I picked him up at the door, I reminded myself that I was to look at this as though I were God and Micah was me…and a lot of stuff makes so much more sense now.”

“How so?,” I asked as Tom leaned in, ready to share his thoughts.

“Well, Micah is a really sweet kid. He was really giggly and wanted to be tickled all of the time. By the way, what is a ‘Mike Tyson?’ He kept asking for that.”

“Oh, a ‘Mike Tyson’ is when I nibble on his ear.”, I responded.

Tom got a laugh out of that little inside joke and then continued-

“You know, I really wanted to connect with him, but he couldn’t seem to move beyond the basics. He had his own agenda. When we went to the playground outside, he used me as a human ladder to climb to the monkey bars. And then he would use me to get back down again. I wanted to talk, but he just didn’t seem to understand my words. And he was all over the place. He couldn’t sit still for one thing long enough to enjoy it or connect with me. He was off for another thing to get into. It was like he could play around me, but not play with me.”

“And how did you see you and God?”, I asked.

“I get it. That’s me with God. I cannot seem to slow down long enough to find God’s desire to connect with me in all the events of life. I kind of use God the way Micah was using me- like a vending machine or something to get what I want. Relating to him felt kind of mechanical. It wasn’t fluid. I could totally see myself in this exercise.”

Dave_Micah_iLyndenThat is where we start with this mysterious “relationship with God” that so many people refer to, but so few can clearly define- with a little perspective, with a little self-awareness. The story of the Bible starts out at two places- the goodness of creation and the utter disruption of rebellion. I wanted Tom to live a little bit in the world of brokenness, not as Tom, but as God working with the broken creation. It is a great exercise to glimpse things from God’s viewpoint. And one of the things I wanted Tom to see was how static, rather than fluid, our relationship with God really is. In my own reflections, autism really brings my disconnect with God into HD-level clarity.

Let me stop at this point and explain what I mean by “static” and “fluid” relationships. We are so used to looking at another person face-to-face while we talk that we take it for granted how complex communication really is. It is one of the relational features of what Dr. Steven Gutstein calls a “fluid communication system”. Gutstein, a clinical psychologist and autism researcher, explains the difference between relationships for people with and without autism in terms of “static systems” and “fluid systems” of communication.[1]

Every time two or more people interact they create a temporary communication system. A “fluid system” is one in which there is a free-flow of communication; not just through words, but through body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, volume, etc… A fluid communication system is when you and a friend sit down “face-to-face” at a Starbucks to have some coffee and shoot the breeze. The conversation moves about without any pre-planned course. The topics change depending on the mood, the interest, the un-choreographed “dance” of the relationship.

A “static system” is just the opposite. It is outcome-oriented. There are very clear boundaries; the movements of the relationship are very predictable, very staged. Standing in line at the bank is a “static system”. You walk into the bank, stand at the back of the line, stay within the roped off aisles. When it is your turn, you step to the next available teller, who says to you, “How are you today?” and you reply, while turning in the bank slip, “I’m fine. How are you?” After the teller completes the task, you get a copy of the transaction statement, you say “thank you” and “have a nice day”, and you step off to the side and go back to your car. And no one would think it strange that you and the teller never made direct eye contact. It is unnecessary because the relationship is “static”; it is based purely on function.

A person with autism, while often able to learn static systems, struggles to function in a fluid system. Micah can verbally ask for a cookie or juice, but he cannot share an experience with me. Nor does he seem to understand when I say, “I love you.” In short, our relationship is imprisoned in the routine, in the choreographed.[2]

And that is the analogy I used to help Tom face his checklist spirituality, his “static relationship with God.” Tom, like many of us, often relate to God through a series of activities. We read our Bibles. We pray. We show up on Sunday morning and maybe put some money in the plate. Perhaps we are even involved in some ministries. And yet, like Tom, many of us also feel like this is an “on-paper” relationship with God. We could walk through the whole routine and never make “eye contact”, so to speak, with God. It feels more like an equation than it does a give-and-take fluid system of communication. It can feel choreographed, routine, static and…well, empty.

[1] Gutstein, Steven E., Autism, Aspergers: Solving the relationship puzzle, pub. by Future Horizons Inc., 2000, pp. 33-35

[2] Lynden, David J., “Overcoming Spiritual Autism”, Discipleship Journal- Issue 168, March/April 2008, p. 66

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Inclusion Fusion updated

Emily ColsonEmily Colson will be joining us on Monday, April 7th at Key TV for the next installment of our Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Symposium. In A Conversation With Emily, she shares from her heart regarding her family’s experience of church while raising her son (Max) who has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Emily’s interview captures the incredible ways in which God blesses congregations that pursue families impacted by disability…families without which the church is incomplete. The video interview with Emily will be available every hour on the hour. Emily will be available to chat live at the Inclusion Fusion site from 12:15 PM to 1:30 PM Eastern and from 9:00 PM to 10:15 Eastern.  Join us for a remarkable discussion on Monday with Emily and invite your friends!

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