He Wasn’t Too Small to Jesus

It is the time of year for W-2’s.  I got my reminder of the annual chore of filing taxes by mid-April.  Since the first time I ever filed back when I was 18, I never waited, not once in all the years since, to file at the last minute.  I am not a last minute person.  I don’t live on the edge.  Now that I know I’m living on the autism spectrum, I susect autism has something to do with my tending to this chore in Feburary instead of April.

I didn’t work for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but spent a couple of decades in another agency.  If I had worked for the IRS, I doubt I would have told many people.  Just the folks I would have trusted to not slash my tires.  I don’t know if the IRS is the most unpopular U.S. government agency, but if it isn’t, it surely has to be close to the bottom.

Tax collectors weren’t popular in Bible times either.  One reason is there were bad apples who would take some of the money they collected and put it in their own pockets.  So it was understandle for the common folk to be distrustful of tax collectors who lived among them.

A chief tax collector got some coverage in the Bible.  He has a story and it is told in Luke 19:1-10:

19 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.

And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.

And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.

And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.

And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.

And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.

And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.

10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

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Zacchaeus had at least one strike against him and it was his unpopular profession.  As a chief tax collector, he was a rich man in wealth but not so much in popularity.  It doesn’t say he definitely took more than his fair share, but the townfolk of Jericho certainly viewed him with suspicion as they would any collector.  He also lacked in height.  The scripture only says he was short in stature.  It doesn’t say he was bullied about it.  He certainly might have been.  As it is true today, it was probably true in Zacchaeus’s time of odd height, odd weight, odd skin color, odd behavior, etc. who were bullied.

I gather from the scripture that there was a line of people in Jericho waiting to get a glimpse of Jesus.  Perhaps some stood in line for Jesus because they had heard of Jesus’s miraculous healing powers.  Some wanting to be healed while others wanting to satisfy their curiosity.  Zacchaeus joined the townspeople.  Due to his lack of height, he was at a disadvantage.  The taller people did not move over to give Zacchaeus a spot on the front row.  They may have had to pay Zacchaeus taxes, but they sure didn’t have to step aside for him.

If Zacchaeus had just been curious, I think he would have given up and just gone home.  But instead, he eyed a  sycomore tree and climbed it.  Now mind ya, although he was short, he was a grown man.  As a general rule, grown-ups don’t climb trees.  Maybe he didn’t worry about folks’ laughing at him up in the tree because his reputation was so sorry with them anyway.  Or, maybe he was more desperate than curious to see Jesus.  I wonder if he was looking for something that all his wealth had eluded him.

When Jesus came to the tree, he looked up and told Zacchaeus to come down.  It doesn’t say that Zacchaeus had yelled his name out to Jesus, seeking to get His attention.  Jesus knew his name and where he was.  It was meant to be for Him to go to Zacchaeus’s house.  From what the scripture says, Jesus didn’t have to ask him twice.  He didn’t have to  talk Zacchaeus into coming down.  He eagerly came down and welcomed Jesus into his home.

The only ones not happy was the townspeople who witnessed this exchange.  They looked upon Zacchaeus as a sinner.  He wasn’t one of them.  If they thought of themselves as sinners, well, they weren’t as bad as Zacchaeus.  It is easy to look at someone else and think, “I have my faults, but I’m not as bad as that person..”  Jesus didn’t condone  dishonesty or cheating anymore than he condoned adultery when he intervened for a woman who was about to be stoned for the act.  He cultivated the fine art of forgiveness and reining in our judgement.  Those murmuring at Zacchaeus may not have been guilty of dishonestry or greed, but they all had their own sins too.

Jesus visit to his house was a life changing event for Zacchaeus.  So much so that he made a twofold promise to the crowd.  One was to give up half of his possessions which was no small deed.  And, if he cheated anyone out of anything, he’d restore to them four times the amount.

Jesus was pleased with the change of heart in Zacchaeus.  He declared that Zacchaeus and his family had been saved.  They put their faith in Him and were committed to following Him.  Jesus again stated his purpose for coming to Earth was to seek and to save that which was lost.  

If Jesus were to come and walk among us, whether it be days or months or years, I think we’d be surprise to those he woud say, “I must abide at your house today.”  It might be in neighborhoods that I would be too afraid to enter.  It might be in institutions that house the outcast and forgotten.  Instead of the popular, he might instead rub elbows with the unpopular like the sinful woman who poured perfume on his feet.

It gives me comfort that Jesus spent some of what precious, little time he had on this Earth so long ago with those who were out of the mainstream.  He even chose a tax collector by the name of Matthew to be one of his twelve disciples.  Jesus’s invitation in John 3:16, “…whosoever believeth on him shall not perish but have eternal life”, includes us all.  No matter how much one may be out of step with their companions.

When I walk into a special ed classroom, I often think of the short unpopular guy who climbed up a sycamore tree.

 

 

 

 

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My Date at Bull Run

If you’re living on the autism spectrum like myself, chances are good that there’s been at least one time in your life that someone said to you, “You ought to socialize more.”  I’ve lost count the number of times myself.  I wonder if being told that has prompted one to become a party animal or close to it.  I’m not saying it is bad advice.  I just haven’t taken it yet.  HA!

A quarter of a century ago, when I was living in the Washingon D.C. area, a friend urged me to go on a blind date.  She was so persistent that to get her off my back, I relented.  If I had known what I was in for, I would have found some way of stonewalling her.

The blind date lived in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  We talked on the phone and I learned immediately that he was a Civil War buff.  I don’t know if he was living on the spectrum, but he sure had a strong SINGLE interest and it was the War.  Although he was a native of one of the northern states, he was a southerner at heart.  The way he talked you’d think he hadn’t gotten the memo that the South lost.

With my reluctance to speak up, I went along with our first date being at the Manassas National Battlefield which was pretty much the halfway point between where we lived.  In case you didn’t know, this was where the First Battle of Bull Run was fought in 1861 and the Second fought in 1862.  It was also the first battle where Confederate General Thomas Jackson would earn the nickname “Stonewall”.

Since we had never laid eyes on each other, my blind date came up with the idea of his standing near the statue of Stonewall Jackson on his horse.  That worked because upon arrival, I didn’t see anybody else other than this one fella standing near Stonewall.

We took a hike on this beautiful Virginia countryside.  I do mean a hike!  I think to this day I saw more of the battlefield than Stonewall did.  HA!  At one point during the hike, he stopped and said, “I think we’re lost.”  I said, “You think?”  I was worn out from walking and from saying “really”, “that’s interesting”, or “you don’t say” ever so often while he gave me a blow-by-blow account of both Bull Run 1 and 2.

I understand now with hindsight and a diagnosis why conversations about things I know little to nothing about and have no desire to be educated about is just static noise to me.

Fortunately, he picked the direction that took us back to the visitor’s center.  I was feeling a sigh of relief until he said he couldn’t wait to see the film, “Manassas: End of Innocence”.  The film was just about to start when we got back to the center.  I was not a happy camper of seeing a film of what I had just hiked over.  I wanted to call it a date because I felt a foot blister coming on, but I suffered in silence.  It didn’t occur to me to use the “I got a headache” excuse.

My blind date at Bull Run ran its course and we didn’t cross paths again.  Now he was a nice gentleman.  There’s nothing wrong with being a Civil War buff.  Or, a history buff of any kind.  I’m a big buff on presidential history myself.  I truly hope he eventually found a companion.  Maybe someone who wasn’t entirely convinced the South lost either.

As for my well-meaning friend, she never even so much as said the words “blind date” to me again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Autie Again

Someone told me about their father who was diagnosed with dementia.  He lives with his youngest sister and her family. He has his good and bad days.  Some days, a little of both.  He’s gotten in the habit of when he forgets things, or sleeps to noon, or stays up past midnight, etc., he’ll offer the excuse “it was the dementia again.”  Like a child might say the “devil” made me do it, he claims the “dementia” made him do it.

This father came to mind the other day when I was deeply entrenched in my thoughts and was on the keyboard typing them out.  I was fully engaged in my passion!  Then, there was an interruption.  Nobody around me was doing anything they had no right to do.  My rights were not being violated, but you’d think so from the boiling going on inside of me.

I didn’t dare let out so much as a whimper.  I suffered in silence because no wrong had been done to me.  I didn’t want to take it out on anyone. But what was I to do with all this pinned-up tension that was like a tea kettle about to blow?

I thought along the same line as the father, “It’s the autie thing again”.

I escaped outside and walked around.  I worked my hands by picking up twigs.  They really didn’t need picking up, but I needed to do it to calm my inner storm.  The kettle stopped boiling.  When I did come back in to resume where I left off, the interruption was gone and all was well.

This is just one of many episodes of living on the autism spectrum.  When my disorder kicks up another storm, I think I’ll follow the lead of my acquaintance’s father and just say to myself — it’s the autie again.

 

 

The Lady from Paris

Once I knew a woman who was unlike anyone else I ever met and I doubt I will ever see the likes of again.

We once attended the same church in Virginia. While talking with the associate pastor, she walks into the room.  When I think of that moment, it reminds me of a rare bird coming in for a smooth landing. She was full of boundless energy as she spoke of her recent visit to Paris which was her birthplace. I was mesmerized by her.  Not because of our sameness; but our differences.  I wanted to be around her more and so I took her up on her invitation to join her Sunday School class.

The class was a rare bird too.  It took a different pair of lens approach to Bible study. The unique discussions filled up my thinking cap. I remember we spent weeks on the subject of evil. I was so relieved when one member suggested we change subjects. It was turning our Sunday mornings into dark clouds.

I had the reputation in class of not taking the floor.  This was long before I knew I had autism.  I recall a class member brought it to everybody’s attention that if I ever spoke up, it would be a monumental event.  I just smiled but underneath, I was even more determined to maintain my silent reputation.  On the other hand, I suspect the lady from Paris got the floor more than the other class members would have liked. We were the class’s extremes, but on opposite ends.  She talked too much and I didn’t talk at all.

She was late one morning and made her grand entrance with an excuse of being deep in thought about what Buddhists and Christians have in common. As I stated earlier, she was a “rare bird”!  One of the older ladies said, “No wonder you were late.” That comment drew laughter around the table, including the lady from Paris.

The lady went on to tell her unusual story of going to a local monastery and having a sit-down discussion with the monks about what they had in common with Christianity. I gathered from her report that it wasn’t a short conversation. I know I couldn’t have done what she did unless a gun were at my back.  I understood, though, she didn’t go there to convert any of the monks or to be converted by them.  It was just a warm, friendly cup of conversation of what they shared instead of hashing out their differences.  Maybe if there was more of that in this world, more sitting down of two sides who have their differences, then there’d be less fighting.  I don’t hold my breath for sit-downs though.

I sensed from body language around the class table that I may have been the only one hanging on her every word. Most pairs of eyes were not on her. The teacher tried to hurry the lady along, but she wasn’t yielding the floor until she finished her story. I sensed she was struggling to being taken seriously and it wasn’t working.  I, the silent one, perhaps the one who was most different from her, was her biggest fan around that table.

When class was over, she came by and I spoke up for a change. I just sensed she may have felt bad.  I wanted her to know I was glad to see her since she had been absent. Her response was she wouldn’t be back. She said she didn’t belong in the class. That she wouldn’t be missed. I didn’t feel compelled to put forth a vigorous argument. It wouldn’t have done any good. It was just as obvious to me as it was to her.  I told her instead that I would miss her and she appreciated that. I’m still sad to say I never saw the lady from Paris again.

The class members are not villians.  They didn’t mean to hurt the lady.  I found her charming, but I can see how someone might see her as eccentric.  I admit she’s the only Christian church member I ever knew who went calling on monks.

It wasn’t long until it was my turn to leave too.  I don’t think anybody missed me, but I hope I’m wrong about that.  That somebody did wonder where the silent lady went off to.

 

 

A Trash Can is a Good Place to Hide

Sometimes I have the sheer enjoyment of being with a special ed class when they have the school gym to themselves for around a half hour.  The kids seem to love it.
On one occasion, the teacher had her camera to take a class picture.  The aide I was subbing for was leaving the job and her last day was the following day.  The teacher was taking the class pic to frame it and give to the aide to remember them by.  The gym wall was a good backdrop for the whole gang to stand in front of.  It is not easy to get a half a dozen autistic students to stand still, look at the camera, and smile.  BELIEVE ME!
 
The P.E. class who was there before we arrived had been playing some sort of game with actual trash cans.  One of the trash cans caught the attention of one of the boys.  He didn’t play with it such as rolling the can around.  Instead, he got inside the can.  He’s a big boy and, believe you me, there wasn’t much wiggle room.  The teacher caught it in time and took a picture of him “in the can”.  
Then, low and behold, we saw another student who had the same idea.  Although the student is blind, she managed to find the trash can and climb in.  Only she climbed in head first.  The teacher took a picture of her, too, and sent it to her Mom.   The mom received the picture of a trash can with two feet sticking out of it with the line “Guess who that is?”  HA!  
 
That’s the kick about subbing as a classroom aide.  I never know when I’ll be surprised.  I would have never thought I’d see two kids in trash cans with one of them upside down.

A Double Edged Sword

Some months ago I had the privilege of meeting an unforgettable 6th-grade girl.  My substitute assignment that day was going into classrooms for approximately 30 minutes and working with 1 to 3 students in the class who had special needs.  She and I had something in common – autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

This student was new to the school.   She didn’t say a word to me or engage in any conversation with the students at her table.  Since she was following the teacher’s instructions, I knew she understood what was being said.  The class assignment was to draw a picture of their favorite story character.  She went right to work on it without needing any encouragement from me.  This alone made her an unusual student since most students I worked with needed at least some elbow nudging.

I watched her bring life to her favorite character, Wee Willie Wonka, on paper.  I was in awe of observing her giving her character shape and color.  Her finished product for a 6th grader was amazing!  Those working at the table with her did well in their drawings but hers was a masterpiece.

The teacher came by and asked me how it was going.  I pointed to the student’s drawing and the teacher was stricken with amazement.  It was the first time she had seen a sample of her new student’s artwork.  To be fair to the teacher, this was not an art class.  It probably did surprise the teacher that this quiet student possessed such an extraordinary ability to draw a character as precise as she did.

The teacher was so impressed that she showed off the student’s drawing of Wee Willie Wonka to the entire class.  Some of the students were not surprised.  They had seen samples of her artwork and knew the new kid on the block was an exceptional drawer.  The 6th grader took all the attention in stride.  No bows or high 5’s.  She remained in her chair and just smiled a little bit.

It seems to me that autism is a double edged sword.  One one hand, there’s the dark side of fear, anxiety, sensory issues, meltdowns, shutdowns, etc.  On the other hand, the bright side of skill and talent(s) that one can put to use to be of help to others and to enjoy the sweet taste of success just like anybody else.

This child has the ability to create something beautiful on paper.  I hope that she continues to put that talent to use and will one day enjoy the sweet taste of success and perhaps smile a bit more.

 

 

The Podium

Strange as it may sound for someone who is seen as being shy, I light up at the podium.  I would feel like a kid at Disneyland to be front and center speaking about a subject that is on my list of favorites.  I am bewildered that public speaking is a popular fear.  I have a long list of fears but public speaking isn’t on it.

I once attended a work-related course on public speaking.  After giving my one-minute speech, the teacher and my fellow classmates applauded my delivery.  The instructor asked me how I liked it up there.  I remember saying simply, “I love it up there.”

Now I seldom have the opportunity to stand at the podium and deliver my thoughts.  The last time I was at the podium was over three years ago.  So obviously my times up at the podium are few and far between.  That’s okay since I only said I love it up there.  I didn’t say I wanted to be a “frequent podium player”.

The podium is an outlet for my thoughts.  My thoughts do collect over time and it is good to have an opportunity to unload at the podium.  If I have the opportunity to talk about a subject that I know plenty about, it wouldn’t matter if there were 9 or 99 in the audience.

Although I am strong at the podium, I am weak at the discussion table.  In a group setting, I go into “silent” mode.  There’s a difference between a group setting and the podium.  When I’m invited to speak in front of a group, I have the floor.  I don’t have to fight for it.  In a group, it’s a different ballgame.  One has to speak up or raise their hand to have the floor.  There’s not just the fear of speaking up, but the  intimidating possibility of being interrupted, questioned, or debated.  Any of those prospects would throw me a curve.

At the podium, I get to talk and the extroverts have to listen to me for a change.  Now I am not at war with extroverts.  Not at all!  In fact, I learned a lot growing up in school thanks to them.  The extroverts were the ones who asked the teacher the questions I was too afraid to ask.

I will never forget the speech I gave at a farewell reception for myself.  I gave it my best shot and it went better than I expected.  I had the audience laughing at just the right moments.  And when I sprinkled in some sentiment, a few teared up.  After the reception, I was given what I believe is the best compliment a public speaker could receive.  The person said, “I didn’t want you to sit down”.  Truth is, I didn’t either.

 

 

Communication Minefield

While subbing as an aide in a school gym, I was approached by a 5th grade girl who pointed to her friend sitting beside her on the floor and said, “She told me you were old.”

One of my struggles of living on the autisms spectrum is having a slow response time in conversations.  I don’t think quick on my feet.  The first thing that pops out of my mouth is one I’d usually like to take back after I have had sufficient time to come up with a far better response.

This was a rare occasion when I had a good answer though.  It even surprised me that it came out of my mouth right on the spot.  I told the 5th grader, “Tell your friend that maybe she will GET to be old someday.”  The girls just looked at one another with their eyes like saucers, mouths wide open, with an expression of “what the heck”.  I enjoyed so much in getting the last word that I forgot all about being offended.  HA!

My struggle on the job isn’t tying a child’s shoes.  It’s understanding that’s what a child wants when a child asks without sticking their foot out. It is a struggle interacting with human beings, pint-sized included.  The school ground, like so many other places, is a communication minefield.

Such as I have a tendency to take what someone says literally.  I often miss their true message unless they finally give up on  me and say literally what they should have said in the first place.  A simple example is someone saying “we need to ….”.  The person really means “ME” instead of “we”.

This reminds me of another student in another school gym who came up to me and asked, “If you don’t drink water, can you get sick?”  I had her repeat that twice.  HA!  It was one of those one-of-a-kind questions.  I just never know what a child approaching me is going to say.  My answer wasn’t just a simple yes.  I elaborated too much.  She responded with, “Well, when I don’t drink water, I don’t get sick.”  This child was making me want to go somewhere and pace the floor, or sit and do some rocking or bite my nails.  I told her she’d get sick if she didn’t drink water after so many days.

That’s when she finally got to the point of the conversation.  She asks, “Can I go get a drink of water?”

Kids…you gotta love ’em!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Give Up

I’ve saved to my desktop a chart listing the “Female Asperger Symptom Traits”.  I can claim most of them.  Such as being shy.  If I had a nickel for every time someone in my life has called me shy, I’d have a nest egg.

I am 58 and I have not outgrown my shyness yet.  I won’t ask a salesclerk where they keep the “whatever” unless I am desperate.  I mean desperate!  If I am in an unfamiliar place, I won’t ask for directions unless I have come to an absolute dead end.  I feel pangs of anxiety if I have to make a phone call asking for anything such as a prescription refill or an appointment.  I act as if the person on the other end could somehow extend their arm through the receiver and attack me.  I am, more or less, painfully shy.

I wish I was more like the persistent widow in the parable Jesus gave in Luke 18:1-8.  She was a woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I have a tough job just asking in the first place.  I have to hand it to her for not only asking once, but going back again and again until she got an answer.  Her persistence in getting justice from an unjust judge paid off.   He gave in and granted her request because he wanted her out of his courtroom and off his mind.

The Lord used this woman as an example of not giving up praying.  I remember praying about something for five years.  I did finally get an answer.  It wasn’t the ideal happy ending, but there was an ending.  With hindsight, I understand it was an ending for the best.

Persistence does pay off.  I’ve often heard it said, “It can’t hurt to ask.”  The widow’s story reminds us it doesn’t hurt to keep on asking until you get an answer.  The Bible tell us, “Knock and door will be opened”, even if you have to knock until your knuckles are bloody raw.

 

Suffering in Silence

She was a new kid on the block at a small school in rural America.  Her Grandpa took her to her 2nd grade class on the first day.  Mom was sick in the hospital.  She didn’t know with what but whatever it was, it was for a long haul.  A couple of months to be exact but to an 8 year old for whom routine was paramount, a day was too long.

She missed her teacher back home who had tears in her eyes as she walked out of the class with her Dad.  Her new teacher wasn’t as forthcoming with affection.  It would have helped if another student had taken her under their wing, but there were no volunteers.  She kept the pain of the unfamiliar hidden from her grandparents.  She suffered in silence.

Her little brother got a hold of one of her schoolbooks and wrote in it.  A student sitting next to her saw the marking and threatened to tell the teacher.  She was frightened at the prospect of being scolded by the teacher.  She’d do anything to keep that from happening.  The other student obliged by granting her silence in return for her forking over some of her packed lunch every day, especially the dessert.  She kept up her end of the deal and lived on half a meal.  She did not tell anyone about the blackmail.  Not even her grandparents.  She suffered in silence.

Her Mom got out of the hospital near the end of the school year.  On her last day, the blackmailing student broke her hair clasp.  Someone told the teacher and the student was punished and humiliated.  The student whispered that she was going to tell the teacher about the book.  By that time, her Grandpa had arrived to take her home.  She walked away not knowing if her blackmailer did what she threatened to carry out or not.

Once she was in the bathroom and got up too close to her grandparent’s heater.  She suffered a burn that was oddly in the shape of a flame on the back of one of her legs.  It hurt pretty bad as one can imagine.  But she stifled the scream she wanted to let out.  She hid her burn with wearing long pants.  She feared once again of being scolded.  Common sense would have said that Grandma would have had compassion on her and put something on the burn.  But instead, she suffered in silence.

Some weeks later, her Uncle took her for a piggyback ride on his horse.  It was during the ride that her blister burst.  Grandma noticed it and asked what had happened.  She confessed about getting too close to the heater.  She didn’t get in trouble for not telling, but she did bewilder the grown-ups as she often did.

The young girl is edging up close to 60 years of age.  She learned only recently there’s a name for her odd pecularities.  It is called autism.

Now I know why I suffer in silence.