Three Strikes But Not Out

I was working with a 1st-grade girl with her bucket of class work in an autism unit.  The child is verbal and quite the drama queen.  She didn’t have to tell me she could care less about the bucket and its contents.  In between her crying spells, we worked on addition and subtraction.  Any time she got a problem wrong and I informed her of that, her head would plop down on the table and she’d shed more tears.  Finally, she was solving problems right and left without her sobbing commercials.  After finishing, she was rewarded with jump time on the mini-trampoline,.

I wholeheartedly empathized with her.  Failure feels like a stab in the heart.  If someone else points out something I did wrong or failed to do, it is an uppercut to the heart since I am oversensitive to criticism.  I do admit, though, failure is an effective teacher if I will go along with its instruction.  After all, it was the answers I got wrong on a test I remembered most; not the ones I didn’t.

There’s a character in the Bible whose failures were exposed as well as his successes. He is perhaps the most well-known of the twelve disciples.  He was not only one of the twelve disciples, but also would later become the leader of the early church.  However, despite his amazing successes, he was not immune to failure.  His most famous failure was when he struck out three times in a short matter of time.  I would imagine it was the darkest moment in his life.

 Jesus warned His disciples before he was betrayed and arrested in Luke chapter 26, verse 31:  “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “ ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ Peter spoke up as he usually did.  He wasn’t one to sit quietly in a corner.  He replied empathetically that even if all fall away on account of Jesus, he NEVER would.  The word “never” is a dangerous word for us to use and should only be uttered with the utmost caution.  I’ve had to eat my words of what I said I’d NEVER do.  

Jesus knew Peter would not live up to his proclamation of never.   “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”  Peter wasn’t one to doubt the Lord’s word, but this time, the Lord was predicting what he, Peter, would do and it was inconceivable to Peter.  He declared to Jesus again, “Even if I have to die with you, I will NEVER disown you.”  
After Jesus was arrested and taken to the high priest, Peter followed at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to witness the outcome.  While sitting out in the courtyard, a servant girl came up to Peter and stated, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee”.  Peter stated he didn’t know what the girl was talking about. This was strike one.  
Peter went out to the gateway where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Peter denied it once again with an oath swearing he did not know the man.  This was the second strike.
Then, shortly thereafter, a group came up to Peter.  They stated, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”  Peter reacted even more strongly by calling down curses, swearing to those in earshot, “I don’t know the man!” This was the third strike.
I can’t imagine the pain that must have pierced Peter’s heart when he heard the sound of the rooster crowing after his third strike.  Just as Jesus predicted he would deny Him, the rooster crowed.  Three times Peter had denied knowing the Son of God.  He went outside and wept bitterly.  I would imagine he wept buckets of tears.  I don’t think there are words to describe the depth of Peter’s guilt.
Another disciple, Judas,  had earlier betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  He gave Jesus a kiss which was the sign to the conspirators that this was the man they wanted.  A fault of Judas was greed; however, upon receiving the reward, he tossed all the pieces of shiny silver to the ground.  The silver had become an eyesore; it wasn’t as valuable to him as it was before he betrayed Jesus.  He must have felt some guilt because he didn’t take the silver and run.  Instead of learning a lesson from his failure, he took his life.  He chose to die instead of getting up after his fall.
One disciple betrayed Him; the other denied Him near the end of His time on earth.  Neither disciple could relive it or change what either had done.  Judas gave in to his failure and took his life.  Peter took a different option.  He got up the next day and the day after, etc.
Peter crossed paths with Jesus after Jesus arose from the grave.  He told Peter not once, not twice, but three times to feed the flock.  Jesus repeating it three times hurt Peter.  Peter responded by saying he loved Jesus instead of blaming someone else for his three strikes.
Jesus could have told Peter “three strikes, you’re out.”  He could have given up on Peter for denying him in His dark hours.  But instead, He showed forgiveness and mercy to Peter.  That’s a lesson in itself for us.  Jesus’s forgiveness of Peter’s denials is another example to us to do the same unto others.
Just a thought.  Perhaps Peter’s colossal failure helped him with humility.  Peter would go on to feed the flock; all of whom had their own history of failures.  Peter knew what it was to fail miserably, he knew the enormous pain of guilt, and he knew about being given another chance.
Failure is a fine teacher as well as having a humbling effect.  I can learn from both failure and success.  Failure is really only terminal when one falls down and doesn’t try to get back up and try again.  I’d rather take Peter’s route than the one Judas took.

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A Servant on a Mission

There’s a familiar prayer that includes these words:  Lord, take me where you want me to go today; have me meet whom you want me to meet; have me say what you’d have me say.  I love this prayer.  Words I often include in my own prayers.  Seeking guidance is one step; following it is another.  These words remind me of a man whose story is told in the first book of the Bible.  His name was not given; just his occupation of that of a loyal servant for Israel’s great patriarch Abraham.

The servant’s story is intertwined with the love story of Abraham’s son and daughter-in-law, Isaac and Rebekah.  In Genesis 24 it is told that Abraham called for his senior servant, the manager of his entire household, to go on a mission to Abraham’s home country and  find a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s relatives.  This was back when parents had more say in whom their offspring married.  Abraham had no desire for his future daughter-in-law to come from the neighborhood.  He lived among the Canaanites who did not know or respect the God whom Abraham served.  God wanted Isaac’s wife to come from Abraham’s kinfolk who at least were people whom knew about God and respected Him.

I wonder if the servant had any thoughts after Abraham gave him the instructions such as “Who me?”, “Sir, you want me to do WHAT?”, “I’m no matchmaker!”  I would imagine being human he was tempted to find some way of getting out of making a trip to the homeland to find a wife for his master’s son.  But he was an obedient and trustworthy servant who accepted the mission.  It probably helped the servant when his master assured him the angel of the Lord would go before him.

He set off on his journey to the vicinity of Haran, where Abraham’s brother had remained after Abraham migrated to Canaan sixty-five years earlier. The servant stopped at a well in the town of Nahor, which happened to be Abraham’s brother’s name.  Here was where the servant did what we as God’s children should always do as we embark on a path the Lord has convicted our hearts to take.  It may be an actual journey of moving from one place to another.  Or, it may be the start of a marriage, or raising a child, or dealing with an illness or that of a loved one.  It may be taking on a new job, or getting off at retirement station, or embarking on some other life change.  What essential thing did the servant do?  He prayed.

He asked for a sign as to whom he was looking for.  He asked the young lady whom God had chosen would be the one who came to the well and offer water for the servant’s camels. The servant chose not to use some random method such as eeny-meeny-miny-mough, whose the fairest of them all.  He wanted God’s choice instead of trying to pick her out himself.

Before the servant even got to the “Amen,” God was at work.  A young maiden by the name of Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She didn’t know at the time that she was being led to the right place, at the right time, with the right words to say.  When she came from the well with her jar filled with water, the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord” and she quickly gave him a drink. When he finished drinking, Rebekah offered to draw water for the servant’s camels.  She emptied her jar into the drinking trough and ran back to the well for some more, and she drew enough water for all ten of the servant’s camels (Gen. 24:15-20).

Her appearing at the well was not a coincidence.  The servant took it as the sign he had asked God for.  It would appear from Rebekah’s actions that she was friendly, outgoing, energetic, and not selfish.  The servant’s heart probably bounced when he found out that she was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor; daughter of Isaac’s first cousin.  At that, he again did something we should always do – thanked God for hearing and answering his prayer.

The servant may appear to be the matchmaker here, but truth be told, it was God who was doing the matchmaking in this story.  The servant did his part and God did His.  Our actions alone do not get the job done.  But if the servant hadn’t done his part as God directed him, he wouldn’t have had a part in this story of the union of two of the ancestors of Jesus Christ.

The servant told Rebekah’s family of the mission his master had sent him on and the guidance he received from God.  Her brother and father did not think the servant’s story was foolishness.  “The matter comes from the Lord,” they said (Gen. 24:50).

They did not leave Rebekah out of the decision and just order her to go with the servant.  She was given a choice. It was an immense decision in her life—leaving the home and family she would never see again, traveling nearly five hundred miles on camelback with a total stranger, to marry a man she had never met. Her family called her in and said, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go” (Gen. 24:58).  That was not a simple thing for her to have signed up for.  She must have also believed the servant’s story wasn’t a lot of hooey.  It was her faith the drove her decision to leave family behind and begin a new life with a distant cousin.

It was a long journey back to the home of Abraham.  I wonder if Rebekah spent many a night awake wondering what Isaac was like, what did he look like, what would he think of her, etc.  Being human, I would imagine she was tempted to make a run for it back home.

Isaac was out in the field at evening time when the camel caravan with its precious cargo arrived.  Rebekah dismounted from the camel when she saw Isaac, and covered herself with a veil as the custom was. Isaac was told the entire story of the servant’s mission and the providential guidance from God that had found him a bride.  The Bible tells us, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen. 24:67).

It was a new beginning for Rebekah and Isaac.  It was a “mission accomplished” for the servant who trusted and followed God’s guidance to carry out his mission.

Autism and Gender

It has been my experience since subbing as a teacher’s aide in autism classrooms that the number of boys to that of girls is lopsided. It’s not unusual to walk into such a classroom where there is one girl, if any, with a half a dozen or so male classmates. That’s the typical gender setup. I can’t recall being in an autism unit where the girls outnumbered the boy and certainly not an all-girl class.

In addition to the unequal number, there are differences in behavior. In the case of the class of one girl, the teacher, the other aide, and myself spent far more time keeping an eye on each of the five boys than the one girl who was on good behavior. Unlike the boys, she worked well on her own with little instruction or reminders. I could easily see her moving into the general ed population but the boys? Hopefully, they will, but they have more hurdles to conquer and I pray they will.

I suspect as many others do that girls are harder to diagnose because they seem to behave in ways that are considered acceptable as opposed to boys. For example, girls appear to be passive, withdrawn, uninvolved, or even depressed. They may become passionately and even obsessively interested in a specific area just as the boys, but generally speaking, fewer girls have a passion for technology or math.

Girls with autism are less likely to behave aggressively than boys. I can certainly attest to that on my job. I’ve witnessed girls having meltdowns, but few and far between as compared to boys. I look back at my own childhood and I wasn’t aggressive in the school classroom, but I definitely had bouts of aggression at home. I usually took it out on my poor siblings or items I could toss like my beaten pillow. I will steer away from confrontation like a deer would with a hunter in its territory. In other words, it takes a lot before I’m backed into a corner and my aggressiveness comes out.

Girls are more likely to choose interests (such as TV stars or music) that appear more typical than, for example, many boys’ perseverative interests in schedules, statistics, or transportation. Again, I know that all too well. I was obsessed back in the day with teen music stars.

While boys’ social communication issues become challenging very early in their lives, girls may be able to manage the social demands of early childhood but run into difficulties as they enter early adolescence. This was the way it was with me. I recall being sociable in 1st grade but by middle school, I was more or less socially disabled.

Research suggests that autism may look quite different in girls—so different, in fact, that it can be difficult to diagnose. I was in the dark about my having autism until the age of 58.  My story is a similar one to that of many women, men as well, who found out well beyond childhood of their autism companion for life.

How Does One Know They Are Having an Autism Meltdown?

Of all the symptoms I deal with living on the Spectrum, the meltdowns are the toughest. They are the volcanoes. Sometimes they just produce a rumble; but oh, my goodness, there are those that spew out lava (aka tears).

I don’t always know what the trigger is. Before I learned I was on the Spectrum, I used to have peculiar and frightening meltdowns at night. This went on for many years and I didn’t know what was behind them. They would come on me suddenly and overwhelm me.  I know this sounds strange but it felt as if the bed pillows and sheets were conspiring against me. I would get up out of frustration and throw the pillow down as if it was my attacker.  I’d throw the sheet/bed cover on the floor as if it was my worst enemy. The picture that came to mind was behaving like a cat with its tail caught underneath a rocking chair.

After this happened enough times, I knew it was something I had no control over and I just had to “rock” my way through it. The rocking was “stimming” but I didn’t know what stimming was at the time. As surely as it came over me, it left me after minutes passed. The minutes, however, seemed much longer than that. Fortunately, I haven’t had one of those in a couple of years.  The last one was before I started taking my antidepressant medication which has tremendously helped me to the point that I don’t dread nighttime like I used to.

However, I do still have “daytime” meltdowns. Those haven’t stopped paying me visits. Sometimes they come upon me without any obvious trigger, but most of the time there is one. It can be a sound or smell that rises the tension in my body. It may be a pet peeve and my reaction is way out of bounds with it. If I can walk away from the annoyance, the odds improve of a lighter meltdown or not having one. If I can’t, it’ll be Mount St. Helens all over again.