Before He Was Savior, He Was Carpenter

My father was a very hard worker. He used to be a road construction foreman, and he was one of those guys that knew just enough about how everything worked to be dangerous. Having grown up on a farm, he could fix just about everything that went wrong in the house or under the hood of car—well, “fix” is a term to use loosely. He could at least “jimmy-rig” stuff together with wires and duct tape until the electricity came back on or the plumbing worked again—for a while.

When I was in grade school, my parents took up a little hobby that turned into a side business. My father ended up being really good at carpentry at the height of country décor in the 80s. I remember watching him in his shop, his pencil behind his ear. His well-worn hands—a little dirt under his fingernails—precisely put shelves and benches, hutches and cupboards together. And at times he would restore antique furniture that people brought to him. After all of the measuring, sawing, pounding, and sanding, something useful and sturdy and full of character would emerge.

With the little bit of exposure I’ve had in my life to carpentry, this week I was reflecting on the occupation that Jesus had before He was teacher, Master, or Savior. For 15 years he apprenticed and worked his step father’s trade as carpenter. I love how God could have chosen for Jesus to do any number of vocations, but the work that prepared the Messiah for ministry was carpentry.

A carpenter builds and repairs. Those two main things comprise the whole of carpentry: building what is needed and restoring what is broken. He went from doing those things thoughtfully with wood to doing those things for people. Building what is needed in us; restoring what is broken.

I also find it more than coincidence that the carpenter, whose hands drove many nails themselves, allowed nails to be driven into his. How the man who worked carefully with wood, hung on a rugged, thrown-together wooden cross. How the one that put broken people back together again and healed them was broken himself by some of those same people. But he in great love endured because he knew he was the architect of life and destiny for all of mankind. He was the only One to repair relationship between us and God, and us and each other. He would fulfill his order perfectly.

Everybody who is pursued by Jesus has different levels of brokenness, yet he meets all of us where we are and goes to work fixing, if we’ll let him. His practiced eye for details recognizes overlooked potential. When we doubt that we could possibly offer anything to the world, he scans all the pieces of our experiences, desires and strengths and he says, “I can work all that together for good.”

In fact, Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s own handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which He has planned for us to do.” One simple act of surrender to put all of our broken pieces before him, and  he goes to work making all things new. That’s what Easter means to me this year.

At the Intersection of Autism Awareness Day and Good Friday

April 2, 2010. This is an interesting day. World Autism Awareness Day AND Good Friday. Perhaps it is an odd collision, but it’s caused me to pause to reflect on this intriguing eclipse. As they end up aligning together, it really so well captures the contrast I am faced with every day.

Whose voice in my life is louder? When two very weighty realities exist together for my family, which one am I most aware of? Autism, or the life and promises that Christ died to give (or gift) us?

Autism—like any sickness, problem, crisis or circumstance—is so boisterous. It regularly makes itself known and grabs hold of every single one of my senses. It get’s “all up in my business, in my grill,” so to speak. On the other hand, when it comes to things of the spirit, I have to choose to consciously make myself aware. I have to decide to enter in to His presence and realize He is with me always. I really wish He was louder. I could totally miss Him if I wasn’t listening for, looking for, seeking, chasing, loving Him.

I have learned something about myself. While I am an information junkie, a hard worker, and a person with a heart for justice, immersing myself in the quagmire of autism has the propensity to suffocate me. I can get really caught up in the drama quickly if I allow myself to. I have analyzed it from all angles—and there are a lot of angles. I know what I believe about autism—the evidence to support my chosen theories, and the reality of my experience. I have felt the weight of our story and the many, many stories of the others also in our same autism lifeboat adrift at sea. I’m not naïve. I’m not uneducated.

I agree, it can be pretty depressing that more isn’t happening to find the cause or fix the problem. And there are sides that get taken within the autism community itself, and the politics, the insurance woes, the vaccines, the role of the public schools, the environment, the food supply, the mercury fillings in my teeth. And that doesn’t even touch the very personal everyday life inside our homes and in our children’s therapy sessions and in the doctor’s (alternative or otherwise) office. You think our kids have attention problems… in that long list, how can we parents hardly focus on anything, let alone everything?

I was reading an incredible book called Strengthen Yourself in the Lord by Bill Johnson, and I thought this paragraph captured my dilemma so well. “Believers often fall into the trap of thinking they can find a solution by looking at a problem from every angle and letting it consume their world. But what happens is the affections of their hearts get drawn away from the Lord, to the point that they care more about the problem than giving Him what He deserves. They are letting other voices speak louder than His, and this is always irresponsible… This does not mean that we are not to give attention to problems—but we need to address them from God’s perspective.”

So on this Good Friday that happens to land at the same time as Autism Awareness Day, what is God’s perspective on the whole matter of autism, my passions, my son, my convictions, my reality?

Isaiah 53:4-5 (Amplified Bible)

Surely He has borne our griefs (sicknesses, weaknesses, and distresses) and carried our sorrows and pains [of punishment], yet we [ignorantly] considered Him stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being FOR US was upon Him, and with the stripes [that wounded] Him we are healed and made whole.

On Good Friday, Jesus Christ was beaten beyond belief. I want to cry. And one of those stripes was for autism. And because of those stripes, our children and those of us who choose to trust God and believe what He said, are healed. But, beyond that, he gave everything for us so we could share in everything that was given to Him. Are we aware of his benefits more than we are aware of the problems?

Remember when VH1 used to show “pop-up videos”? As the video was going on, there would be a little thought bubble POP UP with some extended factoid or comment. What if we took in life that way? As the scene unfolds before us that may be frustrating and confusing, one of His promises POPS UP immediately. You can’t help but look at that. Its presence is speaking louder than what is going on in the background.

Psalm 103
O my soul, bless GOD, don’t forget a single blessing (not one of his benefits)!
He forgives your sins—every one.
He heals your diseases—every one.
He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.
God makes everything come out right; he puts victims back on their feet…
As parents feel for their children, God feels for those who fear him.

How freeing is this? It does not mean I take myself out of the equation. No, I will still fight with everything I’ve got for my dear son, and for your kids too. God feels the same way for us! But it’s too big of a burden for any of us to carry ourselves. I think the voice I’m supposed to hear today loudly is what Paul says in Colossians 1:29, “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.”

Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice. Your great love. I’ve been sozo’d (made whole for spirit, soul and body–“sozo” is the Greek word for “saved,” so the next time you come across it in the Bible, let the whole meaning POP UP in your mind)!

Finally, I want to share this beautiful video on Good Friday. I’ve often heard this song and thought of my son, and now I think of Mary and what she was thinking about her son, Jesus, too.

Delays, Dreams and Destiny

It’s been nearly seven weeks since I’ve written a post. I guess it’s kind of been like a long night of the soul. I just couldn’t bring myself to write for whatever reason. Uninspired, maybe. A little stuck. A lot stuck. Yet, at the same time, going deeper in this spiritual quest I’m on. I’ve been doing some reading, some journaling, a lot of praying. In the meantime, my blog has sat collecting dust. Perhaps Facebook and its bite-sized morsels of the beautifully mundane and funny, and the endless volleying of daily autism news via bulldog autism moms has filled a little bit of a void that this blog initially provided for me.

But I’m not quitting on my blog! Far from it. I’m just realizing more of my place amongst all of the voices of parents crying out for advice, for justice, for hope, for answers in this autism quagmire. Perhaps it’s a lonely niche I’m feeling led to because it’s largely spiritual. (Although www.rhemashope.wordpress.com does it better than anyone I’ve found.)

What Do I Have to Say?

While I do a lot of research, and am up on and in the camp that rues the vaccines, I have nothing more to offer to that discussion, really. Although I cheer on those who are going before government to lobby for our kids, I really can only offer an email here and there to my congressman right now. While I am going the biomedical route for my son, nothing has helped so profoundly that I can shout “eureka” from the rooftops to enlighten other parents to what we discovered. Even though I love ABA and its offshoots, my son is still struggling. And, my son is on the GFCF diet, but quite honestly, I’m not going to be writing any cookbooks–unless heating up gluten-free Dino Nuggets in the toxic microwave counts.

So what is my purpose in all of this? I believe as it unfolds, my voice will emerge with more clarity as it gets boisterously tangled with the messy spiritual side of walking through autism. That sounds so ethereal, but really it’s more earthy than that. It’s real life. It’s here and now. It’s not in a church building. It’s not waiting for the other side of Heaven to make everything okay. It’s not about getting a little lift from reading a daily devotion with your Wheaties. This is real, in-the-trenches Christianity. The kind that’s with you at the playground when your heart starts cracking. The kind that sustains you through a tantrum–yours or your child’s. The kind that kicks your butt out of the Valley of Doubt and Weeping for the fiftieth time. The kind that encourages another heart when yours is downtrodden. The variety that actually believes that God wants our bodies well. It’s not going to be safe. It’s not going to be pretty. But, I believe it will be worth it! You want to come on the ride with me?

Here some “real stuff” that has happened in the past seven weeks around here:

  • When we thought our new state insurance costs would be $5,0o0 out of pocket max, they will be $8,000.
  • Our son’s primary therapist moved away–we miss her.
  • Josiah has regressed it seems–even fewer words, poor attention. It feels like he was better a year ago.
  • Josiah has stopped sleeping through the night–I’m up with him 2-3 hours in the middle of the night, generally.
  • His therapy center called us in for a parent meeting, concerned about increased sensory-seeking and inability to focus on his tasks, and they are wanting to go to alternative measures for communication like PECS and perhaps an augmentative speech device to hopefully help his speech along.
  • We’re trying some new biomed stuff, including trying to fit in chiropractic appointments twice a week. More time, more money. Where are the results?
  • We’re supposed to seek out additional speech therapy outside of his center. With both of us working full-time, I’m not sure when.

It all just feels so hard, right? Unlike other things, like New Years resolutions, you can’t quit. You also can’t escape or deny or numb. Sometimes you really want to. But you cannot go backward–you know too much. Where would you go anyway? You wake up every morning with this beautiful and sweet child before you, and you realize the weight of carrying your own life is light in comparison to carrying his. But there are more lives like his, and more families like yours, and that rends your heart too.

Desperate for the Destiny and Destination

There was a time that I thought autism came to shatter our dreams, but I’m becoming more convinced that it is moving us toward our destiny. Sickness is never good–and it is never from God. After hundreds of hours of study and combing through God’s Word, of that I am assured. But my life and this journey is not a mistake. My son’s life was not a mistake. God starts with us every day right where we are–using ALL of where we’ve been. These experiences will not go unused. Will we trust Him enough to lead us through? Will we have the fortitude to go the distance?

I’m afraid that up to this point in battling autism, I have not been able to find the “answers” like some people have in those things that I can control myself. I’m a classic “achiever” and “learner,” and this road has roughed me up pretty bad. If I can MAKE something happen, I will. If I can unearth the holy grail of autism research, I will Google my fingers bloody. If I feel like I’ve failed, I can take it personally and get profoundly frustrated.

Now, I’m desperate. But in a good way. Desperate presses through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. Desperate believes Jesus when he says your child will live, even though people reported that she has died. Desperate craves more of the Lord than “Jesus in a Box” that only pops out when I choose to wind up the handle. When I get desperate, I have seen women come into my life and encourage me beyond belief. When I get desperate, I’ve got to pay closer attention to my marriage. When I get desperate, I stop just hemming and hawing over the latest report on vaccines or the flavor-of-the-day autism cause/cure. I have to go to the Healer for my little Josiah. He’s all I’ve got.

Oh, all of you who are beaten down, broken and battered, are you ready to dream again with me?

When we walk in the valleys, we have a decision to make. Our pain can make us wither, or it can awaken our hearts to be passionately real. Our losses can destroy us, or they can help us grow stronger. Our actions can feed the devil’s victimization of our lives, or they can point us to the Word of God.

True dreamers will take their anger to the foot of the cross where they will find a heart big enough to hold their pain. They will begin to understand who God is and what He thinks about them.–Jill Austin, Dancing With Destiny

Father, What are We Doing?

I was reading in Genesis 22 the other day. It’s the story about how God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar to him. (Very uncharacteristic of God, by the way–he’s not a “human sacrifice” kind of god.) It always was a little unsettling to me that God would even ask such a thing, and now that I have a son, I cringe at the thought. Whenever I’ve heard a pastor talk about this passage, they always praise Abraham’s OBEDIENCE to God through this test God put before him. But, as I looked further, I found out it was more than dutiful obedience at play here. I’ll explain…

Abraham showed that he would do what God told him to, no matter what. But, think about this. All along, God promised Abraham that he would be a father of many nations, and Isaac would be the seed to fulfill that promise. The guy waited until he was over 100 for this miraculous birth to take place because he and his wife were too ancient to have kids, but nothing’s impossible for God, right? Now, he has the son, he has the promise God gave to him for his future–and now God says, “Give it all up to me.” His son, his dream, his promise–everything–rides on this one event.

Picture this scene. Abraham takes young Isaac on a little hike to do the ritual sacrifice like they’ve done before. Isaac asks, “Where’s the lamb, Daddy?” Abraham says, “Oh, God will provide a lamb. Let’s sing some songs. The legs on the donkey go clop clop clop all through the desert...” Then they make it up to the top. Abraham grabs Isaac and ties him to the altar. Isaac’s probably like, “Okay, this isn’t a fun game anymore. In fact, Dad, you’re kinda starting to creep me out. Especially with the knife and all.” Abraham has got to be sweating a little at this point as the knife is about to go in, and finally, an angel says, “Woah. Don’t do it. It’s all good. Here’s your lamb to sacrifice.” They all have a good nervous chuckle, say “that was a close one, huh?” Abraham gives Isaac some fruit snacks and they head home. Good story to tell the grandkids.

How Much Do We Trust God’s Character?

But here’s the thing. What Abraham did was not only out of obedience. It was out of faith, knowing to his toes that God would not let this be the end of the story. He held tight to the promise that was given to him. He knew the character of God and that there would be a better outcome, and it would not include losing his dear son in death. His obedience was a bi-product of his faith in God; his faith was not forged as a result of this test. It already was at play before the test, and his trust in God was only deepened through it. It was his faith (not just obedience) that got him an “A” on this one. Here’s how I know:

1. Abraham told the men travelling with them to hang back while he and Isaac went further on. He said, “We will worship there, and then WE WILL COME RIGHT BACK.” (Not said with a wink, wink, gulp, I hope so.)

2. When Isaac asked where the lamb was, Abraham said, “God WILL PROVIDE a lamb.”

3. Finally, Abraham is ready to strike the death blow, and this is the part I love that’s in Hebrews 11:19, “Abraham assumed that if Isaac died, GOD WAS ABLE TO BRING HIM BACK TO LIFE AGAIN. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.”

Friends, I couldn’t sleep and was up praying at 1 am one night this week, and I was reminded of this story. I told God that I want to stop striving, begging, and wondering if my Josiah will be made well. I will stand for his healing, confident in the outcome no matter how bad things look. I place my son and his future, along with our hopes and dreams directly into his hands because this is what I know about who my Father God is:

1. Because he sacrificed and brought his own Son back to life, that blood that was shed was to rescue us from our sins and our sicknesses Isaiah 53. This promise is for whoever believes by faith Mark 16:16-18.

2. God cares about us, and even though we might have to go through some things, if we keep trusting in him, resisting the Devil, and staying strong in faith despite the current circumstances, we will be restored, supported and strengthened 1 Peter 5:6-10.

3. Because of his promise to us, we can trade in our worry and exhaustion for the assurance of his good future for us and our kids–that they will be made well, that they will hear, speak and sing Isaiah 35:3-6.

4. He makes some pretty bold claims that beg you to reconcile whether he’s a truth-teller or a liar, and you got to be all in or all out. And, he tells us that we can know he’s listening when we pray and if we ask him anything according to his will (healing, by the way is God’s will–Jesus and the disciples healed everyone who came to them asking for it), he will give it to us 1 John 5:1-15.

So, here we are. We’re in a fight that takes graduate-level obedience, faith and trust in God. It also takes studying the Bible to get a clue of who God is beyond the pale of our religion, tradition, or the little human boxes we try to put him in. That’s the Abraham-kind of faith that will help us going into any test or trial, knowing that we will come out the other side stronger and confident in God’s power more than our own comprehension of HOW it can all be accomplished.