A Little Help Please…

Help

Image by LiminalMike via Flickr

Last night my car broke down. Not that it’s ever convenient to have car problems, but I was parked behind a high school, deep in an isolated canyon with nothing but tarantulas and mountain lions around for miles.  My son was one of the last kids off the football field after a late practice and as he hopped in, I heard a clicking sound instead of the engine coming to life.  It sounded like a dead battery.

Fortunately, one of the mom’s also exiting saw my waving hand and stopped.  She sent her husband home for the jumper cables and we hung out in the cold night, with growling stomachs, kids running around and the baby howling along with the coyotes for a bottle.  Shockingly, a few last stragglers walked by and observed our little woebegone party-two women, three children and a baby standing around a car with the hood open, obviously in distress, and not one of them stopped or asked if we needed help.

It’s a story told all too often in our society… of people passing by and not heeding the call of those in distress.  Now obviously we weren’t in imminent danger, and we did not ask for help, but the other mom seemed pretty indignant that we were ignored.

I would suggest that their lack of concern is more normal than not, and I am generally more surprised when people do offer assistance.  Heroic acts these days are few and far between, and when they do occur, somebody probably has a video to capture it for YouTube.  Because, when nobody else is looking, when the credits don’t roll, it’s just too easy to turn our eyes away and pretend not to notice. Ignorance is bliss right?

The Darwinist mentality seems to have pervaded our culture so deeply that survival of the fittest means we overlook the ageing, disabled and stranded. What this reveals about our society is a startling lack of compassion and an indication that somewhere along the way we have learned to care more for ourselves than for the greater good.

I know that if I am honest, my own heart is inherently selfish and my gut reaction is rarely to stop what I am doing, surrender my agenda, and dive into the need at hand. More often, I feel a tug in my spirit, choose to heed or ignore the nudge, and then usually, but not always, try to help.

When I look at the ministry of Jesus, I am struck by how the interruptions of need seemed to define his entire ministry. He did more healing, teaching and revelation in the unplanned moments than any organized preaching.  His agenda seemed to incorporate the unplanned and invite the messy in. 

And so, I am challenged to create space in my life for the unexpected, the things I can’t put in my agenda but may define my identity far more than my busy schedule.

The journey of compassion is the road less traveled. It whispers to look beyond ourselves and glimpse that which is sacred. It loves our neighbor simply for loves sake.

That’s the message I want to teach my kids. It’s the banner I want to wear across my own heart. To never be so busy that I can’t stop, engage in humanity, and get my hands a little bit dirty.

But if your car breaks down…my help might consist of a little company and a cell phone. Mechanics are just not my gift!

Profound Lessons from Aspergers Syndrome

isolation

Image by Norma Desmond via Flickr

It was the night of the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner at our church.

 As the pastor’s wife, I am generally required to attend these sorts of things with the unspoken expectation to always smile, be nice, and glow with the joy of the Lord, even if I have to, dare I say… fake it.   I was running late that evening, overwrought with juggling three kids, sports practice, and a cranky baby. My plastered on smile thinly hid tears of frustration leaking out my nose.  As I stood and perused the room full of familiar faces, the tension in my spirit only clogged my throat more.  I felt like an intruder interrupting a play in the second act. The crowd was engaged in conversation and gaiety and I felt like I was barging in with a bag full of awkward.  I stood on the outside, trying to find the right moment to break into the group, but none seemed to be forthcoming.  Then I saw him, a boy with an apparent disability, obviously struggling to find his place, and something in my heart connected, his outward instability mirroring my own inner turmoil.

I sat down next to him and smiled, possibly the first of the evening with any emotion behind it.  The seats were close and our shoulders brushed when I scooted in my chair. He looked up at me and frowned, his large eyes expressing scorn at my presence.  In a cheery voice, I stuttered, “Hello!

Instead of “hi” in return, he groaned, “ughh,” and rolled his eyes, disgust dripping from his every breath.  Stunned, I could only laugh.  Peals of tension rolled away in a glorious moment of self-deprecating humor. Not that I would ever show it, but I too, have moments when I want to turn and run the other way from people. His complete transparency was a treasured gift.  There was no guile or charm about him, just raw emotion spewing from his soul.

His mother jumped in and apologized profusely.  “Our son has Aspergers Syndrome” she whispered in explanation. Both the mother and father appeared exhausted and overwhelmed.  I noticed they had two little boys sitting next to them as well.  Their weary faces told a story of resignation and personal agenda’s relinquished that I couldn’t even imagine.  My little pity-party quickly faded in the light of their self-sacrifice in caring for a child with special needs.

I nodded my understanding, but was determined not to leave, even though I could sense her apprehension regarding her son’s erratic behavior. Just then, one of my favorite ushers sat down on the other side of the boy. He started to talk to him, just jabbering really, anything to try to help relax the boy’s parents. He told the boy that I was the pastor’s wife and that I used to volunteer with High School Students.  The boy covered his ears.  He went on and shared with him how I had helped start our church with my husband.  This time the boy yawned. My usher friend shrugged his shoulders and looked sad, but somehow I knew I wouldn’t break through his walls with an assortment of credentials.

The boy turned and faced me. “So what do you do now…right now?” he asked.

His question caught me right in the middle of bite of pasta, which slipped off my plastic fork and landed on his right foot.  “Well,” I said, willing to throw caution to the wind, “Sometimes I like to throw noodles.” And I launched another one at his left foot.

The boy burst into laughter along with the rest of the table and a gentle wave of release rolled over us.  His protective walls came down and he suddenly he began to chatter away, allowing us for a short time, to enter his world. He told us all about his love of McDonald’s desserts and how Korea had the best dessert menu of all.  His mom jumped in and shared that he had memorized every McDonald’s menu in the world, country by country.  Clearly brilliant, opinionated, and passionate, the boy seemed to have exaggerated mental gifts juxtaposed with irrationality.  He was both at once delightful and overwhelming. But for a brief moment, his mother relaxed and let go of her tension, sitting back and joking with his two younger brothers.

The boy’s father came back to the table with an enormous piece of carrot cake for him.  He gently placed it in front of him with a plastic knife and fork and smiled at him.  In one fell swoop, the boy inhaled half the cake. The fathers smile quickly disappeared.  “Slow down bud!  Use your fork and knife!”

But the boy did not like to be reprimanded and he grabbed the knife like a dagger and stubbornly resisted his father. In a battle of wills, the boy reluctantly cut the remaining piece in two and shoved them both in his mouth in rapid succession.  Trying not to tremble, the knife only inches from my face, I dared not move an inch.  In lightening speed his father grabbed the knife, cleaned up the frosting smeared all over his face and sent him off to explore the church. His mom trotted after him, glancing back with an apologetic look.  The father collapsed into the chair and rested his head in between his hands, exhausted and embarrassed. 

“You know you are doing a great job, don’t you?” I said.

His eyes filled with tears and he whispered, “I don’t know.  He’s better at home. He feels safe there” 

Our eyes met, acknowledging a difficult situation at best, recognizing that sometimes there are no words.  I could see his fierce and unconditional love for their first-born son mixed with sadness, disappointment and struggle. His wife came back to the table and the little boys ran off to play and care for their brother, another reminder of how their whole family was affected by Aspergers. 

“Does he ever get lost?” I asked, noticing how he would become entranced by an object and take off at full speed only to have his attention caught elsewhere a moment later. 

“Not usually”, they said in unison.

His mom laughed, “Then again you don’t see us exactly running after him.” They smiled at each other, an inside joke perhaps, all the tenderer to the observer because of their apparent love for each other. “But he always comes back,” she said in exasperation and acceptance.

Then we took communion together, a group of broken people…acknowledging our Savior’s sacrifice.

 I watched them pack up the boys and head home.  Neither of them had been chosen as one of the volunteers to be publicly affirmed in front of the crowd that night, but then their offering to the Kingdom and the church wasn’t a loud one.  It was a quiet and daily surrender, a desert journey of faith that these two humble Saints had said “yes” to.  In the light of their obstacles, I was amazed that they even showed up to volunteer more. 

And, as I gathered up my own little flock for the night, my heart encouraged and challenged by the sacrificial love of this family, my burdens didn’t seem quite so heavy anymore and my church felt like home once again.

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