I can’t tell you how many times, over my 32 year journey with autism, I have returned to this quote for inspiration:
On July 4, 1999, a twenty-minute maelstrom of hurricane force winds took down twenty million trees across the Boundary Waters. A month later, when I made my annual pilgrimage up north, I was heartbroken by the ruin and wondered whether I wanted to return. And yet on each visit since, I have been astonished to see how nature uses devastation to stimulate new growth, slowly but persistently healing her own wounds. Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness—mine, your, ours—need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life. (Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life.)
It’s not only Joel’s autism that makes me hunt down this quote on a regular basis. It’s family members with deep depression; my own bouts of anxiety; my mother's worsening dementia; the terrible images of Houston and Puerto Rico, decimated by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. I could go on and on. Just turn on the evening news and you see image after image of brokenness.
I would imagine, if you are living with a child’s disability, that your world appears a little broken on any given day.
One of the places my personal world feels full of cracks is at church. We are members of a small Vineyard Church; a church that is beautifully welcoming to our son, Joel, with all of his idiosyncracies. They not only welcome Joel, they recognize and call out his gifts.
But, on those Sundays when Joel can’t sit still…when he’s the eye of a hurricane dancing around our small sanctuary…when he’s standing in front of the lead singer in the band, looking as if he’s ready to snatch the microphone…when he gets tired ofthe sermon and walks up front and picks up the pastor’s iPad and snaps it shut, with a loud, “Amen!”…when he walks into the bathroom (which is adjacent to about half of the congregation) without shutting the door and flushes the toilet…
I just want to leave. And often I do, with Joel in tow. How can anyone worship with this 32-year-old hurricane swirling around our small worship space?!?! I certainly can’t!
Here is a text I received from a member of our church yesterday, after two Sundays of Joel being especially active in worship:
Kathy, I wanted to tell you how much Joel has blessed me the last two Sundays. Last week I was struggling with some negative feelings and even though worship was surprisingly anointed I couldn’t enter into worship and certainly couldn’t dance. Joel’s dancing blessed me and brought a smile to my face. Then, to emphasize my need for renewed joy, God had Joel come and put his face in front of mine and smile. That was contagious, and I had to smile too. Joel returned to his dancing but came back a few minutes later as though he was on assignment. This time he got in my face and not only did he smile, but he arched his eyebrows a few times. That made me laugh and I knew God was telling me to “lighten up.” He saw my frustrations and apparently wanted me laughing, not stewing. Lol. Thank you all for being a part of our church. I appreciate Joel’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. You three bless us immensely.
A few minutes later this text came through, from the same woman: So, today Joel was dancing up front again and began moving among the people. When he came to me and sat down I put my arm over his shoulder and he sweetly leaned his head against mine several times. Then he said, “I love you,” smiled and moved on to another person. That brought tears to my eyes. The Holy Spirit was touching many people through Joel today…beautiful to behold.
Jesus turns the world upside-down. The first three beatitudes that Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount are evidence of this upside-down view in the Kingdom of heaven here on earth:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:1-5)
Which brings me back to Parker Palmer’s quote:
Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.
Wholeness in the Body of Christ during Sunday morning worship does not mean sitting sedately in a chair or pew. It means bringing your whole self to worship. If Joel hadn’t brought his entire, wired self to worship the last two Sundays, the woman who texted me would not have been blessed with the joy God desired to give her that day.
I’m beginning to realize that I have to bring my whole self to worship, as well. To confess to God that Joel’s inability to sit, and his sense of freedom to move and dance within the walls of our church, often make me frustrated and tense. And you know what? That’s OK. Sometimes I have to simply sit with that tension, look around, and ask myself who is being blessed. It’s a fine line, I know. Sometimes I do need to take him out for a calming drive.
But most of the time Joel is exactly where he needs to be, doing exactly what the Spirit is leading him to do. Being 100% himself.
Reflection Question: What is one lesson your son or daughter is teaching you in those places of brokenness in your own life?