Profoundly Original: How A Young Man with Autism Models God's Design for All of Us

Joel’s growth in confidence since we’ve been attending the Oxford Vineyard Church fills me with joy. Even on those Sundays when he’s wandering around the sanctuary, unable to sit still, God shows me glimpses of the ways this community of believers has helped Joel become rooted and grounded in who he is in Jesus.

This past Sunday, Pastor John, one of Joel’s favorite people on earth, casually mentioned at the beginning of his sermon that he’d just celebrated a birthday. Joel looked over at me with a big grin. I could see the wheels turning. Let's sing Happy Birthday! John went on with his sermon, and Joel actually sat and listened.

At the end of the service (a lively and rather chaotic time when everyone mills around, praying for and catching up with one another), Joel made a dash for one of the microphones. Wally and I were standing up front, talking to John. Joel brought the microphone over to us, attempting to turn it on.

John reached out and took the microphone. “Here, let me help you with that. Do you have something to say, Joel?” He clicked the switch and tapped his finger on top. “Oh, darn, it’s not working, buddy.”

Not to be deterred, Joel climbed up on the stage and grabbed another microphone. This one was live.

“Yo! How you doing?” Joel’s deep voice echoed above the chatter of conversation filling the room. People stopped talking and looked up at the stage to see Joel holding the mic, his face glowing.

Joel looked over at John. “Hey! It’s your birthday!”


Someone yelled, “Sing it, Joel!”

Joel needed no more prompting. He proceeded to lead the congregation in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” for a man of God loved by everyone in the room.

It was one of those moments when heaven peeks through like a sunbeam after a storm.

Yes, God spoke through the Scripture that Sunday. God spoke through John’s musings on the Scripture. God spoke through the worship, which was exceptionally awesome that particular Sunday.

But for me, for John, for Joel’s dad, Wally, and for several others in the room that day, God spoke the loudest through this one-of-a-kind young man, in his 30’s, who has struggled his entire life with an inability to communicate his thoughts and feelings.

In the seven years since we began attending the Oxford Vineyard, Joel has come to a deep-down realization of not only who he is, but whose he is. He is firmly rooted in his identity as God’s beloved. That rootedness has given him the confidence to get up front, to seize a microphone, and let his pastor know how much he loves and appreciates him.

David Benner, in his wonderful book, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self Discovery, writes, “Our self-in-Christ is a self that allows us to be free of all anxiety regarding how we should be and who we are. And it allows us to be absolutely our self—unique not by virtue of our strivings for individuality but profoundly original simply because that is who and what we are.”

Profoundly original simply because that is who and what we are.

I can’t think of anything I’d rather be. Totally myself, in Christ. No masks. No pretensions. No worries about what others think about me.

Thanks, Joel, for showing me the way, once again.

Thoughts for Reflection: 

When was the last time you felt yourself totally comfortable in your own skin, knowing yourself unconditionally loved and accepted by God? Put yourself back in that place and time, and soak it up all over again.

How does your child model this for you? What can you learn from him or her?