Category: God’s will


In my last post, I said that I had some “new and awesome things” to tell you about.  Well, the biggest thing that has happened to me this past year is that I have met a young woman named Megan, and she has become my girlfriend!  Like me, Megan is a Christian diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.  We actually met through this blog and started a discussion about our shared experiences with Asperger’s that spread to all sorts of topics.  Over the past several months, we’ve been able to travel to see each other a few times and meet each other’s families, and we have had a wonderful time together.  Megan has been such a blessing to my life, and I thank God that we met!

I’ve been thinking for a while about what I want to say about my relationship with Megan on this blog.  In online discussions between Aspies, the topic of “How can I find a girlfriend (or boyfriend)?” is understandably one of the most frequent and earnestly asked questions among young adults with Asperger’s.  Loneliness can be such a nagging, wearing thing to deal with.  Of course, I have sometimes wondered whether a message board full of people who struggle with social skills might not be the best place to get relationship advice!  😉

In truth, it might not be much different from advice you’ll find anywhere else on the Internet, or in the world in general, though.  There are people who think they have relationships simplified to a formula, a set of steps that is guaranteed to work.  There are plenty of people who’ve become bitter because of past experiences and will try to tell you why “All women/men are the same.”  There are those who will try to convince you that if you don’t hurry and conform to a specific pattern, you will be “too late” and forever undesirable.

There have been a lot of specifically Christian relationship trends during my lifetime:  During junior high and high school, the main advice was “Wait and go slowly; better safe than sorry.”  Then in college it was “Dating is unbiblical; you should only date someone if you want to marry her.”  Then, “Not enough men are taking responsibility; stop being afraid to take the initiative and ask a girl out.”  Then after college, “Too many people are waiting too long to get married!  What’s going on?”

(For my part, I was so withdrawn from social activity in general that I would shake my head and laugh at all of these trends as they zipped by.  If you’ve been on zero dates, it’s all pretty theoretical, isn’t it?)  🙂

Ugh; I feel like I’m getting far away from the point of this post.  Anyway, now that I have a girlfriend for the first time in my life, I feel like I should have some sort of wisdom to impart to those who want to know how to go about finding one.  Except I really don’t.  Honestly, I’m probably more surprised by this situation than anyone else.  I still get a stupid grin every time Megan calls me her “boyfriend” because it sounds so strange!

The only thing I can say is that long before I met Megan, I’ve always taken comfort in the idea that I don’t have to become what “every woman” expects in a man.  I don’t have to meet the expectations of every woman in the world, or of anyone on a website, or even every Christian writer who’s published a book about the topic.  I reject the idea that all men or all women are the same, anyway.  In the end, all that matters is pleasing God, and if it’s His will that I meet a woman to be my girlfriend, wife, whatever– then what I need to do is love *her* as the individual creation– the bearer of God’s image– that she is.

That’s an awesome task.  And it’s an exciting one!  I don’t know what God ultimately has in store for me and Megan, but He designed each of us down to the most intricate details of our hearts and minds, and I trust that He has the best in mind for both of us.  A boyfriend-girlfriend relationship between two Aspies might very well be expected to look a bit different from one between two neurotypicals.  And it will be different again because of the two unique people that Megan and I are.

I’m sure that I have a lot to learn, and I look forward to sharing some of our experiences here, in hopes that they will be helpful or at least interesting!  Thanks for reading.

“Before you came along, we Bagginses were very well thought of.”
“Indeed?”
“Never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.”
“If you’re referring to the incident with the Dragon, I was barely involved. All I did was give your uncle a little nudge out of the door.”

— Frodo Baggins and Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings

Ten years ago today, I was a college junior on a plane heading across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe with a class of Cedarville students and our two Biblical Archaeology professors.  I was excited, nervous, and tired all at once.  I wasn’t the sort of person who went on trips like this, I thought.  I found it intimidating just trying to cross the street in tiny Cedarville, Ohio.  Whenever I could, I drove home to my parents’ house for the weekend.  So how did I end up setting off on a two-week tour of another continent?

It started with a course I took my sophomore year about the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  We studied the organization and major themes of these books as we also learned about their historical and cultural background– the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt.  What made the class special was our professor, Dr. B., who taught with great enthusiasm for the subject matter.  He summarized the prevailing opinions of scholars, along with his own theories on questions like which Pharaoh was the ruler of Egypt during Moses’ time.

It was a demanding course– struggling with the final essay had me in tears at one point– but there were two things about it that I really liked.  One was our weekend field trip to visit the museum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Both museums had 4000-year-old artifacts from the civilizations we had been learning about.  One of the students would ask Dr. B. a question about one of the artifacts, and as he answered it, a small crowd would form.  Before long, we had a large group of people following us, but Dr. B. wasn’t fazed at all.

Being from the New Jersey area himself, Dr. B. seemed at home in a city environment where a little boldness is necessary in order to be noticed.  He made sure we saw all of the major New York landmarks, taking us on a ferry ride and eating at a little restaurant that specialized in New York-style cheesecake.  I decided to be “bold” myself and order a slice, even though I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it, since I didn’t like cheese.  It turned out to be one of the best desserts I’d ever had.

I also found that even though I didn’t know what to do with free time, most of my classmates did, and it was a lot of fun following them, listening to what they talked about, and laughing with them.

The second thing I really enjoyed about the Pentateuch class was working on a Powerpoint presentation for a group project.  I hated written assignments, but this was different.  I found myself pouring a lot of work into making a set of timelines showing the reigns of various rulers and the rise and fall of civilizations.  I could plan out every aspect of the graphic:  One pixel horizontally represented one year.  I used different color combinations for the different civilizations– sandy yellow for Egypt, clay red for Mesopotamia, blue for Israel that matched the color of their present-day flag.  It was more work than I needed to do for the assignment, but it didn’t feel like work.

So, anyway, I finished the Pentateuch course and went on with school as normal.  Then one day I saw an e-mail announcement about a spring course in Biblical Archaeology taught by Dr. B. along with a New Testament professor, Dr. H.  This course would focus on the historical and archaeological record for the entire Bible, and it would include a repeat of the New York trip from the Pentateuch class.  But the big deal was that it led into a trip to Europe at the end of the summer to visit museums in London, Paris, Berlin, and Rome!

My initial reaction was “That sounds neat, but I don’t think it’s for me.”  Two weeks was a long time to spend so far away from home.  What if I hated it?  The trip wasn’t cheap, and it would be a waste if I didn’t enjoy it.  I never did things like this, but for some reason, I printed out the e-mail and showed it to my mother.  She told me that it sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime, and if I had any interest at all in going, I should consider it.

The deadline for signing up for the trip came and went, and I was fine with that.  Other people went on this sort of trip, not me.  And that seemed like the end of the story until Dr. B. called me to his office.

“Nathan,” he said, “why didn’t you sign up for the Biblical Archaeology trip?”  I told him I just wasn’t sure I wanted to go.  He told me that he didn’t want affordability to be the reason I couldn’t go, because he had a job for me that would allow me to come along as a teacher’s assistant.  He told me that he was really impressed with the PowerPoint presentation I had done for the Pentateuch class, and he wanted me to help him put together the PowerPoint files for the new Biblical Archaeology course.  He also wanted someone to come along on the trip to take digital photos of the artifacts in the museums so that they could be incorporated into the course material.  I could do that instead of the paper the students would have to write on the trip, he said.

With an invitation like that, how could I say no?  Some people talk about God “opening a door” for them to make a decision– well, this seemed to qualify if anything did.  I decided to be bold again and give it a try.

So that’s how I ended up meeting the rest of my classmates (about forty in all) in a Cedarville parking lot in the very early morning on August 31, 2001.  We sleepily rode the bus to the Columbus airport, caught a connecting flight to Newark, New Jersey, and finally took off for Heathrow Airport in London.

At the time, all I could think about was how good it would feel to get home after it was all done.  And it was!  But I’m also glad I had the experience.

If this sounds interesting, be sure to check back here tomorrow; I’m planning to add a new post every day about my memories from each day of the trip!

I finished up the courses I was taking for my Web Programming certificate last week.  Overall, I really enjoyed my classes– it was nice taking courses with no writing assignments to stress over.  The programming was fun; I actually had to be careful not to try to do too much in my projects, which was a new experience.  Best of all, I made several acquaintances and at least one friend.  : )

Now I’m faced with a task that I find a whole lot more daunting, though– searching for a job.  I know how to do school, even though it has often majorly stressed me out.  It’s like walking a path, one step at a time.  Trusting God as a student meant trying my best at the tasks immediately in front of me and not worrying about the future.  It wasn’t easy, but I was glad to be able to leave the big uncertainties in God’s hands.

But it seems like it doesn’t work that way once school is done.  There is no clear path to walk now.  I have to make the decisions, or nothing will happen.  And that really scares me a lot.  But when I try to put the decision in God’s hands, he keeps giving it back to me.

I’ve been looking at job postings, but with each of them I have to fight the fear that I won’t be able to do what the job asks for, or that I’ll find it to be completely different from what I thought I had prepared for.

Especially with the way many job postings are written.  Some of them seem to be looking for a superhero.  “We are looking for the best and the brightest web developers in the world.  We need innovative, self-starting, energetic people who communicate well without asking dumb questions.  Should have 2-4 years experience doing this job before starting.”

Others are written are written vaguely enough that the job could conceivably be almost anything:  “The web developer position uses technology, electronics, and/or computers to actualize the company’s three core values in line with its mission statement, taking into account the views of all major stakeholders.”

(Those quotes are exaggerated a little.)

I’ve heard that I shouldn’t take job postings literally because they have to be written in their own sort of language.  For instance, maybe some job postings are unspecific so that if the supervisor needs to ask the employee for help with another area, they can’t say “That’s not in my job description” and refuse to help.  Others may name their imaginary best employee possible knowing that he or she doesn’t exist in real life; they just want to see how close they can get.  So they are actually expecting people to apply without meeting all of the “requirements.”  Very confusing.

As I said, this is a different challenge.  The other times I’ve been faced with it, I fled back to school, but I can’t do that forever.  I’ll see what I learn and post about it if I can.

While I was on vacation, I read Prodigal God by Tim Keller.  It’s a short book that presents some teaching from Keller’s sermons about Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (or, perhaps more accurately, the story of the two brothers).

I had a lot of thoughts as I was reading, and I want to try to get some of them written down, though it’s hard for me to do as my thoughts are always changing.

A lot of the teaching in the book was familiar to me; I think that Keller does a good job of stressing the significance of both brothers in the parable and of explaining how their relationships with the father in the story mirror the relationships between humans and God:

“Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery.”

“Our Western society is so deeply divided between these two approaches that hardly anyone can conceive of any other way to live.  If you criticize or distance yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen to follow the other, because each of these approaches tends to divide the whole world into two basic groups.”

Keller does point out that people can move from one side to the other at different points of their lives.

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Okay, so a couple of posts ago, I tried to give an overview of how the 4th edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or the DSM) described the various diagnoses that fell under the category of the autistic spectrum.  The DSM provides guidelines for psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other medical professionals to use in diagnosing mental conditions.

Thankfully, it shouldn’t take me as long to tell about the way the 5th edition, planned for publication in 2013, defines the traits of autism.  Where before there were five different categories of “autistic spectrum disorders,” in the DSM-V, there will just be one:

Autism spectrum disorder

Must meet criteria 1, 2, and 3:

1. Clinically significant, persistent deficits in social communication and interactions, as manifest by all of the following:

a. Marked deficits in nonverbal and verbal communication used for social interaction.

b. Lack of social reciprocity.

c. Failure to develop and maintain peer relationships appropriate to developmental level.

2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by TWO of the following:

a. Stereotyped motor or verbal behaviors, or unusual sensory behaviors.

b. Excessive adherence to routines and ritualized patterns of behavior.

c. Restricted, fixated interests.

3. Symptoms must be present in early childhood (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities).

(from www.dsm5.org)

It kind of looks like the criteria for autism, Asperger’s, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and PDD-NOS have all been rolled together into one more inclusive category.  The APA’s website has some interesting comments about why they have decided to make this change:

“…distinctions among [autism spectrum] disorders have been found to be inconsistent over time, variable across sites and often associated with severity, language level or intelligence rather than features of the disorder.”

Originally, autism and Asperger’s were discovered and described separately.  It seemed for a while that Asperger’s could be considered a “mild” or “high-functioning” version of autism, but the more we have learned about them both, the more difficult it has become to draw a clear line between the two.

The APA says that “previously, the criteria were equivalent to trying to ‘cleave meatloaf at the joints.'”  The new criteria reflect this.

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Pride

Yesterday, my pastor preached about pride, working from the book of Proverbs (which has a lot to say about the subject).  I’ve been thinking about the ways that I tend to be prideful.  I have a sneaky, backwards type of passive-aggressive pride that is hard for me to counteract.

See, as I was growing up, I somehow became convinced that the “Christian” thing to do is to look for reasons to think less of yourself, to put yourself down, so that you are humble and not prideful.  So if someone complimented me for something like a musical performance or a drawing, it made me very uncomfortable; I had to think of a way that what I had done was flawed.

Later, I learned that it’s not really polite to refuse to accept compliments; that’s like telling the other person they have bad judgment.  So I would say “Thank you” for the compliment, but I still believed that I had to internally dismiss it.

My mother says that this is actually false humility, which is still pride– it’s pretty hard to escape!  But my mind says, in what way is it false to find something wrong with whatever I do?  The Bible tells me that I have a sinful nature, and even the best things I do are affected by my sin.  Something may seem impressive to another person, but it always falls far short of God’s standards.

It’s at this point that I realize something is wrong with my thinking, because there is supposed to be a difference between a sin, which is morally wrong and an offense against God, and a mistake, which is not morally wrong and is a consequence of being human and not all-seeing and all-knowing like God alone is.  I often operate as though it is a sin to make a mistake– that’s what keeps me fearful of even attempting a lot of things.  The reason is that I really, really don’t like being reminded that I make mistakes, because I am a perfectionist.  It’s a form of pride.

I know this, but I am really used to thinking this way, and I’m not quite sure how to adjust my thinking even though it’s harmful to me.  Let me use classwork as an example:

Practically every time I had to write a paper for college or grad school, it was an excruciating ordeal for me.  I usually can’t write until I have a pretty good idea in my mind of what the entire paper’s layout should be, and until then, I spend a long time staring at a blank screen.  A lot of times, I would procrastinate– not doing things I enjoyed, since I knew I was supposed to be working– but doing whatever I could to avoid being confronted with that screen.  By the time I handed my paper in (late or on time), I wanted to never see it or think about it again.  And that apprehension would only get worse with each paper I tried to write.

My professors sometimes gave me very positive feedback on the finished product, but I still felt very negative about what I had written (except for being glad the ordeal of writing was over).  It seems certain that while some of my difficulty was the result of my own limitations rather than sin, surely some of it was due to sin.  I could always look back and think of times I could have worked harder rather than putting off my work.  In that sense, every paper I wrote was marred by sin, so shouldn’t I feel bad about it?

This is the pattern that my mind is caught in; it keeps me from looking positively on any endeavor for which there is a chance I might fail.  I know that it is wrong, and its root is pride, because it’s a standard I would never apply to anyone else, and it doesn’t reflect well on God.  But it’s a challenge to convince my mind of that.

This is another attempt at the sort of post I have a lot of trouble writing, an update about how I’m doing. It occurs to me that one of the traits of Asperger’s is speaking like a professor, and most of my posts are in the form of lectures rather than casual conversations. I’ve been really gratified that people have been reading my posts about autism and Asperger’s, and I hope that they are helpful and informative (and I hope to write more).

But my overall idea for this blog is for it to be just like anyone else’s personal blog, where I can write about things that I’m doing or that are on my mind– so that might result in some abrupt changes in topic (like when a Star Trek review shows up in the middle of a series of posts about autism!)

This week I’ve been preoccupied with a lot of thoughts about friendship– trying to figure out what it means to have a friend and to be a friend. I said in one of my earlier posts that I felt like it was easy to make friends when I was a kid, but it got harder as I got older and felt gradually more socially disconnected from my peers. Now that I’m an adult, I feel like it’s harder yet again, because I am no longer in a similar situation to many people my age. A lot of my contemporaries are starting or growing families, which totally reshapes a person’s life. Others are pursuing various goals in school or work. And some, like myself, are not quite sure what they are doing, but are hoping to figure it out soon! So it’s not as simple as when I was in school and the people around me were in the same classes.

I think it’s also a challenge to make friends because it naturally requires time and energy, and most people’s lives are quite busy. Mine isn’t quite as busy right now, but I often struggle with a shortage of energy– it can be draining physically, mentally, and emotionally to venture outside, so it’s not exactly as if it’s easy to make friends with me.

Some of that goes along with being an introvert– that means that I expend energy when I’m with people and need time by myself to “recharge”– from what I understand, for most people it works in reverse?

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I have always tended to be moody.  (Maybe my name should be “Dwight L.”)  Even though depression is something I have struggled with and sought help for, it’s never been with the expectation that my mood would remain constantly at one level– it seems to be human to have times of feeling happy and feeling sad, and strangely they often don’t coincide with the circumstances of life.

C.S. Lewis was very insightful about this human tendency.  There’s a section in The Screwtape Letters that puts it very well.  (In case you’re not familiar with The Screwtape Letters, each chapter is presented as a letter from a senior demon named Screwtape to his apprentice Wormwood.  Wormwood has been assigned as the tempter of a human that Screwtape calls only “the patient.”)

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

So you “have great hopes that the patient’s religious phase is dying away”, have you? I always thought the Training College had gone to pieces since they put old Slubgob at the head of it, and now I am sure. Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?

Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dulness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.

There’s a lot of cleverness in the way that C.S. Lewis quite literally takes on the role of the devil’s advocate to help the reader listen to what he has to say in a new way.  It can be a natural response for a Christian to assume that a time of depression or of feeling far from God must be because of sin.  But the Bible doesn’t teach that.  The Psalms seem to have as many examples of people crying out to God from the midst of trouble as they do of people giving God praise for their blessings.  God has a purpose in allowing us to go through both, and he is with us through both, regardless of how we feel.

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In my post about Psalm 42, I gave an example of a song that I struggled to sing but have come to understand better over time.  Recently, I’ve been thinking about another area where my thinking has probably been wrong, but it’s been with me for a long time, and I realize I’m still struggling with it.

It’s the matter of how to reconcile my own desires for my life with God’s will for my life.  This has been the subject of a lot of sermons I’ve heard over the years, but one of the best ways I can think of to explain it right now is with some words from the song “Dreams I Dream For You” by the Christian group Avalon.

The song is sung from the point of view of God speaking to a human, and the verses contain some nice statements of reassurance like “You see your shame, but I see your glory; you’ve read one page, but I know the story.”  The main message of the song is stated in its chorus:

The dreams I dream for you

Are deeper than the ones you’re clinging to,

More precious than the finest things you knew,

And truer than the treasures you pursue.

Let the old dreams die

Like stars that fade from view,

Then take the cup I offer

and drink deeply of the dreams I dream for you.

This song lines up with a lot of messages and some testimonies I’ve heard about submitting to God’s will for my life.  The process seems to go like this:

  • As humans, we have our own plans, goals, and dreams about what we want life to be like.
  • God has perfect knowledge, and furthermore, he truly has the best in mind for me– not just the good.  His plan for my life is infinitely better than any of my own.
  • Choosing to trust God means giving up the expectations I have for my own life and giving him total control.
  • Even though it may seem like a hard choice at the time, I will eventually realize that God’s plan was best.

“Okay,” I reasoned.  “The thing that makes it hard for people to follow God’s will is that they dream their own dreams, set their own goals, and stubbornly cling to them.  I need to make sure that doesn’t happen to me.  Therefore, the best course of action is to avoid having any dreams or setting any goals.  I shouldn’t rule out any path in life as a possibility based on how much I think I will enjoy doing it.  If I try not to set any goals, then it won’t be so hard to abandon them when God tells me what he wants me to do.”

I’m not sure if there was a specific time when I thought those exact words, but that was my thinking process as I grew up hearing messages about surrendering my life to God.

The problem was that God never chiseled words into my wall telling me what career path he wanted me to take.  And since I thought it was wrong to let my own desires dictate my decisions, I had a hard time deciding what to study in college.  It seemed to make sense to me that until I noticed some sort of call, I should study the things I seemed to have ability and interest in– and I really enjoyed all I learned about Bible and physics at Cedarville.  (My Mom told me she was surprised that I chose Bible as a major.  I wanted to allow God the opportunity to call me to be a pastor or a missionary if that’s what he wanted.  But he didn’t.)  When I graduated, I was left with the same problem:  I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what God wanted me to do.

And to be honest, that’s still where I am now.  I think that my thinking about how following God’s will works was probably wrong– I didn’t like how it made me feel like God was just waiting for me to come up with some great desire so he could squash it.  But I’ve operated with that mindset for so long that I think I have a hard time coming up with dreams or goals now.  And I realize now that there is a part of me that wants to do something with my life that I have a passion for– I don’t just want it to be out of a sense of duty.

Sorry to be making such a melancholy post; I just thought I would post about one of the things I am struggling with right now.  Thankfully, I believe that God has used the situations I’ve encountered to teach me a lot, even if I went into them for the wrong reasons.

C.S. Lewis had an amazing ability to talk about Christianity plainly in a way that makes both the religious and non-religious stop to think.  He was also a great storyteller.  From when I was young, I really enjoyed his Chronicles of Narnia series and later his Space Trilogy.

He has a quote about earthly pleasures that has puzzled and distressed me at times, and I thought I’d mention it since I was just talking about the focused interests that come along with my personality as a person with Asperger’s:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I identify a whole lot with the child who doesn’t want to get up and go to the beach because he’s content to make mud pies forever.  In general, if I have a choice between staying where I am or going somewhere, I would rather stay where I am, because it’s less stressful than dealing with all of the noise outside, and besides that, I’m not done!

I wonder if it is something autistic in me that finds beauty in some tiny corner of creation that most people find mundane.  The more I get to know about one of my interests, even when it’s something seemingly worthless, like football statistics or video game design, the more beauty I find in its patterns.  Whereas others might say “Aren’t you done?  Move on to something better,”  I would say “Stop and look!  Can’t you see it?”

So I’m not entirely sure what to take from Lewis’s quote.  I have to admit that the growth in my life has come mostly when I have chosen to do something I initially didn’t want to, so maybe God’s will is to call me out of the things I enjoy now.  Does God call me never to be satisfied with the things I enjoy because there will always be something better?