Getting healed?!

A few weeks ago, a customer came into the shop, and, as customers often do, asked me a lot of questions at once that I was struggling to make sense of. When trying to get him to clarify what he wanted, I told him I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and sometimes communication is confusing for me. But alas, there is hope, fellow Aspies. Because according to this man…I could ask God to heal me!

My reaction, as a Christian, is this. I believe in praying. I believe that people can be healed. I also believe that, just because God can heal, it doesn’t mean that He should, or will. I have to say, though, I wish my immediate response had been that eloquent. What I actually did was falteringly explain that autism is not an illness to be cured, but rather a difference in the brain, and that implying otherwise can hurt. He got it in the end, and surrounding colleagues and customers were impressed. So clearly I did something right.

But then I thought to myself, no matter how many times I hear how important it is to embrace our differences, I do get frustrated. I do wish I didn’t need extra help. I’m often fed up with my struggles, yet I couldn’t help feeling offended at the notion that I should change. Am I just acting like a special snowflake?

I don’t know. But not every struggle is a problem that needs to be “cured”.

I recently had an interesting message exchange with a friend who, as we were chatting, was watching a documentary about children on medication for conditions like autism and ADHD. She asked me how I felt about that. Now, I respect people’s decisions here. It’s up to the individual. If medication proves more beneficial than not, then good for them. But I’m wary of people who treat Asperger’s as an illness, when it’s not caused by germs, or hormones, or bodily harm. So I gave her the following analogy.

Imagine a group of people, all from the same country, faced with someone from another country and who speaks a different language. Chances are, they are lonely. They want to communicate, but they find their limited vocabulary very frustrating. They might wish they were the same as everyone else, but should everyone be praying that they suddenly become British? Or American, or the nationality of your choice…

No. Of course not. It’s up to them to learn English (or whatever), and it’s up to the others to be patient with them. And it will always be their second language. But with enough learning and patience, they may speak fluently, and become a popular, respected group member. And they can bring to the table a language and a culture that everyone else barely knows about.

Do you get what I’m saying? In a similar way, learning differences can be a bummer. But they don’t have to stop you from flourishing. The trick is working through it, seeking support when you need it, and finding a way forward.

 

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Easter musings

It’s Easter Sunday, and the immediate family members are busy socialising after a slap-up roast. I, on the other hand, am doing what I do best: hiding in my room hunched over a computer, thinking I should be more productive. And of course, eating chocolate. Because that’s what Easter’s about. Right?

I’ve been trying to think of possible Easter-y things to say on my blog, and for a while, I was on the brink of not bothering. Not because I can’t be bothered with Easter, but because I couldn’t think of anything to say that hasn’t already been said on the internet a gazillion times. After a little reflection, I do actually have a couple of thoughts to mull over. So I’m making this post a quickie.

As a Christian myself, the idea of being able to be Christians despite our imperfections because Jesus was crucified has often puzzled me. Crucifixion sounds like a brutal way to go. And all people, back then and today, are imperfect. But what is the connection between these two facts? I was thinking about this a while back, and realised: the physical consequences of the events of the Easter story aren’t important. Rather, it’s the idea of absolute good surrendering to absolute evil and still winning.

I’ll be honest; reading this back makes me realise there is still so much I don’t understand. But then I pretty much live in that realisation. Besides, whatever your personal beliefs, no-one can claim to have all the answers about big topics like this.

And then this gem from Mum, who I made famous (practically) a couple of blog posts ago. To complete today’s dinner, she made a simnel cake. What’s a simnel cake? This is*:

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The marzipan balls, by the way, represent each of Jesus’s disciples. While there were 12, most simnel cakes miss out a ball for Judas, who betrayed Jesus. Mum, a firm believer in social justice, has included a 12th ball on hers. Firstly, because Judas was guilty for what he did. Come on, he hanged himself! Secondly, it was supposed to happen. And lastly, as Christians, and as decent human beings, forgiveness is key. Especially when it’s been over 2,000 years.

So those are my two thoughts for the day. Working in a Christian bookshop, there’s plenty of inspiration around me for a blog post like this. Then again, between tidying greetings cards, keeping the Easter egg stack symmetrical, and saying “Yes, we do have palm crosses…can I take your surname please?” to the fifth person on the phone that day, remembering to latch onto it isn’t easy.

 

 

*(DISCLAIMER – neither the cake, nor the photo, are ours. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/topdrawersausage/4492925419)

Off to work I go…

You know that weird adjustment phase when you go from being a complete couch potato to suddenly being busy? And you have only a few days’ warning before you have to dive head first into the world of work? And suddenly you are that person behind the till, saying “That’ll be £9.99,” “Would you like a bag with that?” and especially “I’m sorry, I’m still new, I’ll just get my colleague!”

As it happens, I do. Having spent the summer haplessly job hunting, I heard on the Navigators Facebook page about an internship vacancy at a Christian bookshop. Full time retail experience and training – Christian literature themed, at that – complete with a Discipleship course once a week. Right up my street.

So I applied, and was subsequently interviewed. Nothing too scary, just questions about how I work, how I became a Christian, how my Asperger’s affects me, what books do I like. What followed was a period of increasing anxiety. What were my chances? Was I again to be turned down due to my special needs? Would they think that the books I’ve recently read – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and The Dalai Llama’s Cat – were for sinners? Irrational, I know, but how calm can you realistically stay?

Yet somehow, I was accepted. I was still in Spain, and annoyingly, the day I found out was the day my phone stopped having signal at Grandad‘s house. But my now-manager contacted Mum, who contacted Grandad, and only a few days later, I was off to work.

Working for the first time is an ample situation in which to demonstrate what you are and aren’t yet capable of. For example, I seem to be incapable of not breaking the price gun at least once. But on a positive note, I now know how to take sales. Here’s your receipt, have a nice day!

My Discipleship course so far is proving mildly stressful. The people there are all lovely, and in terms of of spiritual growth, it looks very promising. It’s just that, for all the non-autistic tendencies I have learned, I still don’t present myself at my best in a room full of new people.

Or when I am given an hour to write a five minute talk on a parable. I’m used to writing under pressure, I’m used to Bible studies, I’m used to social situations. Somehow I still panicked. Somehow, with extra time, I managed to complete and perform my talk. My audience was enthusiastic, and whether this was out of genuine admiration or sympathy, I really appreciate their kindness.

And on that note, I’m also raising a glass to all my more experienced colleagues, who have been endlessly patient with me. Hopefully I’ll learn how to get more ink out of the price gun without destroying it.

Post uni summer part 2: Camping, aka Momentum

I may have mentioned I’m not good at keeping up with trending topics. It seems that this even covers recent events in my own life. I did say that I’d get around to writing about this, though, and nearly 3 weeks later, I am actually getting around to it.

Momentum, for those of you who don’t know, is a yearly Christian festival with music, talks, seminars and camping. Lots of camping. In other words, dirt, unpredictable weather, muddy toilets, muddy showers, no alone time, poor sleeping and a diet of cereal bars, apples and crisps. When you put it like that, I really don’t know why I enjoy it. But I suppose Jesus survived in the wilderness with no resources at all, so…

Also, it helped that I had a lot of lovely people to hang out with. I’m just going to name the two who have given me permission to mention them: Kathryn (middle), proud tent owner who I’ve known for years, and Chantelle (right) who I became friends with through Kat. We did nearly everything together, and I can’t think who I would rather be squashed in car full of luggage with.

One of the good things about Momentum is that it isn’t some token religious convention. Young adults and youth leaders come to learn, to challenge themselves and to have a good time with their friends. I like to think I managed all three. The majority of the day is made up of seminars. From personality types to relationships to “what does the bible say about x?” A lot of stuff to be learned.

And the main meetings. As well as opportunities for worship and reflection, these comprise talks that strike the right balance between deep, nitty gritty heart-to-heart stuff and comedy gold. Lead by Watford pastor Mike Pilavachi, known for his skill at bringing people to faith, love of food and slightly quirky humour. Who better to give such talks?

Finally, the venues. Who said that Christian events are nothing more than old buildings full of middle aged people singing in time to organ music? Come on, there’s a skating rink, a drive in cinema, book stalls, souvenir stalls, take away outlets, a silent disco and cafes that do hot chocolate and cake to die for. Ok, I refused to set foot on the skating rink and never found the cinema. But I readily explored the rest.

I guess what I’m trying to put across is that these events are not just for one social category. Yes, they help bring people to faith and deepen existing faith, and Momentum does a brilliant job there. But it’s not just for hard-and-fast Christians. It’s for those who struggle with faith, it’s for non-believers who are curious, it’s for people who have been through hell and back seeking healing, prayer and answers. In other words, there is something there for everyone.

Well, everyone who can tolerate a week of camping.

On the road again

20160228_142407Firstly, happy leap day everybody! Secondly, apologies for the recent decline in posts, I have been grappling with more than one coursework crisis involving group work or technology. I keep saying if InDesign was an object I would have burnt it by now. And don’t even get me started on making your own mini book with an online printing company.

Mercifully, last weekend I had an actual holiday. A cold, grey, 48 hour long holiday. But a holiday nonetheless. Anyone remember the Leicester Navigators, Christian mission/Bible study group extraordinaire? Either way, Navs groups across the UK like to gather for a yearly weekend in Blackpool, and it was for the third time that I joined them. Fun times.

The main people I hung out with were the Leics Navs leaders Jonny and Ruth. I’m mentioning them now partly because it was their taxi service I ended up using that weekend, but also because they are great leaders, people and friends even if they don’t admit it (shout out!). Anyway, when we got there, I was left as good as broke after a trip to the nearest (card machine-free) chippy, where I was 5p short. I think the man was joking when he said he’d stick posters of my face on the shop window for theft. Otherwise… I’m innocent!

After eating chips in the car till it stank some real fine dining, we arrived at the hotel – an old, formerly pink castle. You know when the view outside is just perfect, with sand, sea and sky as far as the eye can see? If so, enlighten me. My window directly overlooked a turret full of murky water, and on closer inspection, half decomposed boxer pants full of moss and algae. Beautiful.

And the nights. After the first night I complained about being disturbed by shrieking seagulls. In hindsight, I should have taken that as foreshadowing for the second night, when I was woken up by a (probably ex) couple fighting at 2am. Both were swearing, crashing and doorslamming. The woman in particular was hysterically crying and screaming* that she was done with him, and that he would find her dead outside the room the following morning. This went on until 4am with futile intervention by a member of hotel staff. But hey, it was a good breakfast conversation starter.

Disturbed nights aside, I genuinely had fun, despite all the above. Or maybe because. Come on, so many things to laugh at! I might not have caught up on sleep, but after some inspiring Christian talks and some quality bonding time, it was a real emotional and spiritual boost. Plus I made a pact to not worry about not doing coursework, and got there – eventually.

I also deliberately kept a balance between socialising and alone time, and made the most of both. This meant being alone without worrying about being antisocial or missing out, and socialising in a meaningful way, instead of just tolerating being around people. Ruth and I went for a walk along the beach and had a meaningful conversation about different forms of loneliness, and how a pair of boxers can end up outside a 2nd floor window.

Out of all the talks, one of the best ones was about conversations and listening, by a Christian counsellor. Long story short, it taught me three things: 1) actually looking like you’re listening IS important. 2) social skills and writing have one thing in common – both have lots of rules, none of which apply to every situation. 3) we all have very complex stories, which are all part of a much bigger story.

In other words, to wrap up, what I’m trying to say is similar to something Jonny told me on our last morning: the accommodation doesn’t count for everything – it’s the learning, the bonding and the good times that count.

 

 

*As a writer, I don’t usually like using ‘screamed’ as a variation of ‘said’. But then neither do I like being woken up by Jeremy Kyle-esque domestic violence.

Us versus them – which is which?

You know what they’re talking about on the news at the moment? You can bet it includes people, politics, and prejudice, no matter when you’re reading this post. On Facebook these days I see about a gazillion hot topics trending. I don’t know if Facebook has become more news-y or if I’m just better at noticing these things, but I’m going to talk about one particular controversy: people’s attitudes towards race and religion.

Yes, you heard me. If you see another blog post from me, you’ll know I didn’t commit social suicide today after all.

As a student living in today’s society, I have seen more online articles and videos than I care to count. Am I alone in that? Somehow I don’t think so. Looking through comments sections following numerous topics of discussion sometimes makes me feel like losing faith in humanity. People often seem to hype up hate towards Christians, Muslims, refugees, anyone who falls under a social category that may have caused problems for other people in the past. But to me, they’re missing the point. It isn’t having beliefs that’s wrong, and it certainly isn’t heritage. It’s cruelty. Which anyone is capable of and anyone can choose not to commit.

As for ‘we should help our own people first’: why do we prioritise people based on race and not on how much they actually need help? We are all people; there should be no ‘our own vs others’.

One thing I have learnt in recent years is this: we live in a society where too many people think that the way they see the world is the way it works. As a Christian, I don’t know whether to be more saddened by the fact that Christians get labelled as prejudiced, bible-bashing bigots or by certain individuals who do nothing to kill that stereotype. Is Christianity meant to show people how best to live, love and learn? Absolutely. Does it make a believer any more or less of a person? I don’t think so.

Atheists who freely post on the internet that all Christians are indeed prejudiced, bible-bashing bigots are being no better than the people they are accusing, in my opinion. Why should it be right for some social groups to shove certain people into a box but not others? Sadly it’s not just religion versus atheism wars where this is apparent. Cats versus dogs, introverts versus extroverts, Harry Potter versus Twilight? You name it.

I mean, just look at the conflicts that arise as a result, and you will see where I’m coming from. I could think of a million and one comments to add to such things, but am no more likely to do so than a football fan turn off the TV to drive all the way to Manchester so they can shout insults at the losing team. In other words, my stance on topics like that are for me, myself and I. And my blog, occasionally.

One of my principles in life is that the world is too big and complicated for us to ever understand it. I have my beliefs and am always trying to improve my understanding of God, faith, and the world in general. If any belief or opinion of mine is right or wrong, it will be one small thing compared with everything else I am right or wrong about. In short, no one on this earth has all the answers.

So with this principle, what morals do I go by? Keep an eye on your own thoughts and feelings. Accept you won’t always be right, and try to understand where other opinions come from. Above all, treat others with the same care and respect you expect to be treated with; at the end of the day, they are your equal.

 

Dear early-teenage self

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Dear early-teenage self,

I thought I’d write this for several reasons. One: I was getting all nostalgic while reading your diaries, even if it was mainly you moaning about your life. Two: it might make good blogging material. You’ll never be great with computers, but you will start a blog. Which apparently turned two years old yesterday! Three: Kirstie from Pentatonix did something similar on YouTube that was quite inspiring. This, by the way, is proof we do find a favourite band. Eventually. Four: it’s nearly our birthday.

I recently figured out something crucial: you spend most of your time longing for emotional intimacy that you don’t have, because of the invisible social barrier called Asperger’s. As far as your diaries are concerned, you may be sensitive, emotional and a bit whiny, but now I think I understand why.

I’ll be honest, you’ve still got many hurdles ahead, but plenty of good stuff too. Remember when we moved to Loughborough aged 8, and we hoped with all our heart we would find at least one close friend? Just be patient and over the years, you’ll meet some great people. Including Hannah. She might seem eccentric, but she’s going to be your uni housemate and your closest friend. And she will introduce us to Pentatonix – Evolution of Music. Her best friend, meanwhile, will pal up with yours. Ironic, eh?

Rest assured, you’ll become more self-aware, outgoing and assertive, and (marginally) more socially skilled. We still hate conflict, but hey, some things never change. Look on the bright side, you have a great family, no matter how weird and annoying (you think) they are. The cats are still alive and well, and we even acquire a few more along the way. And don’t take Grannie and Grandad for granted either. Grannie might be short-fused sometimes, but when you lose her – which you will – you’ll cry every day for at least a week.

It is ok to have Asperger’s, you know. It might be a while until you realise this, but when you do, embrace the acceptance you receive. There will always be trials and tribulations, but you can deal with them. We do still get anxiety stomach aches, though. And we start getting migraines occasionally. Sorry about that.

Over the years, we do learn more about God and Christianity. In fact, we form our closest friendships at Christian related activities. Just keep an open mind and an open heart.

I should probably be signing off now, as I’m behind on a certain uni assignment. That’s another thing: we get into De Montfort University! I would tell you about all the writing we get published, but at this stage in your life, you probably won’t believe me.

In the meantime, just keep honing your self awareness, and don’t let your social struggles get you down. And keep your musical skills fresh – you might ditch the steel pans, but you will go many places with your violin and voice.

All the best,

Your nearly-22 year old self.

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