Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Basement Recovery Room versus Crow's Nest

Two years ago I graduated from Colorado State University's Human Development and Family Studies Master's program. Graduation is usually a time of great celebration and pride. Here I am outside the Alumni Center. They had an old graduation robe that seniors could put on to get their pictures taken by Cam the Ram. Of course I had to go for it :) 
I enjoyed sitting by my friends during graduation. One of them was joking that he looked like one of the kids out of Harry Potter in his robes. Of course we laughed. 

Behind the smile I had, there was a lot of pain. My mom was worried about job prospects for me and she also noticed I had spent more time cranking out pages for my thesis rather than cranking out sweat on the treadmill. I remember walking up to my friend in Moby Arena with tears in my eyes saying, "You know how your thesis was on body image and self-concept? Well, My self-concept just got shot down." My friend understood and gave me a giant hug before we all lined up together. 

After graduation, my mom had a bit of a meltdown in my apartment over my job prospects. She didn't like the idea of me staying in Fort Collins post graduation and going to El Paso on a summer mission trip. 

While other kids were celebrating with their parents over dinner, I tearfully went to the first safe place I thought of: Newsom Hall my old undergrad stomping grounds. One of my friends was still in the process of moving out. His father graciously let me sit on the empty bed and cry as they moved their belongings out. They both prayed for me and were very nice and didn't probe much. 

After they were checked out, my friend invited me to watch a movie with the rest of the Reynolds Team. I came to The Quad and sat in the basement watching the movie. I just didn't want to be alone. I was trying not to cry, but I was anyway. I did enjoy the movie, but sometimes I would cry thinking about my mom's worries or just that graduation night wasn't the happy moment I thought it would be. 

In contrast, Temple Grandin (played by Claire Danes) is portrayed in her movie as going up to the Crow's Nest on her graduation day. She has a smile as she's stepping up the ladder and opens the door as a symbol of her confidence that she could successfully go on to college. Her mother is cheering her on during this moment in her life. In her book The Way I see it, Dr. Grandin says that praise from parents and teachers for tangible major accomplishments like graduations or completing large assignments or projects helps boost the self-esteem of children on the autism spectrum. 

Looking back on that day two years ago, I faced great fear of uncertainty rather than high expectations on my graduation day. Instead of climbing up to some sort of "crow's nest", I was in a basement after a good long cry. According to her movie and her books, it seems like Dr. Grandin knew she had talent to offer to the world and was ready to go on to the next step with the support of her mother and Mr. Carlock her teacher. I wonder if Dr. Grandin draws on this love and support she initially felt whenever she speaks at current graduations or remembers her own. 
    Yet though my own memories of graduation bring back a degree of sadness and fear, I can still draw on the love and support of my discipleship team. Knowing they were there for me that night in the basement of the Quad to support me gave me a glimmer of courage amidst my anxiety and sadness to trust God with the next chapter of my life. 

Monday, May 09, 2011

An Explosion of our Thoughts

I have more empathy for Dr. Grandin's co-authors and other staff than I did this morning. Today I typed up some notes from one of her lectures to give to a teacher who works with a vocational training program in a high school here in Fort Collins. 

I didn't realize how much she jumped around in her lecture - even though she had a slide show - until I started organizing her points into main categories. Oh man... It wasn't impossible, but I did have to work on it. 

Seeing her thought process through my notes made me smile. Though I am not a purely visual thinker like she is, I had problems organizing my thoughts. I would write essays that had good content, but the organization was terrible. Getting yelled at to make sense only made trying to organize my thoughts even harder. I would get scared that what I was saying or writing didn't make sense, and the impossibleness of the task was affirmed if I was yelled at. 

Over time I learned how to write an outline and I saw how others organized their thoughts through reading books. Noting how authors described things and transitioned scenes or ideas gave me a template on how to organize my thoughts. I progressed in my writing as I went through school with the help of teachers who helped me in this area as well as encouraged me to express my ideas in writing. 

Now to tie this in to Dr. Grandin's writing: I only know her through books and lectures. I see the progression in her writing as she has improved in organizing her thoughts. I am grateful that she never got yelled at (as far as I know) for not organizing something perfectly and she had tremendous support from her staff and other writers as she began her writing career. Her brain is an explosion of thoughts - of amazing images. She has others help her piece together into a coherent whole she can present to the world. 

I have had that support through my latter years of high school and throughout my years at CSU. My mind can still be an explosion of thoughts, but I am learning how to put them into a coherent whole as well. Through this process, I hope to share what God has done with my life to reveal the hope He has to offer to individuals in a broken world. 

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Truth, Logic, and my Emotional Connection to God

I have always had a physical reaction to music. Mom has stories of how I could clap in time to the music on Sesame Street and how I would move my body to music when I played the piano. Therefore, it was easy to take that reaction and be able to worship with my whole being. People always comment at how I'm always moving during the music part of church.

However, the emotional connection with God came gradually. Even during The Rock, I danced around and stuff mostly to blend in at the beginning. When people got really passionate and emotional during prayer, I didn't get it at first. It might seem odd to people who know me now, but it's a process.

Here is the process:

Much of my early Christian development was focused on learning about God. I first had to learn about God as Creator. This is the most tangible example of how my emotion process to worship worked, so I'll use this as an example. I first had to learn that He was Creator. This meant that I had to learn about why evolutionary theory didn't work and why the idea of an intelligent designer made sense. This was logic.

The next thing that happened was experience. As I went through my biology classes, I saw the complexity of the cell and organ systems in the human body, I realized that an intelligent agent was behind it. This reinforced the logic. I could see and experience it.

Once I was convinced logically and experientially that God was Creator, I felt happy. Someone made me. Therefore someone cares for me. I am not alone. Someone made this world and made it to make sense, therefore, curiosity about the world glorifies Him!!!!!! That excited me because I enjoyed learning about His world anyway :) Then the happiness and 'eeks' flowed out!!!!! When we at The Rock first sang a song that I recognized as a song to our Creator, I went up front. I was a little nervous because I knew it was going to be loud, but I just felt like I had to jump around and praise God as Creator because I finally realized He was Creator and He showed me - He graciously showed me even though I denied it to His face for so long.

I believe God had to teach me physical foundational truths of His presence and how He addresses the larger problem of evil and sin before He began teaching me more about how to have a relationship with Him. Getting concepts about Him as Creator and learning apologetic tools to explain His existence to others tapped into my intellectual side. I got excited about those things first.

However, having a relationship with a largely abstract Person was different. I would see my friends cry at a prayer meeting because they "were feeling their hearts drawn toward Jesus" or longing for Him. I could understand crying for a friend in a biology class that needed to know Jesus because I could see the inconsistency of studying God's intricate creation of the cell and not acknowledging Him for it.

I only really started to get it after my sophomore year of college when I realized that The Lord's prayer started out: Our Father. Somehow God was a parent to us. Back to logic. As I saw in the Bible of how God cares for us, guides us, has rules for us, comforts us, gives us strength and encouragement, I realized those are all things that competent parents do for their children. Trust formed out of that and I would ask Him for simple things. Seeing tangible answers to prayer like having little circumstances work out built that trust and thus reinforced my praying. After trust and that experience that was built on logic finally allowed me to feel God's love.

Why do I draw out this diagram and explain things the way I do to break down my thought processes around my emotional connection to God? Because Dr. Grandin says that she doesn't feel the same awe toward God or scenery He's made like other people due to her autism. That made me wonder for a long time if a lot of my reactions were contrived in an attempt to be neurotypical - especially before I knew I was on the autism spectrum.

Yet I know I have an attachment relationship with God. Recently I read an article about adults with high-functioning autism / Aspergers Syndrome / PPD-NOS who completed the Adult Attachment Interview. They were able to be classified in the usual way and came out with a variety of attachment patterns. Therefore people with autism can form connections to people. Dr. Grandin talks about her mother and Mr. Carlock a lot and I can see from her history that she trusted them growing up and saw them as attachment figures. Therefore logically, I know it is possible for me to have an attachment relationship of some sort with God as He is indeed a personal God. An all-knowing Creator who wants to connect with me will do it taking into consideration on how specifically my ASD affects me because He knows how it does. He knows exactly how my DNA is sequenced and how that affected my brain. That just makes logical sense. I came back to that when I was asking myself if my emotional connection was real.

I realized that I needed more of a logical / intellectual base to have that initial emotional reaction, but once I did and my intellect was convinced of the truths about who God is, the emotion I feel toward Him is indeed real.