I could have been Kennedy.

Yesterday, while the entire nation was mourning the loss of 9 people who were senselessly killed in a church in Charleston, there was another tragedy that flew under the radar. A smaller story about a young 16 year old kid named Kennedy LeRoy who was bullied at his high school because he was different, because he had Aspergers Syndrome. He killed himself while he was alone in his room a week ago today because of depression and because of the torment that he experienced at his school. I don’t blame you if you didn’t hear about this story, I wouldn’t have heard about it myself except I saw a blurb on my Facebook feed about it from Autism Speaks. It immediately hit me right in the gut because, that very well could have been me in that story. I could have been Kennedy.

I didn’t get bullied until I entered 1st grade, but after that bullying was a pretty regular occurrence in my life. I can remember being followed by groups of kids and laughed at, they would chase me on the playground, trip me up, surround me.

I remember being in second grade and using the restroom in my school, I would go into a stall to urinate as I didn’t like being crowded and some kids were trying to get into the stall to make fun at me. While trying to keep them out the stall ended up being rammed right into my forehead using a huge bruise which I can still vividly remember seeing. I wouldn’t use public restrooms for a long time after that, holding in my need to go until the point of pain so that I would not be abused.

I remember a girl publicly asking me out one day just so that she could publicly dump me several hours later, all of the girls would laugh and snicker at me for the rest of the day making sure I knew that she wasn’t ever really my girlfriend, I was 10.

There was a school dance and 2 of the ‘cool’ kids told me to come behind the bleachers because they had a secret to tell me. I willingly went, happy to be accepted by kids that were obviously cooler than me. While the first kid leaned in to tell me the ‘secret’ the other kid snuck behind me and put me in a choke hold. I couldn’t breathe and struggle to fight him off but they ran off before I could really do anything.

I accidentally backed my chain into a kid once who proceeded to push me around violently. I remember being scared to even tell the principal about this for fear that I would get suspended for fighting even though I didn’t fight back.

Kids would hide behind doors waiting for me to walk pass, they would call me names. Once in six grade several kids signed my yearbook with sexually explicit messages, asking if I ever had wet dreams, wondering when I would have sex, someone even told me ton get a sex change. My mom went through the year book with white out erasing those messages from the book but not from my mind.

In high school I had kids who were supposedly my ‘friends’ who would prank call my home all hours of the night. I would get teased for not showering, I would get teased for being fat, it finally got to the point that, just like Kennedy I would sit alone in my room for hours on end just listening to music, wondering why it was so hard for me to make friends. Wanting nothing more than to be accepted for who I was.

I barely survived High School, I don’t know how I did, I am surprised that I didn’t end up like Kennedy and others that I have heard of. I guess having the few friends that I did was enough to get me by but school was hell and I am glad I never have to relive those days. Being an adult is easy compared to the nightmare I went through.

I do not share all of this, many of which I’ve never publicly given details about, to make you feel sorry for me. I share it so that maybe after reading this you’ll want to become more involved with what is going on at your children’s school, does your kid know who the bully’s are? Are you kids being bullied by them? Are your kids the bullies? The more we know, the more information that comes to light, the safer are schools are going to be. Most bullies have issues of their own, I’ve learned this by talking to some of my own bullies as we’ve gotten older, I’ve learned a lot, many of my bullies were suffering some form of abuse at home, being aggressive at school was how the handled it. Is that an excuse for their behavior? No but it does explain a lot, the problem goes even deeper than we think, if we as a community can help get kids safe maybe, just maybe, there will be less bullying at school. Maybe someday we will not have to read about kids like Kennedy LeRoy in the past tense, we can read about the amazing things they are doing in their lives. One more suicide because of bullying is one too many. What are you going to do to help stop it?

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It’s ‘just’ anxiety

On the Sunday before last I had a wonderful opportunity to preach at my church. Usually I only get this chance once a year but this last year I have now had the chance to do it twice. I’ve been working on my sermon for a few weeks and was really excited to deliver the finished piece. It all started normally enough but right in the middle of speaking on the sinlessness of Jesus, that’s when it hit me.

A horrible anxiety attack

Panic

My chest was tight, I had tingling in my hands, I was getting dizzy, I was breathing heavy, I could not drink enough water my mouth was so dry I wasn’t sure if I was going to pass out, die or run but I knew I had to do something.

Just a week before that I was in the ER at the hospital just down the road, again, for similar symptoms. The ER thought I was well enough to send home.

See I get these panic attacks from time to time, I can go months, even years sometimes without having one and then I can have 2 or 3 in one day.

You’d think I’d have gotten used to them and I guess in a way I have but when you totally feel like death warmed over it is hard to convince yourself that what  you are fighting is all in your head.

Or as the Doctors like to say “Oh, it’s just anxiety”.

I was diagnosed as having Generalized Anxiety Disorder back in 2008, when I was 30 years old. You have to have chronic anxiety symptoms for over 6 months to be diagnosed I went an entire year.

I spent a couple years on medication and never really liked it. Since coming off drugs 4 years ago I’ve gone back and forth with the anxiety. SOme days, weeks, months are good and some not so much.

Lately my life has been in the not so much catagory.

I’ve had some major stress in my life, my dad got a diagnosis of kidney cancer and he had to have a kidney removed and well that sent me on the latest spiral.

Since my fears always center around my heart health(because I’m fat) I recently went to a cardiologist and was reassured that, once again, it was JUST anxiety.

You hear that a lot when you have anxiety as a mental disorder.

Oh you’re fine you’re just anxious

It’s just anxiety

It’s just your nerves it won’t kill you.

Yes they’re right to a point, panic attacks and generalized anxiety have yet to kill anyone but it’s still very flippant to dismiss the disorder as simply being just anxiety

It was just anxiety that led me to leaving my band a year ago. There were other reasons but the panic attacks and feelings of dread I was having due to the confrontations and stress that I was having in that band were making it difficult to function much les stay in the band.

It was just anxiety that has stopped me from working out as much and as hard as I once was, and let me tell you what I miss it I really do but when a mile walk gets you feeling dizzy it’s really hard to enjoy yourself.

It’s just anxiety that has stopped me from going out and doing things I used to love doing like seeing shows and doing karaoke.

It’s just anxiety that is making someone who has always ad a fairly active social life become much more of a homebody than I ever thought I’d be.

Anxiety disorders may not kill you but they will rob you of your joy. They’ll stop you from doing things you love to do, they will keep you at home, they will make you scared to death to take risks and chances. They hurt your mind, body and soul. I feel chronic pain of one kind or another every single day, the types of pain that a guy my age should not be feeling and I’ve been dealing witch that for the last 6, almost 7 years.

At least a couple times a week I get to feeling so dizzy and foggy headed I wonder if I am going to fall over. My life is changing and a lotm of it is because of the anxiety I deal with.

I keep waiting to get better, keep waiting for the day that will come that I’ll be able to do things I used to do and enjoy them without fear again but those days seem very far away. If I take medication I’m weak and I have to deal with ridiculous side effects but if I don’t than I have days when I feel pretty miserable and I spent a lot of my time wondering just what the hell is wrong with me.

My church, my wonderful church was so amazing and encouraging after I melted down in front of them last week. They have even told m that the sermon was good, but trust me it wasn’t. It was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had, I’d be surprised if they asked me to do it again.

My hope and prayer is that anxiety will just be something that I can grow out of. My fear is I never will and someday, sooner rather than later, it will make me be a shell of who God really wanted me to be.

Somewhere between what I hope and what I fear is the reality that life is going really fast and I feel like I’m being run over by it. That’s a but the best way to describe it.

The Autism problem

I find that I am not really proud of my autism nor am I ashamed of it. It is what it is I can no more be proud of ashamed of it as I can be proud or ashamed that my eyes are blue or that I am as tall as I am. To put too much stock in these things seems silly. Having said that though there are days I wsh I wasn’t autistic.

I’ve had a problem for most of my life, the problem is I don’t really feel like I am really living and by that what I mean is I don’t really feel like I am getting the most I can out of this life. I feel this way because of the way that anxiety has deeply affected how I approach life. I feel that if I didn’t have autism than I would not be as anxious as I am now. I could be wrong I suppose, I could have a brain that functions in typical ways and still have deeply rooted anxiety but sometimes I wonder if my brain would handle the anxiety differently.

I fixate on everything. Music, food, sex, God, status, money, death, everything. I can’t just causally think about something and then let it go I fixate on it to the point that it can drive me insane, but more than all the others the thing I fixate on the most is death. I fixate so much on death that most of the others things I do in life are done to try to fight the anxiety I feel about my own demise.

Last night I wrote a status on FB talking about my frustrations with my lack of weight loss lately. I admitted that when it came right down to it what I was really fighting was the fear that I was going to die from a heart attack, specifically it comes down to dying young from a heart attack. I feel as if I have family history nipping at my heels, my moms dad, my grandfather whom I never met, died when he was only 45 years old, by that time he had already had 3 heart attacks.

I just turned 36, every year on my birthday I say the same thing. I am one step closer to my goal of being an old fart. It’s tongue in cheek but it also comes from a place of fear, I really get scared sometimes that I will die before ‘my time’ whenever that might actually be. I want to live to be old but then again being old has it’s own list of issues. What I really want is immortality, to never have to go through the process of dying.

As I sit here typing this my back and chest feel tight, this is not a new sensation, it’s nothing that I haven’t felt dozens upon dozens of times before. It is something that has caused me to call EMTs and travel to emergency rooms before but because I have an understanding of what it is I sit here and just deal with it. I am not having a heart attack, yet the fear remains

I cannot remember a single day when the thought of whether or not I would die didn’t enter my mind. Seriously, as far back as I can remember, way back inm childhood at least once per day(but usuaully much much more) I have wondered if I was going to die that day. Sometimes I’ve actually felt as if I really was dying that very moment.

This is your brain

This is autism

This is your brain on autism

Any questions?

Yes, yes I have a question.

Could I have just one single day when I don’t feel as if my stupid autistic brain isn’t trying to beat me into submission? Can I have one day when I don’t worry as to whether or not I am going to die? Could I experience what life would be like if I didn’t have anxiety? If I just lived in the trust that my God has it all under his control no matter what I feel or experience? Just one stupid day where I don’t dance the dance of whether or not my symptoms are bad enough that I should go see a Dr or go to a hospital? It’s much easier to trust God when you aren’t scared for your very life? Could I have this without medicating myself? I am not even asking for my aches and pain to go away I’ll take them but can aches and pains please just be aches and pains and not send me into a proverbial tailspin?

So yeah I’m not proud of being an autistic person. I’m just a misfit who’s trying his best to get through life. SO far I’ve done ok but someday I’ll fail, I just hope it’s not today.

Tomorrow I’ll hope the exact same thing.

 

Safe within the ark

No matter your background, your past or current religious affiliation we all know the story of Noah’s Ark. Humans finally mess up to the point that God regrets making them so he sends rain onto the earth for a full 40 days destroying everything that he had made and killing everyone and everything in the process. Everyone except of course for one man and his family named Noah. God loves Noah because he walked his entire life with God, he treated God as if he were a close friend and when the rest of the world turned away he turned towards him and God rewarded him by giving him an escape plan from the coming destruction. He instructed him to build an ark that would save him, his family, and 2 of every ‘kind’ of animal. He gave specific instructions as to the dimensions of this ark and Noah followed the directions to a T. The rains came and Noah and his family survived because of the grace of Gods grace towards them.

We all know the story, did it actually happen? Who knows, I am not concerned about that, what I love is the truth found within the story. It’s a truth that I can hold onto even now. It’s a truth that before, when I heard the story as a kid I didn’t latch onto but now as a man with the history that I have I can.

The story is that life with God is much sweeter than life without, because no matter what happens in this life you’re always safe in the ark.

Now what exactly is that safety? Does that mean that life is always going to go my way? I don’t believe so, do you think life always went Noah’s way? Do you think that he felt safe following instructions from an invisible God that he couldn’t see? Building a boat while on lookers mocked him and laughed? The story says they stayed in that ark for over 100 days, I doubt that felt safe. No dry land, no food save for what they were able to gather before the floods came, I’d probably wonder if I’d end up dying on that ark.

Kind of like how life is when living with autism and an anxiety disorder

Life is not safe, I know this as well as anyone but there something beautiful that happens when you are safe within the ark of Christ. It doesn’t matter what happens.

For the last year I have dealt with one ailment after another. I’ve had unexplained dizziness, I have had chronic shoulder pain that comes goes but never fully goes away. I have had digestive issues and panic attacks and good ole fashioned generalized anxiety. I have had allergies so bad that it feels like I swallowed a golf ball. Some days are better than others but I don’t feel all that great. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been noticing knee and hip pain. less than 2 weeks before my 36th birthday and I feel as if I am literally falling apart.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because it is so much better than it used to be.

Back in my 20’s I didn’t feel like I had any major ailments. I was carrying 360 lbs on my bones, ate whatever I wanted to, drank whatever I wanted to, I gave into my every hedonistic desire and drank deeply from the cup of pleasure. It is probably because of some of the escapades that I am dealing with some of the things I am dealing with now. You can’t treat your body like a garbage disposal and expect it to hold out forever. But back in my 20’s I felt restless and fearful and disconnected and angry and unsafe. I felt like there was nothing to live for save pleasure, there was nothing real, there was only every individual moment. I had less pain but more angst.

If I had to choose between living free of pain but also free of God or the life I have right now with the ailments I’m dealing with but also with the peace of knowing God I’d choose this life every single time. It doesn’t even compare. It doesn’t matter what happens, I could lose my house, my job, life could fall apart all around me, I could even drop dead but it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter

I am safe within the ark

Jesus will see me through every trial, right on through till he calls me home.

Nothing that this world could offer me compares.

Confession: Writing about me

I have a confession I would like to make. This might seem like a strange thing to admit but I am hoping that it will make sense. I have the hardest time writing about myself. I love writing but I mostly like sharing my views and opinions on things. That style of writing seems to come easy to me albeit the way that I write can sometimes come off as a little stiff. It’s comfortable for me, it’s something I can easily slip into. But when I write those posts, most of which I am fairly proud of I don’t get a lot of readership. Time and again I have asked you guys what you want to read about and time and again the answer is almost uniformly the same. You want me to write about myself. You guys want to see posts about what it’s like to be me and go through the day to day of being me, dealing with the things I deal with. ‘

The problem is I am not that good at writing about that.

I see most day to day life as pretty mundane, and I find a hard time making that interesting. I wake up, I come to work, I work, I go home, I hang out with my wife, I go to sleep. Sometimes there is a band practice throw in or I have something going on at church but it’s pretty basic stuff. I have a hard time making that stuff seem interesting but that’s what my readers want to read.

I think another reason I have trouble writing about myself is because my internal life, the world of my fears and dreams, is pretty messy. It’s comforting to try and put some distance between that side of myself and you, my reader. Over the years of keeping a blog I’ve shared some pretty private thoughts and I’ve regretted some of the struggles that I have shared. But on the flip side of that when I do share some of the messy parts of my life I ultimately end up helping someone. I guess it’s true that it helps to know that you are not alone in the things that you are dealing with.

I recently had the chance to preach to my family at The Village Church and my sermon was about something that is all to real to me, anxiety. As someone with autism and an anxiety disorder some level of anxiety is present in my life on a daily basis. I was candid about my issues and I was just as candid in how I feel God has address those issues in my life. It was hard to share some of that stuff but in the end my comfort wasn’t what was important what was important was that people had a real encounter with the holy spirit while I spoke and that hearts were led to repentance. If the holy spirit can used my messy life to change other peoples lives than the sacrifice of comfort is worth it every time.

So perhaps I need to work even more diligently at being more personal on  my blog, to not only share the things that I think about but to share the real and honest story of my life. The good and bad stuff. That seems to be what people want to read and that also seems to be the words that God uses to encounter others. I will try and do better at this in the future.

My season of solitude

I just want to warn you up front, this blog post might be long. I feel like I have a lot of ground to cover and I want to make sure I cover all of my bases. I would encourage you to read the whole thing though.

I last updated this blog at the end of January, just over 2 months ago. The last time I wrote it was only the 4th entry I’ve shared on this new blog after deleting the old one while in the midst of the worst emotional crash I had experienced in years. On January 31st when I last wrote I was hurting, I was broken, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with life and I wasn’t sure who I was as a Christian, I was not entirely sure I knew how to hear God’s voice and I seriously considered stepping down from the leadership team at my church.

The last time I wrote on this blog I spoke about idols that I was creating in my life. I admitted that I had many, I wrote that after watching a sermon by Tim Keller called Counterfeit Gods. Listening to that sermon stirred something in me, something important, something life giving. It was time to make some much needed changes in my life but instead of setting out to do a bunch of work what I really felt was a call to come into a place of rest. More importantly a place of solitude.

In Hosea 2, God, through the prophet Hosea speaks of leading Israel(using the image of a woman) into the desert.

14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond[c] as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

16 “In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.

So as we approached Lent, I felt a need to come away. To step away from some of the things of this world that were trapping my attention and to create some space in my life where I could hear God. To not suppose beforehand what he may or may not say but to wait expectantly for his words and to have faith that they would come. At first I wasn’t entirely sure as to what this would look like but I knew that social media(Facebook, twitter, blogging etc) was one of the things that really held a grip on me so it was only natural that that was the first branch to throw in the fire. Listening to music during my commutes to and from work was also a natural place to create space. I wasn’t sure what this would look like but I started on Ash Wednesday and I can say without reservation that God indeed showed up.

What also showed up though was a metric ton of anxiety, which I didn’t really expect but more about that in a bit.

I spent a lot of my time in reflection, prayer, reading and listening to sermons. I started with Brennon Manning and I read Abba Father all the way through. It was in those pages that I heard God speaking. He told me that not only did he love me, not only did he care for me but he also liked me. He was fond of me. He enjoyed me and loved seeing me joyous. This was a major breakthrough for me I’ve never felt I had a deep relationship with The Father, I never felt like I was good enough. For someone who speaks an awful lot about grace I began to see exactly what that rich grace was and how it plays out in my own life.

I also(and this will surprise some) have been following the latest sermon series at Mars Hill which is all about our identity in Christ. I began to understand that God is not only the God I read about in the bible, nor is he only the God that I will meet someday in heaven but he is the God of my present circumstance. In the book Practicing the Presence of God Brother Lawrence talks about knowing God in ALL things, not only the times of prayer and worship but in the mundane tasks of life. That at all times he was in the presence of God and he could rest in that presence. I too have been seeing this in my own life more and more.

I was given a book by my therapist called Celebration off Discipline by Richard Foster. There was a lot to unpack from this book but the things that really spoke to me were the discipline of simplicity, to not be so occupied with stuff and prestige and also the discipline off celebration which spoke to great length about joy which I have come to learn is not the same thing as happiness.  I, like I am sure many others, have thought that you can know that Christ loves you by how well your life is going. That’s not where peace and joy come from, what I have learned is that when focusing on Jesus and drawing near to him that peace he gives you can help you through anything,

The best teacher for that type of peace, at least for me was anxiety.  Through this fast I’ve fought on and off with some pretty debilitating anxiety. It;s interesting how it comes up when you are working on spiritual disciplines but I believe it bubbled to the surface because it was something that Jesus wanted to address. I have come to recognize that my anxiety, even the most debilitating forms of it, isn’t the enemy I’ve once believed it to be but it is rather a signpost, a red flag simply letting me know that my focus is in the wrong place. Once I remember that the anxious thoughts and panic subside.

Through this fast I have grown in spiritual maturity, I have also found a deep rooted peace that I have never understood before. It’s something that I have looked for all of my life and I have never found it until now. I’ve traveled many roads and tasted many flavors of philosophy and religion,  I have drank deeply from the cup of hedonism and nothing has ever given the peace that I sought.

I learned about Buddhism and it gave me no peace.

I studied science and it provided no peace

I studied near death experiences and new though philosophy.

I’ve read Jung and Campbell and neither could provide a rest from my anxiety

Self help books were no good, Zen Meditation did nothing

Even studying Christianity gave me no peace. The only thing that has provided me relief from my deepest darkest anxieties about my own broken life and this messed up sin filled world was Jesus. Drawing near him, sitting in his presence, admitting my fears and hearing his still small voice declare to me

“I love you, but not only do I love you but I LIKE you, I am FOND of you.”

And if you’re not yet a Christian, or if you are but you have never rested in the presence of Jesus and heard him declare this to you than all I can tell you is you’re missing out. There is NOTHING LIKE the peace of God in this world. Nothing that this life can offer you can sustain you or fill you like that. Not fame, fortune, not a good job or great music or good food or strong drink. Not video games or sex or a spouse or even having your own kids. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, there is nothing wrong with enjoying those things, but they will not provide lasting peace. Only Jesus can do that.