Of Nieces, Grandnieces, and How Not to be a Jerk to People

According to the Autism society website (http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/facts-and-statistics.html), I percent of children in the U.S. from age 3-17 have an autism spectrum disorder. The prevalence is estimated at 1 in 88 births. It is estimated that 1 to 1.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism also appears to be the fastest growing developmental disability.

No, it is not a contest, and I only mention statistics at all to draw attention to the fact that autism isn’t in the closet anymore. I have done only a small amount of research, and by no means do I profess any extensive knowledge about any disorders in the autism spectrum. It just alarms me how…common autism now seems to be and I wish desperately there was something we could, as a society, do about it. That may not be the immediate case, but what we can do is be aware of the fact that we’re talking about people who have the right to be treated like anyone else. 

The website I mentioned above has a lot of good information about what is going on, as does http://www.autismspeaks.org, and I highly recommend taking a look at either or both of those sites if you want to know more about specifics.

What I wanted to talk about today is people. I read just yesterday an open letter that a restaurant manager posted to the parents of an autistic girl that had taken her to the restaurant that he was the manager of. Apparently, some people had complained about the noises the young lady was making, and had expected the manager to move the family somewhere else, and from the way the manager described it, it looked as if the family of the autistic girl did, too. He didn’t, though, and instead treated the family with dignity and respect, and ended up giving the girl a high 5 instead of moving her.

It made me think of how difficult it must be for the parents of autistic children to take their kids out in public. Not because of the kids being embarrassing (they’re not), or even because they might cause a disturbance (sometimes they do), but because when they do, they often have to deal with not just sideways glances, but outright hostility from people who have no idea what the situation feels like. Often, the child in question is the size and strength of an adult, which makes can make things even more untenable every once in a while.

No, I do not have autistic children, so I don’t really know either. Yet I believe I do have at least some inkling, because of my niece.

She is ridiculously smart, and is a great daughter to my sister as well as mother of a autistic child, who is, I believe, almost entirely non-verbal, and from the time I have spent with her, seems to have some occasional trouble interacting with people socially (so do I, for what that’s worth). I do not know my great-niece very well now (she is a teenager), but I remember one particular interaction that sticks in my mind from when she was much younger. I was attending my niece’s college graduation from SDSU, and her boyfriend and I were standing on either side of my great-niece. She was (and is) this completely adorable little girl with startlingly beautiful eyes. She looked up at me, and she looked up at her father, and she reached up with both hands for us to swing her, which we did. We swung her until she started to get heavy, and we watched my niece graduate. I know it isn’t much, but I still treasure that memory. Sadly, my niece’s former boyfriend passed away suddenly just a few short years ago, which left my niece the single mother of a profoundly autistic daughter.

A word or two about my niece. We grew up together (she is 5 years younger than me), and she was always more like a little sister than anything else. I remember many family trips to Disneyland, and vacations, and sometimes just spent watching TV and talking about books. I always loved her company, and I believe I still would if we but lived a little closer than almost 200 miles away.

Over the years, I witnessed and sometimes just heard about the various problems which arise with any child, but are especially difficult for the parent of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. My niece has borne everything that comes her way with remarkable strength and resiliency—some of which I believe comes from the wonderful mother my sister was (and is).

Most of it, though, is I believe all her. She is truly a hero to me, and even though I don’t see her or her daughter or my sisters as much as I’d like, I love them very much and think about them and pray for them often. My great-niece is now a high-schooler and my niece is understandably proud of her daughter’s accomplishments. She should be—Ashley has come a very long way, which she would not have been able to do had my niece given up on her like so many parents do. She’s grown into a happy and beautiful young woman, who loves her mom, and her grandma, music, and trips to Disneyland. She also shares my passionate love for nachos, and she is not afraid to let you know what she likes and does not like.

I mention them personally only because people need to know that every autistic child they see is a person just like they are, with a family behind them just like theirs. They enjoy things, and do not enjoy others. They may have difficulty expressing and controlling their impulses to do things at times, but they deserve a little compassion and understanding because they are trying, and so are their parents. So when you see a parent or parents some place who is struggling with their child, instead of complaining to anyone, maybe just think about it for a second, and then buy them a dessert or something.

They need a break, just like you do.

The Story You Should Tell

Bill Nye, the “Science Guy” is going to debate Ken Ham, the founder of the creationist museum regarding evolution versus creation. Cool. I read that tickets to this debate sold out in a matter of minutes. Understandable–it will probably be very interesting and informative.

I’m sure I should probably be all over this, in a manner of speaking. As a person of faith, I should support my “guy” in this debate, and ideologically, I do.

I am just not certain this kind of forum will win anyone for the kingdom. Allow me to explain.

I don’t believe that any Christian–no matter how eloquent or erudite–would be able to convince anyone who did not believe of anything through open debate. This is for a couple of reasons. One would be that people who profess a strong “faith” in science are typically very condescending toward people who do not, and who believe in a loving and living God, and clearly feel very much intellectually superior to them. These people are, generally speaking, not open to any ideas other than their own. It’s just the truth.

I just feel like more people would come to know Jesus from your story and a couple hours at a coffee shop than from two men standing behind podiums and talking about what they believe, and very probably arguing with each other about something that grows from the heart and not the brain.

I’m not going to try and convince anyone that God is real and sent his son as propitiation for their sins because I can’t do that. God can and will do the convincing, if and when people are open to him.

All I can tell you is that I believe, and why.

It’s because I spent most of my adult life thinking I was more or less alone in the world. That my brokenness (which existed in every possible way) was what made me who I was, and how I identified. It was the cause for my many and various addictions over the course of my life, which also lent me my only value to the world–which was as a consumer of lots of things that were very bad for me. What difference did it make, after all? My parents were both dead by the time I was 18. A good friend had killed himself less than a quarter mile from my bedroom. And I more or less had no idea at all how to be an adult–a man.

Yet even then a very dim light shone into my life in the form of friends who believed–in God and in me–when I clearly did not myself. They never really preached to me, but also never gave up on me. And that light that shone into my life began to brighten. I began to see myself as my friends saw me. And eventually, as God saw me. That is what finally did the convincing.

And so it came to pass that in 2000, when I was 32, I arrived at a place where I knew something had to change or I was going to eventually die. It might be slow, but it was going to happen. I was at what an addict (which I was, to many things) might call the bottom. I cried out to God because it felt like he was the only one left who might listen to me, or care what I say.

I found out that was true. Over time, he began to repair the broken places in me and my life. Healing became more than the abstract that God himself used to be. It’s hard to explain the details, because they did not happen all at once. It was really more like learning how to walk. I staggered at first. I took small steps, and I fell down all the time.


There was now a hand–hands, really–that reached down to help me up. I realized that I wasn’t alone, and never had been. The well of darkness down the center of me had been replaced with light.

I believe in God, and in Jesus, because of the way I feel now versus the way I felt before. It’s as simple as that, for me. There’s a Lecrae song called “Tell The World” where he says, you cleaned up my soul and left me life so brand new, and that’s all that matters.”

That’s really how it is for me. It’s really something to make something as gross and dirty as I was feel clean. That feeling convinced me, not a debate I had with anyone, or that I heard.

So I don’t know if anyone will “win” this debate today.

I just want to tell you that your story is waiting to be heard. Tell it.

Stop Being So Sensitive, People. You’re Not From Here, Either

If I were going to be offended by a commercial advertising a product, it would likely not be this one:

Lots of people have their panties in a bunch because the people in the video are singing the song “America The Beautiful” in several languages other than English. After reading some comments on a Yahoo news article, I’m convinced that the only thing more common in some parts of the country than English is ignorance. Read them for yourself:

Coca-Cola Super Bowl Ad Stirs Controversy With Multilingual Singing Of ‘America The Beautiful’

It doesn’t bother me that people are singing “America the Beautiful” in languages other than English. Why not? Because they are still singing “AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL.”

But English is the official language of ‘merica, you say.

Is it? Perhaps, but not the original one. Take your pick there. Iroquois. Lakota. Cheyenne, et al.

Yet while there are clearly more people who speak English here than do not (as English is also likely the most used language for commerce, both international and domestic), it seems silly to lose sight of the fact that it’s a Coke commercial that seems to reinforce the fact that America is great. So great that people want to sing our second most popular national song in tons of different languages. I think that’s pretty cool. And the commercial is beautifully done. Listen, folks. America is a quilt, not a blanket. The beauty of it is in the patchwork, which is made up of many different fabrics, and textures, and cultures.

And anyway, if you want to talk about an offensive commercial, take a look at this one:

…and Doritos are actually not even that good…