When I went with my family on an inner-city mission trip two years ago, I’d like to think it was because I am uber-spiritual and occasionally walk on water (when no one is looking). But the truth is, I was afraid. On the morning our bus pulled out of the church parking lot, I pleaded with God to overcome my fear, hoping for a heavenly hammer to smash through the challenges that inevitably seem to go hand-in-hand with ASD.
Maybe there would be no meltdowns, no debilitating anxiety attacks, and no uncomfortable glances from confused, fellow church-mates? (Insert Kelli dreaming wistfully here.) Maybe a struggle-free experience would provide the relational and spiritual growth spurt I wanted for my three teens?
Apparently, God had other plans. He did not take away my phobias or create a miraculously smooth, Kumbayah experience worthy of Reader’s Digest. In fact, it was the hardest 6 days of my life. But, God did something much quieter and much better than I could have hoped or dreamed. He turned our weakness into His strength.
Roger was the manager of our work team, an authoritative high school principal for an award-winning suburban school. He was kind, but also determined to keep a tight schedule to finish renovating a former hoarder’s house on Chicago’s south side.
We were working hard (but behind schedule) in 110-degree record-breaking heat on our last day when my oldest son was dropped off at my work site. Instantly, I knew John was in trouble. He had endured five days of 24/7 autism-induced stress and he was emotionally exhausted. He could no longer focus. He couldn’t do the work.
I went to Roger to explain why my 18-year-old son was struggling to participate, knowing I sounded like every school administrator’s nightmare: the excuse-laden helicopter parent. He paused to mop the sweat trickling down his neck, said he understood, and returned his handkerchief into his back jean pocket. But I knew that look. Frustration. Disbelief.
I walked back to the empty bedroom where John sat on the floor in the stifling heat. Surrounded by half-empty paint cans, plastic sheets and discarded tools, his head was down and his knees were drawn up to his chest. What could he think of to help the team his way, I asked him, hoping to redirect his thoughts.
Moments later, he had an answer. John approached Roger holding up an ice-cold bottle of water to the principal perched on a ladder. With a smile in his voice John asked, “Would you like some water?” Roger paused, clearly surprised by John’s initiative, and then he smiled broadly back at my son and set down his brush to take a much-needed break.
“Would anyone else like some water?” John repeated more loudly, and a chorus of voices from all over the house replied with enthusiasm.
That night, when our youth pastor stood, lifting up a hammer to signal it was “hammer time” to recognize those who had shined brightest and worked hardest that day, the group’s chatter subsided into silence. Roger stood up, reached for the hammer, and said, “I’d like to recognize John Anderson tonight.”
My eyes darted to the vacant seat next to mine. John had already left the room in search of a quiet place to de-stress. He was about to miss a special moment.
“As most of you probably know, painting isn’t really John’s thing,” Roger continued. (A quiet laugh rippled around the room.) “But let me tell you what is. This afternoon I was hot, sweaty, dirty and angry at the thought we might not finish the renovation on time. I had lost perspective. I forgot our mission is about people more than deadlines. But John saw something I didn’t; He saw our need and went around the house to give us all bottles of ice-cold water followed by ice cream bars and a much-needed laugh. God used John to remind me what this mission trip is about: people. So, John, this hammer is for you.”
I wish John could have heard Roger’s words. I wish he could have heard our team’s applause in agreement. But he didn’t need to. God had already blessed John in ways I couldn’t imagine—he was baptized that summer because of an autism-related experience on that trip.
But God blessed the rest of us, too. For six difficult days He gently nudged and tapped at the hairline cracks of hearts and minds to reveal an important truth: all God’s children have gifts to share and a role to play in the Body of Christ. God has gifted each of us and calls us by name to celebrate. It’s hammer time.
–“…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph 4:15,16) ESV
–Kelli Ra Anderson, author of Divine Duct Tape
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