Autism Connection

Sometimes I feel a bit awkward during church Meet and Greet time, especially when I’m a visitor. But I decided to boldly venture two rows away and shake hands with a young mom. Then I smiled at her daughter; she may have been twelve or so. She didn’t smile back but looked intently into my eyes. I gently touched her painted shell necklace and complimented its vibrant colors. She didn’t speak and watched closely as I returned to my seat.

Throughout the service this dark-eyed girl turned to look at me. I’d smile each time she did. She gingerly fingered her necklace. Sometimes she’d put it in her mouth running her tongue over the edges of the shells. She seemed disconnected from her surroundings. I suspected autism. When we sang songs, she’d look at the screen, stare at the words, but remained silent.

As the pastor spoke, she opened her Bible and gazed at some of the pictures. The pastor’s message was a challenge—was I denying myself, carrying my cross, and following Christ? Was I ashamed of Jesus or sharing His truth and love in this confused world?  Not easy words to hear, even harder to implement. Those dark eyes kept turning towards me with that intense gaze.

The worship band returned to the stage, we all rose and began singing.  Again the young girl stood and listened to the music. She’d look back at me, seemingly checking on whether I was singing. I smiled at her —not really paying attention to the words I sang. More songs followed. I impatiently checked my watch as the worship team launched into another one.

But then I heard a new voice. The young girl was singing! Her sweet voice was beautiful and loud enough for me to hear—and she was singing the words on the screen. How was this possible? I thought she wouldn’t talk. She was smiling too. And then I finally paid attention to the words she sang:

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
 Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand.

While I struggled with the pastor’s challenge and was impatient with the singing, this young girl was truly worshipping Jesus. She may have been autistic, but I was the one who was disconnected. In my rush to assume she couldn’t understand, spiritual pride had blinded me to something quite critical—Jesus had met her exactly where she was. He'd given her joy and she gave him worship. You can't have one without the other. 

So, I received two sermons that night—a pastor sharing how to honor Jesus and a young girl really showing me how to worship Him.

photo credit: Mike Johnson, DSM Outdoor

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