Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Life Issues

On the Asperger Journey

This morning I checked in on my son. His blog tells me he has just arrived in the Bahamas, and no, it is not what you think. Since January, Nate has been in the Caribbean, going to ports and places tourists rarely see. He and the crew he serves with are bringing hope to some desperate people. His ship, appropriately named the Logos Hope, is the largest floating bookstore in the world. This particular ministry of Operation Mobilization provides resources for people who otherwise might not have the means. Most important, they bring the gospel.

For this first week, the ship is not open. The crew are getting a much-needed Sabbath. So I am sending a note, and if you don’t mind, I would like you to listen in. It reflects things I am learning–

Dear Nate,

For these past eighteen months, you have been on quite a journey, one that began in Germany and on to Africa, and now in the Caribbean. My guess is that a number of your mates are unaware of another journey you have been on, one that has numbered nearly thirty-two years. You did not choose to travel with this condition, but God did, and its purpose is still unfolding.

As you know, I am still trying to understand Asperger’s Syndrome. As one fellow Aspie writes, “Autism doesn’t come with an instruction guide.” I have made my share of mistakes as a dad–misreading, misjudging, and misinterpreting you at times. I will never get to the bottom of this developmental disability. It’s too complex. You and I have spent these years going to “experts,” who in the end have seemed as clueless as we are.

A few days ago, I came across a book with a strange title: I Am Strong. Looking further, I discovered that it’s the story of a thirty-seven year old pastor, Lamar Hardwick, who decided to share his autistic journey. But I soon found I was not reading about him—I was reading about you.

Early on, he knew he was different (and not just because he, too, was a pastor’s kid). He discovered that the sights and sounds of this world often led to sensory overload. Everything was in high definition, for the brain does not have the same filters. An Aspie sees, hears, feels, and smells the world in ways the world does not.  I watched this early on in you. I found myself asking questions like–“Why is he fine not joining all the other screaming kids around the birthday cake? Why doesn’t he wear the wool sweater we bought him?”

Lamar gradually retreated into his own world, as I noticed you sometimes did. The painful part of childhood is that no one taught him that it was okay to be different. He began to cope with feelings of deficiency. He talks about this in his first chapter, “I Am Missing.” As he puts it, “No one looked for me, and I stopped looking for me.” Did you ever feel that way?

Step by step Lamar rehearses stages of his life, many I have witnessed in yours-“I Am Searching”, “I am Lost.”  Periods of solitude gave him the opportunity to pour into books—just like you did—and still do. In his “I am Miserable” chapter, he recounts how he spiraled into drugs to cope with the mystifying pain of being dissimilar. He could not read faces, pick up tones, or sense other people’s feelings. He was often misunderstood and marginalized—as I think you have been. I still remember the middle school teacher who asked me if you were on drugs. Thankfully, you did not make some of Lamar’s choices.

It was about this time Lamar began to read about Asperger’s and found it described him perfectly. For the first time he realized he did not have a mental illness. The brain is not deficient. It simply means one processes data differently—the world differently. People would misread Lamar as indifferent, given his flat facial expressions, not realizing it was just the opposite. I think of the many times I misread you Nate. Assumed you were disinterested. Missed that in your world where things are far more black and white, it’s not that you are rigid or insubordinate (well, maybe sometimes).

So why the title? Lamar came to realize, as I think you are learning, that when we are weak, it is then that we are strong. It’s what Paul came to discover (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The reality is that we all have thorns in the flesh. We all have developmental disabilities. We live in a flawed world. What differentiates those of us who succeed from those who do not is that we determine to compensate for our weaknesses, beginning with finding the special grace God extends to those who come to realize their need for Him.

Lamar came to realize different does not equal deficient, limitations don’t equal liabilities, and boundaries do not have to translate into burdens. After all, many Aspies (I am thinking Bill Gates, Bobby Fischer, Albert Einstein?) are incredibly accomplished writers, engineers, and mathematicians who have overcome and maximized their abilities. Just like you are doing Nate!

In his thirties, Lamar determined that it was time to engage—not retreat. He had to, especially if he was going to remain a pastor. He came to terms with the fact he is wonderfully made by God. He has learned to extend grace to those who are different because, as he puts it, “Learning to extend grace to others is a huge part of becoming strong.”

So—as you retreat, consider this—that you are wonderfully made. Because of God’s love, you are more than able. As I told the church two weeks ago, as unique as you are, I would not want any other son.

Get some Sabbath rest–Dad

  • Jane Fahey
    2:03 PM, 9 July 2017

    Dr. John,
    Isn’t it amazing that as Christian’s we want our kids accepted by the world? We try to teach them that conforming and fitting in, would make life easier for them.
    As parents, we want our kids to be happy, live a Christ centered life and be joyful.
    In reality the world is harsh, church people are humanly cruel, we secretly wish for perfect trouble-free healthy kids. We labor constantly to achieve a “right life” for our kids.
    I have plenty of questions for God, lol.
    He laughs , because in my heart I know the truth. I see what His own Son did and how he was treated.
    How crazy it is for me to think, I can control anything?
    God is the one who could have control the outcome, but he left it to our choice. He wants us to choose Him. He lays out the consequence….we still must choose.
    My joy has come from verses that speak about us entertaining angels. I desire to pass that test! Your son maybe an angel! I am certain my daughter is an angel, a gentle gift from God.
    I strike my harp and lyre as it is in heaven.
    He was, He is, He will be.
    Christ’s Peace-
    Jane Fahey

  • Candace Lazzaro
    1:42 AM, 10 July 2017

    That was beautiful!

  • Bud
    10:42 AM, 10 July 2017

    Nate has found his calling and you have resolved that you have been, and will continue to be, a great Dad. Had you not been there, Nate may well have fallen and unable to get up. I sometimes wonder if Paul’ s statement in II Cor. 12:9 is often misunderstood when it comes to parenting. It is by God’s grace that God has led you and Nate to now be true friends and allies in the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ. I rejoice with both of you and long to see what God has ahead.

  • Louise
    2:01 PM, 18 July 2017

    describes my grandson to a tee Pastor I pray that his difficulties will somehow pass with time and his knowledge of how special he is.
    Thank You

  • Dr. Lamar Hardwick
    3:04 PM, 18 July 2017

    Dr. Johnson, I happened to stumble across your blog and I just wanted to thank you for reading my book. I would love for you to leave a review on Amazon if time permits. Blessings

  • Paula Kinney
    6:28 PM, 25 July 2017

    Pastor John, what a moving and touching letter to Nate. It is so amazing how God uses even our children to teach us how beautifully woven we are, together, in designing His beautifully crystalized quilt. I am looking forward to reading Dr. Hardwick’s book. I really loved and appreciated your book, “Under An Open Heaven,” and was honored that I could spend time with you sharing how much the book inspired me. It definitely is a book that one has to process and then pick up again and maybe even a third time to grasp the full impact of the messages being implanted within each chapter. This book will have a lasting impression on me…one that I will return to over and over and keep by my bedside to continue to reflect, question, and respond, on a personal level, of what it means for me to live “Under An Open Heaven.” May God continue to bless you with the gift He has given you to pastor so many people as He has called you to do.

    Warmly, Paula

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