Posted in Living Peacefully

Child of the Book

 

I was taught to hold it as soon as my small hands were able to grasp it. Miniature covenants filled nursery rooms where I was sent to make friends. We were all supposed to learn to The Book together. It was going to save us.

I hid its words deep within my soul and memory, told that in my darkest hour they would rescue me from fear and loneliness. As a child who was already fearfully lonely, I drank them in trusting they would slake my thirst for hope.

 These things I remember,

as I pour out my soul:

how I went with the throng,

and led them in procession to the house of God,

with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,

a multitude keeping festival. [1]

The classrooms were simple. The teachers were untrained and sometimes unskilled. But the story was enough. It captured my imagination and my faith’s desire. I excelled at knowing The Book. I could quickly manipulate its pages and was taught to use it, accordingly, as my sword.

It was a story unlike any other. Its characters were real and I could see them in my mind. I often wondered about their lives outside the written tale captured on the page. Unbound by time, it bid me come and join its narrative. We were warned that some of our own friends would not continue on this journey along with us. And even though we were cautioned that the price for being a child of The Book might cost us everything one day, I don’t think I ever believed it as a child.

O Lord, I love the habitation of thy house,

and the place where thy glory dwells. [2]

I went on to study The Book with an aim to make teaching it to others as my vocation. Belief in its pages became more nuanced and intentional. My mind was stretched. Theories and difficulties of historical and textual criticism came and were answered in my mind. Questions about interpretation were satisfied and I moved on. Then I learned the largest threat to this child of The Book would come from a place I never suspected.

While the story had continued to compel and speak to me of a new way to love my neighbor as witness to Resurrection Life, for many of my fellow believers it did not. They began to hear voices tell them that this story needed polish in order to be sold, then purchased, by our culture. Soon the story wasn’t to be approached without multi-media support. I was told that children just couldn’t learn it without a video and high-energy game to capture their attention first. Even then, it seemed our culture wanted to hear moral tales that resembled popular psychology more than the story I knew as a child of The Book.

I would soon realize that there was no place for a child of The Book, even within the institution that nurtured them. Yes, I had great dexterity at reaching and equipping people of The Book. And, again, yes I had degreed myself to be at the top of my field. But my love for the story wouldn’t be enough to sway the marketers and captain of this new industry. The Book was a product and it was their job to sell it. My way of telling the story and loving people, just wouldn’t produce enough.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,

that will I seek after;

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

all the days of my life,

to behold the beauty of the Lord,

and to inquire in his temple. [3]

Time and perspective has allowed me to see that it was not me, in myself, that wasn’t productive enough to serve the institution of The Book. No, it is that the story itself is no longer enough. Like people of The Book throughout time, the institution has been swayed by its surrounding culture. No longer set apart as holy, they bow willingly to the idols of success, wealth, intellect and power.

Yet while I can remove myself from this failure, I am still a child of The Book. I feel its rejection keenly. When it is too old to be relevant, so am I. When it no longer sings, neither do I. When the story isn’t enough, I find myself without a home, a stranger lost and alone in a place I pledged to serve yet can no longer have voice.

Maybe this is what my teachers meant when they said being a child of The Book could carry a price. It is lonely and isolating. No longer welcomed by the institution of The Book, I am also rejected by those who spurn it as well. I find myself standing alone between the two, wondering why The Book and I aren’t enough.

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree,

and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

13 They are planted in the house of the Lord,

they flourish in the courts of our God.

14 They still bring forth fruit in old age,

they are ever full of sap and green,

15 to show that the Lord is upright;

he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. [4]

As I grow older, I am still a child of The Book and it is still enough for me. Within its pages I find the only instruction that eases the pain of the world around me. But I have no place to serve The Book, no place to bloom. I sometimes fear the time has passed for me to serve The Book and its people. I am bound by age in an Age that can only esteem the idolatry of its time.

These days I often cradle with it open in my hands, letting my eyes roam its pages and feeling them cool beneath my fingertips. Its passages are familiar. They are a balm for this un-healing wound I will carry until these idols fail, or I am called to meet author of The Book.

 

 

 

[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 42:4.

[2] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 26:8.

[3] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 27:4.

[4] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 92:12–15.

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Posted in Living Peacefully, The Autism Gospel

Healed on the Sabbath

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” 13 And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it?16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”17 As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. [1]

 

Part of my son’s diagnostic story is that I was once told he would never read, write, or speak. When I report this at IEP meetings, educators often have one of two reactions. Often they smirk and comment on the fallacy of shortsighted clinicians who shut doors too quickly. Others smile sympathetically in realization of just how much work it must have taken to get where we are today.

Today he reads. He writes. He speaks.

For as long as we have been doing it now, it still never gets old to hear him read aloud, or better still to hear him read something that he himself has written. I think this is a small gift I receive for all the tough nights along the way. But nothing – absolutely nothing – thrills my soul like hearing him read God’s Word during our Sunday worship services.

sabbath1
Printing his scripture out in a dyslexic friendly font makes him feel more comfortable.

Our church customarily invites Noah to be a part of our worship in this way. This week his text seemed particularly poignant. Luke records an encounter on the Sabbath Day between Jesus and a woman with a long-term illness. While the thrust of the passage is Jesus’ defense of healing this woman on the Sabbath, it was other wording in this passage that caught my ear when read in my son’s voice.

“Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.”

Other interpretations of the Greek ἀπολέλυσαι (apolelysai) read “removed,” instead of healed or freed. In the place of infirmity of illness, a near definition of ἀσθενείας (astheneias) is “weakness” or “limitation.” This could easily read “you are removed from your limitation.”

You are removed from your limitation. And in that there is healing.

20160821_102818
Noah starts his Sundays with a walk around the farm where he greets the animals – especially Smudge the Pig.

I feel that we are removed from our limitations each time our church seeks to include Noah in leading our service. Because the truth of it is, his reading isn’t polished at all. His fluency is so choppy that you can’t really follow along. His speech impediment makes understanding him difficult as well. Our limitations – disability, illness, weakness – are still present. But for just a little while, he is removed from them.

And we are healed on the Sabbath.

 

[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Lk 13:10–17.

Every Folding of the Heart

A theologian and poet of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, François Fenelon wrote, “We must have faith during the period of our grief. We think that our afflictions will be greater than we can bear, but we do not know the strength of our own hearts, nor the power of God. He knows all. He knows every folding of the heart and also the extent of the sorrow that he inflicts. What we think will overwhelm us entirely only subdues and conquers our pride. Our renewed spirit rises from its subjugation with a celestial strength and consolation.” (Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, April 20)

Posted in Uncategorized

A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

I despise change. Maybe it is my autism showing. Yet I confess it willingly so that you might fully understand how difficult it is for me to open myself up to new things. I hope you will appreciate just how challenging life is right now when I expand on how many things are being “shaken up” right now.

Three years ago I started blogging to help me process some of our struggles with autism. To my surprise I found an audience for both our pain and struggle as well as our victories. Many members of this audience either know us personally or have loved ones with a disability. But some of my readers identified with our struggle because the emotions tied into their own hardships can be reflected in our journey. Pain is universal.

I also began work on a Masters degree in Theology around the same time. The more I studied about God, the more I reflected on his work in my life and in the life of my son. I had always been haunted by issues surrounding spirituality and autism. Questions like, “Will Noah every understand himself as in a relationship with God?” were answered along the way. But more abstract concepts required further study. For instance, if Noah is neurologically “damaged” (clinically speaking), what does it mean to say he is still made perfectly in the image of God? Faithful readers of this blog will note that, very often, we are not treated like we “look like God.”

So I spent the last year of my life writing a thesis on that very topic. My thesis statement reads: In contrast to classic scientific, popular, and even some Christian assumptions about disabilities, a theologically responsible perspective calls us to recognize that neurologically disabled people are just as human as neurotypical people because they, too, are created in God’s imageThis may seem like common sense to you, but if you have ever been treated as “less than” because of a disability, you understand. Trust me, this is a whole new way of imagining what humanity looks like AND what God looks like. It has been the experience of a lifetime. And today, at 3pm, I defend that thesis. (Pray saints, pray!!)

To shake things up even more, I have developed a relationship with Standard Publishing in a way I never could have imagined. They heard the message communicated through my thesis and in my blogs and thought, “Hey…there is something to this the world needs to hear!” I have been partnering with them to write lesson amendments that can be used by churches include children with special needs in classrooms with “normal” (typically developing) children. This relationship is growing and more resources are being created each quarter. I will be posting a link to those resources as soon as possible. Please don’t laugh when we see me referred to as their “Special Needs Expert.”

Because having my picture on resources wasn’t uncomfortable enough, this partnership has led to another one. This winter I presented several workshops for Standard Publishing at Children’s Pastor’s Conference in Orlando and San Diego. INCM (International Network of Children’s Ministry) sponsors this event. I will be featured on in their magazine in an interview about “Special Needs and The Church.” I also shot a few videos about “Recruiting in Children’s Ministry” for them that will be featured on their website next month. (Again, all of you who know me personally are aware just how completely out of my comfort zone I am at this point not only in telling you this, but in my life in general.)

This partnership – you guessed it – led to another. And here is perhaps some of the biggest news and the reason for the change of blog site.

Starting May 14th, 2013 I will begin hosting an internet radio show called “Shaping Special Hearts with Vangie Rodenbeck.” (gulp…there, I put it in writing) This show is co-sponsored by Standard Publishing and cmconnect. The goal of this every-other-week show is to have conversations around topics in special needs and disability ministries. I pray that this can be a resource for churches, ministers, volunteers and parents to help us show the world not only HOW to minister to the disabled but also how the disabled minister to US by showing us what God looks like in unexpected ways.

So this is a new blog site for a few reasons…

  1. I will be able to link resources that I am writing more easily from this site.
  2. The radio show will be embedded on this site and easier to find.
  3. Blogging – which I promise there will be more of – will be easier for people to access my visiting vangierodenbeck.com. The blog will be the main page of this site.
  4. There will also be a page “About Me” dedicated to letting people know how I have chosen to see the “holy in the common place” and the image of God in our struggle.
  5. And for people who wish for me to consult or conduct a seminar for their church or school, there will be a page on this site dedicated to that as well.

I think that is about as uncomfortable as I can possibly get. But I was inspired this morning by a video posted by a Facebook friend in which her child is having a “sensory meltdown.” It brought back all the memories of what we have lived through and continue to struggle with. Her transparent plea for understanding and further education about the struggles families with disabled children have pushed me to post about A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On in my life. None of my pain and experience can have redemption if I don’t help someone through a similar struggle.

I am sure your question is: How is Noah handling all of this? Noah tells me all the time that I am “going to be famous because of him and his autism.” He is quite the advocate for autism and has started research of his own. He likes to call himself my “autism guinea pig” with a sly smile on his face. It isn’t uncommon for him to say, “Tell people how much autism is like God.” He is quite the evangelist.

So more stories will follow. More resources will be posted. And you can follow the radio show if you are so inclined. If you know of anyone who can benefit from this, pass it on. I’m always looking to learn from others about ways we can show the world that disabilities aren’t the worst thing that can happen to a family.

Stay tuned to hear what I’ll be involved in next. I’m thinking “Autism – The Musical!” I envision something with banjo music and tons of repetitive motor movements. I want Carrie Underwood to play me:)