1. I'm sorry to my friend Tom for experiencing my first real fit of jealousy last week. It's not the jealousy itself that was the problem. It's what I did because of it.
2. Life lesson: As bad we might have it, and some of us have bad, there's always someone who has it worse than we do. For example: As lacking as the U.S. is in coverage for adults with autism (and access to therapy and services and equipment grants and iPad grants and church ministries to/for/with them which often leads to exclusion which actually is an offense against the least of these and thus against Jesus), as lacking as the U.S. is, a film, Not Forgotten done by some Birmingham and other Alabama folks showed me that as lacking as we are in continued coverage and support (1 in 88 children will grow into many adults (statistics may be higher factoring adults)), we are not as bad off as others. In the Ukraine, they have even less support. There is one home. Otherwise, much like in the U.S., the children may or not go to school and many parents may stay with them hardly going anywhere for fear of what their child or adult with autism may do if they were not accompanied. Some of these children have no fathers present because the fathers took off. The mothers often quit their jobs to care for their loved one. The other choice? Institutions. Government run institutions that may treat the person as an animal. Saw the film Friday. If you get to go to a screening, please do. Was saddened to hear that as of the last few weeks that one child was turned over to an institution and a second was going to be handed over to one. These children had potential. Now they will have a "meaningless existence." Why? Because professionals and parents don't understand autism. They haven't been educated. Which brings me to something else.
3. Education. April is Autism Awareness Month. April 2 was/is World Autism Awareness Day. Okay. So now you have awareness. But you know what? Don't stop there. Education is more crucial. You see, when you go beyond awareness and educate yourself, then you truly begin to accept. And like any other human being, we, I, want to be accepted. Many of us don't tell others about our autism for as long as possible because of the misconceptions and stigmas. I spent most of last year hearing two thirds of a group that was supposed to help me tell me I couldn't do things that others in the church could do because "You have autism and because of the autism you lack empathy and might unknowingly offend someone." Forget the fact that they sent me for ABA therapy. Forget the fact that they didn't even bother to give me a chance before they just wrote me off and completely excluded me unless I agreed to sign a document agreeing to be permanently excluded from an activity non-members were allowed to do and reminding me that I was never forgiven and never going to be forgiven by the man in charge there. Forget that. Because that's not what bothered me the most an not the root of the reason I left them to find a better place, a safer place, until God changes their heart song and they establish special needs ministry for both children and adults. And I don't know if I have told Tom the root reason because up until now I never really understood the root reason myself. It wasn't just the document. It wasn't just the actions. It was the attitude. Many times last year I slapped God in the face. Many times last year I said I wished I was normal and hated how God created me. Until one third of that group finally told me to read Max Lucado's "You Are Special." Why? Because she had the same conversation with her own daughter. Her daughter has Down's. But when I looked at her daughter, I didn't see Down's. I saw a beautiful young lady with a lot of potential because she had a mom that was fully invested in her. But before that person moved, she told me that I needed to consider going somewhere else that was more accepting of people like me. And I realized that she was probably a little worried about what could happen to her own daughter there. Because until a person either has a loved one with special needs or takes time to educate themselves, they will always only ever believe the misconceptions. Which leads me to another point.
4. Tom, thank you for moving beyond awareness of autism with me. Thank you for educating yourself. And most of all, thank you for being my friend. I know I don't always show it, but I appreciate it more than you'll ever know and I love you for it. You have accepted me for me and looked past my labels at the person that God is growing me to be. You have given me freedom to make mistakes yet stayed beside me when I realize them and come running back for help processing things. You have exemplified God and Jesus and I am growing closer to them as a result. Although I'm not where we want me to be just yet, you are not rushing me before I'm ready, but neither are you holding me back when I am ready. You saw potential in me, and rather than give up because I might be slower than others, you kept encouraging me and spurring me on. And in part, because of you, I have learned determination and courage. You believed in me when others didn't. You took a risk to stay friends with me, and now look where things are: you have been seeing me through a lot of firsts! Many milestones and successes. And I'm a better person now than before. I see God through how you treat me. And God is awesome and I want more of Him. I'm still going to run back to you sometimes, but I'm running back and forth now. At least it's a start.
5. I ask prayers. For a while now I have been feeling a nudge to return to NYC for a week or two for missions. Then I received a calling last year to do something for people (both children and adults) who have autism like I do. Currently, I am now leaning toward pursuit of becoming a licensed interpreter for the Deaf and so during this coming summer I will be going back and forth between two churches, the one I plan to join and the one I will do cultural immersion in while class is on summer break. Probably just once a month for now unless I can hit more 8:00 services then fly over to the other church. I will be juggling at any rate because it's not the first leaning toward interpreter that I have had. I think it's stronger now because I know I have autism. But here's the thing. I still have a call. And God is starting to open the doors. I started painting. And Tom knows because I told him, but I plan to start selling my art under Essie Spann, Art for Autism. And part of the proceeds will go for organizations including churches that currently are serving or are planning to start serving adults with autism. Why? Because children with autism grow up and there's not a magic wand to make the autism automatically go away when they become adults. And continued ABA therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy can help. I'm in ABA. I'm about to restart speech. I'm going to be starting back with the psychologist who tested me. And at some point, I might start OT, but for now, it's one new therapy at a time. But because of the difficulties I have been having in finding services, I want others to have it easier. Also, some of the proceeds will go towards missions projects, especially ones that help with special needs and autism. My first steps are happening now. But I'm not done yet.
Dear God, thank You for answered prayer last week with Tom's daughter's wedding. Please help bring back some of his sanity. I look forward to scheduling another visit with him soon and even finding a special time to see him for a good-bye before he goes on his trip around the globe. Also, I'm hoping he'll be able to see me "graduate" and do my membership vows in the next month or two. Forgive me for how I sinned against both You and Tom when I was jealous last week and thank You for reminding me why You put Tom in my life first as a friend and second as a father figure/role model/example/mentor. Thank You for giving him a good heart, strong enough and big enough to love me even I am not the most lovable and for him being teachable so he learns how to love me better as a friend as I also learn how to love him better as a friend. And God, I don't know if I have said it to You yet, because I am still learning, but God, I love You. Thank You for loving me too, loving me bigger. In Jesus' Name, Amen.