Friday, May 26

Awkwardness and Autism

I'm awkward in the worst way possible. When social grace has any leniency towards actions and words, my actions fall neatly within the margin of error. I look normal, sound normal, feel normal to those who interact with me. But when lines of communication get entangled (as they often do), or the stakes of a relationship rise and closeness grows (as usually happens), my dance of normalcy disappears. I find myself blindly making misstep after misstep, until the other dancers simply walk away.

Some people forgive me for my social faux pax... over and over and over again. A rare few see through the muddled mess into who I really am. But I think most people on the receiving end of my chaotic awkwardness feel subconsciously betrayed. I had seemed so easy to befriend at first glance. So straightforward. And then somehow, suddenly, a series of mistakes ensued and the relationship became unbearable.

I get it.

In a perfect world, people would be able to see through the problems that others face. To see them for who they really are and overlook the jarring problems they face. To instantly forgive the autistic people, those with personality disorders, and those facing untold emotional stress... and to be there for them. People would see that under my shortcomings, I live and breath for people. That I care so deeply that my life revolves around them - around guiding strangers to meaning, easing the burdens of the sick, helping anyone who will listen find happiness and peace.

But I don't live in a perfect world. My world is nowhere near perfect.

And in my world, someone who looks and acts normally in most situations, seems sincere, but then makes more and more major social missteps... is usually attributed personality flaws. If the person was a really "good" person, he would just fix his issues.

And so it goes with me.

I've been named by pretty much all of them.

I've been named uncaring, unloving, too caring, too intense, overconfident, unresponsive, creepy, mean, too nice, too invested, not invested enough, too physical, not physical enough, proud, dishonest, too honest, pessimistic, too optimistic, unfaithful, blindly obedient, hypocritical...

And ultimately not worth the effort.

That's reality.

Classes and counseling have given me tools to navigate most situations and look and feel normal. I can interact with most people and they never dream that they're talking with someone whose social persona is riddled with potholes. But I am a walking landmine, and most of my relationships explode.

And even when I tell them (since I often do) that my autism will likely push them away, people pishposh the heartfelt statement... And usually forget I predicted it would happen.

For a guy whose love language is quality time, who loves people more than life itself, and who thrives on deep connections with others, I've got a major problem. And for much of my life that problem has been depressing at best: I'll likely never be as close to people as I want to be. And, in a twist of bitter irony, if I try to get close to them, I run a real and major risk of losing the relationship completely.

So I can be surface-level friends with lots of people. They think I'm normal, a bit standoffish, a bit too proud, a bit too caring. They see chunks of me floating around, but aren't close enough to be smashed by them. The people I want to be close to usually end up running away.

I'm pretty sure I would run away too.


That's a pretty depressing reality. But that's part of being autistic. Deeply needing connection with people, and being pushed away by them and labeled as uncaring or broken or creepy or too intense has ripped me apart emotionally time and time again. I can't even count the number of times that I've tried and failed, each time burning yet another potential connection.

Another depressing reality is that there are only so many people with which to try. Propinquity - or the science of physical proximity - shows that most social relationships are based on proximity. Someone who lives just a few minutes away is far more likely to become a friend than someone who lives further... and beyond a given distance, the chance drops to almost zero. I don't travel much, and my ability to communicate through text, email, and social media is even worse than in person.



But there's a redeeming reality as well. One that, in the face of my likely hopeless lifelong battle, gives me strength and hope and peace.

God is real. This life isn't all there is. And if I follow Him, it will all work out.

Believing that I have to find love, meaning, connection, and happiness on my own, using the tools and circumstances I've got in life with the people in my small circle of proximity, is a short, honest road to failure and death. I've faced reality, and learned at least one thing after decades of trying: It's not going to happen. Most people, especially those exposed to my greater missteps because I want them in my life, aren't going to forgive my shortcomings or see beyond the issues I face. And my social world is far too small to filter through enough people to find large numbers of people who could look past my problems.

Without God, life is bleak.

With Him, I have faith.

I have no idea what my life will actually entail. I'm pretty sure that I'll fight the demons that surround me for the rest of mortality, hoping to find more truly good people who can see beyond the darkness into the light inside my soul. That I'll struggle to connect with and feel connected to people. And that, wanting only to make them happy, I'll unknowingly betray the people closest to me, creep them out, exhaust their souls, make them cry at night, and fill them with anger and isolation and despair until they run away.

But I'll also be touched by God. Blessed by Him. Cared for by Him. And, every so rarely, the demons will disappear, and I'll connect with someone for a moment - heart to heart, soul to soul - and remember what it's like to be who I really am.

I don't know why, of all the things given to people in life, I have this. Why the kid who loves people more than anything carries a debilitating social disability that draws people in, only to then make them flee in fear. Perhaps it's to help me learn to love more. To see beyond the demons that others face. To love them for who they truly are, even if they have never seen the light inside. Or perhaps it's to help others do the same. To give them a chance to navigate the pitfalls and landmines and find their own ability to love and forgive completely.

Whatever the reason, that's my reality. I'm awkward, disconnected, deceivingly normal, and unforgivably broken. 

But whatever the circumstances may be, with God at my side, I know at least one thing: His grace is sufficient for even me. Real happiness comes from being like God and connecting with Him... a happiness even greater than the human connection I crave, powerful enough to overcome anything and give hope in the darkest of times. 

I am awkward and broken. But with Him, my life will be amazing.

Thursday, May 25

Falling in Love with God (read)

I'm in love.

And it is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. Literally everything else seems to pale in comparison...


I got shot down.

And I didn't fall. I'm pretty sure I didn't even feel it. And usually I feel it bad.

There's an interesting story in The Book of Mormon. A Lamanite named Samuel is called by God to preach to the Nephites. He goes into the city, but is rejected and thrown out. While he is on his way home, the Lord inspires him to go back. This time, he climbs the city wall and stands atop the wall preaching to the people.

Some people were touched and changed by Samuel's preaching. Others got really angry and shot him with arrows. But somehow no one was able to hit him. So he finished his message, went home, and we never hear from him again.

I'm usually about as emotionally thin-skinned as someone can get. I fully invest in people and relationships, aware that my heart will likely get shot full of arrows... over and over and over again.

But this week I finally got it.

And by "it" I mean figuring out how to be awesomely happy regardless of what circumstance I'm in. Even if all my relationships fall apart.

I realized this:

By following God I am *guaranteed* the highest measure of happiness.

I've known that for a long time. That's what the gospel teaches - following God will bring the greatest blessings - but somehow I still found myself stuck in the miasma of the day-to-day grind. Frustrated and concerned about this relationship, wondering how that circumstance will turn out, pushed and broken and tossed here and there.

But now I believe it.

And that's it

I don't have to rely on my own lackluster skills in relationship dynamics. I'm autistic, and dumb socially, and I have issues. I don't have to rely on the people on the other side of the relationships I have, or the other people I try to befriend - whether I'll find the *right* people in the limited sphere of the world I can see, or whether they'll accept me.

I don't have to worry about *anything*. 

The promise is that as I commit and dedicate my soul to God, I become His. And He will take care of me, give me happiness, enable me physically, mentally, socially, professionally, and in every way direct my life forever.

And that is amazing.

I got shot down multiple times this past week. The kind of stuff I experienced emotionally would usually leave me totally incapacitated, trying to numb my emotions with a jar of peanut butter, the gym, or the newest stupid video game. 

But this time was different. 

Somehow this week I gave my heart completely to God. And being 100% committed to God, and trusting Him completely, fills me with a sense of... awesome power? Assurance? I thought I had learned to trust God before... but I realize now that I had no idea of the enormous power He had to offer. I'm trying to explain it. It's like knowing the final score of the game that I am playing, while I am playing. Or making up a recipe in the kitchen with the full knowledge that it will be amazing because I've done it so many times before. Knowing that even if this relationship or that friendship explodes entirely, I *will* be happy and find what I need. Seeing the end from the beginning, and knowing completely.

I know that my life will be awesome. I know that I will be happy. I know that God will lead me. And, finally, that knowledge has become a feeling - one that bores deep into my soul.

I think that my problem in the past was that I somehow hadn't given God 100% of my heart. I told Him I believed in Him, that I was willing to follow Him, but I still think that I expected Him to follow my requests. I wanted close friends who understood me, people I could love who loved me back, soulmates to spend my life with. I relied on myself and others to find those - using my own imperfect self to seek out others from a pool of imperfect people to meet my needs. And as I tried, on my own, to find those things, I kept back part of my heart from God. When I inevitably got hurt, I'd turn to Him, but still not give Him everything.

And, just like Zelda's Master Sword, God can't give true happiness until I have completely reached 100%. Only full hearts enable the sword beam. Only a fully given heart can give me what I feel right now.

Today I am, from a social standpoint, in lots of messy situations. I have no idea how my relationships will move - whether they'll go forward, backward, or explode. The chaos and uncertainty there is palpable, and would normally level me to the ground.

And yet I am calm. Collected. Empowered. At peace. Sitting at the bargaining table with all the chips on my side.

And enormously, impossibly happy.


I think this is how God feels.

He cries when He sees wickedness and feels rejection, as Enoch saw in the book of Moses. But even if all His children turn away and cease to love Him, He is assured of happiness. He *is* happiness. And the momentary grief is swallowed up in peace and joy beyond comprehension.

This feeling is worth every pain I've ever felt. Every sorrow that has clouded my eyes. Every moment of loneliness, and every burning anguish of my soul. Everything makes sense now. I truly *was* blind. And now I see. The Grace of God has taken hold in my soul.

My life is going to be amazing. Yeah, my heart goes out to people who are in the midst of difficult trials, or who are on the edge of making decisions that will damage their lives. But whether or not the people I care about choose the right, walk with me, or love me back, *my* life will be awesome. If they walk with me, we can both find the road. If not, it will still be amazing. 

I have a testimony that God is real. And, more than that, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds the key to eternal happiness. I can give my heart and soul wholly to God, trust Him completely, and allow Him to chart my path... and in return He will fill me with power, hope, happiness, assurance, and peace.

I think the closest that I've ever felt to being this happy was being in love with someone who loved me back. Being in love, sharing that love, is an awesomely powerful thing.

But even that pales in comparison.

Tuesday, May 23


My earliest memory of love at first sight was in an apartment complex in Italy. I knocked on a door and a woman opened it. In an instant, it was like I had been hit in the gut. God loved this woman, more than I could have ever understood, and for whatever reason I caught a glimmer of that infinite, overwhelming love. I saw what the Gospel could do for her. I saw her family blessed and sealed in the temple. I saw her turning to God during major trials in life and finding meaning, happiness, and peace.

I opened my mouth and began to share the message that I knew would bring her the happiness and peace she desperately desired.

And then she closed the door.

And my heart, still overflowing with emotion, was torn to pieces.

My companion wondered why I was suddenly bawling on a random doorstep. But that's understandable. She was a total stranger. His heart hadn't been torn out. And yet what I felt was real. Real enough that I'm crying as I remember it a decade later. My heart still burns.

And yet, by the time we had walked down a dozen stairs, my tear-filled eyes had somehow turned bright again, and I enthusiastically told the next person of the same message that brought me joy.

Sometime that day, my trainer asked me how it was that I could feel so intensely for someone I had never met... and, more, how I could rebound and keep going when my heart was so incredibly crushed.

And looking back at his question I realized something that day:

I can love people.

In the years since, I've seen that the world is full of people who love by degrees. Most people aren't willing to love completely. They're afraid of sending the wrong messages, they're afraid of everything. Mostly, they're afraid of being hurt - of investing in others too deeply and then being ripped to shreds by shrapnel when it all explodes in flames.

I know I have been.

And yet.

Loving people is worth it. Even if they never love back. Leaning on mortals is worth it. Even if they always let you fall. Caring, praying, fasting for others is worth it, even when nothing ever seems to come of it.

Because *loving* people - really, truly, infinitely loving them and caring about their eternal souls, along with the pain and anguish and joy that comes with it - is an exercise in becoming like God.

God loves. He hurts. He rejoices. He cares about the souls of each and every being on the earth... and He dedicates everything to helping them to become like Him.

This morning I knocked on a metaphoric door and had the same experience I had in Italy. Met a random stranger. Felt an enormous amount of love. Shared a message of hope and peace. Saw how the gospel could change a life, heal a heart, and create a thousand hopes and dreams. 

And they closed the door.

I found myself bawling this morning. And yet somehow moments later had the ability to love and care yet again.

I just want to say that it is worth it. People are worth it, no matter how painful the cost. They are always worth it.

Sunday, May 14

Can I hear the music?

Far too often, I find myself focusing on the things that I *should* do, instead of the joy that the Gospel brings. It can be hard. It can be incredibly hard to dance - perform the actions of the gospel - if I don't feel the same joy that it seems like everyone else feels. But this Mormon message, through its words and unspoken visuals, seems to capture both the anguish that comes from not being able to hear the music, and the joy that comes from dancing when I finally can.

I can hear the music. After years of dancing, I can hear the music.

Sunday, May 7

It's Worth It

The reality of life is that happiness can be found in thousands of places. On the tops of mountains, in starry skies, under branching trees and on windy plains, happiness comes and goes.

There's pleasure in playing sports and eating Cheetos. Smiles to be found in throwing pottery and making soap. Laughter that comes from stand-up comedy and rolling down grassy hills.

And it's real.

In the last few weeks, I've finally organized my business so that, if I don't want to go to work, I don't need to. And along with the crisis of self that entailed I found myself wondering about happiness.

I've believed, innately, that happiness comes from the outside. That marriage and family and raising kids and marshmallows and beautiful clouds would fill my life with joy. 

And they do.

And that's why life is hard.

Because at some point I have to choose. 

The world offers instant mortal happiness, control, and direction. I could chart out my life, go find a guy, fall in love, get married, raise a family, and honestly find happiness in this life.

God also offers happiness. His joy, though, is far less front-loaded. The joy of the Lord comes and lasts, but only as I become a greater man. Major caveat? Undergoing that change takes enormous amounts of effort and a literal transformation of my soul and heart. And the pathway to finding happiness can seems far more nebulous. And it requires more faith than I could ever imagine.

I just want to testify that it is worth it.

It makes sense to me that a true transformation into a being of joy would require the voluntary submission of every part of my soul. From the simple, easily portioned parts of my soul, to the tough, gritty, almost impossible ones to give away.

That said, I definitely don't relish the surrender of my heart. Being forced to choose between what my heart wants and what my soul believes feels like literally ripping my heart from my chest.

But I want to testify that it's worth it.

The happiness, peace, and joy that comes from following Christ and becoming like Him, from peeling away the layers of the natural man and replacing it with light... surpasses anything that the world can offer.

It's worth it.