Posted in learning together, musings

learning together: from history to current events

Rondel and I have been slowly making our way through Joy Hakim’s wonderful series A History of US, an American history narrative that manages to be both honest about our nation’s flaws and proud of her successes at a level that children can understand. We’re on the third book now, watching the 13 colonies gradually coalesce into a single nation, and so far we’ve encountered quite a few striking dualities: religious persecution and the pursuit of religious freedom; the desire for liberty and the acceptance of slavery; the mingling of cultures and traditions combined with vitriolic racism. We’ve seen people leave England to be able to practice their faith freely (as Rondel commented, when will those kings ever learn that laws won’t change what people believe?) – and then create governments equally as intolerant of dissent. We’ve seen how European settlers as a whole used and abused the Native Americans they encountered, and how they built their economic success on the backs of unpaid labor.

He’s six, it’s his first time sailing through the choppy waters of history, and a lot of it is going to go over his head or be remembered in only the most general of ways – but the concept of slavery has been probably the most jarring and concerning element to him. He asked me why one group of people would think it was ok to treat another group of people that way, and all I could say was that people do a lot of horrible things because of greed and the love of power – that people did, and still do, attempt to convince themselves that another group of people is less than human or deserving of less dignity and justice if doing so will make their lives easier or more profitable in some way. We talked about how the consequences of those horrible parts of history echo down to the present time: how difficult it is to ever fully eradicate that toxic way of thinking, and how generational disadvantages persist unless deliberate work is done to counter the wrongs of the past. We talked about the privilege that he will have as a white man, not because there is anything innately superior about being one, but because of those historical roads our nation has traveled – and how that privilege comes with the responsibility to seek justice and equity for those to whom the trajectory of history has not been so kind. Which all sounds pretty intense for a six year old, but it flowed naturally from what we were reading (especially since he is very sensitive to injustice against others) and I think it’s one of those conversations that has to be had throughout life in age-appropriate ways.

And with all of this fresh in my mind, watching Hamilton for the first time thanks to DisneyPlus, I was able to see the diversity of the performers in a way I don’t know if I would have before. The characters’ races are not historically accurate, but I honestly think it is better that way – more thought-provoking, more eye-opening. We are so used to seeing our history in the color white – which is in our present culture the color of privilege. But those revolutionaries, while still racially privileged at the time, were looked upon with scorn and contempt by the British government for being colonists and “provincials.” Many of them were poor, working their way up the ladder of opportunity in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in England; many of them were the unwanted refuse of London seeking a place to thrive in a new world; many of them professed a faith that differed from the official Church of England and had fled from persecution there. They were a motley crew, to use the expression: their government saw them as a source of profit, as second-class, rather than as full citizens to whom full rights ought to be given. In our modern culture, showing us the revolutionaries as black and brown helps remind us of those historical truths. And it beckons to its audience with a call of hope: if the second-class citizens of Britain, the outcast and oppressed, could fight for liberty and justice against a “global superpower” and succeed, then just maybe the oppressed peoples in our nation today (most prominently people of color) have a chance to establish more perfect justice and liberty for themselves as well.

So study history well. Notice the parallels between the present and the past; follow the pathways that led from then to now. Whether you’re six like Rondel, thirty-one like me, or any other age entirely, there are stories to learn, connections to make, and hope and wisdom to be found for shaping a more perfect future.

Posted in musings

toward love, toward justice

A woman from my church – the leader of our church’s ministry for neurodivergent and disabled children, and the mother of one of those children – asked me what my thoughts were on the recent protests, the black lives matter movement, and how it relates to the autism community. To be completely honest, I’ve been pondering exactly that for a while now. It takes a long time for observations to settle into my network of concepts and data, and longer still for me to verbalize those new connections.

There are of course obvious similarities between the black community and the autistic community, as there are between any minority groups simply by virtue of being different from the majority. I’ve been listening to Morgan Jerkins essay collection This Will Be My Undoing, and her childhood longing for whiteness – for the ability to confidently belong in circles of popularity and influence – mirrors the longing autistic people often have to be neurotypical. (If you see that the way you innately are makes you a target for oppression and shuts down opportunities for careers, friendships, and more, it makes it a lot harder to live authentically.) Building a society in which all people can belong, can be treated fairly, can move with equal confidence – this is good and necessary for the full flourishing of all minorities, no matter their race, ability, gender identity, or so on.

But the two situations are also very different, and it wouldn’t be right to look at the black lives matter movement and only see it in light of how I, as an autistic person, can relate to it. Our country has harbored violent discrimination against black people for hundreds of years, and the recent occurrences of police brutality (especially combined with the default reaction of many white people to defend and excuse the officers involved) show that it still exists despite the last 70 years of almost completely nonviolent civil rights action. I believe our most recent presidential election was also in part a white backlash to the previous eight years during which the Obamas held their power and influence with dignity, intelligence, and principled character. To a lot of people in majority groups, the thought of a minority group gaining power is threatening – and to prevent it happening they preemptively threaten minorities instead. And in our county, black people have borne most of that scorn, fear, oppression, and discrimination.

One last point I want to make is that oppression compounds. A black, trans, autistic woman is going to be at a massive disadvantage against the norms and institutions of our culture, even more than the average black woman. Just looking at the intersection of blackness and autism, for example, autism has historically been significantly under diagnosed in the black community (though it is getting better, according to the CDC) and the voices of autistic self-advocates are overwhelmingly white. When I think about how much having a diagnosis can benefit an autistic person, it makes me angry that just having darker skin can make it more difficult for an autistic person to get that diagnosis – not to mention the social supports following diagnosis that can help autistic people fully flourish and thrive.

The Bible shows us a vision of society that is radically different than what we have in America today, with our myriad lines of division and discrimination. When the Psalms praise God specifically as King, they do not say that He brings equality. Instead, they say He brings justice, righteousness, and equity (see Psalm 99). He doesn’t place us all on an even footing; rather He gives more grace where more is needed. He forgives more where sin is greater, comforts more where sorrow is greater, provides more where need is greater. As Mary sang in the Magnificat, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” As we work to build God’s kingdom, it is important for those with power and privilege to set it aside (or to be made to set it aside, when they have used it unjustly), to learn humility, that those who have been outcast or oppressed can also experience those good things. His kingdom, being for all nations and tribes and peoples, is conceptually inconsistent with racism, with in-group power hoarding.

The path from where we are as a country today to a nation patterned after God’s kingdom – a nation of justice and equity rather than injustice and oppression – is not going to be short or easy, and I definitely do not have the expertise to outline public policy. But I do know that change has to happen individually as well as systemically, and I can speak a bit about how to change and grow on that level. Just as I recommend reading books written by and about autistic people to begin to understand the autistic lived experience, so too I would recommend reading books written by and about black people to being to understand their lived experience (and of course I include talking to real people about their experiences as “reading”, especially if you are not a socially anxious introvert like me, since good conversations can be as edifying as good books). Read widely, and let your preconceptions be proven wrong – so your mind can be changed. Read deeply, so you can begin to empathize with those who belong to a different group and see the world from a different perspective – so your heart can be softened. Read prayerfully, letting the Spirit teach and convict you – so your soul can be moved to confession and intercession. For it is only when we have those three things that we can truly know and love the other – whether they are colored or abled or gendered differently than we are – and begin to work together on the institutional and systemic changes that must also take place.

Posted in musings

books

Quote overlaid on image of the sides of books: “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” – Charles William Eliot

Over my lifetime I have read thousands of books (estimating from the years I’ve actually kept track). Books are easier than real life: the author filters out most of the irrelevant information from the narrative, internal perspectives provide verification for the emotions being communicated through a character’s body language or tone, and confusing sections can be reread until things make sense while the rest of the book waits. So sometimes it can be a nice escape from the complexities of life to dive into the world of a book – but on the other hand, spending so much time analyzing social interactions in written form helps me to understand them better when I encounter them in the wild, so to speak. There have been countless times when I’ve noticed something happening and thought, “oh! I’ve read about this! What was a helpful response when this happened in the book?” and based my reaction off of what I’ve read.

(The one time someone tried to bully me as a child I thought, “oh, I’ve read about bullies. They are usually sad and insecure people. Poor kid.” I was also highly amused that he though I’d be offended by the name “Four-Eyes” when it was a taunt straight out of the books! How unoriginal!)

Books also help me understand my own emotions. As the characters experience situations and as their emotions are described, I try to put myself in that situation and feel those emotions. This is anxiety: observe the triggers, observe the physical response, observe the words that are used to describe the associated emotional response. This is happiness; this is grief; this is insecurity; this is attraction; this is contentment. I feel things extremely strongly, but I struggle to understand those feelings, and books help me create a reference against which I can evaluate and by which I can name my own emotions as well as the emotions I see in others. And it does this in a safe way, allowing me to proceed at whatever pace I need to, not overwhelming me with sensory input about an unfamiliar or upsetting emotion.

(This is probably why I enjoy books with a lot of emotional content even though I am very uncomfortable with emotional expression in movies or in person. I can take a break if I need to, I can process the emotions slowly and through multiple filters, and I don’t have the intense sensory input of a strongly emoting person to deal with while I’m figuring out what’s going on and why. And I do think it gives me a foundation to work from when I encounter those emotions in the real world, whether in myself or in others.)

So I’m thankful for the gift that books are to me – that on top of the enjoyment of a good story, I have their help in deciphering the puzzle of emotion and social communication, in decoding the physical clues that reveal someone’s feelings, in learning the rules and patterns of social behavior. And that when I need them, they are always there to be my friends.

Posted in musings

the works of our hands

One of the morning prayers from the liturgy of hours recently included the phrase, “Make us love and obey you, so that the works of our hands may always display what your hands have done.” It led me to contemplate just what the hands of Jesus did, when he lived here on earth, and how my hands could participate in and reflect those same works now.

Jesus’s hands broke bread and gave it to the people around him – to his disciples at the Last Supper, symbolizing his body; but also to the crowds of people following him when he saw that they were hungry and needed food.

Jesus’s hands got dirty (literally, sometimes) bringing healing to the sick and disabled – like the time when he spit in the dirt to make mud and plastered it on a blind man’s eyes to give him sight.

Jesus’s hands washed his disciples’ feet – tenderly and gently carrying out lowly and very unglamorous work for the good of others.

Jesus’s hands, for years before his ministry even began, built those strong and useful and beautiful things that a carpenter’s son would grow up learning to make – the work of a laborer.

And Jesus’s hands, in the end, endured the nails, stretched out over the world, giving themselves in love and hope for our redemption though the path was one of deep suffering.

It gives an entirely new perspective on the tasks of everyday life, especially the less enjoyable ones like cleaning or helping the kids with showers and bathroom needs… Instead of seeing each chore as some annoying intrusion that I have to deal with so I can get on with the things I actually like, I can choose to see those things as opportunities to display with the works of my hands the things that Jesus’s hands have done. By living for so many years as a human person in a human family with all the daily work that goes along with that (remember, he wasn’t born as royalty!), he showed how even those low, humble, tedious, unpleasant, or dirty tasks can be a conduit of God’s love through us to those around us who are blessed by our labor.

So I continue to pray that prayer, that “the works of our hands may always display what your hands have done” – that rather than acting out of pride, selfishness, or sloth, my hands would mirror Jesus’s deep love and humility.

Posted in musings

as lent draws to an end

If a life-disrupting pandemic had to come at any time, I am glad it chose to arrive in Lent.

Lent is the season in which the Church encourages us to make a concerted effort to strive against our vices and turn away from temptation – to go above and beyond in seeking holiness. And yet, while the practices of prayer and fasting and giving certainly help us grow in virtue, Lent isn’t about the success of our own striving, the achievements of our own strength. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Lent is about trying so hard to follow God that we reach the point where we find our strength to be insufficient, our virtue too weak, our will too easily persuaded by the siren call of sin – because it is at that point that we, pinioned between the laws of the fast and the temptations of the flesh, between God’s standard of holiness and our own weakness, have no other recourse than to cry to God for help. In brief, Lent forces us to turn to God.

And when the threat of sickness and economic instability comes tearing through the world, with all its concomitant stress on the fault lines already present in society and all its strain on each individual in their own way, that posture of turning towards God is exactly the response we need. And here we are, already practicing it, already trying to make it a habit, just in time to deal with something more! If I have learned to come to God and fill my spirit with prayer when my body is hungry from fasting, it is easier to come to God with my anxiety and receive His peace and presence when I am tempted to distract myself with the constant noise and bustle of social media or the news or games on my phone.

There is also this reassurance, of which Lent reminds me, that God also has experienced suffering and hardship in this life. He is not ignorant of the emotional responses natural to humanity; he knows them from the inside. And he chose to face them, without taking the way out of comfort or escape from men or angels, that we might have the hope of eternal life in him. It is a hope we can cling to; it is an example we can strive to emulate; it is a strength and a grace that can keep our feet from falling.

Visit This Ain’t The Lyceum for more on Good Friday and Easter, including this: “It is from the darkest and most uncertain of times that we are made new.

Posted in musings, sqt

{sqt} – like a child at rest

Compared to the scope of a pandemic, my life feels quite small. Not necessarily insignificant, but most definitely small: myself just one person, my family just one little cluster of people amidst the billions all swept up in a single massive crisis. It is the kind of smallness that can make someone feel helpless and afraid, unsure of how to protect themselves and their loved ones from something so big and so out of their control; it is the kind of littleness that can leave us cowering and vulnerable against a greater force than we can hope to conquer.

But tonight, as I put my daughter to bed, she curled herself up against my side, tucked under my arm, and I thought that the smallness of fear or helplessness is not the only kind of smallness in this world. There is also the smallness of restful trust: the smallness of a little child confident in their parents’ love, to whom the world may be very big and scary indeed but for whom that parent is a shield and refuge and source of strength. This is the smallness of a child who is hurt, or sad, or scared, or angry, but whose tears fade in the arms of their mother or father.

The Psalmist wrote that,

"Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother's arms,
even so my soul."
(Psalm 131)

Against the swirling unknown threats of a pandemic, against the overwhelming storm of uncertainty and anxiety that is threading its way around the world, we are each on our own very small indeed, like a young child trying to fend for themselves. But where I find peace in this time is in acknowledging my own smallness and staying close by God my Father, who is quite the opposite of small and helpless, and in whose unconditional love I can be utterly confident. I do not need to be my own strong tower in the hurricane; he offers his strength so that in him I may have the peace of a child comforted in their mother’s arms.

My view biking home from work the other day! (Panoramas are tricky to capture in the rain on a bike…) I love the promise of the rainbow, which I believe can be taken figuratively: that God will not prove faithless to his people, but will be with them through the storms and floods of life. Sometimes the things that make sense from an eternal perspective don’t make sense from our earthly perspective, but I choose to trust in his faithfulness.

Visit Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of this week’s linkup! She didn’t do 7 takes either this week so I don’t feel too guilty about just sharing one thought 🙂

Posted in musings

thoughts on fasting

The discipline of fasting, I am coming to think, is a discipline of perseverance.

The opportunity to indulge in whatever I am fasting from is continually around me; my mental routines and physical habits both bring it to my attention regularly. So I cannot be content with saying at the beginning of Lent that I will fast in a certain way, nor even with waking up each morning with that intention. Instead, my commitment must be renewed every time I am faced with the opportunity to choose otherwise.

It is a fitting type of discipline for this season leading up to Easter, because it is the same discipline Jesus would have had to have to endure the suffering beginning in Gethsemane and culminating in the Crucifixion. As God, he had the power to end his suffering at any point – to step away from the path he had started on. He had to choose, moment by moment, to stay the course, to remain committed to our salvation. The crowds taunted him, saying that if he were the son of God he could save himself, and they were right about his power and opportunity. They just failed to see that his endurance was greater: great enough to enable him to make the sacrifice his unfathomable love demanded.

Fasting cultivates in us that same kind of endurance. Through it we can walk with Jesus in his suffering (though our steps be small and halting indeed), and in him begin to develop the kind of perseverance that can hold fast to something painful – even faced with a way of escape – when love requires it.

Posted in musings

cauliflower and coronavirus

While my sweet potato vines were still forming a solid wall on the south side of one of my garden beds, I planted some seeds in the rest of the bed. They sprouted, and stayed alive, but didn’t grow very well since they weren’t receiving enough sunlight. I forgot whether I had planted cauliflower or broccoli, and as the months went by, I decided they must be stunted broccoli plants that wouldn’t produce because the shade had reduced their growing season by too much.

Then, one day, I sat down on the flagstone at the end of the garden bed to shell some peas and happened to glance over at the plants – to discover a little white cauliflower head peeking out at me!

I poked around in great excitement and found a much larger one, ready to be harvested, on the neighboring plants.

Since then I’ve discovered 4 more heads lurking among the leaves, a quite unexpected and satisfying harvest in the midst of more serious and negative unexpected news. We may have significant changes to our social patterns and routines, and soon people we know and love may get sick and make the virus more frightening in its nearness – but in the garden, life goes on, each plant quietly growing in fullness and beauty (I do really think the cauliflowers are beautiful). And so in our own homes, with our own families, we can continue to quietly grow in love and wisdom and holiness, doing the small and silent things that cultivate life. We may end up surprised at the harvest that results from the seeds of virtue we can plant now, even if we forget about them for a time when life returns to more normal patterns!


If you have a random surplus of cauliflower (who knows, maybe it’s the only vegetable left at the grocery store when you get there!), I have three recipes good enough to make multiple times (and no pictures of any of them. Sorry!)

The first is a Moroccan-inspired dish that basically consists of me tossing chopped cauliflower into a sauté pan with diced preserved lemon, chopped dates, olive oil, a touch of smoked paprika, salt and pepper. I want to try adding cardamom next time I make it. I think a unifying sauce to hold all the disparate ingredients together would have made this better, but I didn’t know what base to use. So, this was good but could definitely be improved (and I’ll be playing around with it again soon, once my new batch of preserved lemons is ready to use).

The second is a simpler recipe; I just sauté the cauliflower in olive oil and butter and add parsley and toasted sliced almonds at the end. This always ends up tasting wonderful and goes particularly well as an accompaniment to fish.

Finally, I tried Smitten Kitchen’s silky cauliflower soup recipe last night and fell in love with it (the recipe is 14 years old and I’ve been following her blog for at least half that time – I don’t know how I’ve managed to avoid it this long. Don’t make my mistake!) It is so easy, doesn’t require any special ingredients, and has amazing flavor. I would recommend using a broth that you particularly like as the base for the soup, however, since there aren’t many ingredients and the flavor will come through.


I hope all you readers are staying healthy, finding positive ways to fill in the gaps left by cancelled events, and managing to hold on to calm and peace with so many extra anxiety triggers floating around – I’ll be keeping you in my prayers in general but especially with regards to the COVID-19 situation.

Posted in musings

ash wednesday

I don’t really feel qualified to write about the mystery of Lent, its call to holiness and love through suffering and confession. I’m not particularly good at any of those things, to be honest.

But Lent is not just for the saints, an exalted or esoteric road that only the most advanced in the faith can travel. The pursuit of God – the long journey of learning to love – the turning away from sin to embrace the right – those things are for all of us. And Lent is a reminder to be intentional about them, and an opportunity to take tangible steps in their direction, no matter how small.

We made prayer chains yesterday as a physical reminder to pray and a way to mark the season of Lent. Rondel especially has so many questions and a heart open to learning about God; hopefully this will help him learn to come to God and know Him in that personal way.

We pray because Lent calls us to come to God with our weary hearts and distracted minds. We fast because Lent calls us to give up the earthly things we substitute for the consolation of God. We give because Lent calls us to emulate the One who gave his own life for us. Lent calls each of us this way, wherever we are, no matter how small or trivial our steps toward God might seem to someone else (it’s not about comparing with others anyway).

Posted in musings

thoughts on rest while dealing with a cold

I’ve been knocked out with a cold since Saturday morning but thanks to President’s Day this was my first day alone with the kids while sick. And… I spent the entire afternoon fighting off a meltdown and trying to help Rondel do the same as he’s also getting sick. Getting to go to work tonight was such a relief – a chance to escape the emotionally charged atmosphere in the house (probably only emotionally charged due to my current mood associations) as well as the constant sensory input coming from three little kids. I was alone, with tasks demanding very little from my overwhelmed socioemotional skill set and utilizing instead the more intellectual and scientific parts of my brain.

It made me realize how much I rely on that balance to give me renewed energy for the daily work of parenting, and how valuable rest – both physical and mental – is for coping with life in a turbulent world. (Work is very definitely restful for me, at least in this season of life). It also made me very thankful that I have this built-in source of margin! It helps me regulate, process, and relax – and in so doing it allows me to care for my family in a more calm and and emotionally available way. And at times like these, when my innate emotional margin is completely used up dealing with sickness, it is particularly helpful.

What are some ways that you expand your margins and give yourself rest, thinking of rest not simply as doing nothing but as creating mental balance or emotional space?