One Faith, Many Paths: Amy Salazar

This week, I interview ASL interpreter Amy Salazar.

1. What are your favorite childhood memories?

Growing up, I have always loved nature. I would go outside any chance I got. I loved spending time in my Nana and Papa’s garden during summer vacation. I loved running barefoot on the grass and writing stories on their porch.

2. Are you a cradle Catholic or did you convert?

I am a cradle Catholic and a revert. I went through a period of religious exploration during my second or third year of college. I was interested in possibly opening myself to Buddhism or Islam–I was especially drawn to Islam–but then I befriended a friendly priest and his compassion drew me back to rediscovering my faith. Since then, my faith has been challenged many times, but it was the Catholic faith that made me reconsider my Republican beliefs, until finally I had to choose between Jesus and the GOP.  I chose Jesus and never looked back.

3. How did you decide you wanted the be an ASL interpreter?

The Lord placed an interest in sign language in my life by first introducing me to Helen Keller in the 3rd grade. I went to a book fair and picked up a book about her. This was a defining chapter in my life, because Helen’s story inspired me to want to make a difference in the world. It also piqued an interest in sign language. In high school, I was friends with a girl who was hard-of-hearing and she had an interpreter. I still remember trying to watch our history lesson but being mesmerized by the ASL interpreter.

Fast forward to 2014; it was the last year of my Associate ‘s program for an AA in English. I had gone  through the program wanting to  become a journalist, but I came to discover that it wasn’t my passion. On a whim, my mom suggested, “Maybe you could take a sign language class. It might be fun.” It seemed like a good idea, so I enrolled for ASL 101 in the Fall. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I fell in love with sign language on day 1. My professor was Deaf and her signing captivated me. Deaf culture, Deaf history, the grammar and syntax of ASL was riveting. That was when I knew that I wanted to become an interpreter.

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One Faith, Many Paths: Mike Bezalel

mikeb

This time for my One Faith Many Paths Project, I interview one of my newest Facebook Friends, Mike Bezalel.

1. You’ve told me that your father was a member of the KKK. Can you tell me what that was like?

Growing up with that mentality hanging over me was terrible, to be flatly honest with you. I was led to believe that simply because of my race that I was superior to all others. He refferred to anyone who was not white always in reprehensible racist terms. I was punished for associating with htem, beaten. My parents were both just terrible human beings.

2. How did your Maw-maw help you unlearn what your father was trying to pass on to you?

Well she resucued me. Saved my life in very real terms. I was taken away from my parents at around 13 because of the physical and mental abuse I had suffered. My maw-maw, my paternal grandmother, helped me to overcome all of the refuse I had been forcefully inundated with over the years. I never felt like I was worth anything. A person spends years being told they are worthless…it kind of stays with you, you know? I still battle with that sometimes. It was the gift to me that still seems to be giving back, I guess.

Maw-maw gave me the space that I needed to grow as well. Perhaps a little too much I was very angry after I escaped from the hell of my early life and I went wild. Drugs, partying, drinking…and even worse at times. I was even angry with God and dabbled in Satanism at one point of my teenage years. I fled from that after about a year, though, and never allowed myself to return to that point.

3. You have epilepsy. When did this first manifest?

The doctors seem to think it stemmed from a steries of head injuries over a 3 year period. A fall down a flight of stairs that resulted in a severe concussion, another concusion about 8 months later and then the big one, a motorcycle injury that resulted in a TBI so severe that I was in a coma for about 2 weeks. The seizures first began when I was in a coma. That was 26 years ago this September.

Unfortunately, I have what has been deemed as an intractable case of epilepsy.. I have been on at least two dozen different medications over the years and none of them stop the seizures completely. MMJ comes the closest, but it is not covered by insurance, and being medically disabled, I cannot afford it. Seems to be my luck…lol.

4. How did you become a Christian?

My maternal grandfather, who I called Pap-paw, was a devout Methodist minister. I grew up in his church every Sunday for much of my childhood. He instilled i nme a love for God and the pursuit of life, love, and light.  He was the best man I have ever known and I could never stray away from what he taught me. He was also the very reason I didn’t believe th garbage my mom and dad tried to brainwash me with I know they hid their beliefs from my grandparents for a reason, after all.

Anyway, later as a teenager, when I went through that period where I was mad at God and messed around with devil worship, I even knew then that I was wrong. I was just very, very angry and was lashing out. I had a dream with my Pap-paw in it, and he was just staring at me with disappointed eyes. When I woke, I began weeping and asked God to forgive me.

A few days later, my friend Steve and I were at a Perkin’s restaurant at around 3 AM. he and I both were longhaired metalhead kids. I looked at him and commented, “Man you kind of look like Jesus this morning.” He really did at that moment–scruffy beard, dark hair. Kind eyes…a little glazed from weed, but it was true. He began to witness to me. It didn’t take much coaxing or convincing to help me find my way. We went to a parak just about a mile away and I prayed the acceptance prayer. Right before I prayed, I implored to God, “I want to believe in You, God, but so much evil has happened to me. I need You to show me a sign. Please God, if You are there, please show me. I know I shouldn’t ask You…but if you exist, You know my heart. I need this.”

When I closed my eyes and prayed the prayer, I felt peace like I had not felt for so long. That would have been enough, but God is good. I opened my eyes and saw the night sky in all its glory. Then the single brightest shooting star I have ever seen flew across my line of sight, exploding right in the center of the sky, and then vanished. I broke down in tears. I have never doubted for an instance since that day.

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One Faith, Many Paths: William Necessary

In the Catholic Church, there are priests and deacons, as well as Bishops, Cardinals, etc. For this edition, I am interviewing Deacon William Necessary, who lives in Tyler, Texas. (note: Deacon Necessary sent me his answers as an audio file, so they are summarized from that.)

1.What was your childhood like? I was born in 1963  in Jacksonville, FL, and moved to Texas 4 years later. I grew up in Tyler, 90 miles west of Dallas. I was an only child. My dad worked for the Maytag Co. and we were transferred there. My family was not church-going people, nor were they even Catholic. My father was baptized in the Appalachian mountains, but my mother was not baptized until I was ordained and then I did it, shortly before she passed away. I grew up in East Texas in the 70’s and 80’s, starting public school in 1976. My parents were displeased with Tyler’s public schools, and I was sent to Catholic school instead, having heard of their reputation for better education. This made me fall in love with the Church, and I graduated in 1982, when I was baptized and made my first communion. So I was a convert from basically nothing. 

2. Why did you pursue the deaconate? Ever since I was in high school, I have always been prone to do service and things for other people. When I became Catholic and went to college and became involved in Campus ministry, I had a desire to serve the church. All through college I was involved in extraordinary ministry and was an altar server, as well as lector and usher. When I was about to graduate from college, that small campus group was holding a rosary on the First Tuesday of every month. At that time, the diocese of Tyler had just been created, and the local news had sent out a reporter, who became my wife in 1990. In 1996, I became a permanent deaconate. I was ordained on Fatima Day in 2001.

3. What is your favorite biblical passage and why? My favorite biblical passage is Mark 5:36–don’t be afraid, just believe. One of the hardest biblical passages. It basically says “just believe”, but yet human fear, doubt gets in the way. But if you allow yourself to just believe and allow Christ to guide you, the sky’s the limit. It’s just sometimes overcoming that fear, but that’s my favorite passage. 

4. What is a deacon as compared to a priest? What is the difference between the two? The sacrament of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church is in three degrees: Deacon, Priest, and Bishop. A Deacon in the Catholic Church is a fully-ordained minister who can do weddings, funerals, preach, teach, and baptize–basically the equivalent of a Protestant minister. The only things that a deacon cannot do, but a priest can do is consecrate the Eucharist or give absolution from sin. But I can do everything else, and for 17 years I have and do so gladly. I love doing what I do, it’s just so incredible.

5. Who are your favorite Biblical figures besides Jesus? St. Peter–gotta love Peter. He is our first Pope, and the first of the apostles, and was a struggling human just like the rest of us. I mean, this is a guy that on one hand say “Yes, Lord I’m with you always”, but in the next breath, Jesus told him “turn away from me, Satan!” He put his foot in his mouth a lot. He ran away. He denied Christ, but yet he redeemed himself. I think Peter is a great model for us; he reminds us that even the best of the best is just a slog like the rest of us. My second favorite is Moses. Here’s Moses the law-giver, Moses the liberator, Moses who fled Egypt as a fugitive and yet followed God and led his people out of slavery. A people who were oftentimes argumentative and acted like a bunch of children. And yet, Moses was their leader, and I admire hm.

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One Faith, Many Paths: Chris Cairns

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This week, I interview fellow autistic Catholic Chris Cairns, who also happens to be a member of the Knights of Columbus!

  1. How long have you been a Christian? I have been a Christian my whole life. I was baptized Lutheran as an infant, and was an Evangelical from the ages of 8-14, Lutheran from the age of 14-19. Then I joined RCIA.
  2. What was your childhood like? My childhood was fairly normal until my Dad died. He had brain cancer. I had to go through life without a Dad. I did have a good mom though. 
  3. Why did you join the Knights of Columbus? I joined the Knights of Columbus because I wanted to surround myself with good Catholic men and be able to promote Catholicism through my counsel.
  4. Can you explain what the Knights of Columbus do? The Knights of Columbus are the world’s largest charitable and fraternal in the Catholic Church. They help provide life insurance in case anything happens and your family needs support, and they help with pro-life and pro-family causes. The Knights were behind the persecution of Christians by ISIS being labelled a genocide. In Iraq, the Knights have pledged to help rebuild a village that was majority Christian.

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One Faith, Many Paths: Kasey Smith

kaseyThis time around, I interviewed Kasey Smith, a good friend of mine who also participates in Special Olympics!

1. What was your childhood like? My childhood was sheltered. Living in a small town, of course everybody’s life is sheltered in some form or another. I was a premature baby. I had fever seizures, brain bleeder, and a deflated right lung. I started going to school in my little not long after we moved in March of 1990. By the grace of God and with the support of many people, I graduated in 2007 after nearly 20 years.

2. When were you diagnosed as autistic? I was diagnosed as autistic in my 6th grade year in 2001. This just happened to fall not long before September 11, and I honestly believe that if it had waited, it would have been a disaster for me.

3. How did you become a Christian? Let’s backtrack 4 years to April of 1998. It was  a small town Sunday…it was a lazy laid-back slow Sunday. Our family got ready to go to Church that Sunday morning, and I personally had no idea that what I was going to do that day would change my life. We went to church and I don’t exactly remember what our pastor was talking about that day, but when it came time for the response, I walked forward with my older brother. (Funny side note: This was just about a year after our original Church building burned to the ground, we had just moved into our new building, which wasn’t completed yet.  So we ended up being baptized in another church. We were bigger than the baptism tank!) Our family was excited. That was 20 years ago! God has blessed me with so much it’s not even funny.

4. What is your favorite Bible passage? My favorite passage is Psalm 139 because in it, the Psalmist clearly says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God and that we should rejoice in that fact.

5. Who is your favorite Biblical character besides Jesus? It would have to be Paul because of what he had to go through–all of the persecution and the problems that he had to go through but he persevered and was very influential in the Bible.

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One Faith, Many Paths: Karly White

karlyThis time on One Faith, Many Paths, I’m interviewing a longtime FB friend Karly White, who I’ve known since my days in the Fans For Christ FB group. She is married to her husband Edward, and they have a newborn son named Hezekiah.

1. What was your childhood like? In some ways, it was very idyllic. I grew up in the beautiful Appalachian mountains of West Virginia and white Christmases during my childhood, and have fond memories of things like playing flashlight tag on summer nights, and sledding in the winter with the neighborhood kids. In other ways, it was pretty bad. My mother had undiagnosed bipolar disorder and could be verbally abusive, which got worse after my brother Keric died in infancy from HLHS, a rare heart condition. West Virginia is also a predominantly white state, and my father is Cuban. My parents were always very lonely and pretty excluded from our community. I didn’t really think about until I was older that racism played a part in that.

2. How did you become a Christian? My father is a Pentecostal pastor, so Christianity was a huge part of my upbringing, so I was always aware of scripture and Jesus’s ministry. Like most teenagers, I went through a phase where I questioned whether Christianity was a bunch of magical nonsense or not. Ironically, what brought me to faith was a fantasy novel. I read the Chronicles of Narnia the year my nana (my mom’s aunt that raised her) died, and on the plane ride to her funeral, I remember looking out the window at the patchwork of land beneath me and thinking, if there was a being like Aslan, the lion God-figure of the books, who was merciful, loving, regal, and righteous, I wanted to follow him. In the next moment, I remembered that CS Lewis was a devout Christian, and Aslan was his version of the Christian God. That’s who he was describing in his books, and that’s who I wanted to know and follow. I’ve wrestled with my faith a lot over the years, and still do, but I still want to follow that God.

3. What is your occupation? Currently, I’m a stay-at-home mom. I do freelance writing and editing and am currently working on a novel and regularly blog.

4. What is your favorite biblical passage? Tough to say. When I was in high school, Ps 143:7-8 meant a lot to me, as the NLT says, “Come quickly, Lord and answer me, for my depression deepens. Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you.” It was reassuring to me when I was struggling with depression. In more recent years, Isaiah 62:4-5 was given to me when I was praying for wisdom from God about whether I should marry my now-husband. The passage in the ESV says, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight is in Her and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you and your land shall be married For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” There are many more, but those specifically always stand out to me.

5. Who is your favorite biblical figure besides Jesus? I love the stories of strong women in the Bible: Esther, Ruth, Mary, Deborah, Jael, but over the years the story of Joseph is one I continually come back to.  There is so much reassurance and hope in his story, so much of what Christ would later reveal in Jesus. The fact that he was able to forgive his brothers, the fact that he took bleak circumstances and was able to rise above them.

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One Faith, Many Paths: Lizzie Storm

This month’s interview is with a very interesting woman named Lizzie Storm, who is a member of my Autistic Christians group.

1. What was your childhood like?

Very tough growing up. I had loving and supportive parents but I felt I didn’t before among my peers. When I was about 11 and started getting called weird for the first time, I used to think what was wrong with me, then I ended up severely bullied. I never want to go back and look towards the future. I know Jesus can do anything, so I hope to do things again and have a second chance at making friendships with a renewed life in Heaven.

2. What is your favorite biblical passage?

Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

3. How did you become a Christian?

I wanted to go to Heaven and my teacher at my Christian school, Mrs. Blakeman, told me how to get saved. Then I was happy. I was like “Oh, that’s how you get to Heaven.” So I gave my life to God in 1999 at 9 years old.

4. What evidence can you give for God’s existence?

I have seen him. I think it’s something you have to experience yourself.  God will always find a way to reveal himself to you. Also how unique we are. That couldn’t have happened just by chance.

5. Who are your favorite biblical figures besides Jesus?

Gabriel, The Virgin Mary, and St. Michael

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One Faith, Many Paths: Jane Lebak

This month’s interview is with Catholic writer Jane Lebak!

1) What was your childhood like?

I grew up in New York City, so it was a strange distortion of too many crowds and too much isolation, but I think it was just right for making me who I am.  I went to high school in a different borough (the local public high school wasn’t a great place; I remember three high school girls attacking a cop in the hallway) and getting there required an hour and fifteen minutes on the subway in each direction. Because of the distance, I got a subway pass.

That was freedom. It was amazing to have complete freedom to wander Manhattan with my allowance and my bookbag. After school, I’d walk from 83rd Street and head down to wherever I wanted. Forbidden Planet (both of them!) or Strand Bookstore or St. Francis Bookstore…I found so many amazing little shops and awesome little stores with ethnic food, and I could go all over the place to explore and learn and experience. I loved that so much!

Contrast that with early release days, where if I bolted out of school the moment the bell rang, and if all the trains and buses were right there to connect, I could get home in time to watch the last fifteen minutes of Transformers. 

2) What evidence can you give for God’s existence?

My personal reason is that I’ve had personal experiences that lead me to no other conclusion. When you reach out and something reaches back for you, you have no more doubt.  When you fall and something catches you, you feel secure in what you felt. That’s not data for anyone else of course, but it holds me fast.

Overall though, and even before I had that kind of one-on-one experience, I knew order doesn’t arise from chaos.  Things fall apart on their own.  They don’t become more ordered or more complex.  So the tremendous complexity we see inside a cell or the way galaxies are constructed, for example, tells me something must have created and sorted, and organized everything that went into that.

3. Who is your favorite biblical figure besides Jesus?

That’s hard to pick. I like the Archangel Raphael in the book of Tobit. I used to have the worst crush on the Archangel Gabriel.  But on the human side of things, I really like the apostle Thomas because he seems to have this sarcastic and pragmatic edge that really speaks to me.

4. Favorite biblical passage and why?

“Kindness and truth shall meet. Justice and peace shall kiss.” I love the sense of completion.  In some ways, these things could be opposites (think of the answer to “does this make me look fat?”), but with grace, they become complementary.  In the end, all our differences are harmonized so they retain their character but all work together to show the many facets of God’s glory.

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One Faith, Many Paths: Steve Condrey

condreyThis time, I’m interviewing the Moderator for my Autistic Christians Facebook group, Steve Condrey.

1. What is your denomination? How long have you been a Christian?

I am officially a Baptist (my baptism was through a Southern Baptist-affiliated church), but I see myself as a nondenominational progressive.  I first professed Christ as my Savior in October 1982, and while I may not have been the most faithful of believers, I have never once stopped believing and acknowledging Christ’s lordship.

2. What was your childhood like? 

My parents were believers, but for the most part not actively churchgoing.  They stopped going to church regularly once the church started getting heavily involved in politics.  My parents were tough-minded, no-nonsense people.  Dad was a Marine and mom was a floor nurse–two professions notorious for not taking nonsense from anyone.  They were however, very fair-minded and even though they didn’t know any more about autism spectrum issues in the 1970’s and 1980’s they did their best. Frequently they did much better than the professionals recommended!

3. How did you meet your wife?

I met my wife offline in 2003 when Yahoo Personals was still in business. It is the first marriage for both of us after a lot of very dysfunctional relationships.

4. When were you diagnosed? Have your children been diagnosed as well?

I was diagnosed in April 2008, shortly after being placed with our son. The challenges of marriage were more than enough to stress my usual coping mechanisms beyond the limit; parenthood only made the situation more stressful. After a series of referrals, I ended up with an excellent neuropsychologist who pinned the problem down in a single office visit! My son (adopted and no genetic relation to me at all) was formally diagnosed this year; we had suspected he was on the spectrum, and some of the people who worked with him back in California thought so as well but the diagnosis was always considered of secondary or lower importance compared to his severe ADHD. My daughter is so far as we know neurotypical but still very bright.

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One Faith, Many Paths: Lamar Hardwick

lamar hardwick

For my latest interview as part of my “One Faith, Many Paths” project, I’m interviewing Lamar Hardwick, an autistic pastor in Lagrange, Georgia at New Community Church. Their website can be reached here: http://www.ncclagrange.com/contact-us

1. What was your childhood like?

My father was in the military so I grew up traveling around the world. We moved every 3 years and sometimes we lived outside the country. I spent a few years living in Germany when I was in elementary school. My father was also a minister, so we grew up going to church every Sunday. As a child, I rarely understood my peers. While I had a few friends, I don’t remember having really strong friendships because we moved so often.  I have three siblings, but I was always the quiet one and spent most of my time alone reading books.

2. When were you diagnosed autistic?

I was diagnosed in 2014, when I was 36 years old.

3. What made you decide to become a preacher?

In 2001, after graduating college I began to sense a calling from God to dedicate my life to serving the church.  At that time, I was becoming regularly involved in my church and I had a sense of fulfillment in the work that I was doing.  It took me nearly a year to understand exactly what my calling was, but by that time I was sure that God had called me to become a preacher.

4. Does being autistic present a challenge in your profession and in interacting in your congregation?

In some ways being autistic does present challenges for me because I have to spend extended amounts of time around larger crowds and it can sometimes become overwhelming to me.  Autism can also present a challenge when communicating with people because I often don’t read social cues and body language very well.  There have been times when people misinterpret things I say or vice versa.  Now that everyone in my church understands me better, they know that the best way to communicate with me is to be direct and to expect me to be direct as well.

5. I’ve often seen autistics who are either disdainful of Christianity or atheist. What reason do you think may cause this?

I think there are many reasons for this and most of the reasons that non-autistics are atheist is the same reasons that many autistics are atheists.  I think that most people who are atheist base their beliefs on a negative life experience that they believe cannot be reconciled with the existence of God.  Autistics tend to be very literal, so this can even provoke a stronger resistance to the idea of God. The problem with most people who come to the conclusion that God does not exist is that they are basing their rationale on very limited existence as well as a very subjective point of view. Most people don’t believe in God or have a disdain for Christianity because God doesn’t cooperate with them, but lack of cooperation doesn’t necessarily disprove that someone does not exist.

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