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.

Continue reading “One Faith, Many Paths: Kasey Smith”

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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.

Continue reading “One Faith, Many Paths: Karly White”

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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One Faith, Many Paths Follow-up: Arri Lemons

arri

My Facebook Friend Arri was my first interviewee for my “One Faith, Many Paths” series. You can read her first interview here. She asked for a follow-up interview, so I sent her some new questions. Arri had a troubled past to say the least, and she’s since risen above it. Here’s what she had to say.

  1. When you decided to become a Christian after being a Buddhist, did anyone help you in your conversion? Yes and no, maybe? It’s hard to say. Thinking back on it I was a kid that was angry, grieving, and depressed. At the time, my grandmother and best friend had passed away close to the same time. My thought was what many others tend to think when losing a loved one: if God was kind then why did He take them away? I turned to Buddhism when my biological father mocked about being one, and so I began to study it and several other religions. Buddhism is a philosophy, and so I gravitated towards that aspect.  My path to being a believer in Christ happened one evening when I was home alone; I was hurt and angry and over all of it and grabbed a knife. Before I could go further, I felt a great presence wash over me which I still cannot adequately describe. It felt as if someone was there to tell me I wasn’t alone. I broke down and had my first real talk with God. Since then, I have done my own study of Christianity through the lens of artwork. Mostly, if anything has helped me continue my religious path, it has been the people I have become close to–you, being one. It has given me a new perspective to look at God, which to me has helped immensely. Religion isn’t a fixed thing; it’s also about the journey, not just the destination.
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