In celebration of Autism Awareness Month, we plan to introduce our readers to several fathers of children with autism who were led to serve families impacted by disabilities because of their experiences. This past Sunday, we introduced you to Joe Butler of Ability Tree. Today, we’re pleased to introduce you to Dave Lynden of Fellowship Bible Church in our hometown of Chagrin Falls, OH.
Dave is a graduate of the University of Akron and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. While serving as an associate pastor at a large church in Dayton, OH, Dave was instrumental in launching a respite care initiative for families of kids with special needs. Dave and his wife (Desiree) experienced the need firsthand… their middle child (Micah) is diagnosed with autism. Shortly after Dave assumed his current role as Senior Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in the Spring of 2009, he launched “Breathe”…the largest, free, church-based respite ministry in Northeast Ohio. Here’s Dave’s guest post… Remembering How the Story Began.
I love going back to the beginning of the story of the Bible. It is kind of like watching the first part of a movie when all is good; there is peace, wholeness (what the Bible calls “shalom”) before the crisis shatters the characters and the calm into pieces. Sometimes, I am tempted to watch the movie up to that point and then turn it off and re-write the story in my own imagination so that the shalom remains undisturbed. I am also tempted to read Genesis 1:1-2:25 and stop there. Here was a place of extreme beauty, extreme shalom; a time and a place where there was no pain, no troubles, no autism or abuse or depression or loss. It was a place of joy; of quiet, flawless communion. I wonder if we might even say that it was a place of play. I do not think that the word “play” is too strange or crass. I think that God actually “played” in His own creation. The language in Job almost pictures a God who not only creates, but engages in and with His creation; plays in it!! The lightning bolts announce to Him where they are (Job 38:35). God wades through the oceans (Job 38:16) like a schoolboy might puddle-jump in his rubber boots while the stars sing at the sunrise of a new day (Job 38:7). We find God almost playfully engaging wild donkeys and oxen and horses (Job 39:5-25), rejoicing in the majestic soaring of a hawk (Job 39:26). Cornelius Plantinga writes,
“God loves creation. God celebrates creation. God even plays with His creation.”
Both Plantinga and Eugene Peterson reference a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins which speaks to the same thought of God playing and resting in His magnificent creation!
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying “What I do is me; for that I came.”
I say more: the just man justices:
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is-
Christ- for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
“Christ plays in ten thousand places”. That line ended up being the title of Peterson’s book on spirituality and the Bible’s overarching story. And in this place of play, God designated a sacred space to meet and play with the pinnacle of His creation-humans; a place that was unique and special and filled with shalom; a place where humans had no doubts about God’s intentions and goodness; a place where they could talk with God and He could reply in unmistakable clarity. There was never a thought that we were talking to ourselves when we prayed, pretending it was God when it was just wishful thinking. No one needed to make up encounters with God or create clichés or settle for routines of prayer, Bible study and church attendance.
That is where I am tempted to stop the story. But, the story doesn’t stop there. There was an act that we cannot get much more than a wisp of understanding…but right to the point, humans rebelled. We ate from the tree of “I want to be my own boss” (that is the meaning of the Hebrew idiom- “knowing good and evil”) and shalom was shattered. We lost so much. We destroyed so much. Our ignorance concerning the devastation that sin and willfulness created is almost as tragic as the devastation itself.
What did we lose? I got another glimpse of a world that once was (and what happened) through our autism support group. Many of the parents we know who have a child with autism can tell you of a time when their child was around 18-24 months old, developing nicely…and then they regressed into this little inner-world that struggles to let anyone in. The language stops. The understanding stops. The eye contact stops. Listening to these parents, it is like something leaked out of their child never to come back again. I wonder if that is how God felt that one particular day He came to the garden to play in His creation in that special place with human beings, only to find that something had leaked out of His children. They don’t want to speak to Him. They don’t want to make eye contact with Him. It’s like they lost the ability to play. Of course, this was not some innocent tragedy. The original humans had betrayed God and something happened to them that created instant isolation and alienation. We tend to read the story of what theologians call “the fall” (i.e. “the fall from God’s grace”) as though it were a simple mistake. It was just fruit, after all. Why should God be so upset? The truth is, the fruit represented something. It represented a loyalty to God; to trust Him to be God and to honor the way in which He ordered His world by obeying Him. To eat the fruit of “I want to be my own boss” meant that God could not be trusted, that He wasn’t good, that they (we) could run this universe better than Him. It was a claim to His position as king. It was a revolt. It was a denouncement of His friendship. So they had to leave, we had to leave. I wonder sometimes how grieved God must have been as He watched these two “playmates” walk silently out of their sacred space, heads hung low in shame and loss.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there either!! By the time we get to the end of the story (Revelation 22), the “sacred space”, the garden is restored (and then some)! I wonder if God imagines how “play-time” in His new creation will be once His old friends have experienced redemption and restoration and returned to Him. I wonder if He longs for the laughter and the knowing and the eye contact to be back in full, unhindered swing. But, we are getting ahead of ourselves. We’re still in the part of the story that precedes all of that. We are at the beginning, right after the crisis has shattered the characters and the calm. While we are presently on the other side of the cross of Christ where our rebellion was paid for and the empty tomb where Jesus conquered death; where when God’s people, when worshipfully surrendered to Jesus begin to see “hell break apart under our feet”, as Gary Thomas so strikingly puts it, we are not yet to the place where Jesus has completed the work of making all things new again. We are still remembering snippets and longing for more of God and more of His world that once was and will be again. I get a God’s-eye view of all of this as a father to Micah, whose autism seemingly slipped in like a thief in the night and leaked out of him something precious and irreplaceable. Trying to connect with Micah must be, in some small way, how God is trying to reconnect with us as we avert eye contact and struggle to communicate due to our own “spiritual autism”.
On the Labor Day weekend of 2010, I found myself- yet again- living the story of the Scriptures while on a trampoline with my beautiful little boy who was soaking in the unadulterated one-on-one time he had with his dad. Indeed, I found myself encountering God; looking through His eyes at His partially restored creation awaiting its full restoration. Here we were- Micah and me- in our “sacred space”, our “garden”, resting, bouncing, playing. There is just something about bouncing that helps calibrate his little mind. He thinks better. He communes better. During our “plop-down” times, he will look at me directly in the eyes and smile and tell me he’s “happy” (a pronouncement that I had to call Des about because it is that rare). He asks for tickles and kisses. It’s in these small moments, that I wonder if we will get to relive this moment again one day when we have both passed from this world and into God’s new garden. I wonder if we will bounce and play in our trampoline. What will Micah express to me in complete sentences with inflection and unhindered mind in our sacred space now renewed? What will our relationship be like when whatever leaked out is put back in? It is something I can barely even dream of, though I pray for those dreams to come at night.
This was a window of clarity for me; a moment of revelation in which God gave me a glimpse of a world that once was, a world I could barely imagine. There were no voices, no visions; just a snapshot of a sacred moment with my son. But, it was also an unmistakable encounter with God. It is small moments and little wonders like this where I realize how much we’ve truly lost, how badly we’ve screwed things up in this world, and yet, how much God must truly love us; how much He is looking forward to the time when all things are re-born and His creation is making eye contact again; how much He is truly invested in making all things new, re-forging shalom and…playing again.
 Plantinga Jr., Cornelius, Engaging God’s World, pub. by Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002, p. 24
 Thomas, Gary L., Seeking the Face of God, pub. by Harvest House, 1994, pp. 29, 31
BREATHE Special Needs Respite provides a fun, safe, evening out for families with special needs kids. BREATHE takes place monthly (except during December) at Fellowship Bible Church in Chagrin Falls.
At BREATHE, kids enjoy an evening of food, games, and fun while parents and caregivers get a well-deserved break. Each child attending is paired up with a trained volunteer for the evening. The best part? BREATHE is FREE! All children 0-18 years of age are welcome, along with their siblings. Each guest may participate in as many activities as he wishes. A quiet room is also available for kids who prefer peaceful activities with fewer transitions. All special dietary concerns are accommodated, including gluten free/casein free, color/dye sensitivities, and standard food allergies.
Click on the image below to learn more about BREATHE, or to register your child for the next free respite event.