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Can God Be Trusted? My Struggle with Asperger’s

Written By Wu Yanping, Singapore

“Have you heard of Autism Spectrum Disorder?” David, my mission team leader, casually asked me while we were having lunch at Makassar, Indonesia, while on a mission trip.

“Yes, I have. In fact, I know of someone who has Asperger’s,” I replied rather matter-of-factly.

There was a momentary pause. Through David’s hesitation, I had a suspicion that he might be talking about me, but before I could pursue that train of thought, he continued.

“If we were indoors and I told you that it’s going to rain, what would you think?”

“It’s going to rain,” I replied.

“Well, it can also imply that you must close the windows. My daughter has Asperger’s. My wife and I will instruct her specifically to close the windows. I suspect that you may have Asperger’s based on my experiences with my daughter.”

I kept quiet and did not say anything else, trying to process the gamut of emotions I was feeling. “No, that can’t be. Asperger’s is a boy’s problem,” I told myself as I mulled over what David said to me.

 According to research, far more men are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome than women. How, then, is it possible that I have a condition that tends to affect men? Could I really have Asperger’s?

As I thought about this, I started to recall my behavior on the mission trip and several incidents that happened—being really straightforward in my speech, saying “No” when our Indonesian host offered me food, and going on and on about a specific topic with no clue that others around were losing interest.

The short dialogue with David also triggered a distant memory from my high school days. Back then, my teachers had expressed the same suspicion, but I simply brushed it aside. I just thought that I had to work harder on my social skills, and I tried to do so by mimicking the words and actions of characters that I saw on TV shows and in movies. It didn’t work for long, though, because some of their words and actions were not applicable in the context I was in.

Upon returning to Singapore, I took online tests that diagnosed for Asperger’s. The results supported what David said and confirmed my worst fears: I have Asperger’s Syndrome.

Here are three struggles that people with Asperger’s face:

  1. Words are taken literally and at face value. People who have Asperger’s are often unable to read between the lines or understand sarcasm. As a result, they are perceived as gullible or easily deceived by others.
  2. Maintaining eye contact in conversations. Doing so makes it hard for them to focus on the topic of the conversation and makes them feel extremely uncomfortable as well.
  3. Speaking intensely about things that they are passionate about—and not knowing when to stop due to their inability to pick up on social cues. They are not able to tell if they have lost the attention or interest of their audience.

 

Dealing with Asperger’s

A former cell group leader once shared this passage from 2 Corinthians 12 with me as she prayed for me. “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (v 7-9, emphasis mine)

As I thought about it, I realized that Asperger’s could be the “thorn in my flesh” that I would have to live with for the rest of my life. Questions flooded my mind: Why does God not heal me of Asperger’s when He is more than able to? Why do I have this condition that makes me socially awkward among people?

But God in His grace led me to discover the answer to these questions in the same passage—perhaps He did not heal me because He wanted me to depend on His power. Another verse from the Bible that spoke to me was Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I am a beautiful work of God, created to do good works! It’s all part of His plan.

These new revelations led me to gradually accept my condition and look at it from a new perspective—God’s. I started to depend on the Holy Spirit for help in social situations, such as to guide and nudge me to stop blabbering when I got excited about something, and to maintain eye contact when I was speaking to someone.

A final note to all of you who may have a loved one or friend who struggles with Asperger’s: Please be patient with us. Please relate to us in love (with the Holy Spirit’s help, of course), especially in moments when we might not understand the meaning behind what you are saying or when we are unable to empathize with you and your problems. Remember that it’s not because we don’t want to, but because we are unable to.

It will take a while, but I trust that God is teaching us all to depend on Him and through our relating with one another. It is a process of His sanctifying work in our lives, transforming us more into the likeness of Christ, so that we may bear much fruit for His glory alone.

 

 

*Autism is a condition that is used as an umbrella term to describe an impaired cognitive ability to socialize. People with autism have trouble reading facial expressions and body language. Asperger’s Syndrome is one sub-type of autism. People with Asperger’s Syndrome are at the higher functioning end of the spectrum. For example, they are able to complete a higher level of education.

Justice League: Heroes & Insecurities

Rating: 3/5

Screen shot taken from Official Trailer

Written By Lydia Tan, Singapore

What makes a person a superhero?

Would it be his superpowers? (That would exclude Batman, since the only thing he has is money.) Or a track record of being undefeated? (Superman may be in trouble then.) Or is it simply a person who overcomes his fears to do the right thing in the most trying of circumstances?

In Justice League, our beloved DC superheroes all come together for the very first time to—of course—save the world. Things are not easy, however, because our favorite man of steel is lying six feet underground (watch Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to find out why). That leaves the ridiculously wealthy yet lonely Gotham defender the task of putting together a team of people who barely know each other and who have their respective insecurities and inner demons to fight.

What adds to the challenge is that unlike our dear Bat friend, these guys actually have superpowers—and strong personalities. Put them all together, and the sparks naturally fly, thus raising the question: Can they put aside their differences in time to save the world from ultimate destruction by the evil Steppenwolf and his fly-like underlings? (In case you think the answer is obvious, don’t forget—even Superman can die.)

It’s not an easy challenge. Throughout the movie, we see the insecurities of each superhero laid bare onscreen. Here’s a quick snapshot:

Batman: Trusting others and working in a team
Flash: Acceptance, fitting in
Wonder Woman: Fear of failure, lack of confidence in her leadership ability
Aquaman: Uncertainty, averse to change
Cyborg: Identity, self-acceptance

Each of the superheroes has to confront his or her insecurities head-on if the Justice League is to triumph. To avoid giving any spoilers, I’ll just focus on one—namely the only female superhero, Wonder Woman. Through a conversation with Batman, we learn of her reluctance about taking on leadership responsibilities for fear of bringing harm to the people she cares about. Will she be able to step up to the plate when called for? That’s a question she has to answer in the final showdown.

For me, this is truly a moment of identification. That’s because like our DC heroes, we, as believers, have a great mission to carry out which also involves saving the world—and like them, we may each have our own set of insecurities that hinder us from doing so. Insecurities that hinder us from our task of telling others about the only One who can save us from our sins.

These insecurities could stem from deeply rooted fears such as the fear of offending someone, the fear of not having enough knowledge of the gospel to share, or simply, the fear that we are not living up to what we tell others about the gospel. We can become immobilized as a result.

But like our DC heroes, we can choose to defeat our insecurities if we draw not on our own strength and ability, but on the divine power of the One who can truly bring salvation to the world. “Make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.  For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict” (Luke 21:14-15).

Let us take heart and draw courage from Jesus himself to lay aside our insecurities and our inner preferences for the cause that is worth living and dying for.

Then, we just need to take the first step. As Batman tells Flash on their very first mission together: “Save one person. Don’t talk, don’t fight, get in and get one out.” In other words: Start by sharing the gospel with one person. No excuses, no defenses, just do it.

4 Benefits of Being Weak

Written By Ching, Singapore

Every society aspires to be successful or strong. In my tiny city-state, that has meant a constant effort to survive and to find stability and security over the past 50 years.

But while most societies and individuals make success their end goal, not everyone is able to attain it. There are many reasons why this is the case. Working in the social services sector, I meet many people who may never “make it” in life because of their physical condition (disabilities and illnesses), past experiences (broken relationships, trauma and abuse), or environment (poverty).

But for most of us, it could simply be because we don’t have “what it takes”. In my case, I just never wanted nor was pressured to pursue success. Perhaps it’s because I never tasted it: I never could ace my studies, never had any job promotions, and never won any awards.

Being in such positions of “weakness” is not necessarily a bad thing, however. As someone who is familiar with what it means to be weak, I have learned from experience the blessings that weakness can bring.

1. Weakness can make us keenly aware that the success we get is not because of our skills and abilities.

Over and over again in the Bible, we read of numerous individuals who were given privileged positions by God not because of their abilities or skills.

The first two kings of Israel, Saul and David, did not seek elections, boost their portfolios, or give enticing speeches to prove that they had the mettle to be king. Instead, it was God who chose them and anointed them through Samuel the prophet. (1 Samuel 9:15-16, 1 Samuel 16:1)

Although Saul came from a well-to-do family, there was nothing extraordinary about him. David started off as a humble shepherd and certainly wasn’t the first choice candidate of both Jesse (David’s father) and Samuel. Samuel thought Eliab was a good choice (1 Samuel 16:6), and Jesse didn’t even consider David at first—maybe because too young (1 Samuel 16:11). But God clearly had David in mind to be Israel’s next king.

When we know we didn’t get something on our own merit, we will be able to see clearly that it came from God.

2. Weakness can make us better stewards of whatever God has given us.

The two kings ended their journey very differently however. When Saul witnessed David’s success against Goliath, His insecurity grew and manifested itself in his attempts to murder David. Years later, Saul was defeated in battle. Although he started off well, his ego eventually “Edged God Out”, leading him to squander and abuse his God-appointed leadership role for his own purposes, instead of God’s.

David’s ego (or lack of), on the other hand, “Enlarged God Only”, and was known as a man after God’s heart. Unlike Saul, he did not waste God’s anointing and appointment of him as the leader of the nation. He followed God wholeheartedly and sought to achieve God’s purposes for the nation.

When we constantly remember that it is God who gives us all we have, we will be able to be good stewards of these gifts, and use them in accordance to how He intends for us. Let’s follow His call for us to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Pet 2:9)

 3. Weakness can make us realize our sinfulness and see God’s faithfulness.

King David wasn’t perfect throughout his reign. He messed up several times when he indulged his ego by taking a census of his people in violation of God’s command (2 Samuel 24:10-17), and gave in to fleshly temptations by lusting after Bathsheba and ordering the assassination of her husband Uriah  (2 Samuel 11:2-17).

But when David realized that he had failed, he repented. The Psalms he wrote were filled with anguish, brokenness, and failures. And it was in these moments that David realized that God was always there, that He was David’s Shepherd and Shield. In David’s failures, God’s faithfulness was magnified. These Psalms continue to minister to people across the generations.

And despite David’s shortcomings, God chose him to be a forebear of the coming Messiah. David would play a part in the great salvation plan.

When we recognize how sinful we are, we will realize the immense faithfulness of God. Even in our failures, God is with us and redeems us.

4. Weakness can cause us to be in the best position for God to use and redeem us for His kingdom work.

Matthew worked for the Roman government as a tax collector. He was probably widely hated or despised, because many tax collectors collected “extra taxes” which ended up in their own pockets. Tax collectors were outcasts and shunned by people.

But his weakness—not being a social or moral success in society—was precisely what drew Jesus to him. When Jesus saw Matthew sitting at his tax-collecting booth, He called out to him to follow Him and be His disciple. Matthew did and later, had dinner with Jesus and the other “sinners” in town. When the Pharisees and the teachers of the law complained that Jesus was eating with sinners, Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick . . . For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

When we find ourselves being deemed lowly in the eyes of the world, we’re best placed to hear God’s call and be used by Him.

 

My friends and I are help professionals or are serving in full-time Christian ministry in pastoral roles, ministering daily to all kinds of people. One thing we all have in common is the utterly broken and messed-up lives we had before we met Jesus. Some of my friends were gangsters and rebels; some have attempted suicide, struggled with mental and physical illnesses, had been abused, or had traumatic childhoods.

But Jesus redeemed our lives, and healed us spiritually so that we can share His grace with others. To live and work together daily among such broken vessels, I can only marvel at God’s transforming love and grace to us, allowing us to be “wounded” healers for Him.

Ultimately, knowing that we are indeed weak can make us more reliant on God, and more useful to Him. Our daily posture of weakness allows God to work on us, transforming us to become more like His son (Rom 8:29). Let us rely on God daily and confidently say, “The Lord is the strength of my heart (Psalm 73:26)”.

Orphan to Queen: What I’ve Learned from Esther

“You can’t do this. You are not prepared for this kind of work.”

“You don’t have what it takes to fulfill this role, so don’t accept it.”

“There are others who can do the job better; let them do it.”

I have a confession to make: I hide behind the veil of my flaws to excuse myself from doing the tasks that God calls me to do. I struggle with doubts and fears. I wrestle with many limitations and shortcomings.

But the book of Esther pointed me to a truth I have not seen before.

Raised by her cousin, Mordecai, Esther was an orphaned girl who lost both her parents at a really young age—nothing short of a tragic weight to carry as a child. She must have not been proud of it and I doubt she flaunted that information to anyone who came close to getting to know her intimately.

How weak she must have felt and unfit to do many things because of her lack of a “real” family. (I know I had felt inadequate not having my father while growing up.) But her brokenness makes her pliable in God’s hands. It created room for Him to do something phenomenal because she didn’t have it all together. He chose to use Esther not in spite of her history but because of it (as American author Beth Moore says in her study guide on Esther). He chose her because in her apparent inadequacy His power was unmistakable.

I had always presumed that our strengths are what God uses to bring about His will for our lives. And while that is true, it’s not the whole story. God operates through our weaknesses as much as He operates through our strengths. Esther’s story demonstrates that.

I suspect that she didn’t see herself as having the edge to compete against all the other girls in the harem and win the king’s heart. I would even venture to say that she probably found herself in an unfavorable position because of who she was—an orphaned Jew in a foreign land—with little or nothing to boast about her background. I doubt becoming queen ever crossed her mind. Yes, she was lovely; but Queen Vashti, the queen she replaced, was lovelier.

In Esther: It’s Tough Being A Woman, Beth Moore wrote: “One reason some scholars surmise that Vashti’s beauty may have even exceeded Esther’s is that, in a genre where words mean the world, Vashti was twice attributed with beauty and Esther, once.”

Yet the king noticed Esther; he chose her to be his new queen. The king could have so easily chosen a different girl (and he had many choices) whose beauty surpassed that of his previous queen but instead he favored Esther.

Thus begins one of the well-known rags-to-riches stories in the Bible where a seemingly disadvantaged girl becomes the one who rescues her people from total annihilation.

Who would have thought of this unlikely hero to come out of the debris of her painful history? God did. For He can use ordinary individual to accomplish His saving plan.

He had chosen her for such a time, and it was glorious. Esther taught me this: my weaknesses are not reasons for God to not call my name to fulfill a role in His work. They are avenues for Him to create something only He can—beauty out of the ashes.