Letter To Myself - What I Know Now
If any of my regular readers are still around, I hope you aren't too dismayed by the word 'faith'. I do plan to go back to writing fiction and other things here, but this was something I needed to do. I will also be writing about my faith, but not exclusively - and I'll try to make sure those who would rather avoid such posts can do so easily. And for those taking part in the Faith Jam, I hope I haven't broken any rules...
It’s hard to remember just how my mind worked thirty six years ago when I was almost seventeen. So much has happened since then to change me, I’m not sure I’d even recognise myself. I suspect you’re going to have a hard time believing who this is from. After all, as much as you’d love to be able to travel in time, you know it isn’t possible. And it feels strange to be writing to myself, when that ‘self’ is so much different from the person I am today.
But I know things about you that you haven’t told anyone else yet. Most importantly, it was only a month ago you decided to give God a chance to prove He was real. You weren’t expecting that He was, but you did honestly want to know the truth, so He took up your challenge. You’ll learn that you can’t set limits on God, though; that’s why He took such pains to prove to you that He did exist in the one way you’d told Him you couldn’t possibly accept. And the fact that He managed to do that, when you were so sure you needed something tangible to overcome your reason, was a powerful proof in itself. So now you believe in Him, to your own shock, but there are so many things you don’t understand yet, things that you’ll find yourself learning through painful experience.
The first thing you need to know, and I’m not sure if it is the most important but it is the most urgent, is that you have a harder time hearing God than most people do. There are reasons for that, but before I get into those - if you can hear Him, He’s shouting. So when you hear Him telling you “Tell Michael about Me” - listen! Don’t take time to think about it first, or wait for the right time, like I know you’re going to want to. There isn’t time. Unless talking to Michael about God will change things, in about six weeks you’re going to be reading another note. This one won’t be from me. You’ll get home and find it, and it will say “There was a crash. The driver died. It was Michael ------.” And you’ll remember what you heard the night before, that awful sound you thought was an explosion, until you couldn’t see any flames out the window.
You’ll remember how you were so freaked out you put it out of your mind, even when you heard sirens and chainsaws and realised there had been an accident down at the corner, you never even connected that with the sound you heard first. When you went by the corner that morning and saw the oak tree ripped up by its roots, and knew that must have been what you heard them cutting up late into the night, you still didn’t connect it with the noise that you heard just after midnight. But once you read that note, and understand it was Michael’s car that slammed into that huge tree, his body that lay broken and dying on the ground, you won’t be able to forget the sound any longer. I can’t even write about this thirty six years later without crying. So talk to him.
If you listen, I don’t know what that will change, but I’m pretty sure your life won’t be nearly as much of a mess. If you think this is a joke and everything turns out the same way, there are a couple of other things you need to know. First, God forgives even something as awful as ignoring His voice when it matters as much as that. His love is that great. It took me years to figure that out, but there is nothing God won’t forgive. But even more important than that - God doesn’t just love you. He loves Michael, too. And if you screw it up, He knew you were going to do that, and with all His power and mercy and grace, there is no chance at all that He would allow Michael to burn in hell because you screwed up. I don’t know anything more than that, but I’ve learned that much about God. If you can remember it, it might keep you a lot saner than I was for a lot of years. It was still a horrible thing to do, and ignoring God is never a good idea, when you can figure out what He’s saying. But at least you’ll know He will and does forgive you, and that He is not so powerless that He needs to allow someone else to suffer because of your failure.
But there are other things you’ll need to know, that are important, too. Right now, you think what you need to do, once you’ve accepted Jesus and ‘gotten your passport stamped’ is try to be a good person. Forget about that. You can’t. You can never be a good person. No one can, not really. Only God, with His power, can help you to do that, and you have to follow Him and let Him work it all out instead of trying to do it yourself. I know all your instincts are telling you otherwise, but don’t listen to them. Those instincts are about as useful here as a lemming’s instinct is when he comes to the top of a cliff. You can do nothing on your own. Only God can accomplish anything worthwhile in your life. The only thing you can do is try to follow Him, wherever He leads you.
Some people will say that’s wrong, but there isn’t anyone who’s that good at understanding God. You’re not, I’m not, and neither is anybody else. People are horribly good at taking the truth of God’s Word and twisting it to fit what their human minds understand, or what they wish it said. All of us do that, and convince others, and confuse each other until no one is sure what He really meant. We end up arguing about it and hurting each other instead of loving one another the way He told us to do. I’m not any better at that than anyone else, sadly. As much as I understand God now, that was thanks to a pastor who had the guts to get up in front of us all and admit that he was scared, that he was flawed, that he screws up just like everybody else. God works best when you admit just what a mess you are. And I’ve seen God working enough in my life to be sure I’m at least somewhere near the right path on that, although I’m sure I’m still further off it than I’d like to think. But if He is working in my life, that means something. It means a lot more about His love and mercy and grace than anything to do with me. I never would have come to this point if He hadn’t drawn me in. I couldn’t even do that much on my own. Remember that, and don’t pat yourself on the back just because you know the truth. It doesn’t make you better than anyone else.
He made me the way I am, and I screwed it up. Yes, I had help. But no one alive chooses what they learn when they’re younger, when they’re just figuring things out. We all learn lies, bad habits, ways of coping that don’t work as well as we hoped they would. The people who taught you aren’t any different than you are. That’s one reason you shouldn’t judge anyone else. We are all struggling, and you don’t know what they have to fight any more than they know what you’re fighting against. We all misunderstand each other. You can see how messed up they are, but you haven’t figured out yet that doesn’t do you much good, because you’re just as messed up in different ways. The faster you figure that out, the better, because that’s a lesson you’ve got to learn in order to let God lead you instead. And even when something honestly isn’t your fault, that isn’t what matters - because you’re still the one who has to live with the way you are until you let go and let God fix everything that’s broken inside you. No matter how much someone else hurt you, or left you in a mess, you’re still the one who has to live with the consequences. So the best thing you can do is forget about everything except getting out of the way and letting God heal you. What’s happened to you is the same thing that happens to everyone; God makes them, and they and all the people around them damage what He’s made until only He can fix it.
It’s part of our nature to fight, to struggle, to try to figure it all out and fix it on our own. Yes, you’re smart, and there are people who get hurt a lot worse than you’ve been, or will be. So it looks like you can do it on your own, but you can’t. That’s God’s grace, because if you could patch yourself together enough to convince yourself the job was done, you’d never turn to Him for help. And the job wouldn’t really be done, you’d just have covered over all the cracks. Nobody can fix themselves. Only God can do that. He has all the blueprints, He knows how you work a lot better than you do - and how you were designed to work. He knows what you were meant to be, and what damage you’ve got that’s throwing you off that track. You’re so damaged, you think some of the broken parts were meant to be that way, and you go around breaking things that weren’t damaged yet, because you think they needed to be fixed. So you have to let Him do it.
You’re going to have some nasty surprises I can’t do much to help you with. You’re more different from other people than you can possibly understand right now. And that’s going to mislead you. Yes, you’re able to see that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes while everyone around you is busy applauding and exclaiming over his new outfit, but there are things they can see that you can’t. As long as you let yourself get distracted by how right you are on some things, you’ll keep right on walking off cliffs and into walls that you can’t see. Since you’re so sure you know what you’re doing, you’ll believe it was something else, too. Everybody seems to make that mistake, but you’re in a position to get more caught up in it than most people ever do. Getting the ‘genius’ label when you were young wasn’t helpful, and neither is obsessing over all the things that you’re right on that no one else can see. Sometimes you really are right, but some truths are just a distraction from much bigger, more important truths.
Everyone sees the world through tinted glasses. The only difference is what shade they are. Most of us even look through a couple of pairs at once. I know you won’t have any trouble believing that, since you’re already starting to figure it out - except that you’re almost certain to assume that you’re immune. You’re not. Just because you don’t have the same tinted lenses most people use hindering what you can see, that doesn’t mean you aren’t missing a different part of the spectrum. You’re going to get hurt, a lot. Then you’re going to start wondering if all the bullies were right after all. That isn’t true, either. Right now, you think the fact you’ll never be able to drive is a life sentence as an outcast. Later, you’ll come to realise you’re much more of an outcast than that, and eventually, you’ll even identify yourself as “an outcast even among the outcasts”. But neither extreme is what’s important. What matters is what God is doing in your life.
If you could see me right now, I suspect you’d be horrified. I’ve made a mess out of my life, and I have literally nothing but God Himself to rely on right now. That sounds like a bad thing to you, but it isn’t really. The truth is, anything but God that you rely on is an illusion. Even if it’s there at the moment, you can lose it as quickly and with as little warning as Michael died. So knowing that all you have is God, and nothing else, is really just being forced to face the truth you’ve been trying to hide from all along. You could write enough bestsellers to make you rich and famous, and you could count on your money and your fame and all the people who looked up to you as a bestselling author - and you could wake up one day and find out a financial crisis had wiped out everything you had, people had moved on and decided all your books were crap, and you had cancer. So trust God, learn to rely on Him, lean on Him. Worry about what He wants. That’s all that really matters.
Even in all the pain and misery and agony that you’re going to go through - God is there, beside you. He is watching over you, and He will bring you back to His side even when you lose your mind from the pain and shove Him away. And finally, when you’re ready, He’ll let you learn at least some things about yourself that you’ve never understood. All the reasons people have attacked you, have called you a liar when you weren’t, have challenged you when you were telling the truth so you even found it easier for a while to lie because they believed those more easily, all those things have an explanation. And, for all the hard times you’ve had being an outcast, for all the pain, when you finally understand what your eyes really work like (and, no, you don’t even know that yet; I won’t know until I’m fifty one) and how your mind works, you’re going to discover something amazing. God actually planned out those ‘defects’. He designed them to work together, to shape the person you already are, and they’ll go on helping you and shaping you in ways you aren’t ready to grasp yet. You have as much sin inside you as anyone else, you’re not any better - but you’re not worse, either. You’re not
I dare to hope that means He has some use for me. Why would He spend so much time working in my life, if all He meant to do was let me die in a gutter in six months? But even if that’s what happens, it won’t be a big deal, because death isn’t the end. Death is just a step across the threshold into Heaven. So focus on what matters. Remember that you have an especially hard time hearing God. That’s something I’m still working on. And you have more trouble focusing on anything than you’ll understand for a long time, so you need to be aware of that. And you need to let God guide you and unfold the details of His plan as you’re ready to take that next step. I still don’t know what use He has for me, but I know more than I did a few years ago. I’m growing. One other thing I’ve learned, though; whenever you get too impressed with how far you’ve grown, that’s a danger sign. Because there is a lot more that needs to be fixed than you can possibly comprehend all at once. Every time you think God’s done restoring you, He peels off another layer and lets you see all the rust and corrosion and damage underneath it.
Even if you don’t get this letter, or you decide it’s just a joke, it’s all right. God knows what’s going to happen, and He can make it work out the way He always meant it to. Great chess masters can stay just a couple of moves ahead of you, so they can beat you and make it look like magic. But God knows, before the board is even laid out on the table, how the whole game is going to turn out. If He allowed me to take this long to figure things out, then He can still make use of that, somehow, even if I never understand how. That’s His magic, and it is more powerful than any magic any person has ever imagined.
To anyone else reading this;
Since I am an ‘outlier’, so different that even people who know me well misunderstand me more often than not, no doubt you’re puzzled by some of the things I’ve referred to. I was born with poor vision and crossed eyes. Some of my earliest memories are of visits to eye doctors - and getting yelled at because I squirmed and tried to get away from the bright lights. It took until I was in third grade for a specialist, one of the most prestigious eye doctors in the state, to figure out that I was legally blind. Obviously, my poor vision had a huge influence on my life.
On top of that, a lot of people were always asking “What’s wrong with you?” Almost no one ever took me seriously. As an example, when I was ten, my pediatrician was digging wax out of my ears, and I screamed in pain until he yelled at me for being a “crybaby”. That stung almost as much as my ear, and made me shut up, until he was done. Then, my ear tickled, so I put my hand up to scratch it - and pulled it away covered in blood. The doctor simply looked at my mother and said “How was I supposed to know he had hair growing in his ears?”
As much as it stung that he couldn’t even be bothered to apologise for ripping so many hairs in my ear out by the roots that blood poured out for half an hour afterwards, or for calling me a crybaby for yelling in pain at that sensation, he wasn’t as terrible a doctor as you might imagine. That story illustrates the way most people react to me. My second grade teacher and the school nurse both called me a liar in front of the whole class for saying I couldn’t see things at the same distance everyone else could. They tried to force me to read books at a “normal” distance. Over and over again.
Even when I was grown up, things like this continued to happen to me, and even people who knew what I was going through would have what I found to be a most frustrating sympathy with the offenders. I heard, “It’s just something about you. I can’t explain it, but you almost ask for it.” so often I could recite the words by heart. And then there were the quirks I had I never told anyone about, or tried to bury or conceal somehow. I doubted my own sanity a lot more often than I was willing to admit to anyone else. So what was the explanation? Finally, in the summer of 2010, someone made a remark that got me thinking. By then, I’d already heard of Aspergers. I’d even thought a lot of things about it sounded very much like me. But there were other things that weren’t like me at all.
This time, I decided to really look into it, to settle the matter and figure it out one way or the other rather than wondering. When I was younger, no one even knew about Aspergers. And getting a formal diagnosis as an adult is a lot harder and more expensive than I was prepared to handle, but I could research it, and consider what I learned as it applied to me. After all, who knows me better than I do? So I did - and I still didn’t think I had Aspergers, until I realised something. The things I was sure didn’t apply to me were things other people often said about me - things I felt were unfair. So what if this was describing what someone with Aspergers looked like to a person on the outside? In that case, the description fit me amost perfectly. I did more reading, and met other people like me online. For the first time in my life, I was among other outcasts who thought I made sense. And they all thought the ‘experts’ didn’t understand us very well, either. Even people who had been formally diagnosed thought that.
Now that I finally know what it is that’s different about me, now that I know what advice from others I need to just ignore because they have no idea what’s going on inside my head, I’ve begun making more progress than I ever have before at actually figuring out my life and trying to accomplish something. Not much progress; the neurotypical world would laugh at what I call ‘progress’. But if I measure it against my own experience in the past, I’ve come further in two years than I ever managed to do in all the years that came before that. There are still things I don’t know how to overcome, that I’ll have to trust God to help me deal with.
Imagine that a cat was born in a dog’s body, among a pack of dogs, but still had all of a cat’s instincts and reflexes. When the dogs around them wagged their tails, they’d back off, fearful because they’d think they were angry. When the other dogs acted as if they were just another one of the pack, and should behave like any other dog, they’d be confused. They wouldn’t even know how. After all, they’re just doing what comes naturally to them. When they wagged their tail in fear or anger, the other dogs would think they were happy, then they’d blame the poor cat in dog’s body who swiped at them when they got close. Is it any wonder that poor creature would grow up confused, unsure what to believe or who to trust? Is it any wonder they might stop trying to communicate with those dogs at all, and, if they didn’t, that they might keep their distance and be very wary? That’s what life is like for us. We understand that we don’t understand you. But what most of you don’t understand is that you don’t understand us any
So I have struggled, and for years felt God must hate me. The more people urged me to do and be what I could not - to be a “good dog” when I am instead a cat - the more I believed that. But, only a month or so after I figured out my mind was different, I found out my eyes were, too. What the specialist of my childhood never knew - or at least never wrote on my diagnosis - was that I was born with ocular albinism. My eyes don’t work the same as almost everyone else’s either. Not even the same as most people with poor vision. Instead, what would be peripheral vision in anyone else is all my vision. I don’t need to fear macular degneration, because I never formed a macula to begin with. Of course my eyesight worked differently than anyone was used to. Of course it just added to the misunderstandings anyone with Aspergers learns to take for granted.
But it did something else, something powerful, something only God could do. I had to learn some of the letters when I was much younger than most kids ever learn, just to tell the eye doctors my parents kept taking me to what letters I saw on each line (or at least the top few lines) of their charts. The curiosity and drive to understand that burned inside me due to my autistic traits caused me to expand on that, to insist on learning to understand those letters, how they fit together, how to read. And then I learned that I was able, when I read very close up to the page, to see several words at one time, at a glance. And my autistic brain could take those words in almost instantly and piece them into the sentence I was building up in my mind. So I could read so fast most people who saw me do it couldn’t believe I was actually reading - until I proved it to them. Scanners didn’t really exist then, and I wasn’t quite as fast as a modern scanner, but in a sense, I was a sort of human scanner that fed input into my own brain.
And while that input, all the many books I devoured desperately, did not and could not ‘cure’ my autistic traits, since they are not a disease, not a ‘defect’, but simply a different neural circuitry, it did provide me with information that helped me to deal with some of the things I couldn’t cope with, that helped me gradually to understand at least some things that some of us who don’t read much never learn to understand. And it shaped me. It made me a writer. Printed and written language was my first and most lasting ‘obsession’. It made me who I am - a writer. The one word that identifies me even more absolutely than “outcast” is “writer”. So God used two ‘defects’ to work together to create the person I am now. In spite of all the torment and misery and struggle, the blessings I’ve gained from the interaction between my different vision and my different mind are such that I would not go back and live a ‘normal’ life even if I were allowed that opportunity. I couldn’t, because to do so would be to cause myself to never have existed. I would be a completely different person.
I’ve made this explanation so long because, although it isn’t a spiritual lesson I would have any need to explain to myself - I’ve always felt sympathy for outcasts, long before I understood why - it is a spiritual lesson I hope someone else might be able to learn from my words. There are so many others out there like me, lost, alone. Desperate. There are other sheep just as lost, even if they aren’t lost for precisely the same reasons. Mostly, we are the ones no one bothers to try to lead back to the fold, because we’ve gone so far astray, because we run when we see anyone coming toward us. It was only God’s grace that kept me from doing just that. But we need God just as badly as anyone else. Perhaps you have honestly tried leading someone so lost back to the fold, but until you understand that you don’t understand, until you know why they fear you, all you can possibly do is drive them further away.