I’ve been keeping a secret…
For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt different. I’ve felt different in a way I couldn’t exactly pinpoint, and the older I got, the more my awareness of this difference grew.
How were people able to have such expressive body language? Isn’t that a lot of work, I wondered. I could sometimes be extremely quiet, partly because I didn’t know what to say, and partly because I could only socialize for so long without needing some way to retreat.
I wondered why the other kids seemed to socialize and click with each other with ease while I didn’t. I wondered why I felt so different from other girls and could not relate to them or their interests. I wondered why the other kids played with toys the way they did and how some toys were even supposed to be fun to begin with– but I pretended to know.
While the other kids’ make believing didn’t extend beyond their pretend play, mine did.
I masked. I masked my confusion.
In college, I longed to go into ministry but I couldn’t see how it could work out. My heart burned to not just read about other’s extraordinary experiences with God, but to have one myself.
In particular, I assumed I wouldn’t be able to preach well. I couldn’t figure out how I’d ever possibly be expressive enough to pull off the Black preaching styles I was accustomed to hearing in church.
After feeling legit-stalked by God, I made the decision to do away with my back-up plans and dive head-first into my call to pastoral ministry.
I think I believed things would eventually resolve themselves. So what, my homiletics professor described my preaching as robotic? I eventually figured out how to make preaching work for me, and I was actually good at it.
My genuine passion and hyper-focus in young adult ministry and my indifference to social hierarchy made it easy for me to connect with people who had influence; as a result, opportunities opened for me. My ability to pick up on patterns and connections others couldn’t as readily see made my perspectives unique, valuable, and sought out.
However, things didn’t resolve on their own. As the responsibilities of the opportunities I was given grew along with the expectations to have social skills and understanding I did not have, to say I struggled is an understatement. This prompted me to seek a complete answer for the questions I long had.
After a long journey, at 30 I was formally diagnosed with autism.
I wanted an extraordinary experience with God, but I didn’t quite grasp that it would take a deep awareness of where my own power ended and God’s began. I’ll no longer be keeping this secret. I cannot walk in faith while simultaneously hiding in fear. This is me. Against extraordinary odds, I’m not only a female pastor, but an autistic female pastor. I’m not only a church planter, but an autistic church planter.
I believe God will use me, not despite my being autistic, but exactly because of it. I’m challenging the perspectives of who autistic people are and what we can do. We are diverse in our faiths, diverse in our professions, diverse in our backgrounds, and diverse in our challenges, but we are capable.