Building Joy


About 10 years ago my life nearly ended over a catastrophic outcome of a counseling relationship.  (Another person being counseled by this same individual actually sued them and won the lawsuit.  I couldn’t pursue the same course due to my overwhelming feelings of abandonment and betrayal about what this Christian counselor had done.)  In the middle of the fall-out I met another individual who became a very good friend.  He rescued me from the dysfunction of that former relationship.  He filled a place of a father and loved and supported me through a long and painful recovery.  He remains a close friend of our family to this day.  But it hasn’t always been easy!  This person challenges me on a level that I could have never anticipated.  In the summer of 2006 during a tour of Nebraska I made the following entry into my travel journal:

July 14, 2006

Traveling with a person who has Asperger’s is a little like trying to outrun a tornado.  You aren’t supposed to even try!  The whirlwind of words and queries, the incessant swirl of chaos and randomness of direction which pushes the conversation at once here and then again over there, the impulsivity and distraction sweeping across my mind in a twisting cloud of loose connections and illogical conclusions.  I don’t know weather to laugh or cry.  I suppose we are all an enigma of certain proportions to others but I really can’t figure out what makes him tick.  There are no roads through his wilderness and the wind is free to play.

We’ve covered a good part of Nebraska and I keep turning up the stereo in the suburban hoping to drown out the roar of the cyclone in the seat next to me.  The words of the song playing on a CD suddenly strike a chord in my heart. As I listen I can feel my eyes cloud over with emotion.  “If I can hold on through the tears and the laughter… will it be beautiful?  Or just a beautiful disaster?”  On the basis of previous relationship trauma and attachment issues, I have awarded myself a PhD in predicting relationship failures (PHD=Perpetually Horrified of Desertion).

Wow.  Relationships are so complicated!

Hmmm.  I laugh to myself a little when I write that word:  wow.

He says it all the time.  “Wow.”

It doesn’t matter much to me what it is: a dead tree.  A leaning barn.  A gray sky.  The name of a roadside gas station.  Ants on an empty pizza box.  A blade of grass.  The hills of Nebraska that have seemed monotonously repetitious for the past 3 days.   Rocks, chocolate, coffee, chips, sand, brick roads… Anything and everything seems to elicit the expression, “wow”.

For some reason it angers me.  I don’t want to stop for another picture.  Food doesn’t taste that good.  We’ve seen sunsets better than this one.  Why am I so angry?!

Anger.  That’s a complex thing.  I think it’s him, always “ooh-ing” and “ah-ing” over every little trivial thing.  But it’s not.

It’s me.

I’m angry because I’ve become so disenchanted.  I’ve lost my sense of “wow”.  Where did it go?  Why did everything used to enthrall me and now nothing does?  I’m sorry because I used to love so much and now – ?   Now I do what I think I would have done when I used to love.

I want back what he seems to have retained despite all of his struggles to communicate and structure the world around him.  I want the child-like sense of wonder that compels him to stop tearing down camp to kneel and investigate a busy colony of ants blazing their own trails across last nights picnic table. I want to feel desire again; to be awed by grass and clouds and tiny insects and LIFE.

We make camp at lake Calamus, and I repent of my cynicism as the world is baptized in the golden glow of the setting sun.  Running on the beach, catching turtles and photographing the moon over the Sandhills I begin to accept and appreciate that whirlwinds can not be put on a course.  After all, God appeared to Job in a whirlwind – and if it is a form that God can take perhaps I should try to hear Him speaking to me from within my own personal cyclone.  There are other moments that will clear the way for joy and celebration:  Hiking around Willow lake, savoring chocolate covered cherries in the Omaha Old market, putting up hay at our farm, tearing down an old shed, poking around the river bluffs for fossils, stuffing our faces with pizza on the way out of Pierce, coming to a screeching stop to get a photograph of a broken windmill or a shaded lane flanked by cottonwood trees.

At the end of the day, the cumulative effect of these moments of joy is powerful.  Like tiny leaks in a massive dam or streaks of sunshine that manage to peep through a storm gray steel sky – joy comes – penetrating my fortress of unfeeling.  Knocking at my door of safety.  Beckoning me to pull back the deadbolt of mistrust.

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