So, that thing you’ve been wondering in the middle of weary, with the rotten, metallic taste of failure threatening on your tongue; that question you bury deep when it feels like you’re carrying life like heavy boulders, and it hurts and you’re losing your grip–that?
Well, the answer is yes.
Yes. You can, because He can.
To Him, all your cracking doesn’t mean broken at all. It means ready, because all those weak places are the thin spaces bursting bright with God, and that’s where He’s seen—just there—in the places where you ought not hold together.
I’ve seen it again and again.
It’s the story of my daughter’s life.
And glory shines all through our remembering.
Glory, glory, glory to the one who was and is and is to come.
That first week, she isn’t nervous until we walk in, not until the moment when she steps in the doorway. She just wants to know what to do.
“So, when someone comes in, you introduce yourself. You say, ‘Hello, my name is Riley. What’s your name?’ And then you say, ‘Welcome to our church.’”
“Okay, I’ll do that. I’ll say that,” she says, trusting me, believing what I say when I tell her that this is her strength, that God will use her to bless. “Yea, I know,” she says to me, a faint smile surprising even her, so much so that she reaches up to touch it with her fingers. ”I am good at remembering names.”
For her, all our observations are just so many facts, neither worth arrogance nor shame. Someone will say, “You have a round belly, Riley,” and she’ll say, “Yes, I do. I do have a round belly.” I’ll tell her she’s beautiful, and she’ll look me in the eyes and say, “Yea, I am beautiful.” She only protests when her dad says something ridiculous on purpose, something out of character, something she’s not willing to own, something absurd enough to make her laugh. When she struggles, she has no trouble confessing, “Sometimes things are just hard for me.” But this too is merely a fact, not a judgement, not a mark against her. She cannot understand why the rest of us are sometimes so sensitive about the facts, why some of them make us defensive, why we compare ourselves to each other.
So, that first Sunday, she stands just inside the doorway and welcomes everyone who walks into our church building. But that first Sunday it’s all new, and she can’t quite look everyone in the eyes, and that’s the only way I know that she’s nervous. I leave her there, standing beside a sister of mine who has promised to mentor her, knowing this will be so good. But her discomfort makes me have to pin my arms to my sides. I want to stand behind her, wrapping my arms around her shoulders, so she’ll feel a little more safe.
Surely God restrains Himself from our rescue sometimes so that we’ll grow. He must exercise great power not to move those mighty arms.
I leave her to pray, to let her grow, to let God do what He always has. And I keep thinking of something the Psalmist wrote, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked (Psalm 84:10).” If heaven has gatekeepers, God made Riley to be one of them. She never forgets a name. Autism has its strengths, all wrapped up deep in its weaknesses.
When I walk into the auditorium, our minister moves toward me, reaching to hug me.
“I have to tell you,” he says, his voice crumbling, “Riley out there greeting is just the most beautiful thing.” And so it is with the things only God can do.
Riley was born into this Family. Our minister remembers her blonde curls, her frustrated silence, the way she mutely lined up her toys. He remembers her unable to make connections, unable to look, unable to speak. And glory shines all over that remembering. Oh the beauty of what God has done.
Our minister leans in, his hand on my shoulder, telling me about watching Riley greet someone new, an adult man who seemed extremely shy, someone who stuttered a bit and couldn’t look into her eyes.
“There they were, and he’s looking this way, and talking softly, and she’s looking sideways, kind of at the ground, mumbling.”
“Yea, she’s a little nervous,” I admit, but he stops me before I finish.
“But you know,” he says, a little awe-struck, “I think somehow it made the man more comfortable. He seemed to relax while they were talking.”
I stand stunned, speechless before God, in awe of such grace, such glory, that even when Riley’s nervous and can’t look, He lets her be His hands, His voice, because she’s willing. The name God gave her means valiant. And this is the truth: I never knew courage before I knew her.
Courage isn’t lacking fear. Courage is pressing through the fear. And she presses through.
Our minister turns to go and then stops short, chuckling. ”One thing, though. It’s the cutest thing. She introduced herself to me this morning. She put out her hand and she said, ‘Hi, my name is Riley. What’s yours?’ And then, after I told her my name, she said, ‘Welcome to our church.’” He walks away, smiling, leaving me smiling too. I forgot to tell her that she needn’t introduce herself to those she already knows.
When I tell her this at lunch, she laughs, as though it hadn’t made sense to her. ”No, I don’t need to introduce myself to them,” she says, giggling.
“No, you don’t. If it’s someone you know, just say, ‘Hi,’ and say their name, and then say something like, ‘Welcome! It’s so good to see you today.’ But if it’s someone you don’t know, that’s when you say, ‘Hello, my name is Riley. What’s yours?’ Does that make sense?’”
She nods. ”Okay, I can do that. I can say that.” She smiles, and I realize that she knew this but had simply followed my instructions exactly, trusting me, even when it didn’t make sense. It occurs to me that this is the faith God wants from me, the trusting even when the how just doesn’t make sense to me.
Glory, glory, glory, to the one who was, and is, and is to come.
His glory shines through all our remembering.
Every week now, someone new mentions that they’ve been blessed by her hugs, her greetings, the way she always remembers them by name.
And I listen to them and think, “How does it happen that a little girl who once had no words now has a ministry of her own?“
How is it that they call and write and say to me, “Every week, she makes me feel special?” How does a little girl who shouldn’t be able to make social connections pour out so much love and have so many friends? How does she remember every name, every face?
She can, because He can. She does, because He does.
All our weak places are just thin spaces bursting bright with God.
So, take courage. You can do this.