As the Son Goes, So Goes the Father

Do you remember that scene from one of the all-time best movies, ever, The Matrix?

The dialogue goes:

Trinity: I know why you’re here, Neo. I know what you’ve been doing… why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night, you sit by your computer. You’re looking for him. I know because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn’t really looking for him. I was looking for an answer. It’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.

Neo: What is the Matrix?

Trinity: The answer is out there, Neo, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

The question has been driving me too, but I didn’t dare believe that the answer was not only out there, but looking for me and ready to find me, if only I wanted it to. What is the Matrix? It is, after all, a system of control, a way of ordering the world. Everything that happens to me is mediated by and through the Matrix. So what is it, exactly? What is this “operating system” that so fundamentally shapes who and what I am? Why do I hardly sleep, and just who or what am I looking for night after night?

I think, because I was finally open to the answer finding me I suppose, my “matrix,” my operating system… is Autism. I’m an adult with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Those in the know, know that with the advent of the DSM-V previous “autistic” designations like Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger’s Syndrome have been folded into “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” This is somewhat controversial in the Autism community and I can see positives and negatives to it. That said, the DSM-V hasn’t been fully implemented yet; so clinicians are still using PDD-NOS and Asperger’s. I consider that a good thing. PDD-NOS has the lowest threshold for receiving a diagnosis of being “on the (Autism) spectrum,” and that’s the diagnosis I was preliminarily given last night. Yes, I know it’s an insurance formality, but I fully expect that we’ll eventually move to an Asperger’s diagnosis (while we still can).

This is an enormous relief. I’ve received numerous diagnoses before, like Depression, Anxiety, and most recently, (complex) PTSD. I still think there’s something to all of those, especially the last one, in no small part because I was terribly (emotionally) abused as a child. So, I get to deal with that too. Nonetheless, horrific as my upbringing was, it never quite fully accounted for what makes me, well, me, for what goes on in my head every day, for the effort it takes to get out of bed and make my way in the world. I’ve long felt so, terribly, exhausted, to the point that my fear and anxiety about getting a fatal disease was so unbearable in part because I suspected that my fight was gone, that when death came, I would welcome the opportunity to rest.

But why? Why so tired? Why is facing the world every day (still) so hard? Why am I so regimented? Why do I seek such order in my world, constantly arranging and rearranging things to make them “just so?” Why am I such a categorical thinker, constantly assigning things, people, thoughts, numbers, letters, and shapes to categories, systematizing all that I encounter? Why do I prefer certain things, and to such extremes? It’s not just that they have sentimental value; it’s as if they’re a part of me, and I feel violated when others use, touch, or even look at them? Why am I so verbose? Why do I feel such a need to provide extensive context for every little pronouncement, and why do I make pronouncements, going on at length about topics of interest so that it’s hard for others to get a word in edge-wise? Why do I struggle to make friends? Sure, I have people that care about me, even some lifelong “friends,” but they are few in number, and I can tell that being my friend is hard for them (hey, I can tell, that’s something for someone on the spectrum). Why do I get into unwanted conflicts as often as I do, usually because of some misunderstanding (on my part)? Why do people tell me I’m “just making things harder for myself?” Why do I find it so hard to start tasks, even work related high-stakes tasks that my and my family’s livelihood depends on, and yet can stay up all night pursuing a topic of interest? Why am I so “all or nothing” about everything? Why do I have such tunnel vision sometimes? Why, indeed.

In short, I now believe that the answer that I’ve finally allowed to find me is simply that, as I said above, I’m an adult with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. There, it’s out there. As I also said above, I’ve flirted with other diagnoses before like depression (for many, many years), anxiety, even PTSD. Yes, I know I got excited at one point too about the PTSD diagnosis, thinking that it might finally help explain me (to myself). Obviously, that proved not to (fully) be the case. That’s kind of the point, though. Ironically, as a Special Education professional in a school whose mission is to serve students with Asperger’s Syndrome, I often tell parents about the “pre-Autism cocktail,” the many (sometimes competing and some of which may be co-morbid) diagnoses that kids will often get saddled with in an attempt to explain their behavior, when all along there could be a single underlying factor that accounts for everything, like Autism. Somehow, though, I failed to see that in play for myself.

What finally brought me to it, sadly, is the likelihood that Samuel, my almost nine year old son, will have an ASD diagnosis very soon. As we deal with more evidence every day that this best explains what we’re seeing in Samuel, I did my homework on Autism (Autism! Which I deal with at work Every. Single. Day.) again, and realized that it probably best explains me too.  So let’s explore my questions above and relate them to the DSM-V criteria, which is similar to what’s in the DSM-IV, I believe. The black text below is from the DSM-V. The red text is how I believe it applies to me (or not).

Autism Spectrum Disorder        299.00 (F84.0)

Diagnostic Criteria

A.   Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive, see text):

1.    Deficitis in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.

I’ve been told that I maintain a flat or serious affect. I certainly can smile and do, but it’s largely calculated on my part. I’ve been told that I’m very “intense.” In hindsight I know I initiate friendships awkwardly, often with lengthy emails seeking to “explain” me and where I’m coming from, perhaps in the desperate hope that if only people really knew and understood me, they’d love me, accept me for who I am, and want to be around me.

2.    Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.

This is a skill I was forced to develop from a very young age. My mother was a severe emotional abuser, and I’ve been told that “empathy is the gift of emotional abuse.” I had to learn to read her unpredictable moods, or face “hellish” consequences. Yet, again in hindsight, I realize I still don’t do this all that well, and certainly not naturally. I’m often replaying interactions in my mind, trying to parse their meaning and predict consequences. Ask my wife. I’m often asking if I’m okay, and I no longer think it’s just because I’m desperately fragile and insecure. I think it’s because while in some intellectual corner of my being I know what approval looks like on a face, it usually doesn’t sink in. I don’t get it. I think it’s approval, or love, or affection, or caring or understanding or whatever, but how do I know for sure? I don’t. It’s a mystery.

3.    Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.

I find myself frustrated with most friendships. I consider myself very conscientious in making the effort to build relationship (following learned social “rules?”), but do not usually feel that effort is reciprocated to nearly the same degree. I’m also told that I tend to “overcommunicate,” which I do because I’m aware of the dangers that any effort to communicate is fraught with. Hence, I want to remove as many variables as possible that might lead to misunderstanding. I want to provide context and give multiple opportunities to derive the intended meaning, much like I’m doing at this very second. Friendship is hard for me, though I desperately want it, and I guess I understand now that that’s because I (am “wired to”) make it hard.

Specify current severity: Level 1?

   Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted repetitive patterns of behavior (see Table 2).

B.   Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):

1.    Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypies, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).

I have a lifelong stuttering problem, particularly when nervous. It’s changed over the past 10 years or so to what looks and feels like a vocal “tic” when stressed, nervous, tired, etc. I used to think my stuttering problem came from my mother, perhaps, and that I was so nervous in social situations because I knew I would stutter, terribly, and therefore knew that I would be bullied, terribly. I wonder now, though, if the nervousness and stuttering aren’t just indications of how different my brain is. I wonder if my social awkwardness, my struggle to relate to others didn’t precede all of this, and certainly the stuttering was related to it and exacerbated it, but there was something much deeper going on. I tend to bounce my knee or foot in what I’ve been told is excessive fashion. Due to high anxiety related to disease or illness, I’ve been told I use hand sanitizer to excess, when appropriate and often when not. I also use sanitizing wipes to, for example, clean pens that others have used. As a kid I used to get in trouble for cleaning up too much. My dad, for example, would complain that he couldn’t read the just arrived newspaper because I’d already cleaned it up.

2.    Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat food every day).

I have a high proclivity for change avoidance/resistance. I loathe change (especially “big” change) so much that when, in my calculus, it seems unavoidable, I’ll rush to make it happen in often inappropriate ways. I do not like having routines disturbed. When plans suddenly change, there is an automatic and unavoidable impulse to resist, protest, etc. Once this passes, I’m able to embrace whatever change I’m being subjected to. I’ve tried to explain this to my wife, Kirsten, that when she suggests a change to our “plan,” for the day, for the week, for household routines, for our life together, she should just brace for what (in hindsight again) is a little meltdown. I’ll protest and complain even if I ultimately like what she wants to do. I can’t help it. Speaking of plans, I rely on them, to extreme. I’m constantly asking Kirsten “what the plan is” for weekends, etc. If friends want to do something, I send email queries trying to nail down the plan weeks in advance, because I NEED TO KNOW. I’m sure I drive everyone crazy. Also, I have to be right. All the time. I know I make mistakes and get things wrong, and I can own up to those, but when it happens it feels like a violation to my very soul. If the rule is one that I’ve created, adopted, or adhered to, IT MUST BE OBEYED.

3.    Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).

I wasn’t sure where to put this. I have what might be viewed as an unusual interest in multiples of 10. I’ll sub-consciously notice numbers in the environment, like “1535,” and begin adding the individual digits to make them come out as multiples of 10. So, in the example above, 1+5=6, +3=9; moving in the opposite direction +5 and +1 again = 15, plus the unused 5 at the end of the string = 20, a nice round multiple of 10. I do the same thing with letters. I take each single span of a letter and equate it with “1,” then add the spans of various letters in a word to also equal multiples of 10. So, take a common word in the environment like “shop.” S’ are easy as there are five “spans” or parts of the S (a straight parallel line at the top moving from right to left, a downward line, another parallel line moving from left to right, another downward line, and a final fifth parallel line moving right to left). The spans of the “h” add up to 3, “o’s” usually add up to 4, and “p’s usually add up 4 as well. So I’d take 5 from the s, 3 from the h, 4 from the 0, and 4 from the p to give me 16; then I’d probably use the p again to bring it to 20. I typically do this without thinking. I wasn’t even aware of it, I don’t think, until a few years ago, perhaps when I was working out the pattern of a word or number with my finger on my wife’s back. She was laying down with her head in my lap, watching a movie. She brought it to my attention by asking what I was “writing.”

I may perseverate regarding health due to high anxiety concerning, and in relation to, apocalyptic scenarios. I have google alerts set for flu (generally), bird flu (specifically), and the new Middle Eastern Coronavirus. I have a section on my Google News page dedicated to apocalyptic scenarios, including and especially those related to zombies. I can “catastrophize” at a moment’s notice. How badly things could go- and how quickly- is something I’m always aware of.

4.    Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).

I pride myself on having “very good hearing.” I often hear things that others may not. I also have a keen sense of smell, and admittedly like to smell (most) things, except vinegar. I CAN’T STAND the smell of vinegar. I’m highly alert to the slightest whiff of it, which makes me want to flee the country. Kirsten says I startle easily, and I do. I have a visceral reaction to sudden loud sounds, which are almost a personal offense, whether intended or not. I used to think this was a PTSD thing. I now know it’s something more. 

Specify current severity: Level 2

   Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior (see Table 2).

C.   Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life). I’ve dealt with much of this since childhood, with childhood emotional abuse as an exacerbating factor.

This was a problem, diagnosis-wise. Honestly, my upbringing was so terrible that I really don’t remember much of it, and really don’t want to (I did remember the cleaning up thing referenced above, though). With both parents dead and few family friends, I had to reach out to my youngest (but still much older) half-sibling, with whom historically I’ve had a good relationship, in no small part because she was thrust into a caregiving role for me in my earliest years (it’s a long story). So, I asked her. Here is the message we exchanged.

I said:

I’ll just go ahead and put this out there. So, Samuel is on the verge of an Autism diagnosis. I don’t know how much you know about it, but his would be of the Asperger’s variety (which technically isn’t an official diagnosis anymore, but that’s beside the point). If you don’t know much about it, you can find out via this link. Going through this with him has led to some (further) hard self-reflection on my part and the realization that Asperger’s probably best describes me too. For the diagnosis to really “stick,” though, the autistic traits (or some of them, or leanings toward them) would have had to be present by age 3. You’re one of the only people around still that knew me at 3. I know of course that my mom’s abuse was a major exacerbating factor, and how much all of this is nature versus how much all of it is nurture is anyone’s guess. That said, the point in all this is that I want to ask you what you remember about me as a young child. I recall being described by Evette as a “little Spock” (showing little emotion over my very rough home life, which would be very “Aspy,” by the way), but what else can you recall about me then? You often talk about my fascination with trains (like Samuel) and that I would stop and mimic the train signal/crossing guard sound. Did I have other “quirks?” Unusual habits or “rules” I seemed to follow? A need to organize or systematize or clean up things? Odd speech or motor movements? Preoccupation with things that most kids wouldn’t be preoccupied with, or preoccupation with things that other kids would be but to an unusually great degree? Sensory issues (aversion to- or, conversely, preoccupation with- lights, sounds, the feel of things, etc.)? Please tell me what you remember. I need to know. Thanks. 

She said:
You showed several things. Look at your baby pics. You did not laugh freely or with abandon like other kids. It used to take us forever to get a smile out of you. My heart cries everytime I think about it. You were facinated with lights. Besides sitting in front of the Christmas tree for extended periods , you did other stuff. One year Dad got you a Train for your birthday. It had lights and sirens. You would stand transfixed and shake your hands (bold text added) at it. You talked well and quickly but you often repeated yourself and would not look us in the eye. You had seperation anxiety when I went to the restroom ,like you knew you were in danger. So I talked to you through the door or let you in. I loved being there for you. One of my most painfull memories Was having to let you go. Praying Sam is fine ! hugging you right now ! 
As I said to my wife in an email after getting this last night, “So I guess that’s it, then.” The DSM-V continues:

D.   Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning. Coping with daily life, including with many stressors in daily life, is becoming increasingly difficult.

This, I guess, is why we’re “here,” as this is definitely the case. All of the effort I put in every day to make it in the world, to “pass” as Neurotypical (NT) and even as a professional, is resulting in greatly diminishing returns. I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this. It’s not working (like I want it to or think it should).

E.    These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.

Nope. I’m pretty smart (I skipped two elementary grades, for example). If Asperger’s was still an available diagnosis (which apparently it is), I suspect I’d be a good candidate.

So, in summary, “the Matrix has me.” Now what?

No, no, no…I’m completely employable. Trust me…

 I was talking with friends last night and alluded to the number of jobs I’ve had. I guessed it was about 30, and after struggling this morning to remember them all in my 16 years of life as a worker so far, here is the list I came up with, in order and with little comment (from me, anyway). For those who will inevitably question my having an average of two jobs for every year I’ve worked, I can say that I do think I’ve found a niche (though not necessarily my niche) in my current job, and I hope to be at it for a good long while… 

      1. Albertson’s- TX (grocery store bagger)
      2. Jon’s Donuts- TX
      3. Kmart- TX (stock guy, my friend Chris worked there)
      4. Pizzeria Uno- TX (line cook)
      5. Dairy Queen- TX (shift manager)
      6. Six Flags over Texas- foodservice (one day; my friend Chris worked there)
      7. Radio Shack- TX (my friend Chris worked there)
      8. D/FW Airport (security screener)- while working for Radio Shack
      9. Radio Shack in MA
      10. Radisson Plaza Hotel in Ft. Worth (where JFK stayed before being shot; my friends Chris, Jeff, and Scotty worked there)- room service, then waiter
      11. Sylvan Street Grille in MA- waiter
      12. Gordon College- Pizza Shop, Cleaning Services, Security
      13. Warner Brothers Studio Store- MA
      14. Red Lobster- TX (waiter)
      15. Musicland- TX (while working at Red Lobster)
      16. Sunday River Ski Resort- Maine (I was hired but they never called me back after my drug test, which kind of makes me wonder…)
      17. Campisi’s- TX (pizza delivery)
      18. Spaghetti Warehouse- TX (waiter)
      19. Pizza Hut- Philly (shift manager)
      20. Super Fresh- Philly (overnight stock guy for two weeks while working at Pizza Hut full-time)
      21. Coffee World- Philly (assistant manager, then Store Manager)
      22. Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery- Philly (assistant manager)
      23. Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery- MN (assistant manager)
      24. St. Joseph’s Home for Children (Youth Counselor)
      25. Luther Seminary- mail room
      26. Pinnacle Services- MN (habilitation counselor- while in seminary and working at St. Joe’s)
      27. Children’s Choice- Philly (Home Study Worker)
      28. Bethanna- Philly (Kinship Social Worker)
      29. United Communities SE Philadelphia (Case Manager, Mentoring Program)
      30. Adecco- Akron (various Temp. jobs):
        1. Rexel (Electrical Company- office temp.)
        2. Charles Schwab (office temp.- Retirement Services)
      31. Blick Clinic- Akron (Group Home Manager)
      32. Summit Academy- Akron (IEP Coordinator)

“Okay, so do you want to get hit by 5-year-old’s or 35’year-old’s?”

Also from our Christmas newsletter, the following describes my job travails over the past year… 

January saw Robert continuing in a long-term “temporary” assignment as an office drone at Charles Schwab (for those of you who know me well, can you picture me working at, of all places, Charles Schwab?). It was, for a time, a necessary evil as I struggled to find meaningful work in the depressed NE Ohio economy. By Spring, that long– awaited day finally came when I was able to transition into a role as the manager of a group home for developmentally disabled men in Cuyahoga Falls. The work allowed me to use many of my gifts, including organizational skills and skills at relationship-building with my peers, staff, clients and their families, etc. It was meaningful work, to be sure. However, as I wrote on my blog in March:

I learned today a bit more about what I’ve gotten myself into at work. I knew that the home I will soon be responsible for has three developmentally disabled men living there who exhibit very ‘difficult’ behaviors. Today I learned just how difficult some of these behaviors have been, involving staff ER visits, concussions, etc. One client in the home has committed a felony or two, though he wasn’t convicted, as I understand it, because of his disability. So, as I prepare to make the transition into my official duties in the home next week, I do so with a healthy sense of respect for how challenging it will be. Having said that, however, I am also keenly aware of the mystery that each one of us embodies as image-bearers of God, and I trust that the light of that image shines on even in these men I will soon be caring for, however dimly it may do so. Though it may be naive for me to say, I nonetheless will strive mightily to tend that mystery- to nurture that light- and by my example I will likewise teach my staff to do the same. In the meantime, I’ll pay close attention during my ‘crisis intervention’ (restraint) class on Wednesday.”

Well, despite my keen attention during that class I still managed to get hit, kicked, scratched, and bitten by grown, aggressive men on a near-daily basis. It was meaningful– and quite unsafe– work, especially because I always tried to put myself in the most dangerous position, say, when transporting clients in the van, rather than using my authority to ask my staff to take risks that I wouldn’t. This meant that during some perilous van trips I was sometimes attacked by two aggressive clients at the same time, and obviously the physical and psychological toll was great. That toll was exacerbated by constant staff turnover, sick calls, etc. because of the dangers and low wages of the job. So, to make a long story short, after repeatedly expressing my concerns about the group home and its dangers, four months after starting I resigned. Incidentally, upon receiving my resignation, the agency implemented many of the changes and safeguards I had been asking for (and asked me to stay, which I did not); so I am grateful that I was there long enough to make some positive changes. In July, then, I transitioned to my current employment with Summit Academy, which is a school for kids with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome. I work as an IEP Coordinator for them, which means that I am responsible for overseeing the Individual Educational Programs for most of the students in the two buildings I work with, along with coordinating all of the testing that makes the IEP’s possible, which is known as a Multi-Factored Evaluation (MFE). I got lots of practice at doing those IEP’s and MFE’s this Fall as I completed them for 30 new students. It was a “trial by fire” which saw me working all hours of the day and night for a while, but I learned a lot in the process. Anyway, I am also a  member of the administrative team in the building; so I deal with a fair bit of student discipline as well, which of course presents its own set of challenges- including the same sort of violent behavior I dealt with in the group home (hitting, kicking, scratching, biting, etc.)- though responding to a violent five-year-old is a far cry from responding to a violent thirty-five-year-old.  So, I am very grateful for this new role and hopeful for my future in it.


Take this job and…..

This Friday marks my last day at Blick, where I have been managing one of their group homes for developmentally disabled adults since mid-March. I was so, so relieved to get this job when I finally did so in the Spring after nearly six months of looking for meaningful full-time work in the Akron area, though that relief pales in comparison to what I now feel as I prepare to move on. The past four months have no doubt been some of the most challenging of my life, and frankly, that’s saying something. The role of Home Coordinator is hard enough in and of itself, but as I experienced it in my particular group home it was not only life-draining but near devastating.
Some mentally retarded/developmentally disabled (MR/DD) clients often have very few living choices because of the severity of their disabilities and behaviors, limiting them, essentially, to the few remaining "institutions" that are left. This may be viewed, and I more and more view it this way, as a "necessary evil" which is indeed necessary because while the goal of maximum community integration for MR/DD folks is laudable and workable in many cases, there are some cases, however, for which neither is true. Nonetheless, Blick decided as an organization some time ago that they would serve "all clients." meaning that they take those clients that no other agency will- indeed, they take some that every other agency has discharged because, quite simply, the clients are too dangerous. Remarkably, the agency has placed two such clients together in the home that I manage, along with a third man who is much higher-functioning and simply deserves better.
I do not, as I write this, mean to speak ill of those two very difficult, dangerous clients. God knows- and so do I- that their behavior is largely beyond their control, and I’ve been touched in one case to see how real the struggle has been for the family of one of these men to find the best situation for their son- and for those who care for him. However, that very lack of control over impulses to hit, kick, head-butt, scratch, bite, destroy property, and self-injure- AND the unpredictability of when and under what circumstances these behaviors will occur- make for a highly unstable and dangerous situation- all the time. I’ve been attacked by these two individuals in the van- at the same time, with one saying "I want to hit you now" as he vigorously did so, and the other saying "I’m going to scratch your eyes out" as he did his best to do so as well. While staff are provided with rudimentary self-defense training and Behavior Support Plans, including physical restraint procedures, for such behaviors, this training and the concomitant procedures are sometimes woefully inadequate, especially for the clients in my group home. Hence, prior to my coming, I know of several staff being sent to the hospital with injuries, and my predecessor received a number of concussions. Likewise, on my watch, one staff has been to the hospital a couple of times, and I’ve taken clients to the hospital at least three times, along with one ill-fated trip for an orthopedic consult in which one client literally ripped apart the examining room.
This makes of course for a very difficult work environment, and that, coupled with the fact that staff and Home Coordinators alike are grossly underpaid, results in constant staff turnover and related issues- including "sick" calls, etc. As news of my impending departure worked its way to my Home Coordinator peers for Blick’s other group homes, I heard many applaud my move and speak of their inclination to do the same. The stress of the job, without having one of the most difficult homes like I do, is incredible, and one of my colleagues had been out on sick leave until very recently with ongoing chest pain- likely because of work stress. I think it all caught up with me on Sunday when I got home from work- after having to rush in on what would have been a day off in order to defuse a crisis- and basically collapsed. I got so light-headed that I couldn’t stand up, and even now I don’t feel quite myself and await some blood tests on Wednesday.
Sooo….I am moving on. I have accepted a position with a local organization that operates a number of "community schools" throughout the area for children with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome. My role with them will be the IEP Coordinator for one of their schools, which means I will be writing the Individual Educational Plans for the students in the school, overseeing their implentation, coordinating the meetings to dscuss and approve the plans, testing for progress, etc. It will be a demanding job in its own right, for sure, but without the violence and other stress. I’ll have a regular weekday, daytime shedule. I won’t be on call 24 hours a day. I’ll have built in time off in accordance with the school calendar, and it pays a bit more, to boot. This is a great move, not only for me, but for my family as well, and I praise God for the opportunity to make it and yearn that this might be a position in which I can stay and thrive for a good, long while.
Of course, I had a friend once who believed that the right thing to do in any situation was always the hard(est) thing and that one ought not live "opportunistically"- always looking for something better and taking it when it comes along. Somehow this all was connected to following Jesus, to living a cruciform life (though he would not have put it quite this way). I am keenly sensitive to this possible criticism of this move I’m making, as I have a propensity for massive guilt regarding just about everything I do. Still, I do not believe that I am doing what is described above, in no small part because I am already so terribly damaged as a person, and this role at Blick has exacerbated many of those psychologcial, emotional, and spiritual wounds (along with creating new physical ones) and so often I think the "hardest thing" for me is to choose the path of healing- to journey with Jesus beyond the cross, through death, and into resurrection and new life. I pray, then, that this is what this move represents.
Lord, let it be so.

I’m stealing a quick moment to post something before moving on to other tasks. This job has been really challenging to me, which is a good thing, but part of the challenge is giving the job my all when I’m there and giving my family and the rest of my life my all when I’m not. If permitted, I suspect this work role would suck the life out of me and destroy any other meaningful relationships. I’ve often conducted an imaginary conversation in my head with my supervisor in which I explain that if I am ever asked to make a little idol out of this job and bow down to it, I’ll be out the door so fast that heads would spin. The job is a means to an end, not an end. I am very grateful to have meaningful work to do in a role in which I have some responsibility and which challenges me to use my gifts, but having appropriate boundaries is very important to me. Moreover, I already have a Lord and, as much as I am able, I will not serve two masters.
All of that is simply to say that the job is good but unpredictable, stressful, and demanding, and I am still working to find balance. This has led to other big decisions that I’ll write about when able, Lord and my fatigue-level willing, perhaps tonight….

A Glass Darkly…

I learned today a bit more about what I’ve gotten myself into at work. I knew that the home I will soon be responsible for has three developmentally disabled men living there who exhibit very "difficult" behaviors. Today I learned just how difficult some of these behaviors have been, involving staff ER visits, concussions, etc. One client in the home has committed a felony or two, though he wasn’t convicted, as I understand it, because of his disability. So, as I prepare to make the transition into my official duties in the home next week, I do so with a healthy sense of respect for how challenging it will be. Having said that, however, I am also keenly aware of the mystery that each one of us embodies as image-bearers of God, and I trust that the light of that image shines on even in these men I will soon be caring for, however dimly it may do so. Though it may be naive for me to say, I nonetheless will strive mightily to tend that mystery- to nurture that light- and by my example I will likewise teach my staff to do the same. In the meantime, I’ll pay close attention during my "crisis intervention" (restraint) class on Wednesday.

Gain(?)-fully Employed

Well, the near six months of waiting is over. Yesterday I accepted a full-time Home Director position at the Blick Clinic. I’ll be in charge of one of their group homes for developmentally disabled adults. It’s truly meaningfully work, and the work will challenge me to really use my gifts for leadership, organization, administration, and relationshp building, and so I am glad for it. It’s the kind of position in which it will be hard to ever really leave the "office," what with endless paperwork, being "on call" basically at all times and so getting midnight phone calls, etc. Still, I am very glad. The pay is just enough that Kirsten will be able to cut back her hours a bit in order to have one of us there to care for Samuel most of the time. Our family financial "bottom line" will probably end with a slight net loss, but in the whole I’m believing it will be worth it. After all this time, of course I feel very hopeful. New beginnings, and having your gifts recognized as you are called to use them, are a good thing.
With plans still in the works to start school again soon, along with my aspirations to write and to be fully immersed and invested in a faith community even as I strive to give my all to the joys of marriage and parenting, I will soon find myself incredibly busy again, as is my wont. I pray that I am able to focus on doing a few of those most important things well (while recognizing what the most important things are) and that I will find peace, purpose, and rest in the midst of what I hope is all this well-doing.

Job interviews

I have two job interviews today, one at Child Guidance and Family Solutions and the other at the Blick clinic. Please pray that they both go well and that I receive a job offer-soon! from one or both. It’s been a long haul waiting for something to pan out, though I have been fortunate and am grateful to have been able to "temp" all the while….

On Office Drones and Street Ministers…

I wanted to post a quick update, and I’ll try to write more later today perhaps. I’m still looking for work here in OH- that is, "meaningful" work in my purported "field." In the meantime I’ve been working as an office drone for the "man" through a temp agency to supplement Kirsten’s income. This has been a bit humbling for me, and therefore no doubt good. I’ve had a number of interviews by now, including three in the past week or so. On Wednesday I have a second interview for a ministry position at a Methodist congregation. I am excited and hopeful, and of course anxious about this. Despite whatever struggles or conflicts I may have had in congregational leadership roles in the past, I remain convinced that I am called- not to mention educated and gifted!- to serve the church in some way. So, we shall see what God is "up to" with this. Speaking of what God is up to, I spent a number of hours with Duane Crabbs (the pastor referenced in the articles I posted on this site) yesterday, including meeting his wife and one of his kids. I worshipped with him, saw his home and neighborhood, met several of the folks he ministers to, etc. It was a surprising, challenging, and good experience, and I am likewise eager to explore just what God is up to in having our paths cross. We hope that he and his wife Lisa and Kirsten and I can get together soon to talk more. Again, we shall see…..