Category Archives: Biographies

Learning to Understand Autistic Life Animated

We have someone attending our Sunday school class who appears normal…unless you try to talk to him. Sometimes I see him look my way, like he’d like to talk, but if I approach him or try to engage him, even in light conversation, he doesn’t respond and will look away. I assume he’s autistic, and I’m still trying to figure out how to connect with him, but after a year, I haven’t broken through. Do you have anyone in your life space like this? If you do, and you’ve been able to connect, please share any advice!! For one thing, when our class starts up again for the fall semester this Sunday, I’m going to try something new I just learned about this summer!          Recently, I saw a really inspiring docudrama about Owen Suskind.        Life Animated (2016, PG, IMDb 7.5) shares the Suskind family’s story.                      Their father was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal       and Owen was the second son born into a warm and wonderful home. Owen seemed normal for the first couple of years, but then suddenly he began to regress, stopped communicating, and developed strange behavior patterns. The Suskind’s ideal home was turned upside down in a heartbreaking search for understanding what had happened. Owen was eventually diagnosed as autistic. The rest of the movie traces the heartaches and challenges of trying to learn how to communicate with their son.                              Probably every child’s journey is quite unique,                             but Owen loved Disney animated classics,  and the family eventually learned how to use pictures of scenes from the movies to communicate emotions… love, joy, grief, kindness, and kinship.                    Life Animated follows Owen’s journey from childhood to adulthood,  educational achievements, and even touching on the topics of romance, hoped-for marriage, and learning how to cope with the limitations and disappointments of autism. In many ways, Owen’s story is a wonderful story of success and triumph over trials. Today, Owen is able to give lectures and offer suggestions and ideas for other autistic young people.                                   Life Animated made me cry and rejoice.  Why can’t Owen (and millions of people for so many different reasons) just enjoy a normal life like the rest of us? Why do so many people suffer and have to live with broken dreams? In all the heartaches of life, I console myself by remembering that life on earth is not the end, it’s only the beginning…a place to develop character and find grace. To find the end of ourselves and the beginning of God. To lose our lives so we’ll find eternal life. God is good. He can be trusted.

As Karla Akins says, “Autism isn’t forever, but love is.”

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

A Pair of Miracles: The Terrors and Triumphs of Rearing Autistic Twins

If you are struggling to provide love and care for an autistic person, or you know anyone who is, this is an A+ resource giving you an open window into the hearts and hard-earned wisdom of Karla Akins and her husband, Eddie,  who took in and reared a set of autistic twins.

That’s right! They actually took on a set of twins, not because they had to, nor because they had no children of their own (because they did). Can you believe this? It’s mind boggling to me. I wouldn’t have had the courage to take on the frustrations, pain, and heartaches of adopting even one autistic child, so I stand in awe of this amazing couple (and any of you out there trying to cope with an autistic loved one).

Not only does the book tell their story, it gives counsel and resources for every step of the way, from the first terrifying realization that there’s something dreadfully abnormal about your child through learning to communicate with, educate, and preparing to emancipate your youngster. There are countless tips on everything, level-headed discussions on schooling options, the litany of therapeutic interventions, and the various medical and dietary issues (and how to maintain a gracious attitude in the midst of obnoxious know-it-alls who try to tell you what you’re doing wrong). A Pair of Miracles is also full of scripture passages and biblical wisdom to encourage you in the way of godliness, and it ends with numerous helpful appendixes.

I’d never heard of autism when I was growing up in the 60’s. In the 80’s, I had one girl friend who had an autistic child, and ultimately, I think the pressures from trying to care for that little girl destroyed their marriage. Today, I know of two couples who have autistic children. This is consistent with the statistics. Autism wasn’t even diagnosed until 1943. By 1966 (when I was a teen), researchers estimated that 1 in 2,500 children were born with autism, but it wasn’t until 1980 that autism debuted in the DSM (Diagnostic an Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have autism, an astounding 1 in 42 for boys but 1 in 189 for girls (roughly five times as likely in boys).

The question is, is this phenomenal growth actually in the occurrence of autism, or in the reporting? Some believe that much of the increase is simply in public awareness, claiming that earlier generations just thought autistic children had very low I.Q.’s and were unable to learn. Many ended up  tucked away in long-term mental hospital settings so most people didn’t even know they existed. It’s only been in recent years that people are becoming aware that many of these children are very bright, just unable to communicate and socialize normally.

Although there’s no fool-proof way to diagnose autism, and no one knows what causes autism, the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) helps mental health professionals assess children who may have autism. If your toddler manifests at least 8 of the following symptoms, you may be able to get professional help for him, and the studies show ample proof that the earlier the intervention, the more likely the child will develop some ability to communicate and care for themselves over time.

Here are some of the problem areas that manifest in an autistic child: He/She

*Avoids eye contact
*Doesn’t respond to his own name
*Fails to follow objects or visual gestures
*Does not wave or communicate with gestures (although they often stiffen or flail in non-obvious gestures)
*Doesn’t make noise in order to get your attention (although they often scream
incessantly or make non-normal grunting sounds)
*Doesn’t initiate or respond to touch (in fact, can be strongly resistant or
combative if you attempt touch)
*Is unable to imitate facial expressions (but can make strange faces for sure!)
*Never progresses past parallel play
*Doesn’t show empathy for others
*Doesn’t engage in imaginary play
*Can’t talk about or understand feelings (severe cases can’t talk at all)
*Has a hard time making friends
*Can’t understand or follow simple directions
*Can’t understand abstract concepts and takes things too literally
*Refers to self in third person
*Often has unusual physical posture and toe walking

If you’ve been saying, “Oh, yes! That does describe my child,” then please seek medical help for your little one, and I strongly urge you to read A Pair of Miracles. It offers hope in the most difficult circumstances, and their story of faith and perseverance will strengthen you for the battle to withstand the agonies of autism. Who knows? Perhaps your child might also ultimately become a miracle of love and blessing like Isaac and Isaiah Akins.

“A person can have a doctorate degree from the most prestigious university on earth and still flunk heaven…What matters most, I think, is how much did we love? Autism isn’t forever, but love is.” (Karla Akins)

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
(Romans 12:15)

Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another,
even as also ye do
” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:12-13).

 

 

 

The Struggle for A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom is the current retelling of a true story from 70 years ago, although I’d never heard it before. I totally agree with Rotten Tomatoes’ 83% rating and commentary: “Well-acted, solidly crafted, and all-around worthy, A United Kingdom presents an absorbing look at a singular true-life love story.”  If you, like me, weren’t around in 1947, you may not have heard the story before either, but it is a powerful testament to the enduring character of love. Sir  Seretse Khama was the heir to the throne of Botswana (then called Bechuanaland), Africa.  His parents died when he was only three, and Seretse became king at age four, although his uncle served as regent and brought him up like a son, sending him to the best schools, and eventually to Oxford and law school in England, where he became a barrister.     During this time (1947) he fell in love with a British woman, Ruth Williams, whom he married, despite extremely strong opposition from both sides of the family.  Their marriage and subsequent return to Bechuanaland sparked a furor among people on both continents,  because everyone assumed he would marry a woman from his tribe, the Bamangwato people.    A United Kingdom tells the story of the fierce love between Seretse and Ruth,              their unwillingness to bend for tradition or current cultural mores,                  and how they eventually won the hearts of their people. It also exposes the racism that was rampant in the Union of South Africa at that time, and the British weakness in failing to honor their word in order to curry favor with South Africa.  Although the events were compressed in the movie (it seemed like just a few years, when really the struggles lasted about 20 years), A United Kingdom gives a sober look into the economically-driven politics and racial tensions that have existed far too long (and into the present) between the continents and the races…and the fact that true love can (at least sometimes) “conquer all!” In order to protect his country and his marriage, King Khama gave up his right to be king, although he and Ruth returned to Bechuanaland where they eventually organized the Bechuanaland Democratic Party.  The movie is more about their love and early struggles, but I want to share just a little bit about their huge later success. Khama was the leadership and driving force in Bechuanaland’s independence from England, which was finally won in 1966. At that time, Bechuanaland was renamed Botswana. It was the third poorest country in the world, with virtually no infrastructure (7.5 miles of paved roads), and only 22 college graduates (worse, only 100 high school graduates!). Thanks to Khama’s integrity and brilliant leadership, he was elected as their first president and won every election until 1980, when he died suddenly of pancreatic cancer. During his tenure in office, Botswana became the fastest-growing economy in the world! The government negotiated the diamond mining businesses so that they retained 50% of the profits, which they poured into infrastructure, education, and health care. (Of course, if you’ve read The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, you’ll believe that more of that money should have been given to the workers; at least, I do.)   After Khama’s death, Vice President Quett Masire succeeded him in office,     but in 2008, Seretse’s oldest son Ian, was elected president of Botswana.  He and his (one and only) wife, Ruth, worked side by side until his death, and they are buried together in the Royal Cemetery in Serowe, Botswana.  Seretse Khama’s people loved him and compared to Nelson Mandela (although he didn’t receive such international acclaim). A United Kingdom is a beautiful story of love, honor, and courage, and a fitting example for each of us in our quest for following God in his promise to one day provide a united kingdom—not only in Botswana, but for the entire world!

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you
” (Matthew 6:33).

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation,
and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ
” (Revelation 12:10).

(I took most of the photos while watching the movie; others are from Wiki)

Recapping The Unreformed Martin Luther

Written by an analytical German with the head of a theologian and the wit of a radio journalist, Andreas Malessa’s The Unreformed Martin Luther delves into the myths and materialities of one of the world’s most monumental men: Martin Luther. Malessa cleverly wrote this book in part to celebrate the 500th anniversary of this “Man of the Second Millennium” who ended the Middle Ages by posting ninety-five theses on the palace church door in Wittenberg. Wait—that was a myth!  In not one of Martin’s 121 volumes of collected publications, letters, table talks, sermons, and songs does he ever mention nailing his theses on the door. The fact of the matter was, when a professor (such as Dr. Luther) wanted to engage in public debate, he submitted his paper to the dean of the university. From there, history reveals that Luther’s handiwork ended up on the desk of the pope, who was not pleased.Do you know much about the life of Martin Luther? If you want a fascinating look into sixteenth century culture and church, I highly recommend reading The Unreformed Luther. I found myself shocked (many times) and touched (at many—but other—times) with the life and times of this mountain of a man. For instance, when Martin’s sister died suddenly (likely from SIDS), Martin’s mother believed it was the fault of a neighbor lady whom she had summarily beaten to death. What? How could that happen?? (Martin did write later: “There is nothing more powerful in the world as superstition, but before God it’s an abomination.”)I knew Luther opposed selling indulgences (and that is not a myth), but I had no clue how evil this practice actually was. We’re not talking about hoping for pardon from venial sins (like failing to feed the cat on time), but Markus Menner was absolved from perpetrated homicide! Tetzel himself was an adulterer who even trafficked indulgences for sins yet to be committed. No need to fear God’s judgment or look to him for mercy, for a (high) price, no sin was so egregious but that you could be assured the freedom to commit it without fear of retribution from God or man. This undermined the entire foundation of our faith and the gospel of salvation through Christ. I’m glad Luther had the guts to stand up against this ghastly blasphemy!However, Pope Leo X (who was in the midst of building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome) and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, did not appreciate Luther’s objecting to their financial and moral management styles, and so the hunt began. Luther was “kidnapped” by friends, who hid him in Wartburg Castle, where he spent his time feverishly translating the New Testament into German. Was it the first German translation? No, Malessa points out that there were already seventy-two partial translations, but Luther’s was the first complete translation. Oh, and did he really throw an inkwell at the devil’s head? No. Another myth. (If you don’t believe me, read the book!)Why did Luther go to all the trouble to write a Bible in German? Because he disbelieved the myth that salvation can be earned through indulgences or even good deeds, and he believed that if the people could have a copy of the Bible in their own language, they could read the truth for themselves. Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace to be received by faith in Jesus Christ as our redeemer from sin. This is clearly taught in the Bible (which even the Roman Catholic Church has recognized since the turn of this century through the writings of Pope John Paul II).Did Luther really say, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise!”? What is recorded as his response to being asked to recant is this: “…I am overcome in my conscience by the passages of Scripture and trapped in the Word of God. Therefore, I cannot and will not recant because it is neither safe nor healthy to act against the conscience. God help me. Amen.”  Fact or fiction? “Katharina von Bora, the nun who became his wife, was spirited away from her convent inside a herring barrel.” Fiction, but the facts surrounding their marriage totally charmed me, and one of the delights for me in reading The Unreformed Martin Luther was in learning that he was a devoted husband and father…the kind who changed diapers and washed them out! If you like touching romances, you’ll find one in this book!  🙂 In the course of demythifying Martin’s life, Malessa addresses over two dozen commonly held (and cherished) traditions surrounding the life of Luther, everything from “Did he eat while he preached?” to “Was he a boozer and a warmonger?” If you want to know, get the book! In fact, if you enjoy history and want a deeper look into the man behind the Reformation, this is an excellent resource! Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546, and 427 years later to the day, Alan and I were married after I waltzed down the aisle with “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” as my bridal processional. As Martin Luther’s great hymn has always been a favorite of ours, I would like to end this review with the words of his most glorious anthem.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
(~Martin Luther, inspired by Psalm 46, sometime between 1527-1529)

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing.
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He.
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers
Not thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill,
God’s truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever…

(All photos from Wikipedia, except the first, which is—of course—a photo of the book!)

Praise God for The Zookeeper’s Wife

If you haven’t seen The Zookeeper’s Wife  and aren’t totally over traumatized by studying World War 2,
please consider watching it. It’s the true story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński,
who were keepers of the Warsaw Zoo  and lived lives of incredibly risky heroism
to save Jewish people during Hitler’s regime.  Alan and I first discovered The Zookeeper’s Wife when it came out
as an audio book (from our public library, about ten years ago),  but it’s come to life in 2017 in an even more profound way
as a PG-13 historical drama. Often if you’ve already read the book, the movie isn’t very compelling
because it’s too changed from its original content,  but I felt like the movie version of The Zookeeper’s Wife
retained the authentic story line.  In the Holocaust Museum in Poland, the Żabińskis are listed
as some of the “righteous among the nations”  because they protected hundreds of Jewish people, using their home
as a safe house until safer housing could be found.  The role of Antonina is played by Jessica Chastain,
who’s been nominated twice for an Academy Award.  In one interview, I heard her say that ultimately, the story is “about hope,
about family, and about love. Love will always be there and you can find it.”

I praise God for the incredible bravery of those who will protect the innocent                                          in the unending fight for good over evil.        “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

(Photo Credits: Images 1, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15 are from various internet sources [some of which are listed or inscribed on the images]. The rest are mine, taken while watching the movie. There is one scene with gratuitous nudity in the context of the couple’s marriage, but it can be fast-forwarded without losing any critical dialogue.)

Did You Know We’ve All Been Born to Win?

I’ve spent this entire week discussing genealogies, but today I want to share  a wonderful (and at times heartbreaking) true story about a little boy who  was abandoned by his parents in South Africa and was taken in
by a very brave and godly black woman.  He had no clue what his genealogy was, but over the years,  he learned that every last one of us has been born to win!  Born to Win (the 2014 version from Union of South Africa)  shares what it’s like to grow up without parents,
trying to survive in a harsh world during the Apartheid,  when the police would rather a white child be an orphan
than grow up in a loving black family. While all his teammates were out having fun in college,
Leon was shoveling coal on a train to pay his way. Although Leon eventually married a beautiful model, he felt like such a loser on the inside that he almost ruined his marriage through alcohol abuse and neglect. Desperate for answers, his wife and daughter found help, but Leon was resistant. However, something terrible happened  that changed his life forever. Today, he’s doing something awesome. Wouldn’t you like to know what??! As it says on IMDb: Born to Win is “A true story of how God turns the hurt, frustration and emptiness of a man into hope, faith and victory
to inspire many to be the winners they were born to be.”  Do you ever feel like a loser? No pedigree; no special gifts or talents?
Terrible background or present circumstances that make your future seem dark? Take heart! God has a good plan for you! It may not be what you’d like, but it will bring honor and glory to God, and in the end, it will bring you joy as well!I’m sure Leon wouldn’t have chosen to have been abandoned by his parents, but he wouldn’t be where he’s at today
if he hadn’t come from where he’s come from. God has a special path and plan for each of us which is good, even though
much of the time we may feel confused and unsure about what’s happening.
TRUST HIM!But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
(Matthew 19:30).

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all,
but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain
” (1 Corinthians 19:24).