If you haven’t heard of Kodi Lee, do yourself a favor and Google his name. You’ll discover that this 22-year old was a contestant on America’s Got Talent, and he just happens to be both blind and autistic. He stole the show with his piano/vocal performance of “A Song for You,” and received the show’s Golden Buzzer. After his name was announced, you could have gone deaf with the reverberating applause and cheering, or could have drowned in the river of tears flooding the auditorium. Yes, I cried, and of the millions of times this performance has been viewed, fifty percent were likely mine alone.
My heart was moved on three levels. First, because of the amazing gift and strength this young man possesses in the face of neurological challenges. Second, his relational connection with his mother escorting him onto the stage sent another wave of emotions. Finally, what made this very personal for me is that I have two grandsons who are on the autism spectrum. Hudson is 7 and has a significant speech delay but for the most part is happy-go-lucky and lives in a world of his own. Autism is not about intelligence; it is all about the wiring of the brain and the chemistry of the brain. So, Hudson can read very well, but his communication level is limited at this time in his autistic journey. Miles, on the other hand, is 4-years-old, and if he didn’t have a speech delay, you would never know he’s autistic because he functions like any other little guy his age. One of the things we’re learning as a family is not to misinterpret Hudson and Mile’s lack of response as a sign they are tuned out. Like a radio frequency that creates static due to poor reception, Hudson and Miles are tuned in, but their receptors are on a delay.
Watching my son Greg and his wife Shaylyn rise to the occasion has been gratifying. They are learning the different signals that communicate a message Hudson and Miles struggle to articulate. Ella, their 10-year-old big sister, can read them better than most of us. Like a person who interprets for someone who cannot speak the language, Ella helps me to understand their world.
So what do Kodi Lee and Hudson and Miles Ford’s autism have to do with my focus for this blog? It’s very simple. Kodi, Hudson, and Miles are examples of the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” All of us have challenges, whether emotional, spiritual, relational, or social, and many times these are things that can’t be seen by the naked eye. Have you ever noticed that individuals with incredible physical challenges, such as those with Down Syndrome for example, are much happier than all of us “normal people?” Please notice I placed the words “normal people” in quotation marks because the word normal is a relative term that’s being refined every day. Who defines “normal” is another question we must consider. Some of us have challenges that are not as obvious as Kodi, and we would be considered “normal” by today’s standards. Many of our colleagues, neighbors, and family members are being treated for depression, anxiety, phobias, dyslexia, addictions, and other kinds of challenges but appear “normal.”
Kodi’s physical sight and his brain wiring may have some “broken strings.” Yet he can take the strings of a piano and turn them into an incredible message as he “communicates” through music. Kodi and I share this common malady of brokenness. My brain is, for the most part, “normal,” but it lacks a normal balance of chemicals, which has made depression a demon I fight every day. Robin Williams and Chris Farley, two famous comedians, fought the same demon. The world discovered that these two “normal” people who made us laugh were humorists who went home and cried due a brokenness that finally resulted in their tragic deaths.
So, when you become frustrated with someone in the grocery line who seems to be functioning in slow motion, or a work colleague triggers a desire in you to “put them in their place,” remember they are broken just like you and me. They, too, are created in the image of our mighty Creator God, and we need to treat them as such.
I close with a Knute Larson story. If you don’t know who Knute Larson is, Google his name, too. You’ll discover, much like Kodi, he’s an individual who has inspired scores of us with his amazing gift of communication, although not through music but through preaching. The story goes that a small group of individuals decided to follow the command made by James in James 5, which is to confess our faults to one another and to pray for God’s grace in that area of brokenness. One particular individual offered to be the first to name his fault, and here’s what he said. “My fault is that I am a gossip; what’s yours?” I’m convinced from that point forward, honesty and transparency weren’t practiced in that group on that day.
You don’t need to tell me your area of brokenness but do tell it to God and ask for grace in that area and then, would you pray for my brokenness as well?