Christ, My Autistic Neighbor


catholicworkermealThursday morning the doorbell rang.

“Hi Sheryl. I want you and Jordan and Rachel to meet me at Benny’s tonight between 4:30 and 6. I will buy you something to eat and drink.”

I love listening to Warren talk – especially considering how many years it’s taken him to open up enough to talk to us. I can hear enthusiasm, anxiety, joy and fear all at once as he pronounces his invitation.

If it takes courage to speak, courage to be photographed, courage to laugh and smile – imagine the courage to ask someone to dinner?

At 5:00 on the dot, the doorbell rang.  Warren had come to pick us up!  As we locked the gate Warren announced “Jordan, I can only buy Sheryl something to eat, but I can buy you something to drink.” As we continued toward the restaurant Warren reminded me “Sheryl, I’ll buy you something to eat!” So I said; “Oh no Warren, that’s ok. I don’t mind paying, I’m just glad to be invited!”

“Ok. Jordan, I’ll buy you something to eat then!”

I want to write about every detail of this meal. I want to recount the exact phrases, the looks exchanged, the laughs and the many pieces of information we learned.  I want to share it because it was one of those moments in this JUSTembrace life that wrecked me and transformed me at the same time.  But I think I’ll hold that experience close to my heart for now, and share, instead, the way God has been moving in me since that night.


I believe that we can find the image of God on all people, but I believe it is in our brokenness, weakness, humiliation; in our wounds, our darkness and our shame where Christ’s presence radiates.

In talking with a friend tonight, we enthusiastically reminded each other that without sin there’s no need for Christ.  This isn’t a reason to celebrate sin or brokenness, but it is an invitation to stop running from it, putting the lid on it, shoving it in the closet or avoiding eye contact with it.  Without brokenness, woundedness; without dark corners or deep secrets, we don’t need Christ.  It is in allowing Him to show us our brokenness, touch our wounds, enter those corners and speak aloud those secrets that we are able to begin to find healing and restoration. It is also necessary.

The cross is necessary for the resurrection.

Without death – there is no new life.

When we try to avoid either the dark and frightening corners of our lives, or the evidences of pain and suffering around us in those we see, or those we try not to see – we avoid Christ.


One of the things the JUSTembrace house has committed to is presence in the community. One of our primary ways of being present is by joining our neighbors at the soup kitchens – to eat.

It’s true, we host our community each week for open house, each week for small group, each month for foot clinics and seasonally for HUGE parties.  It’s true – we host our community often and well.  We love it – and they love it! It’s one of my primary joys of living – to steward a house of hospitality; a beacon of inclusivty and generosity for our neighbors.

However, if I had not first spent a year eating at soup kitchens, and talking to strangers on the street over a fresh-baked cookie, things would be so different.  Likewise, if I and my housemates forget to meet our neighbors out on their turf, on their terms, in their realities; JUSTembrace will lose it’s relevance.

Here it is.

Why would I settle for inviting Christ to my house for a delicious meal I prepared for him, on dishes I laid out special for Him, with kitchy decorations I put around my house to make him feel comfortable – WHEN – when Christ is at my gate, inviting me to share a meal on his terms?  He doesn’t have a kitchen. He doesn’t have a fancy new set of cookware and serving dishes.  Christ doesn’t have a hospitality budget, or donors to pay His rent.  Christ saves up for a $2.50 burger at Benny’s on Thursdays.  Christ eats soup at the Catholic Parrish twice a week and at the Unitarian church 5 days a week, and at the Baptist church on Mondays.

Our temptation is to invite Christ in, through our power, through our resources, into our comfort zones as host and hostess.  We want to serve Him, and we want to make Him feel honored – because we so badly want to experience His love.

Until we’ve accepted Christ’s invitation to receive His presence, we dare not try to one-up-him.  In order to serve Christ, we must first receive Christ.

While I’m clearly talking about engaging the presence of Christ among the outcasts in my community – I’m actually talking about the Gospel.

The Gospel works like this: Christ died and was resurrected. He invites us to accept Him by following suit – by dying we identify with Christ – the only way to share in His resurrection.

So friends in the Church – I encourage you during this Lent season to die.  Die. Take on Christ.  Don’t just give up chocolate or coffee; don’t stop at reading your Bible every day or praying – go FIND Christ in the broken, wounded, outcast, hidden corners of your community – or your own life. Sit with Him. Share a bowl of soup with Him. Observe the pain of rejection. Meditate on the physical pain.  Don’t look away from the bi-polar outbursts. Find Christ.  Embrace Christ.  Let Christ undo you so that you can truly experience the power of His Resurrection!