Growing up, my family attended church every Sunday. We typically arrived about 5-10 minutes late – standard Hench time. As much as I’d like to blame our lateness on Jon and his autism, let’s be honest, I was the teenager whose hair wouldn’t curl just right – and clearly God needed my bangs in a tight spiral before He could answer any of my prayers.
We always sat in the back, the balcony back if it was open. This was not just because we were late, but also because Jon could make quite the scene in church. For him, sitting quietly for an hour was a struggle, well past the age when church means Cheerios and storybooks.
Jon would be the 10…12…14 year old kid sprawled out on the pew. His usual position was laying outright, head in my mom’s lap and feet on whomever was close enough – related or not. As an incredibly self-conscious teenager (remember the bangs?!), I was mortified. I was so naïve to Jon’s autism that instead of thinking about what a struggle this hour was for him, I spent my hour ducking my head so that friends, and especially non-friends, wouldn’t see that this was my family.
Without fail, the one time Jon would sit upright was when the Offering basket came around. Clunking his feet on the floor, his head would pop up, and he’d eye that basket like a hawk. He knew what his job was – take the money from my dad, put it in the basket. Heaven forbid if someone else tried to do his job.
This was all fine and good until Jon began learning the meaning of dollar bills…he learned that you could use those bills to buy a pop, or a new baseball cap, or a jersey. Those bills meant something. So why on earth would he possibly put his money in the basket? Better yet, why wouldn’t he take out the money that was already in the basket?
Well, sure enough, this is what happened. The church’s offerings quickly became Jon’s donations as he pocketed all of the bills in one fell swoop. You can imagine the (outdoor voice) chaos that ensued – Jon was incredibly satisfied with his plan; my parents were embarrassed; I was amazed. Curled bangs or not, at this point I’d surely get more prayers answered than Jon!
After that incident, I felt much less concerned with Jon’s sprawling out at church. In some unconventional way, he had taught me that I’d better keep my mortification in check – otherwise there were much bigger and better things he could do! To this day, I’ve kept that lesson – I’ve learned to appreciate Jon’s eccentricities, his antics, his nonconformity, his legs on the pew.
And I know if I were to ever forget this lesson, Jon would be right there, pulling some crazy stunt, just to remind me.