Presentation at SET High School

DSCN2714I was so blessed to present a workshop for students at SET High School in San Diego, CA on getting published. The class was “Writing as a Career” and while I don’t yet write as a career, I am on that journey. Since I’m a few steps ahead of these students, I was invited in to talk about that process.

One of the coolest things is that, before he really knew I was doing this, my son Timothy signed up for the class. It was interesting to see how he interacted in class, and I hope interesting for him to see his old man’s passion.

The entire idea of a class about writing for a career intrigues me, and I wish I’d had that opportunity growing up. I asked Ava Lennon, the educator for SET High School who teaches the class, why she did so and she responded, “I want to help students find their voices through writing. So often, English in general can be a turn-off for students, but a class like this enables students to see writing in a new way!”

Despite being a published author, the mechanics of English are complex and difficult (for me) to grasp. It’s nice to see a teacher striving to make the written language more accessible and understandable to students.

I’m also happy to present to these students because I get to relive that intense excitement of seeing my name in print. You know what? That fire still gets me deep in the chest each time my name appears on the page. Even after 16 credits in over a dozen periodicals, it still gets me like the first time in Pentecostal Messenger back in the spring of 2000.

That’s the main thing I wanted to show the kids. They all need something to carry them through the writing dry spells. Unless they learn the kind of ambition it takes to be a published author, and unless they learn to kindle that fire within them, they will not be successful writers. It is that fire…that ambition…that separates authors from the unpublished.

Ms. Lennon invites outside speakers in because, “my students deserve to hear from a variety of different published authors. If they are truly to succeed, they need to talk to people who have struggled, who have gone through the hard times, but who have persevered nonetheless.”

This is the sort of attitude that I believe my teachers had when I was a child. It was a different form (Girard, Kansas didn’t have a lot of published authors when I was young), but when Mrs. Johnson let me take home a laptop to write my stories, it was to foster this perseverance and to start seeing my stories on the page. These are things I’ll always be grateful for, and I hope these students will be likewise grateful for Ms. Lennon.

Continues Lennon: “I want them to see themselves in others. I want them to hear about different perspectives. I want them to LEARN.”

You don’t get better than that in a teacher.

I’m so grateful to Ms. Ava Lennon and SET high school for letting me share my passion for writing with the students and to talk through the writing and publishing process. Words cannot really describe the joy in my heart as I answered questions from the students.

I hope to have many opportunities like this in the future, both at SET and other venues. If I can help just a few people, my son included, gain success in their writing ventures, I’ll be as happy as a lark (that’s a simile, in case you didn’t know that)!

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My NFL Protest

I would appreciate it if you’d read this to the end. It won’t take you long, I promise!

This Sunday was a rough day in the Smith household. It also happens to be the day that I flippin’ lost my mind. It occurred at halftime of the Chargers/Chiefs game. I’m a Chiefs fan, so I was very interested in the game. During the halftime show, the host disclosed that the entire rosters of the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans stayed in their respective locker rooms during the National Anthem. I also learned that the Pittsburgh Stealers, with one lone exception (a military veteran), also stayed inside to protest.

I picked up the remote to my television and turned off the game. My wife looked at me like I was crazy. “I’m not watching the game,” was all I said. Then I started a fight on Facebook, because that’s what we do now days. It was a good fight too…over 50 comments! Here is the comment that started the fight: “Just turned off football. I’m not giving another dollar or minute of my time to that organization. Y’all do what you want. I’m out.”

This all occurred on the same day that I visited a black church just off Imperial Ave. in San Diego. I came home excited for the Word of God! I felt like I had worshiped with some real like-minded believers. While I stuck out like a sore thumb because I was one of the only white people there, I also enjoyed the service more than I’ve enjoyed church in a long time.

I could try to dress this pig up and make it seem reasonable, but the fact is that I sinned against God on Sunday. Since I sinned publically, I’m confessing publically.

First, I joined in useless arguments. “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9).” I’ve tried to remain above the fray on this race problem in America. Sunday, I made it look like I’m on the wrong side of history. I’m not, by the way, I just lost my mind for a minute.

Second, I disregarded one way that my wife and I connect, and thereby sinned against her as well. Making such a strong move to the remote was not an act of leadership. It was done in selfish isolation. I did not put my wife above my personal well-being. I was not a very good leader in that moment.

Third, I failed to keep the doors open. The last thing I want to do is shut the door on the reality that minorities in this country are often mistreated. And I really do serve my country to allow for all ways of protected methods of free speech, which the anthem protests represent. I only pray I haven’t closed the doors to any future relationships.

I believe in preaching Christ Crucified. I believe that the gospel of Jesus crucified, buried, and risen is the only thing that matters. While I also know that I sin against God all the time, and that I blow my witness all the time, I feel like this Sunday was one of the worst things I’ve done in a long time.

Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth that, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; But to them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

You know what? That verse is the answer to our race issues in America. Period. If anyone understood race relations, it was the Jewish Roman citizen named Paul. The religious Jews of that time period understood God’s law as pertaining only to them…that other races (collectively called Gentiles, or Greeks) were left out of God’s plan. Paul rejected this line of thought and, when he was soundly rejected by the Jews themselves, he became the preacher to the Gentiles.

I don’t know what this means for me and football. Knowing that this is one way my wife and I connect will mean that I won’t turn it off all the time, or forever. But it does mean that I don’t have to watch it all day on Sunday. I had planned to watch at least three games (I have DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket), another on Monday night, and start again on Thursday. Maybe I won’t be doing that anymore. Because the fact is that I still don’t agree with the form of protest. To be fair, I don’t like the riots in St. Louis either. I also don’t like the bigoted white supremists who launch cars into crowds. If you think I’m upset about the Anthem protests, ask me what I think about neo-nazis!

I’m worried for our country. I take some solace in thinking that God is in control, and will (if his followers let him) find a way to unite the races despite our best efforts to divide them. Yet I can’t help but be concerned. I don’t see this getting better any time soon. Only worse. But maybe that’s what we need. Maybe we really need to air the dirty laundry and figure out what’s wrong.

I’d like to be a part of that discussion if I can. I’m willing to meet with anyone to discuss in greater detail the overall situation and what role faith plays in finding a way out of this mess.

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What’s Right with my Son?

What’s Right with my Son?

A Father deals with Asperger’s and his own Relationship with God

By: S. Daniel Smith

I write this knowing that my son might read it someday. Part of me wants to be very careful with what I write, but the rest of me, and I hope it is the right part, wants him to know the truth. I want him to understand that I struggle as his dad. I don’t know what it’s like to be trapped behind the door of Asperger’s Syndrome. I don’t know what it’s like to not even know that people are picking on me when they laugh at what I do. I don’t know what it’s like to be incredibly brilliant and exceptionally awkward at the same time. Yet I do know what it’s like to learn about my own sonship in Christ despite my own limitations, and I hope that, if my son ever sees this essay, he sees that he has taught me what it is like to be a child of God.

The issue of Asperger’s Syndrome is compounded because of the travel and underway time my career in the navy forces on me. I try to stay as involved as possible, but I’m seemingly always behind the curve when it comes to communicating with my boy. The truth is that I struggle to communicate with all three of our children, but in particular, as my son transitions to being a man, I find it even more difficult to stay connected to him.

On one of my recent at-sea periods, I began to take stock of all of the things that are “wrong” with my son. This was made easier by a recent episode at school where even his friends were not safe from his outbursts. What started out as a playful argument turned into an emotional eruption wherein my 13-year-old son slapped his buddy across the face.

What is wrong with my son?

Then there was the time he was playing a computer game on a school computer. He knew it was wrong. His teacher asked him why he was doing it and he didn’t have a good, or appropriate answer. Instead of accepting her correction, however, he started banging his pencil on the desk loudly (this is the Asperger’s kicking in…the elevated and escalatory response to a stimulus). Some of the students laughed uncomfortably, so he chucked said pencil at a nearby girl.

What’s wrong with my son?

On the surface, I know what’s wrong with him. He has Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. On top of that disadvantage, he has sensory processing disorder (SPD). Things that wouldn’t normally bother you or me turn my otherwise sweet and caring boy into a raging and insensitive person.

Deeper than just the diagnoses of Asperger’s and SPD themselves, my son struggles against his anger. I think part of it is because he holds it in so long that, when it comes out, it comes out with the force of a typhoon.

He also struggles with self-esteem. He’s sure that he’s not worthy…worthy of anything. More than once my wife has found a note that talks about how depraved he is and how undeserving of anything good. When confronted (lovingly), he simply states, matter-of-factly, that it’s true and we shouldn’t make a big deal about it. It’s so disheartening to see him cut himself down.

Another thing wrong is that he doesn’t work very hard. No matter how much we challenge him or take away his privileges, he often will do the minimum or delay as long as possible on school assignments. Sometimes, when he’s procrastinated to the point of exasperation, he gets himself into an anxious fit. Then we end up dealing with more than one of his issues at the same time.

Then there are the sensory-related issues. Too much noise and his emotional responses ramp up. The only way to combat this issue is to help him find a place to hide until he can calm down. Food is a problem too. He doesn’t like foods that other kids like, and by not liking, I mean he throws up when looking at them. It’s not just about being picky either. Deserts and candy find the same disgust in his eyes that broccoli and Brussels sprouts do. Yet he loves yogurt…as long as it’s the right flavor. It’s mind-boggling.

His handshake is weak, as is his core. His posture is painfully lacking, though to be honest, I struggle with that one too. I want him to be a man when he grows up, but the handshake is still the first measure of a person when meeting another, and it is an understatement to say that his needs work. For those of you who think the handshake should go away, you’re wrong. It’s a measure of a man in our culture and he needs to get this right.

It’s exacerbating.

Every time I think about it, my mind wonders, “What’s wrong with him?” And then, “Why can’t we just get through to him?” Then I move on to how I am failing to get him to adjust to life around him.

In the blindness of what’s wrong with my son, I forgot for a moment that I love him unconditionally. I forgot that I’m his dad, not just his father. I forgot that he means more to me than any other male human alive.

I’m reminded that I, too, am a complete paradox to God. He created me to be perfect, but I am my father Adam’s son, and so I am far from it. God created me to be holy, yet I consistently reject that created mission. He saved me from my sin, yet I too-often return to that lifestyle. He showed me grace by giving me a loving wife and wonderful children, but I shut them out or show meanness to them.

Maybe I should ask, “What’s wrong with me?”

Immediately the answer is to the question that wasn’t asked. My question is irrelevant. I want to know what’s wrong, and God wants to make me he son. John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” In reality, everything is wrong with me. I’m a sinner, I am confused, and I am simply overwhelmed by this world.

Yet I am God’s son, one that he loved unconditionally and sent his son to die to save. How much more should I unconditionally love my son in view of God’s ultimate sacrifice?

That changes everything. I had to remind myself just how important he is to me, how much of a blessing he is in my life. Reframing the issue in such a light allows me to stop asking, “What is wrong with my son?” and start asking, “What’s right with my son?”

He’s a bright kid. As with many children on the spectrum, he is great with math and other analytical sciences. When he does focus on what he’s doing, he’s very good. That’s another thing too…he has laser-sharp focus when he’s working on something he’s passionate about.

Most important, he is worthy. All of his struggles with self-worth are the key to my own relationship with God. God answered that by showing just how much he loved me. It shows me how much I can love my son. When I think about him in terms of how much I love him and forget, for a moment, that the world seems to be crashing down around us, I can realize just how much is “right” with him. And what’s right with him is so much more important than anything that’s wrong.