Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I experienced a bit of a rocky childhood. As I struggled to keep up with others in my kindergarten class in learning to read, write, and interact in social settings, it became increasingly evident that there was something different about me internally. That led to a testing and diagnosis for Asperger’s Syndrome, a classification of Autism. Additionally, I did not grow up in a traditional “Christian home,” but rather one of division. My parents had clear ongoing differences in their religious values and vision for a family structure, and they divorced when I was ten years old.
After the dust cleared in court, my sister and I would depart for Arizona with my mother to be closer to her family. As a result, I had to adjust to middle school in a new town with the crippling social awkwardness and anxiety my Aspergers brought on. I hardly knew God at this point in my life, beyond the Catholic religious education classes and First Communion I received earlier in my childhood. However, there was a very special way through which He seemingly attempted to communicate with my young self: music. I didn’t know exactly what it was I loved so much about music, but it never seemed to fail in providing me an escape from the challenges of my growing up.
I began taking piano lessons at age six, followed by guitar lessons at age eight (mostly due to my early infatuation with the Beatles). My elementary school music teacher identified very early that I had not only a relentless obsession with instruments and sounds, but that I had perfect pitch to go with it. Following the move to Arizona, we joined my aunt and uncle’s Catholic church, where I began playing guitar at Sunday mass. That carried into high school, where I became involved in the youth program. It was there that I met Jesus and began to build a relationship with Him. My first youth retreat turned out to be a particular catalyst in my faith journey. It fell at the perfect time in my life, as I was struggling to navigate the academic and social challenges of my freshman year. There, I experienced fellowship with peers who didn’t want to poke fun at my social awkwardness and make my life miserable. I remember singing “The Stand” during worship time and realizing that though I did not know Jesus all that well, that I knew I wanted to be friends with Him.
God used many curveballs to work in my life during high school. One of those was moving back to Ohio to live with my dad after my sophomore year. Another was breaking my wrist on the ski slopes one frigid February evening during my senior year. At the moment it happened, it seemed as though it would be simply a nagging surgery that would disable me from playing guitar for months and end my competition season in the show choir band. Instead, it turned out to be the next architectural phase God was performing on my life. Losing my ability to play guitar weighed so heavily on me, that I decided I would attend Camp Electric, a week-long program for young Christian musicians, following the removal of my cast. It was there that I was first introduced to non-Catholic Christian community and worship, the first domino in what would become a pivotal freshman year of college.
Though autistic people have a wide variety of different personalities, I have found obsessiveness to be a common trait among most I have met. Like music, I slowly became obsessed with theology, eventually leading me down the road of apologetics. This culminated when I came across a non-denominational Christian group on campus by the name of H2O Church at the University of Cincinnati. What I initially thought were small differences in philosophy between my Catholic roots and their evangelical theology turned out to be differences in overall perception and interpretation of the Gospel. As I found myself in several religious debates, I decided I needed to become better-equipped to defend Catholic teaching. I sought to do just that for most of my freshman year. As I familiarized myself more with Scripture and asked difficult questions to people on both sides of the coin, I found myself wavering on my Catholic beliefs. I am happy to discuss those details with anyone interested, but there eventually came a tipping point in this slow, lengthy discernment process. And as God’s authorship in my life would have it, music was at the center once again.
As the back and forth took effect in my life, I found myself getting up to attend Catholic mass early Sunday morning, then going to play on the worship team for H2O services afterwards, curiously taking in the sermon messages I was hearing. And one Sunday afternoon, a rainy April day in 2015, the directors sat me down to ask if I would take over in their place following their graduation. This became a challenging decision, as I quickly realized the decision was not about music. Rather, it was about which ministry, which Gospel message, I would be dedicating my time, passion, and gifts to. The only way I saw fit to make that decision was to decide what I really believed in my heart.
I decided that summer to pursue what I, after all my research and prayer, believed to be the true Gospel; that is, one of Grace by nothing other than the Blood of Jesus. I separated from the Catholic Church and accepted the opportunity to serve as a worship leader at H2O. From there I began growing in my faith and my love of God’s Word, thanks to some amazing mentors and friends. As I leaned more into my relationship with God, He showed me more and more how faithful He is, how strong His love for me is, and how perfect His Plans are. In 2016, I was baptized by my own choosing. That same year, I Iost a bet with a girl I had recently become friends with, and had to cook for her as a result. I married her this past summer.
Music, on the other hand, has become a place where I hear God’s voice loud and clear. It is where I am reminded that the sad, discouraged 12 year-old who couldn’t make friends was loved by Him and was made to be used by Him. It is where I see instruments and voices, different parts of the Body, carefully brought together in One Spirit to make a joyful noise. It is where I see the beauty of His creation interacting with the human soul in ways the brain could never comprehend.
A verse I frequently retreat to is Psalm 51:17. It says,
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”Psalm 51:17