After only a week at home, I headed off to the AEC Castle Youth Retreat 2011. For those of you unfamiliar with it, AEC stands for the Association of Evangelical Churches, and the Castle Youth Retreat is in a huge old mansion a few hours away from where we live. My Youth Group goes every year in February, and it's always a lot of fun.
This year, though, was especially amazing for me because of one of the people I met.
On Saturday, they have a talent time in the afternoon. A lot of the talents are music-oriented, but one group did a skit, and there were some comedy acts. (The funniest one, hands down, was a guy who posed as a chef making a ham sandwhich. Except, he had his friend put his arms through his elbows and he put his arms behind his friends back - I'm sure you've all seen it before. Basically, the person behind you is your "arms". It was a riot.) My friend Brittany and I performed the song "Life of Praise" by Casting Crowns - I played guitar, she sang.
Here's how this ties into the main point of this post: towards the end of the talent time, a kid from another Youth Group named Denton set up a projector and showed us all a music video he'd made. It was pretty impressive, but after the video ended, he said that what he really came up for was to tell us all about autism. When he said he was autistic, I was really surprised. He'd seemed a little odd, but I assumed he was just kind of hyper. His autism isn't severe, but I was still expecting him to be very withdrawn.
I was in for the surprise of my life when I ended up sitting across from him at dinner that night. He was one of the nicest, friendliest people I have ever met. He was so interesting to talk to. It was amazing.
That night, we had another worship service. There's a total of four over the weekend, but for whatever reason, Saturday night is always the most intense and emotional. People are down on their knees...praying...crying. I was okay last year, but I was still emotionally drained from just a lot of intense moral support.
This year, I was shaking. Half of the reason I was down on my knees was because I couldn't stand. My hands didn't stop shaking for something like a half an hour afterwards. My friend said that when I was sitting next to her, she could feel how bad I was shaking.
Naturally, I wasn't very aware of what else was going on. They had turned the lights down, and I was kneeling and had my eyes focused on the floor. Still shaking. And then I feel someone reach over and grab my hand. It was Denton.
Autism is a tricky disorder to define. When he talked about it, Denton just said that he had it, and my friend Amber ended up looking it up on her phone after talent time was over. I know what it is, but it's hard to explain. But some of the defining characteristics are that people with autism usually have trouble with human emotions, empathy, and sometimes physical contact.
That's why it was so amazing. Even now, when I think of it, I'm in awe. I could tell how much God is present and is working in Denton's life. No matter how small of a difference, I know it changed my life to meet him.