Monday, March 3, 2014

Author Connie Almony Talks about Autism and Motivating the Minions of the Mighty

           My guest today is author Connie Almony, a successful author who has an autistic son. You'll enjoy her ideas about success, failure and misfits.

          1.   You have a special love for folks who feel they don't quite fit. Tell us about it.

Oh yes! You’d be shocked at how many people feel this way. As a counselor, I specialized working with perfectionistic, workaholics. The world viewed them as successful, but they often saw themselves as one small misstep from utter and complete failure. Then, there are those who are so busy acknowledging other’s gifts, and their own lack of the same, they don’t realize that God made them especially for the purpose He has assigned to them—different from everyone else.

  1.        How do you encourage them and give them a purpose?

I like to point out the little things people do that carry a large weight with God. One of my favorite Biblical examples of how Jesus turns a small gift into a large opportunity is when the boy gave Him a basket of bread and fish. Did you see what Jesus did with it? He does that with our offerings as well. We often think we don’t do enough because large numbers of souls are not saved. And sometimes we don’t even try, because we don’t think our efforts are big enough. However, it’s not about the size, but the heart, and willingness to serve at a moment’s notice where He calls us.

  1.       You speak of the "nudge." Does God do the nudging or you?

Oh boy! That’s a good question. One of the reasons I like to emphasize small works for God is because too often we focus on the big works, and I have to wonder how much of that is about ego and pride. I speak of my own, of course. As a writer, I’ve had to grow a readership. In doing this, I need to constantly ask Him, “Is this what You want … or is this about me propping up my own name?” The question can be very scary, because the answer often comes in the form of a humbling.

I’ve had two significant God-nudges with writing. A few years ago, while working on a school story project with my daughter, I caught the fiction-writing bug. I began to write seriously and loved it so much I couldn’t imagine anyone ever seeing it as work. Then I “heard” His voice in my soul, “This is going to get really hard …”

Huh? Hard? No way! Still, I felt the willies just the same.

… but I want you to keep going.”

Um, okay, God.

At that time I didn’t know what “hard” was in writing. After submitting my work to critique partners, entering contests and being rejected by agents and editors, I now know what that voice meant. Currently, I have a wonderful agent in Rachel Kent of Books & Such, but the journey still has a few landmines to maneuver.

Another “nudge” you’ve probably seen on my blog, Living the Body of Christ, is a series I did on Military Ministries. At the time I did that series it seemed I was hearing about the needs of our soldiers once they come home, from many sources in my life. That was the series that inspired me to write the novella, At the Edge of a Dark Forest, about a war-veteran, amputee who is struggling with PTSD. I think God was preparing me for this novella two years before it was to be written.

  1.         Is  that part of "motivating the minions for the mighty? Tell us about minions.
The minions, that I often speak of on my blog, are the people who do not call attention to themselves, but are doing God’s work in the everyday. We too often don’t give these people enough credit. As writers, we often extol the virtues in the power of the written word, propping ourselves up as influencers. Yes, our work is important. I don’t mean to minimize it. But it’s the people who were willing to listen to me, love me and sometimes just BE with me, who really impacted my life and my faith. Those are the minions for the mighty. I LOVE these people!!! They are so powerful and they don’t even know it.

In At the Edge of a Dark Forest I placed a minion, named Beckett Forsythe, in Cole Harrison’s life. He was a young Marine, impacted by the war, but with God, was able to do extraordinary things. Though his act of submission only affected one man, his commanding officer, it has a ripple effect that will heal generations.

  1.         What's your favorite testimony from these folks?
The reason I titled my blog, Living the Body of Christ, is because I love the idea of many different parts making a whole. For this reason, I can’t pick out one testimony from it that would be better than the other. However, I noticed recently a contrast between two that gave me a glimpse of how God works. One, about a man who’d come to Jesus after being in an explosion that almost took his life. He mentioned a list of people who spoke of Jesus during the moments immediately after the explosion as well as in the months of healing. Another story on my blog features a woman who didn’t mention any one person in her coming to faith. Though you can bet someone was praying for her somewhere. Still, the moment was solely between her and the Big Guy Himself. This contrast of testimonies was a great reminder to me of how God works in our lives. He uses us to point others to Him, but we will not be the ones doing the saving. That’s His job.

  1.        You speak of your child's autism and the effects of this disorder on the home. How have you felt the prayers of others and experienced God's strengthening power and wisdom?

I don’t know why, but I sometimes get an overwhelming peace whenever my autistic son is mentioned. I speak about the power of BEING WITH someone to help them find God. My son is the master of BEING WITH. He is a wordless, gentle soul, who when he touches you, you feel your stress drain away like someone opened the valve of an over-swelled levy. I don’t know why he was given this gift, but I’m glad I can partake in it. Still, I have many concerns for him and his future. I know God will provide, but it sometimes scares me to wonder HOW. I also feel the burden of those who have autistic children whose disorder leads them to become violent on a regular basis. God has given us glimpses of that as my son travels through adolescence. I think He is reminding me that I shouldn’t take what I have for granted, nor should I assume that another child’s violence is the result of poor parenting, when there are so many chemical factors involved. Many families are struggling in severe ways with this disorder and avoid churches because they get no support, and have nowhere to place their child while they attend. This shouldn’t be. These families need the church more than anyone.
I have felt a lot of prayer for my family. On my blog, the most read post is about whether or not God can/will heal autism. I get lots of comments from people who tell me they are praying for my son, and I pray for their families as well.

  1.          Tell us about your new novella and how you came to write it.
Last year, one of my critique partners had the brilliant idea for the five of us to do a series of novellas based on Fairytales. I’d call them modern-day retellings, but I believe at least two of them will be set in the 19th Century (one Regency England, the other Western U.S.). I chose Beauty and the Beast because I’m drawn to the theme of loving someone beyond their appearance. The only thing that concerned me was the idea that a woman’s love changes the man. Sorry, but as a former counselor who’s worked with abused women who dated projects instead of soul-mates, this kind of bugged me. So I adjusted the story, just a little, and now it’s not her love that makes him whole.
As I began to conceptualize a “beast” and how he might be physically transformed in a story without magic, having done the above-mentioned military ministries series, my mind caught on the idea of an Iraq-war vet with both physical and emotional scars. As I wrote the story, I was again reminded of the sacrifices made for me and my freedom, and it quickly became a labor of love. That’s why I’ve decided to give 10% of my earnings of At the Edge of a Dark Forest to Military Ministries (now called CruMilitary), an off-shoot of Campus Crusade for Christ. I love the God-filled resources they provide churches and families to help our vets. I hope more churches will make use of these resources to help these families.

Connie’s Bio:
Connie Almony is trained as a mental health therapist and likes to mix a little fun with the serious stuff of life. She was a 2012 semi-finalist in the Genesis Contest for Women’s Fiction and was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest. Her newest release, At the Edge of a Dark Forest, is a modern-day re-telling of Beauty and the Beast about a war-vet, amputee struggling with PTSD.
You can find Connie on the web, writing book reviews for Jesus Freak Hideout, and hosting the following blogs: InfiniteCharacters.com and LivingtheBodyofChrist.Blogspot.com.
You can also meet her on the following social media outlets:

At the Edge of a Dark Forest
Cole Harrison, a war veteran, wears his disfigurement like a barrier to those who might love him, shielding them from the ugliness inside. He agrees to try and potentially invest in, a prototype prosthetic with the goal of saving a hopeless man’s dreams.
Carly Rose contracts to live with Cole and train him to use his new limbs, only to discover the darkness that wars against the man he could become.
At the Edge of a Dark Forest is a modern-day retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Only it is not her love that will make him whole.