September 2008

Orchids blooming in my garden

Orchids blooming in my garden

Monday is my day off.  I am the program director for an inter-denominational program called The Special Gathering.  We seek to evangelize and disciple people who are developmentally delayed.  I oversee two programs, Melbourne and Vero.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours working in my garden.  I was shocked at how a few weeks of neglect and lots of rain could produce bushels of unwanted weeds.  However, my birds of paradise are blooming with fervor and my orchids…WOW! 

That’s the wonderful part about gardening, it is full of surprises.  I wrestled with and eventually pulled up a clump of weeds, only to discover a six-inch avocado tree that had burst from a seed I’d planted and forgotten about two months ago.  The semi-rotten Irish potatoes thrown carelessly into the side yard are now rich, green vines.

I couldn’t help but reflect on a conversation I had earlier that day with my daughter who is a pastor serving in Washington, DC.  “I’ve spent twenty years ministering and caring for people who are mentally challenged in the South Brevard area,” I told her.  My comment was dripping with sarcasm as I continued, “All during those years, a certain segment of the parents have looked at me sideways, wondering when I would yank their children aside and ‘convert’ them to the dark side of Christianity.”   

However, I shared with my daughter that this week, all of those parents came up to me after I spoke at their church.  A few of them had tears in their eyes as they gripped my hand.  “You’ve been there for my child. You’ve always been positive and encouraging.   And I want to thank you.” 

I know that orchids and birds of paradise don’t smell.  Yet, as I stood in sweltering heat of the Florida sun with these parents, I could detect the sweet smell of love; and I discovered hidden in their smiles, a brilliant orchid and a cluster of blossoms that only grows in paradise.  As I walked away from the crowd, there were tears in my eyes.  “Thank you, Lord” was all I could pray as I started my car and headed home.

The scent of love makes 20 years of gardening well worth the effort.  Thank God for His faithfulness and His graciousness.  And thank God we get to share in the scent of exotic flowers before we hand the bouquet back to Him.

What are some pleasant times that the Lord has allowed you to share in your journey within the mentally challenged community?

            Dayle Olson came to Brevard Achievement Center (BAC) 22 years ago.  Olson was a special education teacher transplanted from Iowa and looking for a slight change in direction.  Like many employees who land at Brevard Achievement Center, Olson stayed.  He became the President/Executive Director in 1994. 

            One thing which makes BAC unique within the Brevard County business community—profit and non-profit–is their remarkable ability to hang on to their employees.  Brevard Achievement Center is a rehabilitation center created specifically to provide employment for persons who are developmentally delayed or mentally retarded.  It is a non-profit, sheltered workshop with their main facility in Rockledge.  While their expertise has expanded over the years to include many disabilities, BAC has fiercely clung to their original mission to service this cloistered subculture.  As an organization, their salary package has never been able to aggressively compete with the private sector; yet they maintain a high retention rate among their employees. 

            Ryan Rogers, Vice President of Administration, believes their ability to keep employees extends from fiercely maintaining their mission.  “Our mission, helping people who are disabled lead more productive lives, is the heart of our world.  As staff, we feel good about what we do.”  Chris Daughtery, receptionist at the Rockledge center and long-term employee, echoed that sentiment, “When I go home at night, I have a sense of accomplishment.  I have made another person’s life better.  That is a good thing.”

            Executive Director Dayle Olson said, “As an organization, we live and breathe our mission.  We are passionate about helping people to succeed.  We do more than believe that others can achieve a more productive life; we make it happen.  We live what we say.”  According to Olson, new employee orientation centers on training staff about the BAC mission, explaining how the business strives to make the lives of others more successful.

            Olson reported, “Another key element in employee satisfaction is the company’s policy to take their ideas and suggestions seriously.  Our staff and the people we serve are intimately invested in the success of the organization because their proposals are taken seriously.  While we may not implement each one, we always sincerely consider them.” 

            This policy of listening is deeply imbedded in the history of BAC.  Almost 20 years ago, the consumers serviced by BAC, complained to management that there was not enough work.  While the company executives believed that there were plenty of jobs, they listened.  A work study was conducted which proved that the consumers were right.  There was a lot of down time. Too much of the time, the consumers were not being productive.  Immediately, changes were made.  BAC united with the Brevard County Board of Education and brought in Adult Education classes.  This radical change in direction resulted in better training, more productive consumers and new funding.

            Olson and Rogers agreed that another factor which helps to obtain staff contentment is the management insistence that staff leave their job at the job.  “This is not a 60 hour a week, kill or be killed, profession,” said Rogers. 

“Yet in many ways, working in the non-profit world can be more stressful than other professions.  I insist that we work hard and play hard,” reported Olson.  “Therefore, I want our employees to leave the job, go home and play.”

            Rogers believes that preserving a positive environment is another vital ingredient to employee satisfaction.  “Years ago, there was a family feeling at BAC.  As we have expanded that feeling has been replaced by a team experience.  We have lost some of the intimacy but the sense of a common goal has not been lost.” 

During the years, the federal government has expanded their efforts to include the disability community into their contracting process.  BAC has aggressively sought and won several of these contracts.  More lucrative federal contracts have allowed the team spirit to thrive.  These contracts have taken up the financial lack in divisions of the organization which struggle fiscally.  Each component of the team knows that they are playing an essential function in fulfilling BAC’s mission of bringing success to people who are disadvantage.

Shirley Ebelink, Vice President of Human Resources, summed up the staff retention success of BAC, “There is a sense of doing a valuable work that invigorates all of us.  We are directly impacting people’s lives.  Whether we are finding employment or teaching the basic skill of counting money, we are making the world a better place one person, one day, at a time.”

Learning how to Trust God takes Guts
Proverbs 3:5
Central Theme: Trusting God is not for wimps.

1. Bring my weights and begin to do strength training.
2. This is hard work not for wimps.
3. I have learned that there is something that takes even more strength.
4. Have a member read Proverbs 3:5

I. Tell the story of Gideon.

A. Gideon decided to trust God and not hide.
1. Frank and I are having to make some important decisions in our lives and we cannot be wimps.
2. Years ago, I learned from people in the church that it takes courage to trust God.
A. When we built church buildings, we had to be strong.
B. Everytime a new special Gathering was formed, it took courage.

B. We can hide in the grain storage bin or we can move out and trust God.
1. God will bless us when we move out.
2. Think of something you believe God is asking you to do.
3. Commit to do that.
C. Ask the elders to come up and after communion, if you want to trust God more and not be a wimp, have prayer.

Conclusion–A couple of years ago, I realized I had become a wimp. My strength was gone. I needed strength. The weights are helping me. Now I need strength to trust God and God is helping me.

        It is my understanding that some tiers letter still have not been received.  Much of this information is from Aaron Nangle of If you believe that the tier you have been placed in will not meet your needs, you can appeal.  But there is a process.

        It is very important to send a letter of appeal within 10 days of the time you receive your tier assignment.  In this way, you will be able to keep the services you currently have.

        If you appeal within 10 days and you desire to keep your services, you are advised to keep the original envelop that your tier assignment came in.  In this way, you can prove the date that you received your letter.  If you don’t apply within 10 days, you can still appeal your tier assignment withn 30 days but you will not be able to continue with your current services.

        If you are appealing your tier assignment, do not sign a new cost plan.  This will be a contract.  If you sign it, you are saying that you agree with the cost plan you are presented with.  This could and probably will void your appeal.

        Understand that it will be easy for you to move down a tier but hard to move up. 

        Personal Care Attendants (PCA) may not be included in your Waiver funding.  However, if you are under the age of 21, this service is available to you through Medicaid funding.  If you have been excluded from this service because of the tier you are in and you are under 21, try to receive this service through a different funding stream.

         Because the tiers are mandated by the legislature, not APD, the appeal process is somewhat different from other appeals.  They are also more difficult to win.  Your appeal must be written from the point of view that the services you will receive in your new plan will not meet your health and safety needs. 

Several months ago, I promised to publish our 2008 Christmas play.  Here it is.  The music was taken from All the Best Youth Album. 

Above All Else

by Linda Howard


Choir should be positioned on the side of the stage.  Two people are sitting on a bench by a bus stop sign.   One person is standing or sitting on the ground. S/he is talking on the phone.  They are dressed in work clothes.  They look tired and they have their lunch boxes.  The music begins but the choir doesn’t sing as a fourth persons walks up.  He also has a lunch box and he is wearing earphones. 


Worker 1:          (sounds irritated and directs his speech to the man with the earphones) Hey, Andrew.  The van is late.  We’ll be getting home late tonight. 


(Music stops as worker 2 takes off his earphones.)   


Worker 2:       That’s all right.  I’m listening to our Christmas music.  I’ve got a solo in the play this year. 


Worker 3:       Don’t you ever get tired of all that church stuff?


Worker 1:       Oh, come on, Steve.  Why are you always picking on Andrew?


Worker 4:         (Gets off the phone and says to everyone) I just talked to the van driver.  He said that it’s going to be a while before the van gets here.  Hey, Andrew.  What are you listening to?


Worker 2:  My Christmas music. 


Worker 3:  He has a solo this year.  Big wow!


Worker 1:  Ignore him, Andrew.  What is the story about this year?


Worker 3:       Duh! The story doesn’t change, you know. 


Worker 1 and 4:  Steve, bug off!


Worker 2:       Actually, Steve is right.  The story of Christmas stays the same but it is a wonderful story.  I love to hear it.


Choir Sings: “Above All Else.”


A King was born in Bethlehem, Above All Else

We place Him in the highest place Above all else.


Right now where we’re standing, everywhere we go.

We place Him in the highest place so the world will know.


He was born a tiny Babe.  He rules in honor and light.

Pushing the deeds of darkness, He leads us in our fight.


Through the blood of Jesus, victorious we stand.

We place him in the highest place above all else in this land.



Reader 1:       God knows that above everything else in our lives we need to know Him.  We like to have things our own way but God helps us to see how much we need Him and that He loves us.  That is what happened 2,000 years ago when a young girl’s life was changed forever.  God loved her and He used her to be the mother of Jesus.


Reader 2:  God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin girl who lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee.  The girl was engaged to marry a man named Joseph.  Her name was Mary.  


Choir sings “Father, I love you.”

Father, I love you.

I lay my life before you.

I want to know you.

Here is my heart.  (5x’s)


Mary comes from behind the curtain to center stage and walks around the stage in prayer.  The house lights go off and the only light is on Mary.  The Angel Gabriel appears.  He puts his finger up pointing to the sky.  As the song ends, the angel leaves. 


Mary sits on one of the benches. Hands and face held up in prayer.


Joseph comes out and Mary goes to him and gestures to explain about the angel.   As they talk to each other, they move around the stage. (NOTE TO LINDA:  BEGIN READER AT THIS TIME.)

Reader 1:       Mary was engaged to marry Joseph.  But before they married, Mary learned that she was pregnant with a child by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Mary’s husband, Joseph was a good man.  He did not want to bring shame to Mary before the people.  So he planned to divorce her secretly. 


Sadly, Joseph walks off stage.  Mary comes to the edge of the stage. She falls down on the floor beside the bench.  She looks in the sky.  Choir sings, “I Can Do All Things.”


I can do all things through God

       who give me strength.

But sometimes I wonder

       what He is doing with me.

No great success to show. 

       No glory of my own.

Yet in my weakness, God has chosen to use me.


(chorus) His strength is perfect

When our strength is gone.

He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on.

Raised in his power, the weak become strong.

His strength is perfect.

His strength is perfect.  (repeat chorus)


Raise in his power, the weak become strong.

His strength is perfect.

His strength is perfect.



As  the choir sings, Mary gets up smiling  and moves off  the stage.  After the song, the curtains open and Joseph is asleep on the floor.  Angel come on stage and talks to Joseph.


Reader 3:       But an angel came to Joseph in a dream.  The angel said, “Don’t be afraid to take Mary to be your wife.” 


(Choir sings, “Stand up, Joseph!)


(male solo) Stand up, Joseph, I’ve got something to say.

Singing, “God’s still working.  Mary will have a son.

Stand up Joseph! I’m not here to play. 

Stand up.  Listen! Jesus will be His Name. 

(male chorus repeats verse.)


(choir) Hey Now, Joseph, I’ve got something to say.

Singing, “God’s still working.  Mary will have a son.

Hey, Now, Joseph I’m not here to play.

Stand up, Listen! Jesus will be his name.


(Joseph goes to Mary) Hey, Now, Mary, I’ve got something to say.

Singing. God’s not dead.  His children aren‘t ashamed.

Hey Now, Mary, I’m not just here to play.

Stand up, Shout it! There’s power in Jesus’ Name.


Hey, Now People, We‘ve got something to say.



When the solo stops singing the first verse, the angel will leave.  Joseph will rub his eyes.  Then he goes over to Mary who is standing off stage.  They walk back on stage. 


(Joseph talks to Mary and points to the sky and hugs her.  They will leave the stage together. The curtain closes.   As they hug, the choir sings:  “O, Lord, My Rock. 


(female solo) O, Lord, my rock and my redeemer,

You are a holy God and we give ourselves to you.


(male solo) O, Lord, My rock and my redeemer,

Let my life be an offering unto you.


(male and female duet.  Then entire choir.)


Let my life be an offering unto you.

Let my life be an offering unto you.


The couple comes out in front of the curtain and stands while the choir sings the first verse of song.  Then they leave the stage. 


 As the next reader begins, Mary and Joseph come back on stage, with a  pack in their arms.  They are walking together.  They walk across the stage and then go back stage.  They should move immediately to the manger scene.  Mary should be seated with the baby in her arms.  Joseph should be standing beside or in back of her.  The manger should be in front. 


Reader 2:    At that time Augustus Caesar sent out an order to all people.  The order said that all people must write their name in a book.  All people traveled to their own towns to be registered.  So Joseph went to Bethlehem in Judea.  Joseph went with Mary.  While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have the baby.  She gave birth to her first son, Jesus.


As the reader speaks, shepherds should move to in front of the stage.  When shepherds are in place, the curtain opens.  The music will play, “Jesus, I love you.” (song 2)


Reader 3:       Some shepherds were in the fields watching their sheep.


Reader 4:       An angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds and said,


Reader 5:       “Don’t be afraid.”


Choir sings “The Angel Cried.” (Song 6)  


(female) And angels cried, Glory, Glory, Glory to God.

And blessed be His name.

(all choir) Glory, Glory, Glory to God

There’ll be peace on earth for all.

You must go to Bethlehem and find this Child.


The angels said, Glory, Glory, Glory to God.

And blessed be His name.

Glory, Glory, Glory to God

There’ll be peace on earth for all.

You must go to Bethlehem and find this Child.


You must go to Bethlehem and find this Babe.


During the song, all the angels appear.  They should point the shepherds to the manger.  The choir sings, “Messiah is Born.”


Messiah is born in Bethlehem’s stall.

I know we’ll see him when we call.

Walking side by side we’re hurrying on.

Messiah has come to Bethlehem’s stall.


We’re going to see the Babe.

We’ll get down on our knees

He’ll be wrapped in swaddling cloths

Lying in a Manger bare.

Well the angel said, Go find the child.

He’ll bring peace to all the friends of God

The reason we know we’ll find him there

Is the Angel appeared and he said to Go


 Some of the shepherds will move on to the stage.  Some of the angels will go on stage.  The shepherds on stage kneel before the baby.  (IMPORTANT NOTE:  Be sure to choose shepherds who can kneel to go on the stage!)


Reader 3:       Wise men came from the East to worship the new born king.


As the music begins for “God is Gonna Lead us.”


God is gonna lead us to the Messiah

See the holy star that’s guiding us forward

Lift up your heads, don’t be discouraged

God is gonna lead us to the tiny Babe.  (2x’s)


He who began our trip to the West

Is able to guide us.

He who began this work for us

Is able to guide us.



 The wise men begin to move from the back.  They come on stage and kneel before the baby.


Worker 3:       You know, that is a great story.  Sometimes I forget that God loves me.  When is that Christmas play anyway?


All the other workers:  All right, Steve!  Workers high five Steve and each other.


Choir sings, “Above All Else” as everyone stands and sings.

It is probably true that you will be asked to do a funeral for one of your members at some time in your ministry.  There are specific things which I have observed from pastors who are successfully able to capture the essence of the person and still glorify Christ in a funeral sermon or eulogy.  Here are some of those things which you may find helpful.

  1. Find a hook.  This is something about the person that seems to embody their personality or mission in life.  It may be a phrase, a sentence or an observation.  Most often this should come from the family.  In trying to find a hook for one man that I had never met, every person I spoke to said, “He was a good man.”  I kept trying to find something else about this man until I realized:  This was a truly good man and that was what family wanted to said about him.
  2. Interview as many members of the family as possible to be able to grasp what is meaningful to them.  Ask probing questions.   What is the thing you remember most about Phil?  What did he do during his free time?  Tell me a little bit about his life.  When did he become a Christian?
  3. Everyone has some humor in his or her life.  Try to find it and use it.
  4. The deepest, most moving memories are best wrapped with a glimmer of humor, if possible.
  5. Don’t be afraid to share deeply personal things that the family has given you permission to share.  This is a time for them to hear their words echoing back to them in a positive message of hope.
  6. If the person is not a Christian, amplify some good traits.  Then emphasis that if she could stand before you today, she would want each person present to know Christ.  We know this is a true statement without saying things which are not true.
  7. Use a Thesaurus in finding different words to express what you want to say.  Don’t limit yourself or your imagination in your sentence structure or your vocabulary.
  8. Use Scriptures to say the things you desire to say about the resurrection.  Then don’t forget to speak about the hope of the resurrection of Christ in each sermon or eulogy.  That, after all, is why we have sermons at funerals.
  9. Keep it short.  Limit yourself to a maximum of 10 minutes of sermon.  I also try to limit the Scripture readings to five to 10 minutes.  Intersperse the Scriptures throughout the service.  Find my favorite Scriptures here.  

Remember, above all, you are speaking the heart of the family and the heart of Christ.  When the two are in harmony, it’s a wonderful union.  When they are divergent, God will help you to find ways to honor both. 


God loves the broken hearted and desires to heal those who grieve.  It is a wonderful opportunity to show the love of Christ to people who are wounded and hurting.



If you are sharing with a family of a mentally challenged person who has died, this is especially important to remember and acknowledge their grief.  God wants to touch this family in a real way and you can be His instrument. 



Here is a eulogy that hopefully will help you to see how these steps can be put together. 



Leslie Ann  


          The Apostle Paul writes in the Holy Scriptures that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Proverbs reminds us that a merry heart is as good as any medicine.  On December 19, 1972, God gave to us an ambassador of laugher and giggles when Leslie Ann  was born to Priscilla. 


          Raised in a strong Catholic family, faith and commitment to the Lord were the backbone of her existence.  As a natural outgrowth of that love for the Lord, her first communion was a joyous time shared with her mother, grandparents, her Uncle Jack, his two children and the community of believers. 


          Later, as Leslie matured into adulthood, reaching out became an anchor of her commitment to the Lord as she endeavored to share her faith.  Each Christmas at Special Gathering, we collect gifts for the Haitian children.  Leslie was the first one to bring her gifts.  But she didn’t stop there.  Sunday after Sunday, she would bring toys and school supplies for the young children who have so little.


          Of course, Leslie understood the value of money.  The best presents she received were always money or gift cards.  No birthday was complete without a card filled with big bucks. Yet, she never totally comprehended the complete concept.  After obtaining her first job came the wondrous first paycheck.  Excited by this new found wealth, Leslie wanted to put it in the bank as the first installment toward buying a new Corvette.  Somehow the fact that it was only $4 escaped this young financier. 


          Leslie had a knack for remembering names and addresses.  She remembered the full name of everyone she met.  But phone numbers were her specialty.  She spent hours on the phone with her various boyfriends.  Mark from New Jersey was her first real boyfriend.  For more than ten years, they conversed every evening until it was time for them to go to bed.  Last July, when Leslie and her mother went back to Jersey, Mark begged them to come back in the spring because he needed a date to the prom.  “You know my girl’s down there with you,” Mark told Priscilla pensively.


          Though she seldom complained, at times her disability would hinder her from doing the fun activities that the other family members enjoyed.  One day, Elaine, her step-sister-in-law, could no longer take her mournful expression as the other young adults scooted around on jet skis. 


          “I’ll take you,” Elaine volunteered.  Leslie was in her mid-twenties but not too old to giggle.  Unfortunately, in her enthusiasm, Leslie leaned too far and tipped over the jet ski.  In an effort to save herself, Leslie quickly grasped the closest thing to her–which was Elaine’s throat. 


          Her mother was following her in a boat.  She and the driver of the boat scooped Leslie up from the water within a few seconds.  And Elaine is still thankful.


          Leslie never liked being left behind.  And she didn’t like losing when she played games.  After her great nephew, Colin, was born, she would spend hours coloring and playing games with him.  He was her little buddy.  But her competitive nature didn’t die easily and she didn’t enjoy losing, even to him. 


          Vincent, Colin’s dad and her cousin, was two years younger than she.  He, naturally, was her big buddy.  As children the cousins etched together a life-long bond.  They spent hours building towers with blocks.  After the construction was felled, they would head for the hallway and a ball game.  For Leslie, the fun with Vincent was never in the game or the competition but in the giggling. 


          About ten years ago, after moving from Jersey, Leslie began attending Special Gathering.  Later, she joined the choir.  Her commitment to the choir was remarkable and we came to lean heavily on her strong–though never pitch-perfect–voice.


          Every Saturday evening, she’d ask her mom, “Do I need to wear my choir uniform to Special Gathering?”  Her mom would explain that the choir wasn’t singing at another church, only practicing.  “Are you sure?”  Leslie would enquire suspiciously.


          One of Leslie’s favorite songs was a selection from our choir.  Often before practice, we would sing it as our prayer.


          Change my heart, Oh, God.

          Make it ever true

          Change my heart, Oh, God,

          May I be like you.


          You are the potter, I am the clay

          Mold me and make me.

          This is what I pray.


          Change my heart, Oh, God.

          Make it ever true.

          Change my heart, Oh, God.

          May I be like you


          As Leslie slipped into eternity last Saturday, I believe she met the Lord giggling.  You see, her disability and pains are gone.  She isn‘t hurting or afraid anymore.  (show the crystal bowl and the paper cup)


          On the Friday evening that Leslie was admitted to the hospital, she was in agonizing pain.  Her stomach had ripped and her lungs were full of pneumonia.  She would code three times before they could get her into surgery.  Fighting frantically to save her life, the technician began taking X-rays.  Explaining to her what they were doing, the tech said, “We are going to hold up this piece of metal and take your picture.”


          Leslie weakly nodded her understanding.  As the technician put up the metal sheet to her chest, ready to click the X-ray, Leslie said, “Cheese” and grinned for the picture.  With each X-ray she said, “Cheese” and smiled.  As we remember Christ’s ambassador of giggles, we cannot weep for her, though we will often shed tears for ourselves.  She would demand that we gratefully grin and say, “Cheese.”


          On December 19, 1972, a strong but tiny baby girl entered into the world.  She was taken almost immediately from her mother.  Yet, the love that flowed from this miniature child to her mother was undeniable.  Later, the doctors told the young mother that her child, Leslie Ann Bianco, had been born with Down’s Syndrome.  However, because of the strong attachment that instantly existed between her and her child and because she really didn’t understand the implication of the doctor’s diagnosis “that meant nothing to me.”  Priscilla confessed, “It was too late.  I had loved her immediately.” Priscilla joyfully took her petite bundle home.


            Working as a nurse, the young mother provided for her daughter and they lived a peaceful life of faith, joy and satisfaction.  Within a couple of years of Leslie’s birth, Priscilla’s brother, Jack, fathered his second child, Vincent.  Leslie and Vincent became more than cousins.  Together they played and explored the Jersey shore.  The Jersey City Boardwalk, with the seemingly, endless arcades became their playground and favorite hang-out.  As often as Priscilla or their grandparents, could pull away, Vincent and Leslie were together, discovering every aspect of the coast, romping, laughing and playing.


            Leslie was a happy, smiling child who provided endless delight to her mother and family.  One day she came in the house, dripping wet from a playful rout in the snow.  Uncle Jack unceremoniously hung her snow suit–with a giggling Leslie still inside of it–on the dryer until she could drip off the excess snow. 


            It was during these early years, that Leslie was introduced to the only father, she knew, Sonny.  Sonny worked with her grandfather as a contractor.  She affectionately called him, Uncle Sonny.  As the friendship between Leslie and Sonny grew so did the friendship between Priscilla and Sonny. 


            At 12 years old, Priscilla and Leslie moved to a small house on the shore.  Because the health of Priscilla’s parents was fading, Leslie’s grandparents moved in with them.  During the next few years, Priscilla took care of her parents and Leslie. 


            While Sonny was Leslie’s buddy, Dominic, Sonny’s son, was her first love.  She would follow him foot for foot with an adoring admiration.  Of course, Leslie didn’t let her devotion to Dom interfere with having a boyfriend.  She always had at least one and she was known to successfully juggle as many as three admirers at a time.  For the past six or more years, her steadiest boyfriend was Steve. 


            Together they bowled with Special Olympics, worked at Brevard Achievement Center and attended the Rec Department socials.  But I came to love her through Special Gathering.  She attended about 10 years. 


            Leslie loved to sing.  Faithfully participating in the Special Gathering choir, she became a strong, anchor voice in the women’s section.  We all came to depend on her because she and Steve were the first ones to learn the words and melody.  Her simple faith became an example to all of us.  During our offertory time, Leslie, Terri and Shelley would pray for our people in wheelchairs.  Known for her laughter, Leslie knew the seriousness of these moments.  The giggling stopped for a few minutes but never the smiles.


            The phrase repeated again and again when people heard about her death was “what will we do without her?”  Vincent and his wife, Debbie, recounted that they had never encountered a person who didn’t like Leslie.  Vincent said, “She would engage anyone in conversation.  And no one seemed to be offended or put out.  She was never rude.  She would just snatch them into her world.”  Leslie cared about the people she encountered and they seemed to embrace that level of caring. 


            Leslie was a people finder.  Whether holding baby Isabel, Dom and Elaine’s grandchild or lying seriously ill in the hospital, her generous spirit drew people to her.  A family friend, Faye, echoed that.  “I came to visit with the family after Sonny died.  I was supposed to stay for two hours and stayed ten.  From that day, both Leslie and Priscilla became my friends.” 


            After Sonny’s death, Priscilla and Leslie moved to a new house.  Next door to them lived John and Barbara.  Again, instant friendship developed.  John and Leslie became especially close.  Together they would get down on the floor and play with John’s dog. 


            Each pay day, Leslie would get off the bus, waving her pay check and announcing.  “Big bucks, John.  Big bucks.”  Whether it was $80 or $.35, to Leslie it was big bucks.  At times, she would offer to take everyone out to lunch.  Of course, once they were there and the check arrived, she could never find her money to pay the bill. 


            She was a bowler, a singer, a box maker, a greeter.  She mastered games of all kinds.  Yet, of all her skill masteries, giggling was the best thing she did.  The Bible says that the joy of the Lord is our strength and Leslie embodied joy, strength and delight in life.  Few people are able to grasp life and wring from it the kind of pleasure and loyalty that Leslie embodied.  Her life was lived to please the Lord and desiring to grow in his grace become more like Jesus.


            One of her friends told us at Special Gathering on Sunday.  “Please don’t cry.  Leslie is not dead.  She has a new life.  She is alive.”  On the Sunday before she was hospitalized, the choir sang to an audience of over 1,000 people and she had the solo.  The words were her testimony of love to her Lord:


            Father, I love you. 

            I lay my life before you.

            I want to know you.

            Here is my heart.

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