December 2008


Through the wonder of the Internet, I can be in Washington DC celebrating my daughter’s birthday while you read this.  Because it’s Christmas Eve and you are probably not working, you may indulge me as I tell about my best Christmas gift.

It happened exactly 36 years ago in mid-morning when Carol Christa was born.  She was by far the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received.  From the moment of her conception, God spoke to my heart and the my husband’s that this child was his gift to us.  We felt she would be a boy and we planned on naming him, Matthew.  When we realized that Matthew means “a gift from God,”  we were convinced that our gift would be a boy.

We had two amazing children–a boy and a girl.  We thought our family was complete.  After all, our nine-year-old son was dark, strong and handsome.   Our daughter was six.  She was petite, beautiful and blonde.  What more could you want?

On Christmas Eve when our daughter was born, we weren’t disappointed but delightfully surprised.  Carol is now a pastor serving the Lord in Washington DC.  She is the author of the book, Tribal Church, which is selling like hot cakes.  She has a great blog TribalChurch.  While some of our theology doesn’t exactly match, she has truly been a wonderful gift. 

I learned from that experience that God not only knows how to give good gifts but he also knows how to make a gift expected for nine month be a surprise.  He is, after all, God.

Happy Birthday, Carol.  You have blessed us more than you know.

As a program director of a ministry within the mentally challenged community, I have a different perspective from the professionals I know when it comes to family.

Often family is looked upon as an intrusion or necessary distraction.  However, an involved family is seen by The Special Gathering staff as one of the greatest assets one of our members can have. 

Karla lives in a group home and works at a day program.  Karla is a member of SpG who has three or four sisters.  Two of them are actively involved in her life.  Karla is much older than the other women.  It is no secret that they spoil her. 

These sisters are a constant irritant for the professionals who work with Karla.  They report, “We just get Karla straightened out and working with us and she spends a week or two with her sisters and they spoil her rotten.  They cater to her and wait on her and pamper her.  She comes home and expects us to do the same.”

I usually try to show the proper amount of concern and care for these folks who have to live with Karla on a day to day basis.  But inside, I have to admit, I’m jumping up and down, clapping and cheering the sisters onward in their quest to spoil the living day lights out of Karla.

You see, I figure that the roles have reversed for these women.  I believe to engender that much endearing love, Karla probably taught her younger siblings servanthood through her example of loving care toward them.  Now they are returning the love. 

 When a parent spoils a family member, it’s expected.  When siblings spoil their sister or brother, it’s usually pay back for the love they received from their Karla as children.  In this case, pay back is a wonderful thing.

Few people spoil our members.  Often professionals come into this field determined to wholly give of themselves to a needy population.  Within a few years, the warts, unpleasant smells and bad table manners wear thin.  When the ice finally breaks, the under-paid professional staff  is left cynical and jaded. 

However, family members, especially siblings,  have lived with the warts, unpleasant odors and loud chewing noises all their lives, yet they choose to ignore them and show love in the areas that can be emphasized.  They know first hand that almost no one has worked hard at spoiling their sister or brother.  Parents must be concerned with appropriate behaviors and societal norms as their child with a disability is maturing.  They can’t afford to spend much time spoiling. 

Some exceptional siblings make the decision to do for their Karla what everyone should have on occasion, hold a spoiling fest.  Personally, I think it’s a good thing. 

Do you find that siblings or parents are better at spoiling?  What do you think?  Is it a good thing or not?

It has been an exciting  journey to see how family dynamics grow and evolve.  I met a delightful family this week.  They came to Special Gathering to introduce their sister who is developmentally delayed to our program.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We do church.  We evangelize and disciple persons who are developmentally disabled. 

Yes.  The entire family came to check us out.  We were all surprised to see five people walk into worship on Sunday morning. 

I’d expected a new member and one sister, but not the conclave that came to insure that their sister would be all right with Special Gathering.  All of our volunteers and members were pleasantly surprised with their presence.  They came and became involved.  Asking questions and answering our questions, the family intermingled sharing their easy manner with us.

For about an hour, I couldn’t figure out which sister would be our new member.  It became a pleasant guessing game for me.  The sisters and their husbands laughed with their family member who had a disability.  They were receptive and attentive to her needs without being overly protective or condescending. 

When I asked which sister wanted to be put down as the primary family for our records, their was a bit of tension because both sisters wanted to be equally involved in her life.  At that moment, I struggled to not have my growing delight become giggly enthusiasm. 

Within the church, there are people who find value in what we do for several reasons.  This family found value in us because they valued their sister so highly.  I was pleased.  I’m excited to get to know our new member.  And I’m excited to get to know the sisters.

Family is a good thing.  Good families are an amazing  gift from God. 

What are some of the family dynamics that you have found in your years of ministry?  What are some things which are good?  What are some things that you wish would not happen?

Life is Precious to the Lord

Exodus 1:16-17

Central Theme:  If life is precious to the Lord, then life should be precious to us also.

 

Introduction—I asked a young mother who was a volunteer to bring up her baby.  I asked her to tell about feeling him before he was born.  Was he alive?  Was he a child before he was born?  Was he a baby right after he was born?

       5.     Have a member read Exodus 1:16-17.

 

       I.     Tell the story of Moses as a baby.

              A. God’s people had respect for human life.

              B. They would not kill the little babies.

 

      II.     No matter who tells you different, you must have respect of life.

 

              A. God wants us to respect life, even our own lives.

              B. We are sometimes encouraged to do dangerous things.

              C. I had a good friend who was encouraged to go out to the bars and drink and even get drunk.

              D. She became an alcoholic.

              E.  She is now a very sick person.  If you had known her years ago, you wouldn’t recognize her now.

              F.  She listened to other people; she did not have respect for her own body.

              G. God made each of us and we should have great respect for everyone.  We should start with respecting our own bodies.

 

      II.     Each of us should respect human live.

              A.  Not just little babies but each other.

              B. We show respect for life by living clean and good lives.

 

Conclusion–God‘s people did not want to kill the babies.  They respected and wanted to save lives.  We should show respect for life also.  We should start with respecting our own lives.

This is an e-mail I received from the Florida Housing Coalition.  I can’t say that I agree with everything they say but I thought you may want to see this newest Legislative proposal.
Remember the 2008 Legislative session-when $303 million from the Sadowski funds was appropriated for housing and $250 million from Sadowski funds was swept to general revenue? That was pretty bad news for housing. But it
could be getting even worse right after the holidays. The Legislature is going to meet in special session the first week in January with the intention of cutting spending and “sweeping trust funds.”
 
What does that mean?
 
It means that although $303 was appropriated for housing in 2008-09, it may
not actually be distributed. Monies that program administrators have
obligated thinking they were going to receive may never be distributed- that
goes for local programs such as SHIP and state programs such as SAIL.
  
What should you do?
 
Contact 4 key people:
 
Senate President Jeff Atwater
 
atwater.jeff.web@flsenate.gov
 
Capitol Office Phone (850) 487-5100
 
District Office Phone (561) 625-5101
 
House Speaker Ray Sansom
 
To
<http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/emailrepresentative.
aspx?MemberId=4262&SessionId=34> Email Click Here
 
Capitol Office Phone: (850) 488-1170
 
District Office Phone: (850) 833-9328
 
Your State Senator in the district office – find contact info here-
www.flsentate.gov <http://www.flsentate.gov/>
 
Your State Representative in the district office- www.myfloridahouse.com
<http://www.myfloridahouse.com/>
 
What should you say?
 
  • Taking money from the state and local housing trust funds is not the way to balance Florida’s budget. Housing money stimulates the economy;
  • We are in an economic crisis- putting people back to work on housing will accelerate Florida’s economy;  
  • We need the construction and other housing related jobs generated by rehabilitating foreclosed multi-family and single family housing;
  • This is the time to get people into existing housing stock withdown payment and closing cost assistance;
  •  The federal government gets it-interest rates have never been
  • lower. Florida needs to get it too-the housing industry needs to be fueled,not starved.  
  • Let’s accelerate Florida’s economy by using the housing trust fund monies as intended- FOR HOUSING.  
When should you do this?
 
NOW.
Thank you very much. Happy Holidays from the Florida Housing Coalition.
  
For further information contact jaimieross@aol.com

 I’ve spoken to some interesting people who are also bloggers.  One person confessed, “I’m a very private person.  However, I will blog things that I would never tell people face to face.” 

I believe it isn’t the medium–or blogging– that is to blame but the very intimate discipline of writing that may be the culprit.  Many novelists admit that they write about their own lives, their friends’ lives and their home towns.  It’s often been said by authors that you can tell the things with which they are struggling by what occupies their writing. 

Close exposure to the written word is an extremely seductive practice.  The more you deal with words; the more you believe that you can trust them.  Therefore, the more you do trust them. 

As a program director for a ministry called The Special Gathering, I’ve worked for almost two decades with people who are developmentally disabled.  I feel an acute desire to help our members who often are poor readers or who do not read at all.  Our ministry is not one of social work but classic ministry.  We disciple and evangelize persons who are mentally challenged.  I’ve made several observations.

  • Over the years, I marveled at how much the mentally challenged population relates to the published word.  Many people who cannot decipher a B from a Ω will stare for hours at the newspaper pretending to read. 
  • If you didn’t know, you would assume that they were reading the magazine they have placed on the table beside their lunch, because they have trained their eyes to scan the page as though they are carefully reading. 
  • Also, most mentally challenged people don’t want to admit that they cannot read.  They will calmly tell you they don’t know their phone number or their address.  They may admit other effects of their disability without any sense of shame but reading…that’s often different.

Christians and Jews are known as people of the Book.  For thousands of years, Jews have taught their children to read so they would be able to read the Torah.  From the early days of our nation, Christians founded our most prestigious universities.  Pastors and church members were the authors of public school so that every child could read the Bible. 

Because the written Word is so intricate in learning about the ways of God, I’ve sometimes wondered if God hasn’t put in our hearts a great attraction to reading and writing.  When I came to work within this population, I was fascinated with the interaction of mentally challenged people and reading.

Within the mentally challenged community, reading and writing is highly valued.  I learned very early in working with this ministry that it’s a good thing to never ask if a person can read or write.   I talk to them as though they can.  But inwardly, I assume that they can’t, until I know for sure.

Len quit coming to Special Gathering when we started using curriculum because he was so afraid that we would ask him to read.  Up to that point, I had no idea that he could not read because he was one of our most high functioning members. 

When I finally coaxed him back to our program, I handed out the new quarterlies and said,  “Now.  Do not read ahead.  In fact, I just want you to look at the pictures.  I’m going to tell the story.  I’ll read if there is a need.  You don’t have to.” 

Immediately, I saw the tension drain from Len’s face.  He came back every week.  Being up close and personal seems to be the position everyone wants when it comes to words.  After Len relaxed, he wanted to take his book home. 

What about you?  Have you seen an attraction for the written word in your program?  Have you found that your members have an acute desire to read?  How do you handle people who are not readers in your Bible classes?

The whine you hear in your computer is coming from this blog.  I want to warn you now that this will not be a pleasant entry.  All those with a low tolerance for whimpering and spitting should leave immediately.  Since I assume that means every male reader, I will continue in a typically female fashion.

Men like stories told in a newspaper format.  The headline first.  The first sentence should tell you all you need to know about the issue.  The first paragraph is a encapsulated version of the story.  Men only listen about three minutes to any story.  Therefore, if you wish to reach them at all, you must approach each and every issue as a journalist.

Women are different.  We want every detail, every whimper, every smile.  This is my tale and it will be told in a typically female fashion.

I remember the day as though it were yesterday.  The Special Gathering Choir of Indian River was asked to sing at a nursing home.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our purpose is to evangelize and disciple men and women who are developmentally delayed.  Our choir is an outreach to the community, helping The Church understand that people who are developmentally disabled can have a vital relationship with the Lord.  We have sung many times in nursing homes.  We know that a nuring home is always on the lookout for groups that will come to entertain.  From experience, I expected that with a small nursing home, you would have an audience of 25 to 30 people.  This was a very large facility.

If my memory serves me correctly, it was a Tuesday that we were to sing and the members of the choir were excited to be able to sing their Christmas music one last time.  We were to sing at 3:30pm.  This meant the choir members needed to arrive by 3pm. 

I started my trip at noon and went to three of the choir member’s workplace.  Their caregivers had forgotten they were to sing.  Their choir uniforms for the day consisted of a stained and house paint smeared shirt,  a too small Gator shirt and a faded and grungy yellow shirt.  They were in old, torn and dirty jeans.  This is appropriate wear for work but not giving a concert.  Because one of the members, we’ll call her Tammy, had forgotten that we were singing.  It took her 20 minutes to get to the front desk and retrieve her lunch box. 

We began our 80 mile trip late.  I called the forgetful caregivers to remind them againthat I had taken their residents and they wouldn’t be home for supper.  The last thing I needed was irate caregivers who arrived at the workshop to pick up the people who had gone with me.

I got several calls from the people I was to pick up later asking where I was.  Tammy and I laughed about her tardy arrival to sing.  As always, I had padded my time by about an hour.  Twenty minutes was not problem.  After picking up another member from work, we went to a residence where two other members were waiting.  Their caregiver had remembered and had called to find out where we were.

For two of the people who were stained and smeared, a borrowed  wardrobe change was in order.  Several other people had to go to the bathroom.  In all, 20 more minutes was eaten up.  No problem.  We still had 30 minutes to spare. 

Though I like to have longer, with the help of our members, I can set up the equipment in two or three minutes.  We exited the interstate into our destination city, with 5 minutes to spare, if we were to be able to set up for the singing.  As we maneuvered our way under the interstate heading east, we were stopped.  Traffic was no longer moving.  There we sat for 30 minutes. 

A truck, or more correctly the bottom end of a truck, that was being transported by a heavy equipment transport, had fallen off of the transport vehicle totally blocking the road.  There were no other roads leading into the city.  We couldn’t move and even if we could there was no place to go.  I was hemmed in by highway patrolmen who also couldn’t move, so there was no breaking the law in a desperate attempt to get to our destination. 

Again, I was on the phone trying to connect with someone–anyone–to let them know where we were.  At 3:25, the traffic began to move.  We were only five minutes from the nursing home but we would be late.  As I pulled into this large complex that houses about 425 or more people, I got a phone call.  “Where are you?”  You can surmise the rest.

We hustled into a small room where three or four women sat watching TV.  My choir members was intrigued with the TV.  Instead of helping to set up the equipment, they sat down to watch.  I asked a staff person where we could stand and was given instructions on where to set up my equipment and where to have our choir stand.

After 15 minutes or so, I arranged the choir in the hallway, where we had been told to stand.  “You can’t stand there!” a lovely staff persons who had just arrived told me.  “You can’t be seen from there.  You have to move and stand  in front of the TV.”  I had equipment and 12 mentally challenged people who would need to be moved into that very small area.  There were now four women and one man in our audience.  I smiled and suggested that perhaps our audience could move instead.  We couldn’t move and the audience opted to remain in place.

The concert was almost flawless.  The choir members were nervous but happy to be able to share with their audience of five.  Because one of our choir members is an employee at the home, a group of his fellow employees congregated in the hallway with us.  They enjoyed hearing the music and the singing.  We finished and introduced ourselves.

Then the choir members went to mingle with the audience and to enjoy cookies and punch.  Two of the elderly ladies came up to me and said, “Keep working with your choir.  Maybe they’ll learn how to sing one day.”  I smiled and said thank you.

After we sang, our members who had traveled the 70 miles back home needed to eat.  From the fast-food combo menu, it was a $50 expense.  Then I had to take everyone home.  I dropped the last person off at 7:45pm. 

Understand it isn’t the hours or the expense or the size of the audience that is causing that mournful whine to emanate from your computer.   It is the fact that at least 100 people were at the facility and missed the singing.   Had the staff who invited us not told them or invited them?  I had told her that our members would be taking off work (which means they won’t be paid), why hadn’t a more concerted effort been made to have others hear our members?

I hope that the reason that we were assigned to an audience of five was that this is the way every group is treated.  However, I doubt it.  “You will definitely be invited back,” the entertainment specialist said, as we were leaving. 

“That will be great,” the choir said to her.  I heard them talking among themselves at the restaurant.  “Just think we were able to sing for all those people and they want us back.”

“It was really worth it.  I’m so glad I came.”

“Linda, can we go back?”

I choked down my complaints with a swallow of diet cola.  It seems that within the mentally challenged community, our members have an extremely high tolerance for singing their hearts out to five people.  Perhaps that’s why I love what I do.

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