January 2009

See the Daytona Beach News Journal for the entire editorial published on January 28, 2009, regarding a renewed commitment to open government in Florida.

Florida made history when it adopted the country’s most progressive
constitutional right of access to government records in 1992. That right,
coupled with the state’s 1967 Sunshine Law requiring all government
meetings to be open and accessible to the public, made Florida a leader in
the transparent conduct of public business — for a few years, anyway. The
90 exemptions to the open meetings law and the 970 exemptions to the public
records law have replaced transparency with muddle…

For the rest of the editorial see:  http://www.news-journalonline.com/NewsJournalOnline/Opinion/Editorials/opnOPN18012809.htm

My mother used to say that it was hard to hate the people for whom you pray.  After eight years of praying for George W. Bush as our president, I’m finding it hard to change.  Yes, I’m now praying each day for our new President. 

Actually, I started praying for all the candidates when they declared their candidacy which means I’ve been praying for President Obama for about two years.  However, I’m finding it hard to switch gears.  In our country, transfer of power is immediate and automatic.  But in my prayer life, it’s hard to let go.

Perhaps what my mother said to me years ago is really true.  I find that I have a real tender spot for President Bush.  I was grieved when the audience at the inaugural booed him.  Of course, he didn’t do everything right but he also didn’t do everything wrong.  No man living or dead has done more for Africa than President Bush.  However, we are short sighted when it comes to those efforts and accomplishments. 

I don’t believe in white-washing but I also don’t believe in overlooking the good because there are some things we don’t like.  In the state of Florida, no Governor did more for the mentally challenged community than Jeb Bush but it was never enough.  Again and again, it was heard, “If only we had a Democrat, then we would get more services.”  It appeared that pouring money didn’t help our services or our opinions.

Now the money has dried up and we are left with withering services.  Our new governor who isn’t a Democrat and the legislature are working feverously to balance the budget.  As more cuts come, perhaps, it would be wisdom to pray more and critique less. 

As an advocate, I believe it’s important to point out flaws, misdeeds and missteps.  However, as a pray-er, I’ve seen that it’s hard to hate the people for whom we pray.  Perhaps a renewal of prayer is still needed.

When my son was at the University of Florida, he was part to the UF surfing team.  During those years, we often hosted the entire team at our home for the weekend.  There were guide lines.  The girls slept upstairs.  The guys slept downstairs.  No one slept on the steps.  We provided one meal which was usually the evening meal.  (In the South, we call it supper.)  Everyone was on their own for the other two meals. 

Everyone cleaned up after themselves.  I expected my home to be left in the same condition as when they arrived.  I had no curfew for the group.  After all, they lived on their own in Gainsville.  It would be silly for me to expect them to come in at a certain hour.  Usually, the group would buy one of the supper meals for my husband and me.  That meant that on that day I would have a big breakfast for them.  (Remember I provided one meal each day.)

Our home was never abused or harmed in anyway by the surfing team.  Because of these positive experiences, I realized that this type of arrangement is a good way to accommodate overnight guests.  Perhaps because we live in Florida and two blocks from the ocean and maybe because my husband and I love having guests, we have a lot of company.  Using this arrangement, people feel free to sight-see or roam the beach during the day.  They don’t have to be tied down to our schedule or planned agenda.  They can eat hardy or sparingly.   In other words, it is their vacation.

I’m talking about this because our SC Special Gathering program director is bringing a small group of her members to visit with us for a couple of days.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is evangelism and discipleship of people who are developmentally delayed.  We feel that trips with our members is a hyper course in discipleship.  Our Florida programs have a four day, three night camp where we have about 220 people who come each year.  Our SC program director prefers to take her members in smaller groups and work with them on a more personal level. 

I’m preparing for them.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years about preparing for guests:

  1. Don’t worry about having your home spic and span.  Doesn’t it make sense to do the most cleaning after the guests leave?
  2. It helps to have one room where you can stash your junk and shut the door.  Without that room, I would’ve been an unhappy hostess much of the time.
  3. Don’t worry about keeping the house clean once your guests arrive.  In fact, save your energy and give it up.  They saw that they don’t need to call the health department when they first arrived.  They don’t want to have you cleaning and straightening up all the time.
  4. Don’t have time to clean one or two rooms?  Close the door and declare them off limits.
  5. Allow your guests to help with dishes and cooking.  When we have guests who come for an extended stay, the rule in our home is that whoever cooks doesn’t have to do the dishes. 
  6. Remember your primary job is to make your guests feel comfortable.  Take time to sit down and talk with them.  Making people comfortable is work but it isn’t hard work.  If you are comfortable having them there, they will be comfortable being there.
  7. Have a basket of new toiletries in the bathroom that they can have, if they have left something.
  8. Accommodations don’t have to be Bed and Breakfast quality.  Remember it’s a free room.  Your guests know that and they will appreciate your opening your home to them. 
  9. Keep your meals simple.  Pull out your favorite easy menu.  A large salad with fresh baked bread (from the freezer section of the grocery store) and a large pot of stew makes a wonderful meal.  Spice it up by serving it in your best china.   For the surfing team, we would have a gigantic salad and 20 pounds of Rock Shrimp (a local, cheap delicacy).
  10. Keep your desserts even simpler.  Slice Enterman’s pound cake.  Top with ice cream and hot fudge sauce.  It’s a great, easy dessert.  Or… fresh from the oven slice and bake cookies can be sandwiched with gobs of canned icing then dipped in that wonderful chocolate sauce that hardens when it gets cold.  Pop them into the freezer for a few minutes.  Your guests will go wild. 
  11. Most of all, have fun.  If you are enjoying yourself, you give your guests permission to relax and enjoy themselves.
  12. If you are entertaining people who are mentally challenged, don’t worry.  As you know, they are people just like everyone else.  If they are treated like honored guests, they will treat your home with respect, just like everyone else.

In the Scriptures, there is a lot of written about entertaining and being able to accommodate people in our homes.  We’ve lost some of that in our hustle/bustle world.  Don’t miss out.  God has enriched our family and home with folks who have blessed us much more than we blessed them. 

My guests will be arriving soon.  I have some stuff that needs to be thrown into a spare room and a couple of doors that need to closed.

As our society evolves, one of the biggest things to change in the church world has been insurance and liability.  There was a time when churches wouldn’t think of having liability insurance.  If you did have such a policy, it was cheaper than dirt for congregations.  You were trusted and there was the assumption that good church people would never sue their congregations or pastors.  There was the assumption (and statistics bore these assumptions out) that you would not be sued by an outside person. Sexual misconduct was not an issue for various reason. (Those reasons aren’t  the purpose of this entry.)   

In this litigious world, all that has changed.  Yes, it is still much less expensive to insure a pastor than a doctor.  Yet, no church or parachurch ministry should be without insurance.  And no ministry can afford to not think in terms of liability.  If, like The Special Gathering, you don’t own any property, you may feel that you are exempt from the need of this additional expense.  That is a false conclusion.

Working with a vulnerable population, a ministry within the mentally challenged community must be as “wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove” in regards to liability issues.  Whenever you take a group of people to camp or a retreat where there may be risk involved, you should be sure that your insurance covers the event. 

Each year, The Special Gathering takes our members to Camp/Retreat Agape.  It is a four day, three night event.  The contract with the campground we rent is not valid until they have received our Certificate of Insurance, listing them as “additional insured.”  The golf cart company will not allow us to rent carts without this assurance from our insurance company.

In a way, this is an inexpensive safeguard for your members, volunteers and staff.  At The Special Gathering, we have been blessed with an executive director who has traveled far ahead of the curve in regard to these issues. 

Be sure that you and your ministry have the additional safeguard of good insurance.  We have found that GuideOne has been a good company.  There are a lot of other insurance companies who carry excellent liability policies.  Do you research, bite the bullet and get insurance.

What are some of the things you feel are needed in an insurance policy?  If you don’t have liability insurance, is there a reason?

In a bold move, Governor Charlie Crist has vetoed the additional 5 percent cuts in APD funding.  This is good news for those vulnerable adults and children who have disabilities. 

Thank you, Governor for putting the needs of people first.

It is an exciting time when we have new members who come to Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We are an organization whose mission is evangelism and discipleship.  Therefore, we desire to be a welcoming place and a safety net for people who are developmentally disabled.

In the past weeks, we have had several new people who are attending.  This presents some unique circumstances.  Our first and foremost goal is that our new members become assimilated within the population with his/her fellow members, not become only associated with our volunteers.  Because our members love to be aligned with normal folks, this is our continuing first challenge. 

In the past, most of our members came from contacts made within the workshops.  Now, alternative placements have made assimilation more complicated.  People come from out-of-state. They have no placement or they work in the community.  They are not known by anyone.  They don’t have friends already in our program.

In our Melbourne group, we have a class of members who have been targeted as our leadership.  They are taught on a different level.  They are taught discipleship/servant-hood principles.  As part of their training, we ask that our leadership team take a new member under their wing and escort them around.  We want the leadership team to try and find a good fit for the new member in regard to their Bible study class and other elements of our worship.  Usually within a few weeks, the new member has found her own set of friends but this initial confrontation with us seems to go smoother if our members can work one-on-one with her.

In addition, I try to spend one-on-one time with each new member.  I have found that this is pretty essential.  I try to make a home visit before his first time at Special Gathering.  If possible, I will pick up the person for his first time at Special Gathering.  Of course, that is becoming harder and harder but this is a goal.  In that way, Sam is seen by the other members and by Sam, as my guest.  Because I’m the area director, this gives him a bit of status. 

Over the years, I’ve seen that the most important thing, however, is that the new member become aligned with our leadership team–rather than with me.  When we were smaller and our members weren’t as mature, I played a bigger part in making our new members comfortable.  Now, it is our leaders who are the essential element. 

To be brutally honest, this isn’t a task that our leadership team is comfortable with yet.  They still want to sit on the front row with their old friends.  However, I see small steps of maturity within our membership in this important area of discipleship.

What part do your leaders play in welcoming new members?  Do you have certain tasks that you assign to them?  Do they naturally want to help new members?

One of the best things about finding someone else who does what we do is that suddenly that feeling of lost wandering evaporates.  At The Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we are exceptionally blessed because I can pick up the phone and communicate with three or four people who are fully employed in ministry with persons who are developmentally delayed.  However, Special Gathering isn’t the norm but the exception. 

Reality slaps you in the face when you find another person who is struggling out in the hinterlands and can’t believe that anyone else cares.  I found two lovely souls yesterday who are doing a wonderful work.  One woman has had a group home in our area for almost twenty years.  Somehow, she has stayed off the radar for all these years.  I found her yesterday.   I inquired if we could have lunch.  “Oh, I would have to bring my residents,” she said sheepishly. 

“I’d love that,”  I said.

At once her face brightened, “You would?  Then I can go.  You name the time.” 

After that encounter I went to lunch with a delightful woman from Washington DC who is working within the mentally challenged community.  She is Catholic whose program is in an Episcopal church in the District.  (This kind of cooperation is normal within our circles.)  She holds a Prayer and Pizza night once a month and a social the other weeks.  She is a speech therapist who could not walk away from the spiritual needs of people who are cognitively disabled.   

Chattering like teenager girls, we were full of questions for each other.  She asked,  “How did you get so many supporting churches?  How do you work with so many different denominations?  Why aren’t you teaching the rest of us how to do what you are doing?”    She took lots of notes and promised to e-mail all of us. 

I left the fast food restaurant understanding her loneliness.  I’m sure it’s the same feeling that missionaries in a foreign country would have when they encounter someone doing a similar work. 

I’m reminded of a simple story about a young child who began to scream when the thunder and lightning flashed during a storm.  His mother came into the dark room.  Putting her arms around him and holding him tightly, she comforted him, “You know Jesus is always with you.  You don’t have to be afraid.”

“I know,” the youngster replied, “but I need a skin face.” 

God understands that skin faces are important to all of us.  And what a blessing it is to find another skin face in the middle of the dark storm of life.

Have there be times that you have felt loneliness in the middle of a stormy spiritual battle?  Have you been able to find a skin face who can reflect the love of Jesus for you during that time?

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