From my office, I can hear the mumbling of a TV coming from husband’s bedroom and the humming of several appliances and electronic equipment.  Years ago, when I moved Special Gathering of Indian River’s primary work place into my home office, I had little idea how much white noise I would have to learn to ignore.  However, I knew that I had learned the ignoring skill well because I was the mother of three children.  Therefore, I’d lived with white noise most of my adult life.  Mothers learn to hear only what is necessary to hear.  This ability isn’t instinctive but an acquired skill after years of processing cries, screams, silences and laughter.

The other day I was shocked to realize that I had transferred that skill into my ministry.  Understand there are some things which need to be ignored but when the important things become white noise, there is a problem.  I standing outside of one of the local work programs when Jules approached me excitedly happy.  Of course, Jules is always excitedly happy or deeply depressed.  She is an attractive, high functioning individual with lots of personality problems.  But they are hidden at first by her sometimes bubbly personal charm. 

Like many higher functioning folk within the mentally challenged community, Jules is a magnet within her peer group.  Everyone wants to be her friend.  Jules gives her favors selectively to those she deems worthy of her attention.  Only when she wants to impress me does she grace me with a bit of conversation.  I’ve learned to pretty much treat Jules’ attention-seeking conversation as white noise.

“I’m going to Africa for an international conference in July,” she exuded excitement and charm.

“Oh, that’s nice,” I said with a faint smile.

“It’s a great honor to be chosen; and we will spend five days making important decisions that will affect everyone with a disability for years.”

“You must be happy about that,”  I managed another smile that matched the flat tone in my voice.

“Oh, I am.” 

About that time our conversation was interrupted by Mary, a staff member at the facility.  Mary is a dedicated Christian who believes that what she does in the work program is a vital ministry within the mentally challenged community. “Mary,” Jules turned her attention away from me, “did you hear?  I’m going to Africa for an international conference.”

Mary’s eyes lit up with joy.  “Jules, I had no idea.  That makes me really happy!  Tell me all about your trip.  Do you have any idea what an honor this is?  You have made everyone in our entire community proud.”  Mary’s enthusiasm was genuine and heartwarming.

I felt like a heel.  In truth, Jules’ trip was a great honor for the entire mentally challenged community in our small county; and I had treated it like white noise.  I smiled sheepishly as Mary listened to Jules’ explanation and then peppered her with more questions and additional compliments about her accomplishment.

I don’t think anyone has ever reprimanded me about having a cavalier attitude regarding our members.  But that day the Holy Spirit through Mary slapped me awake to the indifference that had become rooted in my heart.  Again and again, over the past months, I’ve caught myself as I treated the members of Special Gathering and their conversation as white noise and a distraction that should be ignored.

Perhaps one of the problems with ministry within the mentally challenged community is that we get used to being treated like a rock star whenever we come into a room or visit a facility.  Yes, we try to down grade the attention we receive.  Humbly, we don’t even want to admit that it’s happening.  Perhaps our humility is eventually replaced with indifference and that is a deadly reaction in ministry.  Special Gathering members deserve better.

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