October 2010

Last night as I crawled into bed, I got a call from a good friend.  Her voice was strangled with emotion when she greeted me.  “Linda, I need you to listen to this.  I need your opinion.”  She read what appeared to be a short suicide note from her x-husband that she had discovered only a few minutes before the call.  Mental health issues dominate most of this man’s life.  He demanded a divorce for the 20 years that they had been married.  Finally, exhausted, she succumbed to his pleas.  After the divorce, he changed his mind; but her craw was filled to overflowing with the drama and pain.  She felt that she could no longer continue the hurts of his mental illness; and divorce had been his choice. 

Because I’ve been intimately connected with this family for years, she called me.  Without any explanation, she read the messages and asked my opinion.  His funeral plans were included, a request for her to forgive him; and there was a short letter to their daughters.  As sad as the letters appeared, it seemed to us to be the ultimate act of selfishness, especially the letter to his daughters. 

Struggles in life aren’t unique or strange.  They are daily events.  Yesterday, my day was filled with concerns about my lost phone and especially the information contained on the phone.  A call to the phone company alleviated my worries about the data but I was still faced with replacement issues.

After our conversation, I hung up the phone and thought how fortunate I was to only have the burden of a lost phone.  My dear friend is faced with the possibility of a lost person to whom she is peculiarly attached.  As she said her good-byes to me, I heard in her voice a renewed strength.  The strain was gone.  She had formulated a plan of action.  The guilt had been erased. 

One of the things parents and even caregiver of children with disabilities face is the guilt.  Who’s to blame?  Did I cause the disability?  Could I have changed things somehow?  Is God punishing my child for something that I did?  Later, questions change.  Am I doing what is best for my child?  Will another therapy be more beneficial?

Self-examination is never a bad thing.  Keeping a clean slate before the King of King is essentially smart business.  Repentance and forgiveness should be part of our daily lives.  However, wrenching guilt is not part of the armor of God.  

When David faced Goliath, Saul wanted David to wear his armor, the armor of a king.  However, David quickly realized that Saul’s armor didn’t fit.  He was a shepherd.  God uniquely trained and gifted David with particular skills that fit him perfectly.  David used a sling shot and a smooth pebble from a creek bed as his weapons.  The skill set and weapons would not allow shields and body protection to be worn.  Using what God had given to him, David defeated the giant.

Defeating the giant of guilt and regret in our lives is a daily walk.  Each person must face this giant alone and with the skills that life has trained him to use.  Talking with my friend, I expressed my anger at the x-husband’s selfishness.  Perhaps this show of emotion was what released her from the guilt that she was feeling at that moment.  As we prayed, I asked God to forgive him and to change his heart and mind.

As we minister within the mentally challenged community part of the overflow of our ministry will be to parents.  You talk with them on phone.  You interact at bowling and the community events.  You sit with mothers and fathers as their children perform in plays and Special Olympics events.  Helping parents to use the unique armor with which God has equipped them to overcome guilt and despair is one way that we can help minister to their children.  David knew how to handle the giant situation.  He only needed to be released by the king to do the right thing.  Parents also have a good instinct regarding what is right for their children.  Parents also have the amazing ability to change their life’s belief and spin into the opposite direction, if they see they have been wrong in their philosophy.

Decisions that are made while strapped to another person’s armor can actually harm the results of those decisions.  A word, a look may be the thing God uses to release and enable parents to be delivered from guilt and activate their God-given skills in making wise decisions for their children.

From the information I have, it appears that my iPhone has been stolen.  If it wasn’t simply misplaced and a theft has happened, there appears to be only one person who could have taken it.  Thankfully, I have a replacement because my husband is no longer able to use his iPhone.  Aside from the hassle of changing the number to a new phone, there is the struggle of replacing my data.  I will sync and get almost all of my info back.  That is a great relief. 

Systems and events happen that make ministry difficult.  My entire day has been wrapped around the concerns and search for my phone.  Yes, I did a hospital visit in another town, attended a minister’s prayer meeting and walked through two other appointments.  I’ve cleaned up some things that needed to be done regarding business.  But, honestly, my brain and emotions were wrapped around my missing phone.

Because you are involved in ministry does not mean that everything will go well.  In fact, many people believe that your life may be filled with more struggles and fights because of your choice to follow the Lord into the battle field of ministry.  Personally, I’ve rejected that assertion because I strongly believe that every Christian faces the enemy in a life-and-death struggle for the souls of men and women.  Each of us is part of an infantry that encounters sorrow, hurts and disappointments.  In fact, every person is slammed with life situations that sometimes appear to be overwhelming.

However, on days like today, it is a temptation to look at my situation and believe that “the devil is out to get me” as though I were his personal project for the day.  Understand that I’m not downplaying the fact that every minister of the Gospel has struggles.  I’m not saying that.  What I am downplaying is the common impression that somehow people ordained to be in full-time ministry have many more added and extra concerns or burdens to bear.

Filtered from the hand of God, all of us have sorrows, persecutions and unhealthy drama that slams the fragile bucktraces of our lives, whether we are paid for our ministry or not.  I do believe, however, that if Jesus is our boss and best friend, we do have a special relationship with Him that allows us access to the throne room; and He brings miracles of blessing and grace that others may not have the privilege of acquiring. 

It’s the end of my day, my phone is still gone; and I’m working to get the rest of my information back into my data base.  Preparing for bed, I’m struck with the awesome understanding that God is good all the time.  I may be careless and forgetful; but He remains watchful.  I’m also clinging to the understanding that all things will work out for my good and benefit.  I wish I could say that I’m excited and looking forward to how God will bless this event for his glory.  But I’m just tired and ready for bed.

Jesus spoke of the servant who was given ten pieces of gold to invest.  The weight of the gold was called a talent.  While I realize that the Scriptures speak about money, I don’t believe that it’s a large stretch to apply the story that Jesus told to the talents and gifts that God has given to us.

Most people who begin ministries are ten talent people (and I don’t mean money in this incidence).  Starting a successful specialized ministry will stretch us in different ways from other ministry starts.  Ten talent people are able to juggle many things. 

Most people who are ten talent people are also loaded with ideas.  Getting out of bed, you have 9 ideas.  By the time you’ve showered and shaved, you have 17 new ideas.  Sixteen of them are rotten ideas and one is mediocre.  However, you have lots and lots of ideas.  God has made you like this.  It’s a great blessing and, of course, this tendency can also be a great curse, as your spouse has told you repeatedly.

Many years ago, Marie, a good friend, said to me, “Ten talent people can only use one or two of their talents as a time.  Alternating and organizing your talents and abilities is the key to being successful in what God has called you to do.”   I knew I had gotten a word from the Lord.  And I understood exactly what Marie was saying. 

As a child, we played Monopoly on those hot summer afternoons where the temperatures outside wouldn’t allow us to go outside.  We played until we were sick of the game.  In the winter, it was jackstones that took all our time.  I took up sewing as a young housewife.  My house would be filled with thread, material, needles and pins for weeks.  Then I would put up my machine and not touch it for months. 

Men do it differently.  They are much more organized with their interests.  They work on the “season” principle.  There is baseball, football, basketball and soccer season. 

Alternating and organizing your talents takes thought and discipline, something that doesn’t come naturally for most 10 talent people.  I had a wonderful friend years ago.  She was an amazingly gifted singer and pianist.  She said to me, “It is a great curse to be very talented but not a genius.”  In reality, my friend did not possess a shred of discipline.  She could do almost anything but she did not do any of these things expertly because she failed to practice. Perhaps she could have become a genius at the piano had she forced herself to become disciplined in her gifting.

 Within your ministry you are probably a ten talent person.  Prioritizing your time and gifting becomes a key.  Organizing and setting a schedule to do the things you don’t want to do is a must.  In reality, I’d rather be a two talent person who is able to organize and prioritize than a ten talent unorganized person who lacks the discipline to accomplish what God has called me to do.

  1. When I finish my daily exercises.
  2. When Timothy who has severe autistic symptoms hugged me Friday after bowling.  His mother said that she believed that I am the first person Tim has ever hugged anyone.
  3. When 22-year-old Eric leans down to hug me and says, “I love you, Linda Howard.” 
  4. When there are more than 100 people who attend Special Gathering in Vero and Melbourne.  Okay, I smile if there are only 80 people who attend.
  5. When John chooses to attend Special Gathering rather than go to the beach with his group home.
  6. When one of the group homes in Vero wanted to come to Special Gathering rather than go to the annual Halloween party given by ARC.  This is the largest party ARC gives each year.  Staff called and asked that I let the men know that it was all right for them to attend the party.  
  7. When I get a phone call from one of my grandchildren.
  8. When I call the home of one of my grandchildren and they talk to me about things happening in their lives.
  9. When I try to organize things at one of our SpG programs and I learn that our volunteers have  handled all the details themselves.
  10. When the Special Gathering service is about to begin and the murmur, laughter and conversations suddenly stop in reverence to the Lord.
  11. When I get home on Sunday afternoon after our Melbourne program is finished and shut down.
  12. When one of  the Special Gathering choir sings. 
  13. When I find things that are applicable to make Special Gathering organization more effective.
  14. When Jack or Danny, who are both non-verbal let me know their needs and concerns.  Dan will now even speak to me about things of the Lord. 
  15. When Terri smiles.

In June of 2006, I listened to Chip Ingram on my car radio.  He spoke about how important it is for us to learn to be connected to the Lord.  We all make “to do lists” as an incentive to accomplish more.   Yet, Ingram taught that our doing should always be an outgrowth of our “being connected to our Savior.”  Therefore, he contended that a “To Be List” is far more appropriate for the Christian than continual “To Do Lists.” 

Agreeing with Ingram, I came home and made my own “To Be List.”  I took every area of my life where I felt God was calling me.  Deliberately, I didn’t specifically include Special Gathering because I believe any ministry within the mentally challenged community should be treated as a ministry–not a specialized ministry.  Additionally, I included areas I enjoy and some places where I feel I should be.  Here is my To Be list:

  1. A woman of God who lives in integrity and love so others will see Jesus in me and desire God’s grace.
  2. An evangelist who is able to lead people to God’s unconditional, agape; love.
  3. A godly, kind, gracious and wise wife who loves unconditionally.
  4. A person of prayer and the Word of God.
  5. A good friend to my children, grandchildren and those people God puts in my life.
  6. A pastor who is able to care for God’s people with tender wisdom and agape’ love.
  7. A person who gives liberally with wisdom and love.
  8. A person who is physically and mentally fit.
  9. A gracious hostess to many people in our home.
  10. A writer whose works are able to bless many people.
  11. A choir director who is able to communicate, teach and bless the choir.
  12. An anointed, wise, gifted preacher/teacher of the Gospel whose words can bless the smartest person and minister grace, knowledge and wisdom to the simple.
  13. A skilled gardener who can learn about God’s grace from His creation.

I didn’t put these in any order of importance but what came to mind.  I’ve been open to changing the list or adding to it.  However, in the past four years, I’ve not added to it or changed it.  For about a year, I meditated on the list and prayed that God would work these into my life.  I still go back and refer the list often. 

Of course, your list will be different.  It is an easy exercise but eye-opening and helps to establish within your spirit what God is doing or desiring to do in your life.

For the past four days, I’ve been with a Special Gathering member from another state who had wanted to go on a cruise.  The program director acts as a volunteer for the state agency that provides services for this member.  She choses the Disney Cruise Lines.  The extra cost of a Disney cruise is minimal; and the benefits for our members are huge. There were only three of us on the cruise (along with 2700 other people).  Over the course of the past four days, it has been an interesting adventure.

  Of course, the cruise staff was super friendly.  They made over Missy, our member, as though she were a rock star.  When she decided to skip the evening meal in favor of a hamburger and French fries, they sought her out and told her how much they had missed her at supper.  One Disney staff member even asked about our daughter, even though, Missy is a different race.  Jokes and friendly greetings were the common denominator.  Sure, they are paid to be friendly.  However, their helpful attitudes became a highlight of our trip.

I was impressed that simple friendly gestures can make such a large difference to a person.  Because of her medications, Missy seldom shows emotions.  Yet, she beamed as the staff teased her and giggled when they cried fake tears regarding her absence.  At first, their greetings were met with stares of disbelief; but by the end of the cruise, she was smiling and gesturing along with them.  The Bible says that in order to have friends we must be friendly.  “A soft answer turns away wrath.”  Making friends is often the result of a myriad of small friendly gestures and overtures.

There are many times that I don’t feel like being friendly and kind.  However, it takes only a little effort to be able to influence others for good.  I’m ashamed to admit this.  Nevertheless, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I’m praying that God will help me to become like the friendly and courteous staff on a Disney cruise.

Cory was the pastor of a large church.  He held a weekly Bible study that was supposed to be a verse-by-verse examination of the scriptures.  He encouraged the people who attended to enter into the discussion.  It took only 15 minutes for a close observer to realize that he not only did not study for the session; but he used the discussion time when he really had nothing to say about the scripture.

I’ve never been a fan of discussion groups, especially to study the scriptures.  If I’m going to spend an hour or more examining the scriptures with a group, I want to hear a teaching from a person who has at least read the verses before the hour began.  I get no thrill contemplating the thoughts of people talking about God’s word from the top of their brain. 

Here are some important things that the discussion cynic would appreciate that every discussion leader would follow:

  1. Study the Scriptures before the meeting. 
  2. Have a lesson plan and follow it.
  3. Change your lesson plan only ff you are absolutely sure that the Holy Spirit is giving you a revelation.
  4. When you open the discussion part of the class have a purpose for the discussion.
  5. Use questions to direct the discussion of the class. 
  6. Use questions to redirect the discussion to where it should be if a class member takes you down a gopher hole.
  7. Try to redirect those who bring every question back to their favorite subject.
  8. Remain polite but firm in redirecting the discussion back to the place where it should be heading.
  9. There will be at least one person who will try to take over the discussion.  Again, use questions to bring it back to the scriptures.
  10. Use something to record the answers of the class.  This could be power point, blackboard or white board. 
  11. Remember that God has entrusted in you this class and it is your responsibility to keep it heading in the direction it should go.
  12. Become confident in your position.  You are the one the Holy Spirit is using to direct the class.
  13. Give people time to speak when you ask a question.  When you ask questions, don’t answer it yourself but wait.  Someone will speak, if you will not say a word.

These are not the only things that make a discussion class beneficial.  What is the thing that you’ve learned that enhances a class that is open for feedback?

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