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?

What makes a discussion group effective

About a month ago during our Bible study time, Michael said that kindness was making sure that no one had to sit alone.  This is a message that the church needs to hear and embrace.  Without the opportunity of the discussion group, no one would have known that our Michael had such wisdom.  The disadvantages of discussion groups are many.  But most of those problems stem from the leadership.  I’ve become convinced that under the right conditions and with firm, prepared and focused leadership, a discussion group can be a most effective learning environment.

I especially enjoy discussion groups with persons who are mentally challenged.  There are several reasons.

  1. People who are developmentally disabled are often ignored.  They may not be allowed to give their opinions or express their values.  Discussion groups give them the opportunity to tell what they are thinking about a specific subject and explore new ideas.
  2. There is a great deal of untapped wisdom in the hearts of many people with disabilities.  Through well-organized discussion groups this wisdom can be tapped for the benefit of the Kingdom of God. 
  3. People with disabilities should be given the opportunity to relate the scriptures to their individual needs and situation.  Discussion groups give them that opportunity.
  4. Discussion groups teach the more verbal members of your class the etiquette rules for polite conversation.  They must wait their turn.  They must not be allowed to answer all the questions.  Others must be allowed to speak and express their opinion.

The purpose of the discussion group should be to give the people in the class the opportunity to share what they have learned during the lesson.  Therefore, the understanding of the class is deepened by the input of many, rather than the input of one person or a few people.  Nevertheless, there must be a starting point.  There should be a time of teaching that becomes the launching pad for discussion. 

Using a somewhat modified Montessori method of teaching.  I tell the Bible story for the week two times.  Then I ask the class to retell the story but I have them do it backwards.  I do this by asking questions about the lesson.  This helps to prime their thinking pumps.  The Bible teaching time takes about a fourth to a half of the half hour class time.

After that teaching time, we begin to apply the teaching to their lives.  There are several techniques that I’ve found which enhance the discussion of a class. 

  1. Start with a concrete question.  “How can you show kindness to another person?”
  2. Expect a concrete answer.  “Love each other” is not a concrete answer.  Yet, I will write it down and then say, “Tell me some things you can do to love each other.  That will show kindness.” 
  3. Allow the people in the class to answer.  Don’t give an answer yourself.  Wait for someone to respond.  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  Someone will speak up if you don’t.
  4. In a class of people who are mentally challenged the first few weeks or months of the class, you may have to ask an individual to answer the question. 
  5. If I succeed in getting Terri to give a concrete answer, I may erase the nebulous answer she gave earlier and put up the concrete one.  However, I only erase the vague answer if the concrete answer came from Terri.   
  6. I avoid saying that any answer is wrong, especially if I have asked for “their opinion.”  An opinion cannot be wrong.
  7. Giving each person material they can look at and refer to helps keep the class focused.  We use LifeWay Access Material.  It is specifically designed for use within a class for persons who are intellectually disabled. 
  8. Writing their thoughts on the board makes their ideas more valuable.  Each suggestion is written down. 
  9. If the idea is off the subject, I write it down and remind the class of our objective.
  10. Because people who are mentally challenged also have axes they want to sharpen, I remind the axe grinding people what our question is before they can answer.  No matter what the discussion or question, for years, my friend, Michael, would give a prayer request, “Pray for my grandmother.”  His grandmother has been dead for at least 20 years.  Tom is a bully but he attempts to cover his bullying with a pitiful attitude that everyone is picking on him.  “Make Marie stop hurting my feelings,” will be Tom’s way of showing kindness.   Before Michael or Tom speak, I remind them of the question.  At times, it even works.
  11. If an answer that is on the board is repeated, I underline the answer.  In this way, the person’s thoughts are acknowledged but the board isn’t being filled up with the same answer.
  12. Allow and expect every single person to answer at least one of your questions.
  13. For non-verbal members, you may need to phase a question especially for them.  “Tony, can you show kindness by opening the car door for your mother?”  Wait until he is able to process the question.  You might even give him positive, physical cues by shaking your head as you ask the question.  After a time, you will find that Tony will be anxious to respond and won’t need as much help giving you an answer. 
  14. The important thing is to expect Tony to give an answer.  Do not–under any circumstances–skip over Tony or ignore him.  Writing his answer on the board is vital.

Your class will be greatly enhanced and the lives of the class will be enriched by allowing and encouraging discussion.  However, sloppiness should never be allowed, especially from the discussion leader (even if the discussion leader is me or you).

Why Discussion Groups are Typically Ineffective

Perhaps one of the hardest teaching tools within our equipment belt for a class of people who are mentally challenged is the discussion group.  No matter what the cognitive level or achievement level of a class, I am biased against discussions as a typical teaching method for several reasons.

  1. Without effective and strong leadership, you never know where the discussion will lead you.  Almost without exception, you begin at the cross and end up in hell.
  2. Most leaders who desire to incorporate discussions are not willing to put into the meeting the effort that is demanded to make it effective. 
  3. Discussion groups are too often seen by the leader as a super-easy, slick way to waste an hour or two.
  4. There are always one or two people who are allowed to monopolize the discussion time.  These people spout their opinions week after week. 
  5. There is always someone who has an axe to sharpen.  No matter what the topic, this person takes the discussion into areas that are either ineffective or–worse–inappropriate.

While this isn’t often taught or even whispered, weak leadership in a discussion group spells d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r.  Unfortunately, it is often the weaker leaders who feel the need to hold discussion groups.  Perhaps it is a practical application of the physics law that dictates that  water always seeks the lowest level.  

The strength of the leader does not mean dictatorship but a true leader encapsulates the ability to inspire people to follow where you are going.  Jesus taught that we are sheep.  One sheep farmer told me, “This was not a compliment.”  Sheep are the ultimate herding animal and probably the first animal to be domesticated.  They will follow anything that seems to know where it is going–even over a cliff.  Sheep aren’t particularly concerned about their leader.  They will simply follow the first sheep that moves.

Therefore, the shepherd must be a strong leader of a flock of sheep.   If that leadership strength is not consistent and firm, the sheep will begin to follow other sheep into disaster.  The same is particularly true when it comes to leading a discussion group.

I’ve only been in one teaching session that showed you how to lead a discussion group and this teaching did not even touch preparation.  Nevertheless,  leading a discussion group takes a great deal of preparation.

  • First, you must decide what is your goal in this discussion group. 
  • Second,  you should decide what your question (or questions) will be. 
  • Third, you must decide on the parameters of your discussion.  This third step may be the most crucial part of your discussion preparation. 
  • Fourth, I suggest that you put on paper (or as part of your PowerPoint presentation) these concrete parameters so the group understands where they are going and why they are going there. 
  • Fifth, use visual cues that keep your discussion participants on track.  At Special Gathering of Indian River, we are still pretty low tech in our groups.  I put the discussion topical on a blackboard. 
  • Sixth, be prepared to continually refer to the topic.  After each answer is given, I refer back to the discussion topic. I point to the topic as well as repeat the topic.  This means that you must have your discussion goals firmly fixed in your mind and spirit.

After attending a myriad of conferences, I’ve learned why people repeatedly skip sessions.  I love one pastor who is a renowned expert in the field of specialized ministries.  However, I dread ever attending another one of his conference workshops.  He always uses what I’ve labeled, “The I-Didn’t-Get-Paid-Enough-To-Do-Any-Real-Work-For-This-Session Technique.”  He begins each session by asking every person to give his/her name, her ministry and something about himself.  The answers are usually longer than they should be because somewhere down the line one or two people get off track and everyone begins to give their testimony.  This takes 15 to 37 minutes depending on the number of people in his class.

Next, he asks, “Why are you attending this class? What do you want to learn?”  He tells us,  “My reason for this question is to find out what you want to hear from me during this session.”  This is an excellent stalling tactic for two reason.  First, it says to the audience, I know everything about this subject; and I can answer any question you throw at me.  I am the leading expert on this topic, and you can’t stump this chump.  Second, it takes at least 43 more minutes. 

Depending on the amount of time he has been allotted, he has used up most of the workshop time allowance and he hasn’t had to do one thing.  Everyone is feeling good about themselves by this time.  Only a few people have realized that absolutely nothing has been accomplished.

The last question of his workshop  is “What would you like to share about the things you’ve heard?  I know that you have lots of answers to the problems that have been presented to us today.”  Brilliant time waster.  By the time SusieMae Brownbag and Dudley Smithstone finish their argument about the fine minuta of inclusion and entitlement, all the time has elapsed and people file out of the workshop dazzled by what they didn’t learn.  My colleague walks away.  No prep.  No answers.  No sweat.  Lousy discussion.

The Wordy Wonder (WW) and the Axe Sharpener (AS) are people who must be tactfully and politely deterred from monopolizing the discussion.  They are your best friend and your greatest enemy.  They will start the discussions and keep them going but they cannot be allowed to take over.  Only a person who exerts strong leadership skills can help them overcome their weakness of becoming the only person who can enter into the discussion.

There is much more.  Guess I’ve proven myself to be WW and AS but more is coming.  In the meantime, do you agree?  What are some other reasons why discussions can be a disaster.  We will deal with the benefits, especially for our population, in later posts.

I would have never thought of having a choir retreat.  However, about five years ago, our executive director and the choir director for our Brevard programs felt that there was a need for the choirs to come together for teaching and to learn new music.  It was a great success and made a dynamic impact on the two choirs that I direct.  For the next two years, we coupled our retreat with our teacher/volunteer retreat.  We held the choir event on Thursday and Friday morning and teachers’ retreat on Friday evening and Saturday. 

As the summer approached the next year, we realized that we could no longer afford to pay the expenses of a choir retreat because of rising prices of hotels and meals.   We felt that our choir gives all year; and they should not have to pay for anything.  Sadly, we announced to the choir that we would no longer have our annual  retreat.  The members of our choir came to me and explained that they wanted to have a choir retreat and they would pay their own expenses. 

Last year, we coupled our retreat with a free Saturday excursion to one of Florida’s attractions, planned by the Brevard County Rec Department.  Our South Carolina choir has continued to attend.  This year, the South Carolina choir wanted to go to The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, which cost $35 entrance fee.   Our choirs voted to also pay to attend the park. 

The past two years, we have rehearsed our Christmas music.  Then the combined choirs have sung one of the songs they learned at a church on Sunday morning.  The schedule for the event has been wrapped around scriptural teaching regarding the importance of Praise and Worship and learning the new music.  This concentrated time of teaching has been extremely benefitial. 

The retreat choral practice schedule is deliberately planned.  Our schedule has been:


  1. Noon–Lunch at the retreat center/unpack luggage and equipment
  2.  1:30–Rehearsal
  3. 2:00–Devotions
  4. 2:10–Rehearsal
  5.  2:30–Refreshment Break
  6.  2:45–Rehearsal
  7. 3:15–Devotions
  8. 3:25–Rehearsal
  9. 3:45–Break and preparation for dinner
  10. 5:00–Dinner
  11. 6:30–Devotions
  12. 6:45–Rehearsal
  13. 7:30–Swimming and Fun time


  1. 6:30am–Rise and shine
  2. 7:00–Load luggage
  3. 8:00–Breakfast
  4. 9:oo–Rehearsal (This became an improptu mini-concert for the college students who attend the Bible college at the Retreat Center.)
  5. 9:30–Leave for Holy Land Experience

We tried to keep our rehearsals short, interspursed with breaks and devotions.  Using an education model, with short, intense choral teaching times, people learn more quickly and easily.  By the end of these concentrated rehearsals, it is amazing how much the choirs absorb and learn. 

The choir retreat combines many educational elements which boast the choir members’ ability to learn.  This continues to be an education and inspiration event that lasts during the entire year.  Here are several of the benefits that we have seen grow from this retreat.

  1. The choirs are rewarded for their hard work during the year.  Even though the choir members have offered to pay most of the expenses of the retreat  for the past two years, this experience has given them a sense of joy knowing that the Lord is pleased with their efforts.  This positive reinforcement encourages the choir all year long.
  2. The choir is taught scriptural benefits and importance of praising God.  They begin to understand that their effort have eternal consequences.
  3. The concentrated rehearsals enhance their ability to learn.
  4. Our schedule of alternating hard work of learning words and music with a relaxing break–singing, break–makes this learning experience fun and effective.
  5. We are able to teach them that even during the times that they are not standing in front of an audience, they are worship leaders.
  6. They are impressed with the importance of the ministry God has entrusted to them.

Working with a choir is one of the most beneficial things I do within Special Gathering.  In fact, over the years, I separated my choir times and counted them as part of my personal ministry rather than my ministry for which I am paid. 

What is something that you have learned that enhances your ability to teach your choirs?

Below is a copy of S. 2781, Rosa’s Law. Although this new law does not
change any services for person’s with disabilities, it still represents a
historic change for national disability policy.
From now on, the phrase “mental retardation” will no longer be a part
of any federal rule or law, whether it is related to education, health
or labor. It will be replaced with the phrase “intellectual disabilities” everywhere it currently appears.

Memo from The Family Cafe regarding passage of Rosa’s Law

We are contacting you today to let you know that President Obama has
signed S. 2781, Rosa’s Law. Although this new law does not change any
services for person’s with disabilities, it still represents a
historic change for national disability policy.
From now on, the phrase “mental retardation” will no longer be a part
of any federal rule or law, whether it is related to education, health
or labor. It will be replaced with the phrase “intellectual
disabilities” everywhere it currently appears.
This bill was originally introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).
She named the bill “Rosa’s Law” after a young woman in her state that
successfully advocated for the elimination of the phrase “mentally
retarded” in Maryland state law.
You can read the full text of this new law at the Library of Congress
website. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:S.2781:>
(The final version is the last one listed.) There is also a statement
on Senator Mikulski’s web site here
This is an important milestone on the road to inclusion and acceptance
for Americans with disabilities. Please join us in celebrating this
moment, and feel free to share this message with others in your
The Family Cafe
S. 2781

One Hundred Eleventh Congress

of the

United States of America


Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday,

the fifth day of January, two thousand and ten

An Act

To change references in Federal law to mental retardation to references to an

intellectual disability, and change references to a mentally retarded individual

to references to an individual with an intellectual disability.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of

the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as ‘‘Rosa’s Law’’.


(a) H









‘‘The Director of the Institute shall conduct and support

research and related activities into the causes, prevention, and

treatment of intellectual disabilities.’’.

(4) Section 641(a) of such Act (42 U.S.C. 291k(a)) is

amended by striking ‘‘matters relating to the mentally retarded’’

and inserting ‘‘matters relating to individuals with intellectual


(5) Section 753(b)(2)(E) of such Act (42 U.S.C. 294c(b)(2)(E))

is amended by striking ‘‘elderly mentally retarded individuals’’

and inserting ‘‘elderly individuals with intellectual disabilities’’.

(6) Section 1252(f)(3)(E) of such Act (42 U.S.C. 300d–

52(f)(3)(E)) is amended by striking ‘‘mental retardation/developmental

disorders,’’ and inserting ‘‘intellectual disabilities or

developmental disorders,’’.

(g) H


1998.—Section 419(b)(1) of the Health Professions Education Partnerships

Act of 1998 (42 U.S.C. 280f note) is amended by striking

‘‘mental retardation’’ and inserting ‘‘intellectual disabilities’’.

(h) P









For purposes of regulations issued to carry out a provision

amended by this Act—

(1) before the regulations are amended to carry out this


(A) a reference in the regulations to mental retardation

shall be considered to be a reference to an intellectual

disability; and

(B) a reference in the regulations to the mentally

retarded, or individuals who are mentally retarded, shall

be considered to be a reference to individuals with intellectual

disabilities; and

(2) in amending the regulations to carry out this Act,

a Federal agency shall ensure that the regulations clearly


(A) that an intellectual disability was formerly termed

mental retardation; and

(B) that individuals with intellectual disabilities were

formerly termed individuals who are mentally retarded.


This Act shall be construed to make amendments to provisions

of Federal law to substitute the term ‘‘an intellectual disability’’

for ‘‘mental retardation’’, and ‘‘individuals with intellectual disabilities’’

for ‘‘the mentally retarded’’ or ‘‘individuals who are mentally

retarded’’, without any intent to—

(1) change the coverage, eligibility, rights, responsibilities,

or definitions referred to in the amended provisions; or

(2) compel States to change terminology in State laws

for individuals covered by a provision amended by this Act.

Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Vice President of the United States and

President of the Senate.

.—For purposes of each provision amended by 

this section—

(1) a reference to ‘‘an intellectual disability’’ shall mean

a condition previously referred to as ‘‘mental retardation’’, or

a variation of this term, and shall have the same meaning

with respect to programs, or qualifications for programs, for

individuals with such a condition; and

(2) a reference to individuals with intellectual disabilities

shall mean individuals who were previously referred to as

individuals who are ‘‘individuals with mental retardation’’ or

‘‘the mentally retarded’’, or variations of those terms.

S. 2781—3


Section 2(2) of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of

2008 (42 U.S.C. 2000ff note) is amended by striking ‘‘mental

retardation,’’ and inserting ‘‘intellectual disabilities,’’.

(k) R

.—Section 402 of the National 

Sickle Cell Anemia, Cooley’s Anemia, Tay-Sachs, and Genetic Diseases

Act (42 U.S.C. 300b–1 note) is amended by striking ‘‘leading

to mental retardation’’ and inserting ‘‘leading to intellectual disabilities’’.

(j) G


110–154.—Section 1(a)(2)(B) of Public Law 

110–154 (42 U.S.C. 285g note) is amended by striking ‘‘mental

retardation’’ and inserting ‘‘intellectual disabilities’’.

(i) N



(1) Section 317C(a)(4)(B)(i) of the Public Health Service

Act (42 U.S.C. 247b–4(a)(4)(B)(i)) is amended by striking

‘‘mental retardation;’’ and inserting ‘‘intellectual disabilities;’’.

(2) Section 448 of such Act (42 U.S.C. 285g) is amended

by striking ‘‘mental retardation,’’ and inserting ‘‘intellectual


(3) Section 450 of such Act (42 U.S.C. 285g–2) is amended

to read as follows:

1976.—Section 1001 of the Health Research and Health Services 

S. 2781—2

Amendments of 1976 (42 U.S.C. 217a–1) is amended by striking

‘‘the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health

Centers Construction Act of 1963,’’.

(f) P




(1) Section 7(21)(A)(iii) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

(29 U.S.C. 705(21)(A)(iii)) is amended by striking ‘‘mental

retardation,’’ and inserting ‘‘intellectual disability,’’.

(2) Section 204(b)(2)(C)(vi) of such Act (29 U.S.C.

764(b)(2)(C)(vi)) is amended by striking ‘‘mental retardation

and other developmental disabilities’’ and inserting ‘‘intellectual

disabilities and other developmental disabilities’’.

(3) Section 501(a) of such Act (29 U.S.C. 791(a)) is amended,

in the third sentence, by striking ‘‘President’s Committees on

Employment of People With Disabilities and on Mental

Retardation’’ and inserting ‘‘President’s Disability Employment

Partnership Board and the President’s Committee for People

with Intellectual Disabilities’’.

(e) H


Section 7202(16)(E) of the Elementary and Secondary Education

Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 7512(16)(E)) is amended by striking ‘‘mild

mental retardation,’’ and inserting ‘‘mild intellectual disabilities,’’.

(d) R


(1) Section 601(c)(12)(C) of the Individuals with Disabilities

Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1400(c)(12)(C)) is amended by striking

‘‘having mental retardation’’ and inserting ‘‘having intellectual


(2) Section 602 of such Act (20 U.S.C. 1401) is amended—

(A) in paragraph (3)(A)(i), by striking ‘‘with mental

retardation’’ and inserting ‘‘with intellectual disabilities’’;


(B) in paragraph (30)(C), by striking ‘‘of mental

retardation’’ and inserting ‘‘of intellectual disabilities’’.

(c) E

1965.—Section 760(2)(A) of the 

Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1140(2)(A)) is amended

by striking ‘‘mental retardation or’’.

(b) I

Okay.  Again, I say, I’m not a techno person.  I try to keep learning but I can’t seem to keep up with onslaught of changes, tweaks and tweets.  Several months ago I linked into Facebook, thinking it would be simple enough for me to be able to navigate.  My purpose was to hopefully create a wider audience for this blog and to link with other people who are interested or involved in ministry within the mentally challenged community.  I also wanted to establish an additional connection with my children and grandchildren who were active on this social network. 

However, most of the people who have requested that I become their friend have been adults that I taught when they were teenagers.  It’s been a lovely bonus to see their families and become reacquinted with them.  Additionally, I’ve been able to reconnect with a group of friends that I lost contact with many years ago.

This past week, while my husband was in critical condition in the hospital because he broke his hip and leg, I posted that we were in the hospital.  Within moments, I found that people from all over the world were praying for him.  There were people all over the US, in China, Canada, Uruguay, Peru, Thailand and Mexico.  That encourage me to continue to post updates and pictures.  People would begin to reply within seconds that they were praying.  In the middle of the night, we would receive encouragement and messages of faith and hope.  I read each one to Frank.  He was so uplifted by the people who responded with love and care.

A good friend, Jan, told me the other day,  “I don’t ever post anything.  I just read the things that are posted on other people’s pages.  I feel as though I’m cheating.”  However, when I posted my daily updates on my husband’s condition, I was happy to know that Jan was keeping up with us and that she would be praying.  This is the value of a social network. 

My original intent has also been served.  There are ministry heads, special needs professionals and volunteers with whom I’m connected.  I’m especially thrilled that several of our Special Gathering members are regularly on Facebook.  It’s fun to be in contact with them on a daily basis.   

While this connection to the world of the Internet hasn’t worked exactly the way I envisioned, it is perhaps an additional way to help educate the outside society to the important subculture in which we minister.  And even more important when there is a push or crisis and your time is limited, a social network takes minutes to muster worldwide prayer support.

More than once this week, I’ve told the Lord, “Praise God for text messages and thank you, Lord, for Facebook.”  Additionally, thanks to so many people who prayed and took the time to give us a message, a prayer or a word of encouragement.

As many of you know, my husband, Frank, fell a week ago and broke his hip and leg.  He has been in the hospital since that time; and he may be transferred to a rehab hospital today.  However, the situation is fluid because of his health risks and because of other hospital related issues.

I have seen that if your child or loved one is in the hospital, it is essential for someone to be at the hospital at all times to serve as her health-care advocate.  Even though my husband is not mentally challenged, his vascular dementia demands that he have another person stay by his side to ensure that he receives the proper treatment.

As ministers within the mentally challenged community, you may need to help give parents or caregivers permission to stay at the hospital, if they feel it is necessary.  In the past, I’ve been all-but pushed from the hospital by the health-care professionals.  This hospital stay has been different.  We are in a private room and the staff has been more than accommodating to my need to stay and help with medical decisions. 

However, each new nurse must be educated to the fact that I’ve been his healthcare-giver for more than 10 years.  This entitles me to health information that they may not know, even though their have a better medical education and years in the field.  My sister who has been with us in the hospital for the past four days said, “It has to be frustrating to be you.  Each new shift brings a new nurse and a new CNA.  Several times a day, you need to educate them to the fact that you must be the one who is making the health-care decisions.”

While I know that my frustration is real, I question if it is justified.  Her assurance helped me.  In the same way, we can help family members and spouses to be bold in their advocacy for their loved ones.

As a counter point, many older parents are not able to be in the hospital or become the advocates for their children as they once were.  In this case, they must also be given permission to release their children into the hands of a loving God who help the needy and undertake for the weak.

It is never our position to make decisions.  However, giving permission helps to make advocates strong in their battle.  Nevertheless, it also allows those who are not able to be an advocate to release and be secure in that decision.