November 2010


When I met Malcom Saturday morning, I recognized him immediately.  He looked exactly like my grandson had looked when he was 13.  Without telling him why I was drawn to him, I sat beside Malcom and started a conversation.  He was shy and withdrawn like all 13-year-old young men; yet within minutes Malcom  was confiding in me his deepest hurt.  Our casual conversation suddenly turned quiet as I processed his concerns.  At 13 he was grateful that the church was his one refuge from the hurt.

I told him how much he looked like my grandson.  “Would you like to see what you will look like at 19?”  I showed him the picture and he immediately recognized himself.  “Show my dad,” he said. 

During this week, as I’ve processed the event, I’ve been amazed that this young man was willing to confide in me–a friendly stranger–his deepest concern.  Additionally, I realized that I almost missed the significance of this holy time.  For a moment, the Lord allowed me to share a pressing need from the heart of a young man.   It was so ordinary, so common place that I nearly missed the significance of that event.

  Also, I was once again struck with the similarities between a junior-high-youth and our members who are mentally challenged.  As ministers in this important population, we hold their hope, concerns, fears and desires in our hands and hearts.  This is a treasured trust that we must never discount or hold lightly.  The problem may be that our members usually share their hurts at an off-moment when we least expect holiness to invade our reality.  Here are some clues that someone–the person may or may not be mentally challenged–has shared a holy treasure with you.   

  1. Holy moments will almost always be interspersed into a casual, playful time.
  2. The person’s facial expressions will suddenly become taunt and drawn.
  3. Without warning, the person’s speech patterns will be tightly strained.
  4. You are left without any comeback or response.
  5. For a brief moment, you will feel as though someone has hit you in the stomach.
  6. Your first thought is Oh, God, help me.

Once this rare time is recognized there are several things that you can do.

  1. Let the person know that you have heard her. 
  2. A simple, “I’m sorry” could be our best response.
  3. Touch the person’s hand gently.  Then release it.
  4. Don’t make too much over the issue; but ask questions that aren’t too probing.
  5. Questions will give the person the opportunity to either drop the issue or delve more deeply.
  6. Remember it is up to the person who has shared to allow you to go more deeply into her hurts.
  7. Don’t pressure or push for more information.
  8. Proceed quietly and calmly but show sincere concern.
  9. Don’t ever, ever, ever discount the hurt. 
  10. Even if you believe this is a trivial issue, the person who has shared is hurting; and he doesn’t need me  to come up with pat answers or jovial antidotes.
  11. Allow God to work through you even in your silence.

Remember that we now hold a holy part of this person’s life.  We have been given a magnificent treasure that is precious in God’s sight and we now have a responsibility to pray for this person–perhaps for the rest of our lives.  Holy moments elicit holy responsibilities.

On Sunday, the Special Gathering choir sang at a local church.  It is a great church, small in size but they support 43 missions’ outreaches.  Some of the members of the church told me that they wept during the choir’s performance.  They shared that they were impressed with the humble spirits of the choir members.  Perhaps one of the reasons that members of the mentally challenged community are loved is because they have mastered the basic politeness of life.  At times, they may forget to say, “Please” and “Thank you.”  Yet, they are usually gentle, patient and kind people.

In reading Paul’s epistle’s this past few weeks, I’ve been impressed by how many times Paul tells the church to be gentle and kind.  He relates to his good friend, Timothy, “A Lord’s servant must gently teach those who disagree.  Then maybe God will let them change their minds so they can accept the truth”  (2 Timothy 2:24).  Paul shared he had learned how to live and teach with gentleness.  He tells Timothy, “Try hard to live right and to have faith, love and peace, together with those who trust in the Lord from pure hearts”  (2 Timothy 2:22).

In speaking with people who have turned away from Christ, they often talk about the stern and hard teachings of the church. I know that this can be the perception of the receiver.  However,  Paul tell us to be firm in teaching the truth but gentle in our presentation.

People within the mentally challenged community have much to teach the church regarding living in grace and gentleness.  They have–without exception–endured rejection and mistrust.  In dealing with these hurts, the simplicity of their spirits often turns to gentleness as their way of escaping the harsh reality of their every day lives.   I think Paul may have used many of our members as an example of  his teaching had he known them.  It’s fortunate for the church, that God knows them and He uses them to bless the body of Christ.

One of the most effective and informative, beneficial and entertaining teaching sessions I’ve sat through was delivered by a man who was teaching the Federal Law and how to effectively advocate for a person within the school system using the law. I have never done advocacy within the school system.  Therefore, I didn’t think that I would need this seminar.  However,  I came prepared to learn.  And I learned mountains of things that I now apply to many areas in my life and ministry.

Years of sitting under bad preachers taught me how to maximize my time while sitting through an ill-prepared or rambling sermon or speech.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned when I’m stuck in a room with stinky teaching. 

  1. Determine to learn something.  Attitude is everything.  For years, I would attend teaching and come away with pages of notes.  While others would exit the meeting complaining about the “poor spirit” and that the Holy Spirit was quenched.  For them this was a wasted meeting because their attitude tossed their time into the garbage can.  For me, it had been beneficial and I had learned. This was a hard lesson to discover.  Like my friends I’ve spent years wasting my time for one reason or another. I would go into a meeting with a bad attitude and learn nothing.  Others would talk about the great teaching.  I began to see that my attitude was the “poor spirit” that was in the service.
  2. Take notes.  I’ve noticed that taking notes has decreased over the years.  When I take notes, I am using many of my sensory skills.  I am hearing, translating what I hear into thoughts that I put on paper.  Additionally, I am seeing the notes.  I see, hear, think, and use touch sensory skills to learn. 
  3. Don’t be lazy about your time.  Force your mind and spirit to remain involved in what is happening around you.
  4. Be aware of your surroundings.  Pray for the people around you.  Stop, look and listen to the people who are in the audience. 
  5. The problem with being an insomniac is that you fall asleep at times that are most inconvenient.  When I find myself falling asleep during a class, I get up, go to the back of the room, stand or pace.  After the session, I will often go up to the teacher and explain that I didn’t want to fall asleep and standing kept me awake.  The presenter is always happy to hear my earnest desire to be involved in her presentation.
  6. I remind myself that I may be having a bad day.  It may not be the problem with the teaching or the teacher.
  7. Don’t let the attitude of others negate your time with the Lord.  Does this need an explanation?  Probably not.
  8. I try to remember it is the Lord that I’m meeting, not a pastor or teacher.  God is always ready to change me and meet my needs.  I can allow him to use a flawed servant to minister grace and mercy to my life.
  9. I try to keep my expectations low.  Not every meeting is going to give me goose bumps and change my life radically.  When I don’t expect perfection, I am eager to hear what God can do in my life.
  10. If all else fails, I take notes on what NOT TO DO when I teach. 

Additionally, I hope that people will give me “grace” when I share what God is speaking through me.  Therefore, I’m even more eager to extend that same grace to them.

When I got the call at 3:30am Sunday morning, I was disoriented and confused.  “Linda, this is John,” he said.  Then he spoke three garbled words that I didn’t understand.  My mind raced.  It was a local number calling.  I don’t know a John was my first thought.  Yet, this man sounded really strange and he knew my name.  I hung up the phone.  He called again.  My mind raced.  Who could know my name that I don’t know.  He is either inebriated or very distressed.  Now wide awake, I could not get back to sleep, even though I had not been able to get to asleep until 12:30am. 

After about 20 minutes, I realized that Kim’s husband was John and my brain was able to decipher the three garbled words, “Don’t hang up.”  I resolved that should he call back I would answer.  Still not able to sleep, I got up to go to the bathroom.  The phone rang again.  But there was no way that I could get back to the phone in time.  He didn’t leave a message.

Still unsure of the circumstances, I didn’t think that I should call him back for many reason. The most pressing was that the Special Gathering choir was singing at a mission’s conference at a local church and I was preaching.  It had been a full day on Saturday with choir commitments in the morning and Special Gathering in Vero.  I had gotten to bed after midnight.  Now, I had to get up at 5am.  I also reasoned that if I were supposed to speak to him, I wouldn’t have been in the bathroom when he called.  He didn’t leave a message.

At 7:30am, he reached me and told me that Kim had died in the night.  This was a young woman who had no history of physical illness, except mild seizures.  She had been a volunteer with Special Gathering for about a year. 

Naturally, regret filled me as I spoke to her distraught husband.  What if’s crowded my brain as we shared this moment of profound grief.  No.  Neither her husband nor I were responsible for her death.  He poured out his remorse.  He didn’t know that she was sick.  He was angry that he didn’t wake up if she were seizing. 

There are times in our lives and ministry when regrets reign supreme.  But we must not allow regret for a life gone to overshadow the promise that the Lord has given to us regarding eternal life.  There are some things that are taken out of our hands.  There are some things that we cannot control.  These will hit us in the middle of the night or early in the morning, as we do our van route.  Nevertheless, regret must not become a controlling factor in our lives.  The hope of the resurrection must be the issue that consumes us night or day. 

Kim is now with the Father.  Her pain and suffering are over.  She is a new person in Him.  The promise of her new life is what has overtaken her.  This must be our focal point remembering her life.  It must not be regrets of our own failings and short comings but the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Again, this is an entry that does not necessarily pertain to persons within the mentally challenged community.  However, I spent much of the day on the phone trying to explain to doctors’ and therepists’ billing departments how to get paid for my husband’s recent injury.  On September 28, he fell and broke his leg and hip.  At that time he was a Hospice patient. 

Repeatedly Medicare has denied to pay his bills.  Naturally, if Medicare denys payment, our secondary insurance has also denied payment.  I began by calling my insurance company who told me that they could not pay the bills.  They told me that I needed to call Medicare.  Medicare said to call Hospice.  Hospice told me to call Medicare.  They said tell Medicare that even though my husband had not been released from Hospice, they should pay the bills because his injury was not related to his Hospice diagnoses. 

I called Medicare and explained.  They said that I needed to call every doctor, therepist and vendor to let them know that they needed to indicate that this was a duel diagnosis.  I began calling the 50 or so offices trying to explain to them what was needed.  The reactions ranged from “I can’t do that” to “I’ll try but I’m not sure how to do that.”

Finally, after almost all the calls, I received a return call from the first doctor I called.  His billing agent laughed.  “Trying to find out how to bill for Medicare when the patient is on Hospice was a real search project.  Finally, I found the key.  Tell everyone that they must put a ‘GW modifier.'”  This meant nothing to me but I began calling vendors again.  They seemed to understand my statement.

After a time, I began examining the bills that had been paid.  After each diagnosis, there is a number which I assume is the Medicare number for the diagnosis.  After this number a GW must be inserted.  It will look something like this.

  • 1.0 Initial hospital care (992223-GW)
  • 1.0 X-ray exam of hip (73510-26RTGW) professional charge

With this GW, each bill was paid.  A search and mystery but easily solved should you need to have this information.  As more and more people who are mentally challenged reach the elderly stage of life, vendors and doctors may need to know this infomration.

Ferne Brandt, Special Gathering area director for South Carolina, told a group of us last Sunday that for five years she denied that she was supposed to do a Special Gathering in South Carolina.  She would tell her husband, “Linda thinks I’m supposed to do a Special Gathering.  But I know I’m not.”  He would agree with her.

Finally, one morning she went to her husband crying, “I can’t stand it any longer,” she told him.  “I’m supposed to do a Special Gathering here in South Carolina.”

“I know,” he confirmed to her.

“How long have you known?” she asked.

“About five years, but you had to know it before I could say anything.”

The Lord told me 20 years before He opened the door for me to do this ministry that this was what I was called to do.  He began telling Mrs. Brandt five years before she gave into the call. 

Did I miss God for 20 years?  Did she deny God’s calling for 5 years?  No.  I don’t believe that is true.  I tried to start something; but I couldn’t figure out how to do it.  Finally, I put His call aside, telling the Lord, “I can’t deny that you called me; but I have no idea how to do this.”  In His time, God sent me to the place He wanted me to be.  In His time, God released Mrs. Brandt to do the work He had called her to do.

There are calls of God in our lives.  But there is also a timetable set in the heavens for that call to be fulfilled.  I’m not sure why the Lord told me 20 years before that I would do this ministry.  Perhaps it was because He knew that I would try to make something happen and fail.  Perhaps He knew that I would need to exhaust my own resources to allow Him to work through me.  I have never been able to deny that God put me in the right place at the right time to be introduced to The Special Gathering. 

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, “There is a time for everything.  And a season for every activity under the heavens.”  But I often don’t want to wait for God’s time clock to alarm that it’s my time to get up.  I’d rather struggle and sweat until I have no wiggle strength left.  Additionally, I suspect that I’m probably not extremely different from everyone else. 

God isn’t really interested in my time clock.  He works on a different schedule and an altered clock.  Yet, His time is perfect and I can depend on Him to always work things out for the good of me and our members.

This is an e-mail I received from Larry Campbell, who planned the Chicago Fly-In for 2010.  It is time for ministry heads to meet, share ideas and prayer thoughts for a full day.

Seventeen leaders of ministries, within the mentally challenged community from around the US, met on September 29, 2010 for about 4 hours (about 11 am to 3 pm) sharing our lives and ministries. Each person arrived and left as their schedules allowed. Some came by 9:30 am and others left after 6 pm.
We became knit together in love as God showed us how He has called and gifted so many of us for so many different ministries.  It is a pleasure to serve together in these companion ministries without any hint of competition or jealousy.
Though some on this list were not able to attend,  we know how much you wanted to come.   We missed you.
This meeting is deemed so valuable that we all want to continue meeting at least once a year like this just to connect.   If you are in full-time ministry to this important sub-culture, plan on attending next year.
If there are other full time disability leaders that you would like to have added to this mailing list, please comment  for inclusion in next year’s invitation.
If you have suggestions for this meeting,  we would love to hear them.   We will take them into consideration as we plan the date and place of our meeting next year.
David Hayward of Joy Fellowship in Vancouver, BC. will be lining it up for 2011.

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