As Martin Luther King’s birthday approached last Sunday, DeAnne, a Special Gathering member, wanted to know what we would do to celebrate her birthday next week.  Quickly, an elder said, “You bring the cake. We celebrate.”  DeAnne looked gravely at me and questioned, “Sure I can bring the cake.   But who will bring the ice cream?  Can’t have a birthday party unless you have ice cream.”

I often laugh with our members who are mentally challenged and tell them that their birthdays are not national holidays.  However, most of them want to celebrate the day with parades, a vacation from work and a big, big party, with lots of gifts. 

Their desire to acknowledge their birthdays probably stems from several things.  First, families know that there are not many of the normal milestones in their lives that are celebrated with them.  Getting a driver’s license, graduation from high school or college, promotions at the job site, weddings, birth of a child are all events that will pass them by as the years balloon around them.  Therefore, birthdays become important events, celebrated with parties and gifts and food.

Additionally, everyone needs a measure of positive attention.  This is their day of celebration and honor.  And it needs to be acknowledged and experienced with joy.  As a ministry, Special Gathering cannot financially afford to have more than 450 birthday parties a year for all of our members.  But we can provide a time of delighted celebration for our members when they bring the cake. 

Sadly, as DeAnne gets older, her close family ties have  dwindled. I suspect people within the mentally challenged community want this special day to be remembered by their friends because their families are no longer able to celebrate with them.  Days of celebrations can quickly become times of depression and despair, if we are alone.  Without others to join in the festivities, celebration are merely bitter-sweet memories of events and happy times lost.

I believe that God has placed in human beings the need for celebration; and he provides those times in the Scriptures for the Jewish people.  Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread,  Presentation of the First Fruits, Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Booths are days of assembly and  feasting.  Some are one day.  Others are for an entire week.  It was mandated by God that no work would be done and that the people were to rest and eat.  In fact, in the Law, the Lord said that the people were to eat whatever their eye lusted for.  “Forget the diets for those days,” God says.  “Eat and enjoy me.” 

Too often we look at what we cannot do in the Law, ignoring the many joyful things that are also prescribed for us.  We speak of love, emphasizing the hardship of loving our enemies.  Too often, we ignore the joy of delighting in every person God has created and the freedom that comes in seeking to find pleasure in God’s creative abilities as exhibited in each unique person.  We teach forgiveness to others as a duty, not explaining the liberation and emotional release that comes from actively forgiving those who have hurt and harmed us.  The Laws of God were given to enable us to live happy and productive lives.  It was not meant to put us into bondage.  They were meant to set us free to be the person God designed us to be.

As the Lenten season approaches, remember Resurrection day is coming.  In our lives we cannot forget that God only allows harsh things to happen to teach us and prune us.  We must work extra hard to impress our members with this important principle of Christian life.  That may be extra hard for me to accomplish.  For, it appears from the condition of my heart that  I have not yet gotten the point of God’s boundless love.