April 2011


After Special Gathering chapel service on Sunday morning , James, whose disability is within the autism spectrum, came up to shake my hand.  Because it was Resurrection Day, we had abandoned our usual worship format.  The chairs were arranged in a circle.  We sang,

Celebrate, Jesus, celebrate.

He is risen. He is risen.

Come on and celebrate

The resurrection of our Lord.

I had shared a devotion retelling the amazing story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Then we dismissed to take part in the pancake breakfast given by the youth department of First United Methodist Church of Melbourne.

It was obvious that James was overwhelmed with emotion this morning.  He grabbed my hand, gently pulled me toward him.  Then in a clumsy, lovely and awkward way, he kissed me on the cheek.  Then he did it again and again and again.  Four times James kissed me.

Unless you know James and unless you are familiar with the symptoms of autism, you cannot understand what a gift and miracle those four kisses are for me and for James. In the ten years, I’ve known him, neither his staff nor I can recall anyone that James has kissed.

The autism spectrum is a wide range of symptoms that span a wide variety of anti-social, personality disorders.  For James as with many people whose disability is within the spectrum, personal contact is extremely difficult.  Yes, they have deep, stirring emotions; but their ability to express those emotions with personal contact can be vastly limited.

When and if they instigate contact with another person, it is fine.  However, they can be repulsed and may even be terrified by contact with someone, if they do not initiate the touch.

After James kissed me, he left to join the other members standing in line for pancakes.  Erik, a good friend of James’ who had been his staff person in the group home where James lives, came up to me.  “What was that all about?” he asked in a protective and concerned tone.

“He kissed me.  Four times, he kissed me on the cheek.”

Immediately, his anxious look turned to a broad smile.  “He did what?”

“He kissed me.  Four times,” I held up four fingers, adding emphasis to my claim.  “He kissed me four times on the cheek.”

Erik grinned and turned to other duties.  “I have my resurrection miracle,” I said as he began to turn away.

Again, Erik’ smile overcame his face, as he turned back to me.  “I’ll say you did.”

I remember the day James reached out and touched my extended finger in a sacred, quick touch.  A miracle of tender care occurred that morning.  Some months later, James came up to me.  He took one finger out of his ear, stopped humming for a split second.  Then he extended his hand to shake mine.  Again, I knew a miracle of love had happened joining James’ heart to mine.

Within the disability Christian community, mighty miracles happen almost every day.  They come in the form of a touch, a handshake.  But the resurrection miracles often become a kiss on the cheek.  Indeed, Jesus has come that we might have life and that life comes in abundant love.

Larry wasn’t at our He Is Alive! Party the Saturday before Resurrection Day.  I wondered because Larry never misses Special Gathering of Vero.  However, our supervisor told me that she had been told that Larry wouldn’t be at the party.  Larry’s mom had been in the hospital for a small speck that had been found on her brain. Yet, I’d been told that things were good and that she left the hospital without surgery.

When I received a voice message yesterday from his mother, Jackie, I was sad because I knew that this wasn’t a good sign.  In honesty, I waited for an hour to respond; because I wanted to prepare myself for what I would hear from her.

Neither of us planned on developing a friendship.  But Saturday after Saturday, Jackie and I exchanged pleasant information about family and Larry and we have become friends.  She appreciates how much Larry loves the Lord because of his faithfulness to Special Gathering.  I love her willingness to bring him each week, on time.  She’s never late to pick him up after the chapel services.  As we have gotten to know each other, a genuine love has developed that goes beyond our mutual relationship with Larry.

In short, in the week between appointments with the local doctor and the Orlando specialist, the tumor’s size has doubled.  They believe that it is cancerous and the growth is alarming.  We talked for a few minutes; and she filled me in with all the details.

Then I asked her about her relationship with the Lord.  I felt that she was a Christian but I wanted to be sure.  “Yes,” she assured me.  “I know the Lord.  He is my Savior.”

For a few minutes, we cried together.  I’m sure that she could not tell that I was crying and I know that I’m supposed to maintain a more ministerial aura.  However, there are some people who worm their way into your heart and eat that veneer with their love.  Jackie is one of those people.  After our conversation, I was thankful that she had called on Resurrection Day because the joy and hope of new life was burning in my spirit.

The assurance of life eternal is the result of Christ’s resurrection.  The Bible tells us in Roman 8:11, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”  No matter what the outcome, Jackie is in the Lord’s hands.

What are some of the good things you have had happen on Resurrection Day?

Each Sunday morning, I rise early.  Almost no one who is mentally challenged drives.  Providing transportation for our members is vital for the success of a special needs ministry.  Therefore, I must pick up people for our chapel programs, check on and verify bus rides. Then I set up the chairs and tables for the chapel worship services.  I leave our house at 7AM.

Because we live two blocks from the ocean, Resurrection morning is a time of great joy for me.  Around 6:30AM, the singing begins because the Christian community gathers at the beachside park near our home, for the Easter sunrise service.  From the stillness of the morning, Christ the Lord is risen today.  Alleluia!  wafts through the atmosphere.  I allow time each Easter to step outside in our garden to hear the music of the saints.

As I leave the house, the music stops and the sermon begins.  Last year, when I passed the park, I saw a man on the second story balcony of the bar that is adjacent to the park.  He was leaning into the sound of the sermon.  From his body’s position, you could tell that he was receiving the good news of the resurrection of Jesus.

My imagination whirled around different scenarios that could be his story.

  • Was he a clean-up person who stopped wiping tables and emptying beer glasses to listen to the music which brought back joyful childhood memories?
  • Was he a widower experiencing his first Easter without his wife, who had annually dragged her husband to a sunrise service?   Now he regretted all the years he fought her and desperately wanted to tell her.
  • Was he remembering his godly parents or a saintly grandfather?
  • Was he a man who never missed church; but he was pulled into the bar to clean the building after college revelers had spent a long night of spring-break partying?

I had no answers to any of these question, of course.  However, what I saw was the wonderful attraction of the good news of the resurrection.  For a few moments, we forget the Easter eggs and the chocolate candy and the new clothes.  

Jesus is risen from the dead.  He has brought to the world new life.  Resurrection life has been birthed into the lives of all who will come and receive God’s priceless gift of love and redemption.

Happy Resurrection Day!

My Story

by Michelle Demeree

My story begins with love.

                My story begins with prayers.

                                        My story begins with hope.

Through  hope, love and prayers,

                                                                     I found faith in the Lord,

                                                                            Finding faith in all I do.

God has put me here to make a difference.

             He has given me His heart of gold for others.

                       Now I love to pray for all people.

                                       Inside my heart, I feel God’s love.

Through hope, love and prayers,

                                                                    I found faith in the Lord,

                                                                       Finding faith in all I do.

Shelly Demeree is a poet whose poems appear in several publications.  She has her own web page, which includes some of her poety.  She is a member and deacon at The Special Gathering of Melbourne.

My son lives on the North Shore of Hawaii.  He is a champion surfer.  The North Shore is where many of the massive waves originate that we see in the movies and on posters.  He calls his father and me several times a week to give wave updates, chat and exchange notes on friends and family.

“Mom,  you must see Soul Surfer,” he told me the other evening.  I didn’t comment.  I sat a bit shocked.  He is not into syrupy and my impression of the movie was that this Disney film fit into the to the Disney stereo-type frame.  “I cried all the way through it.”  This time I was speechless.  My son doesn’t cry at movies. 

Then he explained.  “The filming is magnificent.  Only a surfer could really understand how good the wave scenes are.  But it’s the story.  Mom, it’s the story.  Bethany’s story.”

He continued, “On the North Shore, none of the surfers say, ‘I can’t.’  If the waves are massive and ‘I can’t’ is used, everyone will chime in together, ‘Bethany Hamilton surfs these waves with one arm.  Don’t you dare say, I can’t.’

“And,” he said knowing his next words would peak my interest, “Disney didn’t play down her relationship with the Lord.  The movie told it like it is.”

In case you’ve been a bubble for the past years, Miss Hamilton is a young woman who lost her arm to a shark while surfing as a teenager.  A surfing prodigy, she believed that her life-long dream of becoming a professional surfer was gone.  But her faith kept her going in that direction.  She now holds national titles in surfing. 

As a child, in our church in Charleston, it was engraved on my mind, emotions and spirit, standing to sing, There’s room at the cross for you…Though millions have come, there is still room for one.  There is room at the cross for you.  

Now, I live in the world of disabilities.  Perhaps, I understand more than most the vast difference the crucifixion of Christ can make in a life.   As area director for Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community, I’ve seen the powerful effects of the cross in people’s lives. 

Surrendering my life to the God “who would rather die that live without me” is a life-changing event.  It doesn’t mean that a surfing prodigy won’t ever be faced with the dangers of the ocean.  It doesn’t always mean that arms will grow back that have been knawled by a shark.  It doesn’t mean that Julie will ever learn to read.  It doesn’t mean that MaryAnn will ever be able to say, “Mama.”

It does mean that God will use the sacrifice of Christ to forgive our selfishness and transform our lives.  Additionally, because of the resurrection, we can become a champion surfer who has one arm and who inspires people across the globe to never say, “I can’t.”  We can become new in him, loving the unlovely.  We will be given the strength to walk one more step when we are aching tired from caring for a child with a disability.  Because of Jesus’ great sacrificial giving, we can become new creations, children of God.

What mounting challenge are you facing today?  How has the sacrifice of Christ made a difference in your life?  What motivates you when everything in you screams, “I can’t”?

We gathered around her bed, watching her shallow breathing.  We waited.  Mother, 84 years old,  had awakened with blood pouring from her mouth.  My sister, her caregiver, was unsure.  Had she seizured and bitten her tongue; or was she hemorrhaging?  She called Hospice.  Then she made a series of phone calls to family members to let them know the latest in our 40 month saga as our mother slowly crawled toward death.

As strange as it may seem, in the annals of my life, I will record those five days spent at the foot of mother’s bed with my feet propped on the railing, one of the most joyful times in my life.  Two daughters, a daughter-in-law,  three granddaughters, two great granddaughters and several children breezing in and out kept the vigil.  We slept little as our saintly mother labored to breathe.  The shallow wisps of air would wane and then strengthen.  We laughed and cried.

We ate junk food; then we laughed and cried.  We talked to distant relatives on the phone; and with them we laughed and cried.  We ate delicious meals catered from restaurants owned by grandchildren.  When the meals arrived, we received the embraces of the new arrivals; and we laughed and cried.  We threw together meals to keep us from eating one more chocolate Easter egg.   Sharing our meals on tables piled with insurance forms and medical equipment, we laughed and cried.

At 3AM, the children taking the early morning shift at her bedside, stifled giggles of exhaustion.  Each one of us crawled in the bed with her for a moment, just to feel her breath on our faces one last time.  Just to touch her again before she left us for her heavenly home.  While we cried often, it was a strange mixture of joyful remembering and pain of separation that brought the tears.  We knew her faith.  We rejoiced in her destination, not her departure.

As Jesus and his disciples gathered for their last meal together, Jesus expresses joy.  How can that be?  Tomorrow he would face death, a terribly painful death of torture and shame.  Could joy really fill the room of thirteen men who had walked, listened, ate, laughed and cried together?  Oh, yes.  They laughed and they cried.  The eminent anguish the Lord faced was put aside for this last joyful meal together.

Then Jesus prayed a long, stirring prayer.  Father, the time has come.  Give glory to your Son so that the Son can give glory to you.

Confidence beyond the circumstances poured from the Lord, as he embraced with joy the future of the Church. You gave the Son power over all people so that the Son could give eternal life to all those you gave him.

No misgivings filled this conversation with the Father. And this is eternal life; that people know you, the only true God, and that they know Jesus Christ, the One you sent.

Strength and boldness poured from his inner being, expressing a completion of the task for which he was sent.  Having finished the work you gave me to do.  I brought you glory on earth.

It was a prayer for the men who sat in the room; but it was also a prayer for you and for me.  I pray for these followers, but I am also praying for all those who will believe in me because of their teaching.

Jesus prayed for me.  That night, in the middle of this joyous meal, he remembered me.  He prayed that all believers would be one.  Jesus prayed that we would abide with him and join him in heaven.

The meal they shared–the passover, seder–is a meal of remembered redemption and release.  At times I stumble.  I fail everyone from my Lord to the clerk in the grocery store I see only once a week.  But in humility and with confidence, I can return to the place of laughter and tears.  From there, I can emerge with new strength and endurance because Jesus prayed for me.

In what ways would you alter your ministry if you fully understood that Jesus’ prayer was for you and for the portion of the church for whom you minister?   Would this make a difference in the way you relate to other about the Lord?

God is Just

Ezekiel 18:25‑27

Central Theme:  God‘s is just, not like people.

Introduction–Show a picture of the white house and the congressional building.  Talk about the three parts of our federal government.  Each part of the government checks up on the other part; and they each control only a part of the power.  The three parts balance each other out.  That is because mankind is very wicked.  Sometimes we are so evil that we think that even God is wicked.

I.     Have a member read Ezekiel 18:25-27.

A. Tell about Ezekiel and how the people were being punished and they were still being evil and bad.

B.  God said that they were so wicked that they even thought that God was the bad one.

C. Before my children became parents, they thought we were really mean and hateful.

1.  Now they think we were really soft of them.

2.  They are going to be tougher on their children.

II.     We cannot understand God and sometimes we think that God is mean.

A. Richard Stimson says that we all see reality from our own perspective.

B.  That means that we understand what is happening from the way we see it.

III.     We must learn to trust God and believe that his way is right no matter that happens.

A. Tell about the day you lost your pocketbook and it was found in Merritt Island or another story where you learned not to blame God for the bad things that happen in your life.

1.  I learned to not blame God for my mistakes.

2.   God is not responsible for my goofing up.

Conclusion–Because we are people who do not really understand what is right, we need God to help us understand.  Many times he uses other people to teach us about Him.

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