choir for persons who are developmentally disabled

Recently, I visited a neighboring Special Gathering program to practice our Christmas music.  It seemed like a good idea. However, it appears that I really messed up.  After the practice, I heard that I “put down” this great choir.  I was shocked because I was so completely impressed with them that I thought they were the best choir of the four with which I’ve worked.

In my attempts to compliment this choir, I assume I mixed up the names and somehow the result was that the choir felt insulted.  That was the last thing I wanted to do.  Fortunately, the choir members told someone; and I was able to straighten out the misunderstanding.

Communication is perhaps the most tricky thing that we do as Christians.  Often, when we are trying to show compassion, we are accused of being harsh or judgmental.  Our great intentions can be viewed as meddling or interference.

I wish I could give some great pointers that would direct you to a better way of communication; but, as my recent experience shows, I’m still a novice in this area.

I am encouraged, however, when I read the scriptures.  Two great Titans of the faith, Paul and Peter, became meshed in the lack of communication webbed tangle.  Paul rebuked Peter who sat with the Jews at a meal when Gentiles were also partaking at the meal.  This was seen as an insult to the Gentiles.  It was a pretty stupid move on the part of Peter and probably deserved rebuke.

Peter, on the other hand, wrote that Paul’s teachings were so complicated that, at times, even he could not understand what Paul was try to say.  This gives me encouragement, because I often find my eyes glazing over while reading Paul’s letters.  Even though, I’ve read them hundred’s of times, I’m still perplexed by what Paul actually meant by certain sentences and paragraphs.

There are a couple of things I have learned when communication turns sour and you are the offending party.

  1. Try to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.  Don’t let things linger.
  2. Don’t let our natural inclination to avoid confrontation interfer with the need to find common ground.
  3. Apologize.  Even if you are absolutely sure that the other person has misunderstood, you are partially at fault because your communication fell apart at some point.
  4. Be honest.
  5. Try to find common ground by assuring the person you did not intend to offend them.
  6. Find something that you admire about the other person; and let them know how much you respect them in this area.
  7. Be humble.  Allow yourself to take the blame.  In the scheme of eternity, this incident will probably not bleep on God’s Richter Scale.
  8. Don’t cower.  Even if you are the offending party, stand straight and expect respect by you actions.  It will not help your relationship to become a whipping boy for the offended party. While this may sound contratictory, humility does not mean that you become someone’s door mat.  In fact, it should have the opposite effect.
  9. Don’t expect men and women to react the same way.  Men will be brief and polite but their attitudes may seem dismissive.  Women will either want to rehearse the offense again; or they will want to rehearse your apology as a way of affirming you.
  10. I believe that face-to-face communication is often the best.  I learned many years ago that I am almost never offended when I am facing another person.  It is the rehearsal of the event or the process of routine thinking that magnifies the event into an insult.  Psychologists tell us that this is true with most people.

Will these steps erase all offenses?  No. But they may go a long way in helping you to mend important fences in your life.

I often plug products that I’ve found beneficial, especially in the ministry of The Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  The Christmas musical, A Stranger in the Manger, is a well-written and joy-filled musical that becomes an excellent presentation.  Uplifting and fun songs make the music sparkle.  However, the ballad, “This is Such a Strange Way to Save the World,” is touching enough to leave half of the audience in tears.

The musical is written for children; but it is easily adapted for the disability community, especially for the mentally challenged population.  While the words and music may be more difficult than anything you have tried, it is easy to learn because everyone loves the music enough to work hard.   With children, you can supplement the recorded voices.  However, with a choir of intellectually disabled adults, you will need to leave out the extra voices recorded because the children’s voices will not blend with an adult choir.

Arrangers Johnathan Crumpton and Sue Smith have done an excellent job in translating the gospel story of Jesus’ birth into a fun, teaching experience set to music.

As a “hook” this year, I have used the winter waves on the east coast of Florida that our surfers love.  This makes our play regional.  However, you can insert any event that is peculiar to your area. There may be a Christmas tour for which your community is known or some regional arts festival, the rodeo.  In addition, we are using youth from several local churches.  They are the speakers who are leaving rehearsal to go surf.

This play is divided into 1) speakers–these are the people at the beginning of the play who are reading or speaking the modern-day part of the play. i.e. the surfers and decorators. 2) actors–they are the people who are portraying the  Biblical part of the play, Mary, Joseph, wise men.  3) choir 4) readers–they are the people who read the narration.  Our readers are usually choir members who have not been given solo parts.

Our music and words have come from the wonderful children’s play, Stranger in the Manger, by Jonathan Crampton and Sue Smith, published by Brentwood-Benson Music Productions.   I have included the words to the songs.  They are copyrighted by Brentwood Choral.  You will need to buy the Demo CD and the Split-track practice CD.  There is also a great orchestration CD and books available.  This music is certainly worth the expense.  The music is wonderful.  The words are not childish but can adapt to adults who may have a difficult time learning the choral parts.  Your members will love upbeat, big band sounds. 

A Florida Christmas

By Linda G. Howard

All the actors, speakers, choir, readers and helpers should be out front getting their costumes on.  Speakers who are youth should be helping to do different tasks.  The play will begin at set time but everything (costumes, etc.)  will be out front in full view, rather than in a backroom.  Choir should be ready to get into position on the side of the stage opposite where the actors will be entering and exiting the stage. Everyone is hurrying to get things cleaned up and out-of-the-way at the time that the play begins. 

Speaker 1 (comes out with a bathing suit–possibly a wet suit—swinging in mid-air  and a surf board under his arm and shouts)—Surf’s up!

Several people begin to get up as though they are leaving. They gather up surf boards.  Shouting:  All Right! Let’s go!

(As the Speakers are talking, the choir gets into place. People finish getting actors seated and all the boxes out-of-the-way.)

Speaker 2—(stands)  Wait a minute!  Are you getting ready to leave?

Speaker 1 (coming over to Speaker 2)—Yeah!  This is Florida, Man.  There is surf and we can catch at least a full hour of waves, if we hurry.  (Motions to everyone to leave.)

Speaker 3—(Stands in the way of the surfers.)  You promised to help with our Christmas play.  It’s time to start.  (Sarcasticlly and motioning to the audience.) The audience is here, parents, friends.

Speaker 4—(Standing with speaker 3)  You can’t leave now!

Speaker 5You don’t understand.  We wait all year for the winter waves.  This is Florida.  That’s what a Florida Christmas means waves, waves and more waves.

Speaker 2Come on.  We know better than that.  Sure, Christmas in Florida means waves but it means a lot more.

Speaker 6—He’s (or she’s) right.  We can’t forget the real meaning of Christmas.

Speaker 7—Big deal, a baby, a stranger in a manger.  How does that compare with waves, real winter waves.

Speaker 2—It’s the story telling how much God loves us.  That’s way better than waves.

Speaker 5—Okay, we’ll stay but this better be good!

(As the speakers put their surf boards away, the choir begins to sing.)

1.  Tell Me the Story of Christmas


Tell me the story of Christmas. I love to hear it told.

Every detail of that incredible night.

Never, no, never, ever grows old.

I love the part where the angels are singing

and the shepherds and wise men are worshiping.

I’m ready to hear all the wonderful things That happened in Bethlehem.

So tell me the story of Christmas once again.


Good Christian Men Rejoice

Good Christian men, rejoice With heart and soul and voice.

Give ye heed to what we say:

News! News! Jesus Christ is born today!

Ox and ass before Him bow And He is in the manger now.

Christ is born today, Christ is born today.


(Back to top and Repeat Chorus)


I really love to hear the story get repeated, cause every time you tell about the birth of Jesus,

If someone else can hear about it and believe it,

They’ll find his love.  So if you wait until the middle of November

Or if you sing it from December through December

Just tell the world about His coming and remember the way it was.

(Repeat Chorus)

Hark! The Herald Angels sing

Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!

Joyful, all ye nations, rise, join the triumph of the skies.

With Angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King.

(Repeat Chorus)

Tag–So Tell me the story of  Christmas once again.  Again!

As the song ends, the curtains should open half way.  Mary and Joseph should be on stage by the end of the song.  Holding hands, smiling.  

Speaker 1 to Speaker 5—(They should be carrying the final box of costumes out of the stage area. They stop in the middle of the stage area but on the floor.)  Ahh, maybe this won’t be too bad.  I guess the waves can wait.  (They continue to stand-off to the side on the floor area.)

Joseph:  (Joseph comes to the edge of the stage.  He puts his finger to his mouth and says) Sh-h-h.  (Everyone joins him, including the choir. Joseph puts his hands on his waist and walks to the side of the stage.  Angel walks up to Mary and begins to talk to her.)

Reader 1:       God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin girl who lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee.  The girl was engaged to marry a man named Joseph.  Her name was Mary. 

(Mary’s angel leaves. Mary goes to Joseph to talk.  They walk to center stage.)

Reader 2:       Mary was engaged to marry Joseph.  But before they married, Mary learned that she was pregnant with a child by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Mary’s husband, Joseph was a good man.  He did not want to bring shame to Mary before the people.  So he planned to divorce her secretly. 

Speaker 1 to Speaker 5:  (They should be standing on the floor area but still in view of the audience. Speaking loudly.) This is my favorite part.

Except for Mary and Joseph, everyone–including the choir–says:  Sh-h-h.  (Speaker 2 comes and helps them to sit down.)

Mary walks off stage.  Joseph goes to center stage.  He is confused, hurt, and angry.  He sits down and drops his head as though asleep.  Joseph’s Angel comes on stage wakes him up and talks to Joseph. 

Reader 3:  While Joseph thought about these things, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream.  The angel said, “Joseph, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the baby in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus.

As the Joseph angel exits, Joseph goes and gets Mary.  They stand together talking as the choir sings.

2. The Answer is “Yes”

 (Verse 1)  What do you say to an angel who suddenly appears

With news that’s so surprising you can’t believe your ears?

Do you have to think awhile, or do you tell him with a smile

(Chorus) The answer is “yes” to whatever God says. His plan is all right with me, wherever He leads.

Anytime, any place, I’m gonna obey. He knows that I know that He knows best.  That’s why the answer is Yes.

(Verse 2)  What do you say if you find out

The Father’s calling you for something very special  He’s planned for you to do?

Do you try to run away or bow your head and simply say:

(Repeat Chorus)

(Verse 3)  The answer isn’t “Maybe” or  “Come back and ask me later.”

When you choose between your own will and the will of the Creator

(Repeat chorus)O-o-oh  He knows that I know that He knows best.  That’s why the answer is Yes.  Yes!

Reader 3:  And Joseph did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream.  He married Mary.

(Joseph puts his arm around Mary.  Mary and Joseph walk off the stage. Close curtain or the stage should be empty.)

(Shepherds move into place at the front of the stage on the floor.)

Reader 2:    At that time Augustus Caesar sent out an order to all people.  The order said that all people must write their name in a book.  All people traveled to their own towns to be registered.  So Joseph went to Bethlehem in Judea.  Joseph went with Mary.  While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have the baby.

(The Angels come out to the shepherds.)

Reader 4:       Some shepherds were in the fields watching their sheep.

Reader 5:       An angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds and said,

Reader 6:       “Don’t be afraid.”

Choir sings “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

3.  Angels we have Heard on High

Angels we have heard on high,

Sweetly singing over the plains

And the mountains in reply,

Echo back their joyous stains.

(chorus) Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Come to Bethlehem and see

Him whose birth the angels sing.

Come, adore on bended knee

Christ the Lord, the newborn king.

(repeat Chorus)

Tag:  In excelsis Deo.

After the choir sings, the curtains open, Mary, Joseph and the baby are there.  Choir sings “A Stranger in the Manger.”  Some of the shepherds who can go up the stairs and kneel go up and kneel by the baby.

4.  Stranger in the Manger

(verse 1) There’s a crowded inn in a little town,

At the barn out back shepherds gather around.

As they go inside, they are all bowing down.

What can it be?  Come look and see.

(chorus) There is a Stranger in the manger, out where the animals are fed.

There is a Baby in the hay, we’ve seen, who’s using that manger for a bed.

Why are there songs of joy praising this little Boy?

Telling the reason that He came?

There is a Stranger in the manger, and King

Jesus is His name.

(verse 2) It was long ago. It was far away but we’re still surprised

When we hear it today.

Could the Son of God be asleep on the Hay?

Yes, it is He.  Come and Believe!

(repeat Chorus)

Why are there songs of joy praising this little Boy?

Telling the reason that He came?

There is a Stranger in the manger, and King

Jesus is His name.

Jesus is His name.

Jesus is His name.

Angels should move on to the stage. 

As the music begins for “Walkin’ Like a Wise Man,” the wise men begin to move from the back. 

At first, they should be looking up into the sky, as thought they are  wandering around. 

Then Speaker 7 should come out carrying a large paper star on a stick. He will walk from the floor onto the stage and stand behind Mary and Joseph with the star held hight.   Then WiseMen see the star, point to it and come to the place where Mary, Joseph and the baby are.   They come on stage and kneel on the floor before the baby.

5.  Walkin’ like a Wise Man

(verse 1) Just another moonlit night like many they had seen

But there was something different about the sky above them.

It had to be the brightest star proclaiming heaven’s King

And if they follow, they would surely find Him

(chorus) Three men out searching in the night,

Who walked by faith and not by sight.

Woh-h-h-h   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

Woh-h-h-h   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

 (verse 2) Just a humble village where nobody would have guessed

The men would bow in honor of the little Baby.

But as they knelt before the child to offer up their best,

They knew they found the reason for their journey. (Return to chorus then “We Three Kings”)

We Three King

We three kings of Orient are.

Bearing gifts, we traverse afar

Field and Fountain, moor and mountain

Following Yonder Star.

Now everyone who follows Him

Is really walking just like them.

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.


In the darkness, faith is the key.

When you trust Him, you’ll find you’ll be

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.

Woh   Walkin’ like a Wise Man.


Speaker 7 with the star should be on stage standing behind everyone.  Joseph should take the baby and hold him walking around the stage or just standing looking at the baby.  Choir sings, “A Strange Way to Save the World.” All of the speakers should come on stage and bow before the manger during the song.  

6.  A Strange Way to Save the World

(verse 1)  I’m sure he must have been surprised

At where the road had taken him cause never in a million lives

Would he have dreamed of Bethlehem.

And standing at the manger, he saw with his own eyes

The message from the angel come to life.

And Joseph said,

( Chorus) Why me?  I’m just a simple man of trade.

Why Him? With all the rulers in the world?

Why here? Inside this stable filled with hay?

Why her? She’s just an ordinary girl.

Now I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say,

But this is such a strange way to save the world.

(verse 2) To think of how it could have been if Jesus came as He deserved.

There would have been no Bethlehem, no lowly shepherds at His birth.

But Joseph knew the reason love had to reach so far.

And as he held the Savior in his arms

He must have thought,

(repeat Chorus)

Tag:  But this is such a strange way to save the world.

Joseph puts the baby back in the manger.  Speaker 1 goes to Speaker 2 and puts his arm over his shoulder. 

Speaker 1:  You are right this is much better than surfing.

Speaker 2 and everyone else:  Sh-h-h.

Choir sings “When I think of Christmas.”  As each new verse is introduced the person mentioned will leave. 

Verse 1:  Speaker 1 and the other youth (except Speaker 7)  will come and give the baby to Mary. 

Verse 2:  The youth will take away the manger and wave. 

Verse 3:  Joseph will wave and leave.

Verse 4:  Mary will wave and leave.

Verse 5:  Youth holding the star will wave and leave.

Verse 6:  The Angels will wave and leave. (Youth should help them where necessary.)

Verse 7:  The Shepherds will wave and leave. (Youth should help where necessary.)

Verse 8:  The Wise Men will wave and leave.

Verse 9 and 10 the Youth with the star should come back at the star verse.  Last time one of the SpG speakers will pull him off the stage area.

7.  When I Think of Christmas

When I think of Christmas, I think of how God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful,

the manger was empty Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how a new star was shining bright

Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how the angels sang “Glory,” a new star was shining bright.

Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how the shepherds were frightened,

The angels sang “Glory,” a new star was shining bright.

Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how wisemen came searching,

the shepherds were frightened.

The angels sang “Glory,“ a new star was shining bright.

Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how the whole world is different cause

wisemen came searching.  The shepherds were frightened,

The angels sang “Glory,“ a new star was shining bright.

Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty

Till God’s only Son came to earth.

When I think of Christmas, I think of how God’s love is the reason the whole world is            different cause wisemen came searching, the shepherds were frightened,  The angels sang “Glory,” a new star was shining bright.  Mary was smiling, Joseph was thankful, the manger was empty Till God’s only Son came to earth.

Choir Sings:

8.  Finale–Joy to the World

It was, long ago, It was far away but we’re still surprised

When we hear it today

Could the Son of God be asleep on the hay?

Yes, it is He.  Come and Believe!

(chorus) There is a Stranger in the manger, out where the animals are fed.

There is a Baby in the hay, we’ve seen, who’s using that manger for a bed.

Why are there songs of joy praising this little Boy?

Telling the reason that He came?

There is a Stranger in the manger, and King

Jesus is His name.

Joy to the World

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come

Let earth receive her king.

Let every heart prepare Him room

And Heaven and nature sing,

And Heaven and nature sing

And heaven and heaven and nature sing.

He rules the world with truth and grace

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness

And wonders of His love,

And wonders of His love,

And wonder, wonders of His love

Yesterday was one of those days.  For months, I’ve tried to figure out how The Special Gathering of Indian River Christmas play should be written.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our population learns more slowly than normal; yet they are adults.  It is important that the play is not only educationally appropriate but also appropriate for adults.

Regarding the play, I write it.  Therefore, I begin searching for ideas for the next year as soon as the play is written for the current year.  Sounds as though I’d be way ahead of the game by mid-summer, doesn’t it?   That could be true if I can “see” the logistics of the play.  Many years I’m a bit stumped regarding some portion of the production.  My idea this year comes from the participation of the youth department at our program in one of our programs.  Yet, how do I make it appropriate for our other program.

During my prayer time yesterday, I suddenly knew how the play should be written so that it would be age appropriate and would easily adapt to our other program that does not have youth participation.  I began working on the play about 6:30am.  By 9:30am, I was ready to send it to our staff and volunteers for their suggestions and comments.

Then I began working on other deadline projects.  I was able to complete them all.

By the end of the day, I was thrilled at the productive time I’d experienced.  As I crawled into bed, I was pretty satisfied with the accomplishments of the day.  I prayed, “Lord, thank you so much for the great day.  I feel your presence and your pleasure because of all the work I was able to do today.”

Gently, I felt the Lord’s response, “Linda, I’m with you, leading and directing you at your least productive day, also.  Sometimes I have a greater goal in your life than finishing tasks.”

Whoa!  My tired brain soared.  Of course, it is great to be able to complete tasks.  But what about the days that you work diligently and nothing is accomplished.  Is God pleased with your failed efforts?  Will the Lord honor us, even when we fall short?

Johnnie and Peter Lord

Years ago, Johnnie Lord, the wife of well-known Pastor Peter Lord, said that the Lord assured her that he was much more concerned about the intent of her heart than her actual performance.  While the Bible teaches us this truth, we forget.

How has God assured you that he loves you even when you don’t “perform up to par”?  Are you able to pass on to others the same gace and mercy?

My learning philosophy with pretty much every project is that I endeavor is to learn as much as I need so I can do the job and leave the other stuff to people who compose, fix and invent things.  That is especially true with the computer.  As examples, I don’t have to have all the music memorized to lead the choir in their first rehearsal of a song and I don’t need to understand the transfer of electrical currents to turn on a light switch.  Usually, my life philosophy serves me will.  That is until I try to invade a world where I need to understand more than I know.  Like blogging.

Our executive director gave me a wonderful gift after I’d been blogging for about a month.  It’s a manual on blogging.  Excited and happy, I immediately started reading it.  I underlined and tried to memorize as I went along.  You see, after a time of blogging, I realized that I know so little about the Internet and it’s terminology that I don’t even know what I don’t know.  That, of course, means that I don’t know enough about what I’m doing to know what I need to know.  Therefore, by ability to learn is hampered because I need to know how to do what I need to know.  If you are confused by all this, imagine how I feel.

After a few hours of reading my rich treasure manual, I needed to put it down–for a few days.  This was a fatal mistake.  When I picked it up again,  I’d forgotten to mark the page I was last reading but that didn’t matter to me at the time.  Because I’d underlined key passages as I went along. I was confident that I could find my way back to my place.  The only problem.  I somehow didn’t remember one thing I had read.  I needed to begin from page one.

The acronoms were particularly troublesome.  I could not remember even one of them. This time reading through I wrote out each acronym that I came to.  Therefore, I was not only remembering what the acronym means but I’ll understand the sentence better.  My philosophy in reading is the Lemony Snicket Theorywhich is similar to my life philosophy.  I skip the words I don’t understand and usually the context of the material will help me to understand the sentence and the words I didn’t understand. This is not true in blogging.

While I’m  into my fifth year of blogging, it has been only one year since I’ve become confortable inserting pictures.  In the process, WordPress, the website that hosts my blog has made adding photos much easier.  Additionally, I’ve learned to find my pictures from Google Image.  Then I download them onto my desktop and then use them in my blog.

Jesus said that we should never begin a blog unless we understand enough about the Internet so we can estimate the amount of time it will take us to complete each daily article and draw traffic to our web entry.  Sure, I am paraphrasing but you get the point.  I’m not a quitter but I sure wish I could sleep through the learning process, the way my choir often sleeps through rehearsals.

As I venture into a fresh project, I find I have much in common with my mentally challenged members.  It’s easy for me to lose interest in the new things as they become more complicated.  But that is childish, not child-like.  Struggle helps us to learn and survive.  Forcing, Nancy and Lucy, members of the choir, to stay awake while we’re doing the hard work of rehearsal is beneficial.  Likewise, rereading those first four chapters will embed them into my brain.

Have you found, like me, that you are sometimes enthused to start a new project only to become totally disinterested when it’s a bit harder than you anticipated?   Is it possible that we are more like members of my special needs choir, than we are different?

The choir sang and then I spoke.  As I shared our missions vision to the group at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Satellite Beach, I scanned the people’s faces and my eyes screamed to a halt when I saw her face.  “My good friend, Carol, was sitting in the audience.  She smiled as she realized that I had recognized her.  Though, it’s probably been 10 years, it was the same smile and the same kindred that was sparked as I continued my presentation.

There is perhaps nothing better than seeing the face or hearing the voice of an old friend.  Yesterday, Mia called.  Even though my phone clues me into the person calling, I waited until she responded to my greeting before I called her name.  It makes her giggle that I “recognize” who she is.  Mia is a Special Gathering member who has attended off and on for more than 20 years.  She was a young girl of 14 or 15 when I first met her and now she is an adult with two teenage children.

High functioning and dual diagnosed with mental health issues, Mia began smoking cigarettes when she was first institutionalized for bipolar disorder.  Now, she has ruined her lungs.  At times, she cannot breathe because of COPD.  We laughed and talked for about 5 minutes.  “Please, pray for me,” she said before we hung up the phones.  She promised to come to Special Gathering on Sunday but I no longer expect for her to attend, even when her deep desire is to be there.

This morning as I texted Carol hoping we could meet for lunch, I was struck by the fact that my love for Mia and my love for Carol are the same.  Mia isn’t a “special needs project.”  She is my good and long-time friend who often calls for prayer because she loves me as much as I love her.

I talk often with Ferne Brandt, our area director of The South Carolina Special Gathering.  I’m happy that I’ve finally gotten to know most of her core membership because I can never tell whether she is speaking about her members or her volunteers.  The respect and admiration regarding the friendship they share isn’t different.

When there is genuine friendship, something miraculous happens.  We not only share memories of the past but joy of the present and anticipation for a glorious future.  When I scanned the room at Trinity Presbyterian, it wasn’t simply the joy of seeing an old friend that ignited my spirit but her smile said, “You are doing good. You’ve found YOUR place and I love you for who you have become.”  The most wonderful thing I saw in Carol’s smile was an appreciation for who I am today–not what I was twenty years ago.

I find that sometimes I get stuck in the mud and mire of the past in regard to my members.  Oh, you act so spiritual now.  Thoughts swim in and out of my brain.  But I remember when you hit George and cussed out Marie.  Then there was the incident on the city bus and…  Too often, my thoughts are Ralph will never change.  Ignoring the fact that those behaviors were when Ralph was 20.  Now he holds down a job.  He has become the primary caregiver of his elderly mother and he has garnered the respect of his peers.

While old friends are wonderful, we cannot get stuck with old visions.  I must demand that my thoughts leap forward into the future, commanding myself to learn and grasp the new visions of Special Gathering members, all my friends and of myself.

This week  my grandson, his girlfriend and I toured Kennedy Space Center.  I saw that one of the astronauts who walked on the moon had received a Exceptional Service Medal for this task.

I was a bit shocked because my husband, Frank, also has a Exceptional Service Medal.  It is the highest award given to a civilian by the Federal government.

Even at a young age, my husband knew that God wanted him to be an engineer.  He did his engineering work for the Lord; and he did a great job.  My husband simply knew that he loved solving engineering problems and this led to his decision to become an engineer.  Nevertheless, there are times that special signs are given to people letting them know God has given them a unique assignment.  That was what happened to David

It started like every other day for David.  The young man awakened and went to work tending his father’s  sheep.  It’s a good assumptions that he slept in the fields with the flock all night, protecting them from bears and lions.

On the other hand, Samuel may have started his day with a sense of destiny.  The Lord had rejected Saul as king of Israel and God was going to have Samuel anoint a new king.  As soon as Samuel saw the sons of Jesse gathered in front of him, he knew that the oldest and strongest son was the best selection but God had other ideas.  Each son passed by Samuel but God rejected each one. Handsome and strong, these men didn’t pass God test.  “Is there another son?”  Samuel asked the father.

“There’s David in the fields,” the father answered as though David were an afterthought.

“Send for him.”

David came and the rest is history.  God chose a singer and song writer who appears to be a bit of a dreamer for the next king is Israel.  David did not fit the picture of a king but God saw a great warrior and leader in the young shepherd.

What does God have for you to do?  Each of us has a special place in God‘s heart.  His love extends to all; and he wants us to do his work.  He probably doesn’t want us to be the ruler of a nation.  Yet, never discount the job he has chosen for you to do.  God’s work for you is needed.  If we are willing, God can teach others through our lives.

About 20 years ago,  The Special Gathering choir sang at a small meeting for women. Special Gathering is a ministry within the intellectually disabled community.  The choir sings for the community and church events.  The choir’s purpose is to teach the Church that people with disabilities have valid spiritual needs.   That Saturday morning, God used the choir to teach a mother that God could use her son who is also developmentally disabled.  About 15 years later, circumstances worked out that her son became a member of the Special Gathering choir.

There is no one that God doesn’t want to use.  God will use me and you if we let him.

From all accounts, Jesus did not appear to be the kind of person who was part of the Godhead or that his sacrifice would save the world.  Most people did not understand his great mission for redemption of the earth.  Likewise, David was a humble man and he didn‘t appear to be strong and powerful.

God used David who became a great king.  Of course, Jesus is our Redeemer and Savior.   Likewise, God can and he will use you and me.

No matter what our past has been, no matter how bleak your future looks, no matter what my life is like today, God wants to use me.  God wants to use you.

This weekend was more than exciting for me and the three choirs who gathered for our annual choir retreat.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our choirs go into churches helping to teach that a person who is developmentally disabled can have a genuine relationship with the Lord.

While we were at Word of Life retreat center, even the drivers and volunteers experienced a blessing from the Lord as they joined in the worship and study.  For me, it was especially thrilling.  Perhaps it was even life changing.

During this time, I realized something about myself.  I’ve loved directing the Special Gathering choirs more than almost anything I do.  I even say that the choirs are my hobby because they are too much fun to be work.  This Saturday, I realized that not only do I love being a choir director; but God helps me to draw from the choir members things which they may not know they can give.  Sure, that is the job of every director but I didn’t actually realize that God was working in this way with me.  It came as a bit of a shock.

We often talk about the importance of learning when to say, “No.”  But there doesn’t seem to be many rules about when to say, “Yes.”  I’ve been asked to consider whether I would be willing to take over all the Special Gathering choirs.  It will mean extra work but I’ve been excited about the prospect of doing this.  The question has been, should I say, “Yes”?  What are the markers that make a right decision easier to make.

I think God taught me how to establish clear markers in decision making during this retreat.  Here are some of the things I learned.

1.  Do you feel God’s pleasure when you are doing this activity?

2.  Are others blessed as much as you are?

3.  Can you see spiritual growth in others when you engage in this activity?

4.  Can you see spiritual growth in your own life when you engage in this activity?

5.  Are you given spiritual insight or revelation from the Lord when you are actively working in this arena?

6.  Does God speak to others when you are doing this?

7.  Do you sense that others take pleasure in helping you to perform this mission?

8.  Are you able to draw others into the circle of influence that this activity produces?

9.  Does this activity give you energy or do you feel drained from the effort?

If you can answer “yes” to most or all of these questions, God is probably in a positive decision.  Most of us won’t be asked to be choir directors; but all of us will face a decision which will demand an answer.  Perhaps these Yes Markers will help us to be able to know God’s will and purpose in our lives.

Is there something that you do that helps you to feel God’s pleasure?  Have you included it into your repertoire of activities?  If not, why not?

Early Friday morning, 33 people from two states gathered for a Special Gathering choir retreat.  As you probably know, Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  People who are developmentally disabled compose the three choirs. This is part of the outreach of Special Gathering into the community and a small portion of what we do.

Our primary purpose for the weekend was to learn the Christmas music that the three choirs will perform in their local communities but God had a different objective.  During Friday practice time, the Holy Spirit ministered to us in uniquely, pleasant ways.  Choir members who had little interest in developing their voices for praising God were sitting on the edges of their seats, responding to the music and director.  Those who love to sing and hungerly grasp all the solos were pressing other less-talented members to try to sing certain solo parts.

During one song, a quiet holiness fell as we sang.  Our rehearsal became worship.  Unexpectedly, four or five people started to cry because of the presence of the Lord.  Together, we laughed and cried as we savored a precious moment as God decided to touch an entire group of people with his love and grace.

On Saturday, we had a short rehearsal and left for a day of playing at Disney World’s Fort Wilderness.  By the afternoon, our fun was interrupted by concern for one of the members.  Late Friday afternoon she had stepped off a curve wrong and twisted her ankle.

She never fell, limped or complained.  She insisted that she was fine and in almost no pain.  We had iced it, called her supervisory staff.  We gave her over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory  medication approved by her staff.  However, by Saturday evening as we traveled home, it was apparent that she was in severe pain.

Additionally, one of our van drivers got lost going home.  We expected her to get home a bit before 10PM.  She did not arrive until 11PM.  When I got a phone call at 10:40 that she was late, I called parents to see if she had gotten stuck at one of their homes.  She had not arrived.  I got dressed; headed out to find her.  As I was pulling out of the driveway, we got a phone call that she had arrived at one of the homes.

On Sunday, the lady with the twisted ankle had to be taken to the hospital.  The doctors found that she had broken her foot.  When staff called me, she was irate that I would allow her to walk on that broken foot for two days without taking her to get medical attention.  This was the same staff person that I’d called three times to give a progress report regarding her condition.  During those conversations, she had not told me that my member had extremely brittle bones because of a new medical condition; and she takes medication for the condition.

Additionally, when I returned home, languishing among my junk mail was a letter from the IRS.   I am being audited by the IRS for the last three years.  The audit is expected to take at least four hours.  The last time I was audited, even though I had receipts and written proof for all my deductions, the auditor refused to look at them and she would not allow the deductions because the audit was taking too much of her time.  It had cost us over a thousand dollars.

As a commissioned minister, I am self-employed.  I save every receipt and form.  I also prepare my own taxes, using Turbo-tax.  Instructions from the IRS on how to prepare for this audit is a five page letter and represents a monumental task.

In contrast, on Sunday morning, a combined choir sang at a large local church.  They were anointed and ministered the Lord in a marvelous way.  As they sang, I sat aside my concerns for my member’s broken foot and the IRS and how the driver got lost.  Quietly, the Lord reminded me of the reassuring calmness that always proceeds severe storms.

I was raised in Charleston, SC.  Hurricanes were an annual event during my childhood.  The 1950’s marked the lowcountry cities with the scars of wild wind and furious rain.  However, after the weather forecast told us about the approaching storm, the neighborhood children would gather on our front walkway. Squatting on the hard, cool concrete, we marveled at the peace and stillness.  While our parents frantically prepared our homes, we would sit quietly, experiencing the calm.

As interesting as the storms were, it was the calm that followed and proceeded each storm that captured my young imagination.  Yesterday, the Lord reminded me of the calm that always attends an approaching storm.  “You would be wise to not let the fury of the storm destroy the peace you feel before and after you are attacked by the enemy of your soul.”

How often I’ve been so caught up by the storm that I lose my perspective of a life lived in Christ.  Joy and triumphant singing go before us each step of the way.  Goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives.  We are wrapped with peace in the middle of the storm.  Yet, I sit in the rocking chair of our soul and rehearse every moment of the last storm.  I recount in my mind the wind and the rain.  I speak to myself about the damage and the despair.

Yep, it appears that another storm period has invaded my life.  But quietly God is saying, “This too shall pass.”  In the meantime, God has touched a small group of mentally challenged folks and used them for his glory.  Does life get much better than that?  I don’t think so.

Today, we will begin our choir retreat.  I’ve been preparing for it for the past week which is the reason why I’ve missed writing blog entries all week.  Through the wonder of WordPress, I’ll be able to make up the lost entries.  However, it’s been a week of formatting and meetings to prepare for the 33 people who will be attending at Word of Life Retreat Center in Hudson, Florida.

I thank God for Ferne Brandt who is the program director for the Walterboro Special Gathering, Tarah Risher who is the assistant choir director in South Carolina and Lindsey Craddock who will be the baby sitter for the children coming with their parents.  Additionally, Pam and David Gillespie are our van drivers and all-around, able crew.  Joanne Semenuck is also driving her truck filled with our sleeping bags and luggage.  Additionally, she is helping with refreshments.

Would it be possible have a ministry without people who labor doing all the actual work?  I often feel a tad guilty because I get to do all the fun stuff like directing the choir while the rest of the crew is hauling luggage and moving boxes and tables to set up the refreshments.

Too often, it is the behind-the-scenes pit crew that insure that every ministry runs like clock-work.  At Special Gathering, we are especially blessed.  We get to work with dedicated and extremely competent people who love the Lord and the people we serve.

Who is someone you are thankful for today?  What are the tasks they perform?

This is the Christmas play we will be using in Melbourne, Vero and South Carolina programs of Special Gathering.  You will need to use your imagination to adapt it to your own staging area.  In one of our programs, we have not curtains.  We adapt the play to fit the area in which we must perform.

The music is from Cedarmont Kids, “Gospel Christmas Songs” Album.  Your choir will love the upbeat Spirituals with a Jamaican influence.  My choirs have not even noticed that the songs are sung by a children’s choir. 

You can order the album on line.  The songs are sung twice.  The second set has split track.

Joy!  It’s Christmas Time

By Linda G. Howard

Choir should be positioned on the side of the stage opposite where the actors will be entering and exiting the stage. Three people come to the front. 

Speaker 1—We’d like for everyone to join us as we sing, “Joy to the World.”  Everyone, including audience sings, “Joy to the World.” 

Joy to the World! The Lord is Come

1. Joy to the World!  The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King.

      Let every heart prepare Him room,

      And heaven and nature sing, And haven and nature sing,

      And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

2.  Joy to the World the Savior reigns, Let men their songs employ.

      While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains

      Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy,

      Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

3.  He rules the world with truth and grace,

      And make the nations prove the glories of His righteousness

      And wonders of His love,

      And wonders of His love,

      And wonders, wonders of His love.

Speaker 2—(Comes from the audience.  He puts his hands on his hips as though angry)  Okay, it’s Christmas but can we really be singing about Joy?  Everything is a mess.  There are wars.  People hate us.  We hate others.  I don’t know where you get all that joy stuff.

Speaker 3—Hey, sit down!  You are messing up our play.  This is the story about Jesus’ birth. 

Speaker 1—That’s right.  Can somebody make this person sit down?  Will anyone help us?

Speaker 4—Wait a minute.  Isn’t this why we celebrate Jesus’ birthday?  We need to help people understand why Jesus’ life is important to us.

Speaker 2—Yeah, why do you think that Jesus was such an important person?  What makes his birth special?

Speaker 1—Sit down and watch our play.  We’ll explain it all to you. 

Speaker 2–Okay.  I’ll watch your play.  After all, it is Christmas time.

Reader 1:       God, the Father, knew that people need someone to help them with their lives.  We need a Savior.  Sin has made us fearful.  We hurt each other and ourselves.  God had a plan to send His Savior.  That Savior was His son, Jesus.

Choir sings “The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy.”   Mary comes from behind curtain, looking up to the sky.  The house lights go off and the only light is on Mary.  The Angel Gabriel comes from the opposite side of the stage.  She should be looking in the opposite direction.  He quietly stands behind Mary.  She does not see him. 

2. The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy  

1.     The Virgin Mary had a Baby boy. (3xs)

        And they said that His name will be Jesus.


He come from the glory.

He come from the glorious kingdom

He come from the glory.

He come from the glorious kingdom

2. The Angels sang when the Baby was born…


3. The Shepherds came-a when the Baby was born…


4. The wise men saw-a where the Baby was born…


Reader 2:  God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin girl who lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee.  The girl was engaged to marry a man named Joseph.  Her name was Mary. 

(As the choir begins to sing, “Wonderful Counselor,” the angel takes Mary‘s hands.)

3. Wonderful Counselor 

1. Tell me, who do you call The Wonderful Counselor?


Oh, oh, glory, hallelujah

Oh, oh, glory, hallelujah

Glory, Hallelujah to the newborn King.

2. The Holy Spirit will come on the Blessed Virgin Mary.  (Chorus)

3. Well, they’ll call Jesus, “TheWonderful Counselor.”  (Chorus)

4. Cryin’ Peace on earth, Good will to your neighbor…  (Chorus)

5. Well, I call Jesus, my wonderful Savior… (Chorus)

6. They’ll follow the star to find the baby…  (Chorus)

When the song ends, the angel leaves.  The curtain opens and Mary sits on a bench. Hands and face held up in prayer.

Joseph comes out and stands in the center of the stage. Mary stands and meets him and uses gestures to explain about the angel.   As they talk to each other, they move around the stage.  Choir sings, “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child.”

4.  Jesus, Oh, What a Wonderful Child 

(chorus) Jesus! Jesus! Oh, what a wonderful child!

Jesus!  Jesus! So lowly, meek and mild.

New life, new hope, new joy He’ll bring

Won’t you listen to what the angel proclaims.

Glory, glory, glory, to the newborn king.

I am an angel from the heavenly King.

He’ll born in a lowly manger.

The Virgin Mary is his mother.

And Joseph, you’re His earthly father. 

Take Mary to be your only wife

You’ll be blessed with a heavenly star.

To see King Jesus will be your joy

In a manger filled with hay.

Repeat chorus 2xs

Tag  Glory, glory, glory, to the newborn king.

Reader 1:       Mary was engaged to marry Joseph.  But before they married, Mary learned that she was pregnant with a child by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Mary’s husband, Joseph was a good man.  He did not want to bring shame to Mary before the people.  So he planned to divorce her secretly. 

Mary turns away from Joseph and has her back to the audience. She slowly walks back stage.  The choir sings “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”  Joseph goes to center stage.  He is confused, hurt, and angry.  He sits down and falls asleep. 

As the choir begins to sing “Go Tell it,” Joseph’s Angel comes on stage wakes him up and talks to Joseph.  At verse 3, the angel leaves.  Mary comes on stage.  Joseph goes to Mary, takes her hand and helps her off the stage.

5.  Go! Tell It on the Mountain 

 (chorus) Go, tell it on the mountain,

Over the hills and everywhere;

Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

1.     While Joseph tossed in anger,

 An Angel came to earth,

The Angel came to tell him

Of our great Savior’s birth.

2.     The Heavenly One told Joseph,

“Take Mary as your wife.

She’ll be the Savior’s mother.

He’ll live a holy life.”

3.     So he obeyed the angel

The humble Christ was born

And brought us God’s salvation

That blessed Christmas morn.


Reader 3:  And Joseph did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream.  He married Mary.

(Joseph puts his arm around Mary.  Mary and Joseph walk off the stage. Close curtain or the stage should be empty.)

Reader 2:    At that time Augustus Caesar sent out an order to all people.  The order said that all people must write their name in a book.  All people traveled to their own towns to be registered.  So Joseph went to Bethlehem in Judea.  Joseph went with Mary.  While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have the baby.

 The choir sings, “O, Little Town of Bethlehem.”

6.  O Little Town of Bethlehem 

O little town of Bethlehem—

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting light;

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, And gathered all above.

While mortal sleep the angels keep

Their watch of wondering love.

O Morning Stars together proclaim the Holy birth

And praises sing to God the king and peace to men on earth!

(Back to first verse.  Audience is invited to sing with them.)

As the choir sings, shepherds should move to the front floor area.  At verse three, open the curtains. Mary and Joseph should be center stage with the baby in Mary’s arms.  There should be no angels or shepherds on stage at this time.

Reader 4:  That night, Mary gave birth to her first son, Jesus. 

Choir sings “Mary had a Baby.”

7.  Mary Had a Baby

Mary had a baby.  Yes, Lord. 

Mary had a baby. Yes, my Lord;

Mary had a baby, Yes, Lord!

The people keep a comin’ and the train done gone.

1. What did she name him?  Yes, Lord.

What did she name?  Yes my lord;

What did she name him, Yes, Lord.

The people keep a comin’ and the train done gone.

2.      She named Him King Jesus, Yes, Lord!

She named him King Jesus, Yes, my Lord.

Wonderful Couns’lor. Yes, Lord.

The people keep a comin’ and the train done gone.

3.      Where did she lay him?  Yes Lord!

Laid Him in a manger?  Yes, my Lord!

Wrapped Him in swaddlin’, Yes, Lord!

The people keep a comin’ and the train done gone

Reader 5:       Some shepherds were in the fields watching their sheep.

Reader 6:       An angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds and said,

Reader 7:       “Don’t be afraid.”

Angels walk up.  They should point the shepherds to Mary and Joseph and the baby. 

Choir sings,“Rise Up Shepherds and Follow.”

8.  Rise Up, Shepherd and Follow

There’s a star in the east on Christmas morn,

Rise up, shepherd and follow.

It will lead to the place where the Savior’s born,

Rise up, shepherd and follow.

Leave your sheep and leave your rams,

Rise up, shepherd and follow.

Leave your flocks and leave your lambs.

Rise up, shepherd and follow.

If you take good heed to the angel’s words

Rise up, shepherd and follow.

You’ll forget your flocks; you’ll forget your herds;

Rise up, shepherd, and follow.

Follow, follow, Rise up, shepherd and follow.

Follow the star of Bethlehem. Rise up, shepherd and follow.

Rise up, shepherd and follow. Rise up, shepherd and follow.

 As soon as the song ends, the shepherds walk to the center stage on the floor and bow, if they can.  One or two shepherds should go on stage and bow before the manger. 

Angels should move on to the stage.  As the music begins for “Behold that Star,”  the wise men begin to move from the back.  They come on stage and kneel on the floor before the baby.

9. Behold that Star


Behold, that star

Behold, that star up yonder,

Behold, that star

This the star of Bethlehem.

There was no room found in the inn.

This the star of Bethlehem.

For Him who was born free from sin,

This the star of Bethlehem.


The Wise men came from the East

This the star of Bethlehem.

To worship, Him, the Prince of Peace

This the star of Bethlehem.


(tag)  This the star of Bethlehem.

Choir sings, “Silent Night” as speakers 1, 3 and 4 move to the front of the stage on the floor.  Then speaker 1 goes and gets speaker 2 and helps him to come onto the front of the stage.  Speaker 2 bows at the manger.  Then all the other speakers come on the stage and bow with him.

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night, All is calm all is bright.

Round yon virgin, mother and Child!

Holy infant so tender and mild. 

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly, heavenly peace

Silent night Holy night

Son of God, love’s pure light

Radiant beams from Thy holy face

With the dawn of redeem grace

Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Choir and audience sings “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  Everyone, except Mary, stands and sings with the choir and audience.

O Come, All Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!

Come and behold him, born the King of Angels!

O come, let us adore Him, (3xs) Christ, the Lord.

Sing, Choirs of Angels, Sing in exultation.

Sing, all ye hosts of heav’n above.

Glory to God all glory in the highest,

O come, let us adore Him, (3xs) Christ, the Lord!

Yea, Lord, We greet Thee, born this happy morning, Jesus to Thee be all glory given.

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing,

O come, let us adore Him, (3xs) Christ the Lord.


a couple of years ago, The Special Gathering Choir of Indian River sang at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Indialantic, Florida.  The Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is to evangelize and disciple people who are developmentally disabled.  However, we realize there are many misconceptions about our population; therefore, our ministry to the Church is to help educate them to the spiritual needs of people who are mentally challenged.

After the choir sang their two selections, they received a resounding, standing ovation.  They exited the church, all smiles and returned across the river to Melbourne Special Gathering to catch their rides home.  I stayed for the entire service.  After the benediction, the pastor, Rev. Elmer Floyd, graciously asked me to stand at the door of the church and receive the members as they left the sanctuary.  That is an honor that is sometimes given to us by hosting churches.

The response of the congregations is always extremely emotional and overwhelming.  Almost everyone who spoke to me had tears brimming their eyelids.  Old hardened housewives, who long ago quit hoping for a better day, took my hand and were speeching, barely whispering, “Thank you.”  Tough, tall young men in their twenties, with their tattooed arms and fingers, gripped my arms tightly, looking directly into my eyes and mumbled in a gravelly, shame-faced voice, “They touched me.” 

Long ago we learned to understand but underestimate the emotional effect the choir have on audiences.  Because emotions are temporary vapors that are whisked away in the wind.  Yet, there are always several people that are deeply effected by the choir.  Not on the emotional level but in the inner recesses of their spirit, God does a miracle.   One family who spoke to me was touched deeply, beyond the emotions.  Their hearts were bent and perhaps healed a bit by seeing the choir’s ministry.

It was a grandfather and grandmother.  The husband spoke for both of them.  “Our granddaughter was born with Down’s Syndrome,”  he said, not resisting the tears that slowed worned their way down his wrinkled cheeks.  “What a comfort to see what God can do with a person who is mentally challenged and willing to be used by the Lord.  The choir gave us such hope that our granddaughter can we used by God.”  His tone softened,  “Our granddaughter is greatly loved.”

My thoughts raced back about 18 years.  The choir I was directing was singing for a women’s conference.  After the performance, I asked the choir to line up in the front of the auditorium and pray for the women there.  After a member of the choir had prayed for her, Betty came over and hugged me tightly.  Betty and I were friends.  I knew she had a young son who is mentally challenged.  In my arms, she wept deeply. 

Wiping the tears away, she explained, “My great sorry for my son was that I thought God could never use Tony in ministry.  Now, I know that God can use him even with his developmental disabilities.”  Again, she cried.  This time I wept with her. 

A couple of years later, Tony, her son, became a part of Special Gathering.  About a year ago, Tony joined the choir.  Yesterday, this was the song he sang,

Jesus, You alone are worthy,

And I lift my voice to you.

Jesus, You alone are worthy.

I will worship none but you.

 While emotions are an important part of our human make-up, they can’t always be trusted.  However, God’s economy is amazingly green.  He can be trusted to turn what some people consider unusable into life-changing treasures. 

Has God used someone that you thought was unusable in your life?  How have your members ministered to you?

One of my greatest pleasures in life is singing.  My mother came from a singing family.  She, her sisters and brothers sang in harmony all of their lives.  Mother was able to sing a wide range of notes.  She could harmonize in high tenor; but she had been the alto in her family’s singfests.  Some of my fondest memories are when we would sing while washing dishes.  I wasn’t good at carrying the melody when she switched into alto; and that frustrated her.   But I loved singing with her anyway.

My children used to complain that I had a song for every occasion.  If I didn’t know a song that fit the situation, I would make one up or change words to a familiar tune.  By the time my son was a teenage, he had surmised that I always sing when I’m angry, sad or confused.

As I look around Special Gathering, I find that singing within our population doesn’t always mean quality.  Leslie was by far the best choir member I’ve had in many years.  However, the quality of her voice was not great.  She had five or six notes that she could hit perfectly.  Because she had never learned to access her “head voice” which allows you to sing the higher notes on the scales, her range was limited.  Yet, she made up for it with grit, hard work memorizing and staying focused whenever we were singing, either at practice or during a performance.  After the initial training, I don’t ever remember having to say, “Leslie, watch me.”

Yet, Leslie brought what I call the charm factor to the choir.  Her face shined whenever we sang.  She would tilt her head slightly as though she could focus more clearly with her ears at different levels and she would smile.  Hearts of people in the audience would melt seeing the love of the Lord in her face and eyes.

Brenda was the first choir member who taught me the value of attitude and relationship in our singing.  Frankly, she was not a good singer.  In fact, her voice was pretty miserable.  However, her smile was priceless.  Whenever our choir sang, I would put her in front of me trying to shield the audience from her vocal tones.  Then I realized that everyone was coming to her and telling her how much she had blessed them.  I would smile and think about her pitiful singing.  Finally, I realized that her relationship with the Lord was what was blessing the people, not her ability to sing with perfect pitch.

I am constantly working to “build a choir.”  However, it is our members’ relationship with Jesus that blesses people, not their perfect pitch.  Their relationship with Him has taught me the importance of seeking God, not perfection.  When do you think that God is more pleased with us, when we have a bad attitude but perform perfectly, crossing every T and dotting every I? Or when we function out of love and adoration for Him and perform to the best of our ability?

Just because our members are mentally challenged does not mean that they are not able to manipulate.  There was times that our members are able to be even more cunning than any person with a genius IQ.  Therefore, a teacher or pastor whose mission is to help disciple people who are developmentally disabled needs to try to decipher if a person is trying to pull a fast maneuver.  We have two choices.  1)  We can give a member the benefit of the doubt; or 2) we can call his bluff.

Several months ago, I was faced with an interesting situation in which a faithful member got an awful attitude because a close friend had hurt her feelings.  I was puzzled and confused about the behavior that she exhibited.  When it came time for her to help with a program we were presenting, she was not able to lose herself from those haunting and negative feelings. 

It was an important part that she was to play and the rest of the performers needed her.  I was not sure that others could do the performance without her.  Even though it seemed detrimental to the program that we were to present, it was as though she fully understood the awful situation her bad mood had put us all in and she was daring me to discipline her. 

I had time to pray about the situation, as we prepared for the performance.  I simply asked God to help me make the right decisions at the right time.  As we approached the stage for their time to present the Gospel message, I realized that her attitude had not changed.  Quickly, I knew that I must make a decision. 

I believed that it was more important to her personal growth to pull her out of the presentation than to allow her to participate in her present state of mind.  You could say that I chose to “call her bluff.”  I asked her to sit down and not be a part of the presentation.  At first, the other presenters were so shocked that I would take that stand that they were visibly moved and questioned me with their eyes.  They knew that by pulling her from the presentation, they were all in a more vulnerable spot.  However, they quickly recovered.  The presenters  not only finished their performance but filled in for her with amazing grace. 

After the dust had settled and I was alone to contemplate what had happened, the Lord spoke to my heart.  “Why do you constantly try to depend on someone other than me?”  Wow!  Where did this come from?  Was God calling my bluff?  It was true. I had come to depend on this  talented, young woman to bring success when we made presentations.  I felt the Lord was saying that I must continue to depend on Him not people who are gifted. 

More often than I want to admit, I slip into an attitude of depending of people, rather than God.  Most of the time, God gives me the benefit of the doubt.  That day He decided to “call my bluff.”  By pulling the person on whom I was depending, I had to depend fully on Him.  Of course, the Lord again proved that He is more faithful than I could ever hope to be.

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