mental retardation


Robert Lewis StevensonRobert Lewis Stevenson expressed an important sentiment regarding friendship.  He said, “So long as we love, we serve.  No man is useless while he is a friend.”

Jesus, however, lifted friendship to a new and holy level when he spoke to his disciple before they moved quickly to the Garden of Gethsemane.  This was during a time of great joy on the part of the disciples.  Jesus’s Messianic processional into Jerusalem had occurred only four days before.  Yet, Jesus knew that within 24 hours he would die one of the most cruel deaths known to mankind.

last supperDuring the passover supper, Jesus spoke.  He said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”  (John 15:13 and 15).  While the world values and understands the importance of friendship, Jesus put it into a different category.  He is our friends.  We are the friends of God.  We have access to the most confidential communications that develop within the Godhead.  At this point in time, friendship became a holy act of God’s love extending into the world.

In addition, because we are friends with God, his love through us can embrace every individual.  Therefore, we can be lavish with our friendships.

Studies and common sense tell us there are three levels of friendship.  They are casual, close and committed.  Casual friends are people with whom we have only occasional contact. Nevertheless, there are common interests.  We are probably concerned about each others’ personal problems.  Yet, a lack of contact determines that there is little that we can do for each other or about our daily missteps or misgivings.

The second level is close.  With these folks, there is regular contact.  We are willing to be vulnerable, though there may be little opportunity to test that vulnerability.  There is some shared knowledge of abilities and character qualities.  You share interest with a close friend.  In addition, there is sensitivity to the likes, dislikes and weaknesses of each other.

In a committed friendship, the two friends enlist each other to devoting quality time.  There is mutual value in this nonverbal contract.  While the qualities of a close friendship exists within a committed relationship, there is also freedom to correct flaws.  Each person experiences the joys and risks of transparency.  For a committed friendship, there is mutual enrollment at this level of friendship.

friendsWithin the mentally challenged community, there is often a lack of intellectual ability to distinguish between a casual friendship and a committed friendship.  Relationship boundaries are blurred.  I don’t allow my members to call me “Mama” or “Grandma.”  These titles denote a closeness that I can never achieve in their lives.  I’m not their parent and I never will be.

When a man or women within our cloistered community attends five or six days of retreat or camp, they almost always will be paired with a volunteer whose intellectual abilities falls within the “normal” range.  The volunteer’s main task during the week is to become friends with the person who is mentally challenged.

It becomes an important week within the life of both the volunteer and the person who is intellectually disabled–but it is not a time in which a close or committed friendship can be developed.  After a week of “hanging together,” sleeping in the same cabin and sharing mealtime, there is a bond that issues into a friendship but unless it is taken to the next level, it can never progress beyond the boundaries of a casual friendship.  This does not mean that the volunteer cannot feel a sense of value that will change his life forever.

It is much like a short-term missionary experience.  We vacation in another country, working hard while experiencing the joy and sorrow of a people for a week or two.  Then we go home, leaving the consequences, the commitment and hard day-to-day endeavors to the people who live in the country where we visited.

As we approach Camp and Retreat Agape that is held at the end of May, there is an anticipation of the work that lays ahead.  There is also knowledge that lives will be changed.  We see our members leaving camp who have renewed their vows to the Lord through the worship experiences.  We ask our volunteers to hang out with our members,though no one is assigned to any particular person.  Therefore, the friendships which develop and deepen are typically within the membership.  Our members “hang loose” with each other and talk for hours.  They fish and share the joys of catching the big one.  They do things that may be off-limits to them most of the year.  They drive go-carts and go on boat rides, play pool, work on crafts and traverse the water slides.

Friendship is a delicate ballet of hard work, commitment and time.  Within the confines of the Church body, friendship should not be taken lightly because of Jesus’ injunction to us.  “You are no longer servants.  You are my friends.”

cabinets in garageToday I finished the final payment for a set of storage cabinets that I asked All Around Handyman and Lawn Service to do for me.  They are beautiful enough to have in my home; but they are in the garage.  When Matt began the work, I wasn’t familiar with his work; and I wrote out the first partial-payment check with a bit of concern.

Sure he had given me a great price and I really needed some cabinets or “something” to hide all the things I work with in Special Gathering, which a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  My husband and I had put together scraps and parts from old lumber to make his garage serviceable.  But as the years, as his health failed, my Special Gathering ministry items slowly took over parts of the shelving.

Our gardening necessities were hanging here and yonder.  He had more saws and sanders and gizmos than I dare to list.  There was a need for some kind of order.

When my husband died almost two years ago, I quickly cleared out all his clothes, medical equipment.  The children and grandchildren sorted through his professional items and took the aerospace and NASA momentos that they wanted.  I cleaned out his office.  But the garage…

That was the place where his heart lay.  For more than thirty years, he worked on an invention that he believed would change the world.  He died before his dream was realized.  I never wanted to romanticize his work but I also found that I could not clear it away.  I could not throw out the scraps and books that contained his life’s dream.  Until January.

With the new year, I knew it was time to set out on a one-year project to get the garage organized and cleaned out.  After working about a month, I realized that I must have a better system. I called Matt of All Around Handyman and Lawn.  He came and gave me a reasonable estimate for servicable and workable garage cabinets.

He took three days to complete the first phase of the project.  I watched with amazement at the skill, care and joy with which he worked.  He is a craftsman.  On Wednesday, just as he had promised, he completed the job.  I had no concerns when I wrote him the final payment.

Matt is a Christian man who started a risky adventure this year with his new business.  I believe that his abilities and painstaking focus will make his successful. I feel that even though I’ve paid him for doing the work, I am the one who has received the greatest blessing.

Whether we realize it or not, each day we can make a partial payment for godly blessing in the lives of the people that we encounter.   That grumpy cashier may need prayer.  My friend, Maria, always leans over the counter of a rude cashier or salesperson and whispers, “I know you are having a bad day.  I’m going to pray for you.”  She has even been known to slip an extra $10 into his hand if she believes that God is telling her to do it.  This wouldn’t be extraordinary except Maria is as poor as a stray cat.  There are times that she must stretch her meager pay check to buy groceries for a day, wondering what she will eat the rest of the week.

The other day I received a card from Betty, a member of Special Gathering.  It was a lovely Hallmark thank you card.  She carefully printed in large irregular letters, “I want you to know I love you very much.”  From another woman, this would be a welcomed ditty.  From Betty, it was a heart-felt and unusual expression of love.  I’ve known her for 25 years, but I’ve never known Betty to speak of any sentimentality.  I felt God was saying to me, “This is partial payment for the hours you’ve spent with her teaching, guiding and loving.”  I wept because of the love that she had given to me in that note.

As I looked at the finished cabinets today, I felt mixed emotions.  The Lord and Matt had given me a partial payment of godly blessing.  I loved the cabinet and I enjoyed filling them with all my Special Gathering stuff.  But there was a tinge of regret that my husband was never able to have this when it was his garage.  Then, I quickly realized that in a strange way, Matt’s wonderful cabinets were as much for Frank as for me.

As I closed the door to the garage tonight, I asked the Lord to thank Frank for this gift–partial payment from him to me given with love.

looking at her watchShe is never early.  Always late.  He cannot speak without using offensive or vulgar expressions.  “I’M marching to a different drummer” is her excuse for breaking all the rules and acting selfishly.  He only seems interested in hurting others, if he doesn’t get his way.

I’ve deliberately left out names.  Because we all can fit into any of those statements but for the mercy and work of God in our hearts.  In fact, even though we have come to Lord and asked for his saving grace, one of the greatest tricks of our enemy is to erase from our memory the place where we dwelt before God’s forgiveness entered our hearts and lives.

sitting in a boxWe’ve been told by the Lord, “Do this to remember me.”  Often to the Church, Jesus is saying, “Remember me so you can be reminded of the point where you started.  Remember where you were; and you still are a sinner.  You need a Savior.”

My heart desires to reach out and slap some folks I know.  They aren’t following the Lord up to my standards.  Or they are giving to the point of hurting the people they want to bless.  Their lives shout, “I need a Savior.”  Yet, their eyes are blind to their own needs.  They can see the fault of everyone around them.  Nevertheless, they cannot see their own needs and sins.

Others are like me.  We are born-again but we still walk through life succumbing to sinful desires.  Or there are those of us who have become self-righteous looking through our salvation binoculars at everyone who does not know the Lord as their Savior.  Carnal or baby Christians are an anathema to us.  We cannot understand why they can’t get their lives together.

We understand God’s amazing grace in our lives but we want to customize the way God’s deals with others according to our plan and our dictates.  We have forgotten our starting point.  We’ve become self-righteous to the core.

crossroadsPaul instructed the church to never forget from where we came.  The Lord wants us to lead by example; not proclamation. Each year, Special Gathering ministry takes about 175 people who are intellectually disabled on a four-day retreat experience.  In my first year at Camp Agape, one of the hardest things for me to learn as a new staff person was the principle of “leading by example.”  I wanted to tell everyone what to do and where to do it.

The problem is that telling is much easier than leading by example.  Nevertheless, God has given us an airtight way to overturn our self-righteous ways.  “Remember where we came from.”

Image Crossroads (C) by www.martin-liebermann.de“.

rememberPerhaps one of the greatest virtues and joys of a Christian is remembering.  We often overlook the command that Jesus gave to us during the Lord’s Supper.  He said, “Do this so you will remember me.”

remember meTime and time again in the Old and New Testaments we are instructed to remember.  Many of the emotional and mental hardships we experience in our daily spiritual walk stem from neglecting this discipline.  Ignored or passed over without much thought or meditation, we stumble day after day because we forget the grace, mercy and promises of God.

From the beginning, when Eve took the first bite of that forbidden fruit, a large part of her problem was not remembering.  She had forgotten the promise and instruction of God.  She didn’t completely remember what God had told her and Adam about eating the fruit.

Again and again as the people of God fail to live for him, it is too often a remembering problem.  Deliberate sin is not as much a concern for most of us as neglecting the small things.

clean the garageAs my big project for 2013, I’ve taken on the task of cleaning out the garage. That messy cavern holds years of work, hopes and dreams of my late husband.  It was his shop, his hideout and his sanctuary.  As I scrub, paint, sort and toss, I remember that so much of his life revolved around a great dream of changing the world through a machine that produced unlimited energy.  He didn’t accomplish his dream; but he never forgot it.

I remember that I believed in that dream because I believed in him.

One of the virtues I’ve observed within the mentally challenged community is their ability to grasp and hold tight to the simple, good things of God.  They remember their first communion.  They remember to prepare their offering envelop for Sunday morning.  They remember a small gesture of love and forgiveness.  They remember…

The Lord has a plan (a dream) for my life and your life.  We can believe in that marvelous dream when we remember and trust in Him.

hillary-clinton-secretary-of-stateDuring the morning, I performed some mindless cleaning and straightening of a supply closet.  Also, I listened to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she testified before the Senate.  Later, in the afternoon, I met in a strategy meeting with a co-worker and friend regarding changes that need to take place in our ministry.

In both incidences, I came away fascinated with the levels of communication that we all demonstrate.  Secretary Clinton shyly accepted the compliments of the Senators and Congressmen.  She choked with emotion as she recalled meeting the plane with the President to bring home the dead bodies of the four men murdered on 9/11/2012.  She angrily beat the table with her fists in response to a question poised by a Republican Senator.

Later, at our strategy meeting, some of the same emotions surfaced.  While emotions are an important part of our personalities, I wonder how often these necessary power-charged expressions become the villain.  Emotions often keep us from saying the things we mean.  Even worse emotions hinder our being able to communicate the things which need to be said.

Wedged between these events, I’d attended a Webinar explaining the appeals process in the State of Florida.  As I listened to three lawyers explain how to prepare and present a case in an appeals hearing, the application demonstrated by Mrs. Clinton and the Senators was shockingly evident.

honor guardMrs. Clinton was prepared for every question.  She accepted responsibility while denying all knowledge or the ability to make adjustments which could have saved the lives of our Ambassador and the other three men.  The Senators did not understand the events as clearly as she.  They were scattered and disjointed.  However, neither the Senators nor Mrs. Clinton presented the kind of information needed by the American public regarding the Benghazi murders.

Mrs. Clinton was pleasantly evasive.  The Democrats were obliging and congratulatory, more focused on letting people know how much they loved and appreciated the Secretary of State than participating in the Republican “witch hunt.”   Almost all Republican Senators showed controlled anger and a need to get their individual point across.

BenghaziThere was no request for a narrative regarding the timeline of the events.  The information needed and wanted by the US public was not presented.  I could sit, listening and understand all the mistakes made by these women and men as I took mental notes during the Webinar on the appeals process.

However, after the Webinar was over and I merged into a strategy meeting, I repeated all the mistakes I’d earlier recognized in others.  Setting aside my mind, I let my emotions rule the decision and processing of future needs.  I spoke emotionally, not logically.

Saying what we mean is much harder than we often recognize.  It takes discipline.  There must be preparation.  However, most of all, we must say what we mean–not what we feel.

In writing to the Romans, Paul was emotionally involved and those emotions are evident throughout his presentation. However, he did not allow his emotions over rule his presenting to the Roman church and to us a concise and valuable summary of God’s salvation plan.  He does not deviate from the primary message.  We are saved by God’s grace and only by his grace.  Our works must be an outgrowth of our love for the Lord, demonstrating the mercy and grace of our Father.

Because the mentally challenged community is not able to communicate at a mature level, it often becomes our responsibility to give voice to their needs and hurts.  It is important that we not only understand our members.  We must also make advocate for them in a prayerful and concise way, saying what we mean not what we feel.

7talkingTwo of my good friends are also members of Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  They are going through extremely difficult times. Last night I spent a good deal of time with them.  It was a fun outing; but my purpose was to extend our friendship.  Also, I hoped that they’d be willing to share a brief glimpse with me into their pain.

It happened.  Several off-handed remarks were passed along by both young women.  Mentally, I paused for a few minutes and took note.  I wasn’t able to be alone with one of the women. But after everyone had been taken home; and we were riding alone in the car,  the other one shared openly.

sharingI asked a question, reminding my friend, Lyleth, of the remark she had made.  Lyleth jumped in feet first and shared the painful poison residing in her heart.  I reminded her of God’s promises.  She clinched her lips and shook her head.  Her silence screamed resistance.

C. S. Lewis wrote,  “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962, pg 93.)  Explaining God’s love to a person who is mentally challenged is often less complicated than trying to penetrate the heart of a smarty-pajamas who has life figured out.  However, the kind of deep, penetrating grief that these women are experiencing is never easy to explain in logical or Biblical terms.

megaphoneYet, the hardship of pain often leaves us mute and disturbed because of our own inadequacy to understand or embrace deep hurts of the past or present.  Watching the anguish of my friend as she faces what will be the death of all she truly loves, my heart was wrenched because of my inability to reach out and heal.

After I dropped her off, I went Wal-Mart even though it was after 10PM.  I needed to pace and debrief my spirit.  I walked for an hour pushing my cart  in the security of the lighted building, praying and asking God to release my friends from the uncertainly and pain that the future holds for them.

I came home still uneasy, hurting for my friends whose pain will only increase in the months ahead.  However, during the night, God did a wonderful miracle in me.  I was able to release them into His care.  He is the only one who can heal and bring true growth.  His megaphone not only alerts us; but the pain He announces has a wonderful way of teaching, healing and releasing.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Thought you might like to see a few of the stats over which we bloggers obcess.  Here’s an excerpt:

Crunchy numbers

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 33,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 8 Film Festivals

In 2012, there were 243 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 1,600 posts. There were 370pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 21 MB. That’s about a picture per day.

The busiest day of the year was November 27th with213 views. The most popular post that day was The Mystery of Prayer.

Click here to see the complete report.

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