mental retardation


airportToday, I’m headed home from a vacation that seemed long when I planned it; but then it was over more quickly than I could have imagined.  Other family will arrive soon and I’ll need to work around their vacation schedule.  I’ve been in Chattanooga, a wonderful place, especially since my granddaughter is here. But I’m happy to be going home.

A good friend and member of Special Gathering often went with her family on cruises.  She fretted and squirmed every time she left.  “Please pray for me!” she’d plead from the moment the cruise was planned.  “I’m going on a cruise to the Bahama’s and I really need your prayer.”

bridge in ChattanoogaI would laugh at her anxiety.  “Pray for you?  You need to pray for us.  We’re staying here, working and planning and paying bills.  You’ve going to paradise.”

Then we would laugh at her situation and she would be calm for a few days.

Most of us have anxious moments when we leave the safely of our home grounds.  Routines become important whether we are small children or decades past the age of accountability.  My observations have been that between 18 and 38 men and woman are excited about wandering.  Then, a creepy feeling seeps into our bones that screams, “Wait! You are interrupting my life with this misadventure.”

I’m often fascinated by people who leave house and home after the age of 60 to roam to unknown places.  Can you imagine how difficult it was for Abraham to obey God who told him to leave and travel to an unknown place out yonder…some where?

earthAs a child, I thought it was odd that people would ask for extra prayer when they traveled.  Didn’t God go with them?  Isn’t Christ omnipresent?  I felt that people were saying that they believed that God lived only in their neighborhood and He only attended their church.  Later, I came to understand that travel sometimes means accidents and uncertainty.

Emmanuel may be the main message of Christ’s birth.  God is with us.  Whether I’m sitting by a fire in Chattanooga or watching the winter waves on the Space Coast of Florida.  He is with Natalie in Spain.  Dave and Andy didn’t leave God when they went to share the gospel in China.  Jesus has arrived and He is with me.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!  Christ is born.  Emmanuel!

happy at dawnThere are few times that I don’t feel light-hearted and joyful.  My brother says that it’s only because I’m stupid.  I think it’s because God has given me the ability to see beyond present pain and embrace the joy of a new day.

Don’t get me wrong.  I went through years of depression.  In fact, at a time when I knew that I was in big trouble, I consulted a good friend who was a therapist.  “You have what is called a ‘smiling depression,'” he told me, laughing.  Even though, I thought this was a contradiction in terms, I knew that he had struck a deep chord of reality in my soul.  My life was filled with methods to hide, camouflage and disguise my real emotions, especially anger.

He gave me a book to read, Happiness is a Choice authored by Frank Minirth, M.D. and Paul Meier, M.D.  I learned how to resolve the anger that was causing the depression and work toward allowing the Lord to control my emotions.

It is interesting to me that IQ doesn’t seem to matter regarding depression.  My husband’s IQ was off the charts; but from his childhood, he battled with depression almost every day of his life.  He died weeping.  Therefore, it’s easy to see how people who are intellectually disabled (ID) can easily fall into a state of sadness that leads to depression.

christmas-familyWe are told by the experts and our own experience that more people become depressed during holiday seasons than at any other times.  Where is my family?  Who cares for me?  What wrong with me that I don’t have the joy that others seem to have? are only a sampling of the questions that dance like sour grapes through our minds and thoughts.  There are more suicides committed during Christmas time than at any other time of the year.  We become angry and depressed.

Iraq Prison AbuseMuch of our anger comes from a lack of control.  People within the mentally challenged community control almost nothing in their lives.  They live with their parents or surrogate parental figures all their lives.  Depending on their personality–rather than their IQ–this can lead to depths of sadness that would be hard for anyone to express.  Couple this with the fact that the ID community has a limited vocabulary and a limited ability to express it; and you have a powder keg waiting to ignite into explosives depression.

Yet, God in his infinite wisdom gives us a new beginning with every sun rise.  Recognizing your sadness and anger are the first step.  The second is forgiveness.  When we forgive, I am not excusing the behavior.  I am simply releasing them from my judgment and turning them over to God.  After all, he is the one true and righteous judge.

No matter how difficult and painful yesterday was.  It is gone and we have the morning.  This morning.  Great, powerful and joyful things are about to happen.  Rejoice!


starsGlory to God in the Highest

Luke 2:6-16

Central Theme:  Christmas is a time for big changes.

Introduction–I have to admit that at Christmas I go a little crazy.  I save all year and spend all December.  I blame my parents.  They worked all year preparing for Christmas for us.  Sewing cooking and repairing, painting old bikes.  The majesty of God’s gift cannot be matched but I try every year.  READ Luke 2:6-16.

       I.     Pretend that you are a shepherd.

A. They were minding their business but God had planned a little surprise for them…before the foundations of the earth. (vs 8)

1.  What we can’t imagine is that God has exquisitely exciting surprises for our lives.

Christmas costumes 2.  Last year as I was fretting about the number of hours I spend working on costumes.  I said to the Lord, “No one’s life has ever been changed by a costume I’ve made.”  Within a few minutes,  a young woman who was a  neighbor stopped to say, “I never told you but you made a costume for me and it was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.  I’ve always loved you for that.” 

B.  We fear the glory of the Lord getting too close (vs. 9).

1.  Songwriter Michael Card’s speaks of the “friend that we most fear.”

a.  we hide our faces from him–he can see us.

b.  we hide our hearts from him–he can change us.

II.     God comes again and again to assure us of his goodwill for us (vs. 10-12)

A. He never comes in the expected ways/expected times.

1.  Remember the times God spoke to you–unexpected, unprepared.

2.  You prepare your heart in a quiet place–He speaks in the shower or sitting at a red light.natures wonder

              B. Angels filled the heavens the night he was born; but only a few shepherds saw it (vs. 13-14).

                  1.  Would Disney put on an expensive, extravagant light show for a few middle-class herdsmen?

                  2.  Would you pour out your life in a place where no one will see–on one will know?

III.     Whatever he does, His purpose is to entice us come to Jesus (vs 15).

A. However, Jesus is not what you expect.

                  1.  Wherever our executive director preaches, people say, “That sermon was one of the best I ever heard.  You know, you could what you do for real people.”    We often chuckle and ask, “Then why aren’t you rich and famous?”

2.  However, there is not a mentally challenged person in Duval, Indian River or Brevard or Volusia County who doesn’t know him and all of them love him.

Conclusion–Going crazy at Christmas should be expected.  After all, God went a bit crazy with joy at the birth of Jesus.  Several angelic appearances.  An old couple unexpectedly has a baby they name John.  A host of angels.  A new star.  Yet, not embracing the Living Lord any time is a horror.

angel-shepherdsThat night, some shepherds were in the fields nearby watching their sheep. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them. The glory of the Lord was shining around them, and they became very frightened. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people. Today your Savior was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord. This is how you will know him: You will find a baby wrapped in pieces of cloth and lying in a feeding box.”

Then a very large group of angels from heaven joined the first angel, praising God and saying:

“Give glory to God in heaven,
and on earth let there be peace among the people who please God” (Luke 2:8-14).

storm cloudAs often as we quote these amazing promises, the signs of our times proclaim that “there is no peace on earth.”  This year, we must bow our head in wonder at the gross event that happened in the elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut on December 14.  While others are calling for gun control and more security in schools, parents of children who experience  psychotic episodes are pleading that our nation will begin real reform in our mental health system regarding children and young adults who are prone to violent behavior.

Ministers and pastors within the disability community are filling Internet blogs and social networks with information and warnings that our health care system regarding psychotic young men is not broken but non-existent.

President ObamaI am not an expert in this area.  In fact, in my ministry, our members who are mentally challenged, are remarkably healthy in the area of mental health considering the rejection and ill-treatment they receive on an almost daily basis.  Therefore, I do not speak as one who lives with the effects or desires to bring a measure of peace and health to this population.  Yet, I do have a small voice and there is great need to speak.

The concern for many in the area of mental illness is that nationalized health care will not mean better care but less care.  History speaks a prophetic work of more neglect as the government takes more and more power in the area of public health.  As other populations have benefited, this segment of our nation has been overlooked more and more.  This must not be.  It has become clear that the lives and well-being of our most vulnerable populations are at risk.

Our prayers are extended to the families of the young ones who were killed.  We also extended our prayers to the parents and children–who like this young shooter–suffer every day the torment and cruel effects of mental illness and psychotic behavior.

We pray that the peace of God will reign in the hearts and minds of all who seek the Lord.

live pageantHow do you tell the Christmas story to a group of people who are intellectually disabled?  Of course, this is a dilemma no matter where your ministry lies.  If you are a parent, can you make the story fresh to your growing brood?  If you preach to a congregation of 10,000, what is the method you will use to keep the message relevant while remain true to the gospel message? Each year I try to find a different way to share the story of God’s love incarnated into a man to the programs I shepherd at The Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.

This year, I told the story using members who are least  physically able to respond as the characters.  I joked and laughed with them, sharing as humorously as possible the in’s and out’s of the Biblical account.  Because I work with three different programs at Special Gathering, each reenactment had different characters and each one was vastly different because of the diverse personalities that made up the “casts.”

angelIn each program, there was one person whose personality shined through when selected.  I chose the people at random asking them to participate as their character was introduced.  Mary was a young woman who is extremely low functioning in one of our enactments.  Everyone attending applauded when I selected her. Her smile told the story of her delight and her smile carried the action through until the end.

The first time we had our presentation, there was a small group of 17 people.  Therefore, we had one angel who came to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.  This person was animated and funny.  His flair for the dramatic was obvious.  After he had spoken to Mary, I said, “Then the angel disappeared.”  He looked at me quizzically and shrugged his shoulders, acting as though I expected him to disappear.  “Can’t you even disappear?”  I asked.   He pretended to try to disappear.  “What kind of angel are you?”  I asked.  Again, he mischievously responded with a great deal of humor and delight.

Each time he “appeared” the audience laughed with pleasure at his antics and showmanship.  We played off each other and I took my cues from his facial expressions and movements.  We all laughed all through the actions because of his good humor.

At our largest program, there were more than 50 people from which to draw.  Mary was a higher functioning young woman She does not walk or speak.  We call her the “queen” because everyone loves her so much that we fight over who will serve her and push her wheelchair.

Charlie BrownThe surprise, however, was the man I chose to be Joseph.  This Joseph is an amazing actor.  He, too, is physically disabled.  He navigates with a walker.  Extreme palsy plagues the movements of his body, making them exaggerated with spasms and violent jerks.  Yet, in front of an audience, this Joseph came alive with expression and animation.  He was the attentive lover.  His visage stormed with disappointment and anger, when he heard about Mary’s pregnancy.  His face showed shock at the angel visitation; then his movements turned to extreme tenderness toward Mary.

I keep the story simple but embellishing it with the emotions that each character must have felt.  Laughter and silliness are the mark of the day.  Of course, I don’t make fun of the details of the story but, like this year, there is always someone who wants to play the clown and I play off of their ability to laugh at an awkward situation or a unique situation.

After we laugh and play, I turn the story to the seriousness of Jesus’ sacrifice.  The good news of God’s love for us is amplified by the birth and life of this humble god-man who was born in order that he might die for us.

Christmas presentsThere are few times of the year that present the Church with a greater degree of purchasing power than the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.  I’m actually not thinking about purchasing gifts or other stuff but purchasing a more valuable commodity–time.

Christmas clockDuring these weeks, as we abandon our vocations in order to celebrate the birth of Christ, time can seem to slow to a creep as we share these hours and days with family or friends.  We are often moving in a whirlwind of activity. It is because we are thrown with our closest associates and family that we can purchase time and make memories that will last all during our lives.

family at ChristmasTime may be the most valuable thing we can give the people who live with us and around us.  I’m not suggesting that the purchasing of gifts isn’t important; but it is the time we spend playing and laughing that will be cherished as precious memories.

During these precious days, we can speak about our Savior, sharing the love of God in many abstract and concrete ways.  As I sit in the dining room of my daughter, I hear a whispered, “I love you” shared from mother to child as she hands her daughter a towel and clean school clothes.  It’s an important day in school and the preteen woman/child needs the added assurance of love and acceptance.

Time has been purchased in a minute snatch for a little one.  A granddaughter for whom Jesus came in order to purchase her with his own blood.

Happy Birthday, JesusAt Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we have several activities to celebrate the birth of the Savior.  My favorite is our Happy Birthday, Jesus Party.  Our members bring food.  There is a birthday cake.  We feast, sing “Happy Birthday” and retell the story of the birth of God’s son.

It is the timeless recounting of God’s great love for mankind which captures my heart each year.  A young virgin girl visited by an angel.  A distressed and heart-broken young lover hears his fiancee’s obviously attempt to cover her unfaithfulness with a bazaar and fabricated lie.  Another visitation from an angel to Joseph and an improbable marriage.

stableThe ruling emperor who demands that the young couple travel to Bethlehem to pay their taxes as the due date for the Son of God approaches.  An inn overflowing with travelers and the holy child born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a cattle feeding trough.

Shepherds and an angelic chorus who heralds the birth of the Christ child.

Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers of our country, speaks of these amazing events as myths that cannot be taken seriously.  Others scoff while men and angels still praise the wisdom of our God who sent the Eternal King to earth in the form of a baby, born in a lowly estate.

« Previous PageNext Page »