Bible studyIn studying the life of Jesus, it is impossible to ignore miracles.  This quarter as we delve into the ministry of Jesus, the members of Special Gathering–a ministry within the intellectually disabled community– have asked lots of questions.  Their questions have led me to think again about miracles and how God uses them in the lives of the believer.

From my study of the Scripture, I found that miracles an interesting phenomena.  There are many misconceptions regarding miracles.  Here are a few of them.

Miracles are not magic.  Magic is not a miracle.  A miracle is when God breaks his own laws for a purpose.  Magic is an illusion or trick used to make it seem as though God’s laws have been broken.

Miracles happen instantaneously. 

A miracle is not healing.  Healings happen over a period of time.  Often people pray for healings, expecting a miracle and without understanding there is a difference.  If a healing happens instantly, then it is a miracle.  A healing may take a matter of minutes, hours or years.  Healing is a process.  Miracles are instantaneous activity from the hand of God.  This may seem like a matter of somatic.  However, it has caused a lot of people to doubt their healing because it did not happen instantly.

sunsetMost miracles involve inanimate objects. Even thought, miracles may happen within our bodies or outside our bodies.  On that rainy day when the car in front of me slammed on its brakes, I knew that there was no way our car could miss the stopping automobile.  I called out, “Jesus, help us” and slammed on my brakes.  Our car stopped instantaneously which is impossible.  My teenage son asked in wonder, “Mom, did you see what just happened?”  It was a miracle.

People don’t perform miracles.  God is the miracle-worker, not humans.  We may speak the word but the work is done by our Heavenly Father.

Miracles demonstrate God’s power and glory, not the faith of the individual. While the individual may have faith for a miracle, there is never a guarantee that God will perform a miracle.  The Lord has knowledge and understanding that is beyond our depth.  God may know that this supernatural act would harm the person and withhold the miracle.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list.  Yet, these are things which too often cause problems within the church regarding the miracle-working power of the Lord.

insecureOne of the most important things a person can provide for any person and especially for a man or woman who is developmentally disabled is a safe harbor–a place where they can securely share their thoughts, feelings and emotions.  Because of their intellectual development, many people within the mentally challenged community are also stunted in expressing their deep emotions.

There are only a few vehicles wherein this population would be expected or allowed to share their genuine thoughts.  All of us are heavily invested in teaching this population Scriptural principles.  Nonetheless, unless the precepts become practical applications in their lives, they will never learn them effectively.

Therefore, it is vital to give our members the space wherein they are allowed to share their thoughts.  How we do this is not easy.  Though the answers regarding a “how to” may seem simplistic.

  1. wrting on a boardYou must asked targeted and pointed questions.
  2. You must allow the members to share without interruption.
  3. You must allow the members time to answer.  When a question is asked, the leader of the group will often wait a few seconds and then answer the question themselves.  Waiting is hard but it reaps great dividends.
  4. You must be sure that the answer to your questions are not to complicated or a vehicle to showcase how smart the examiner is. In other words, don’t ask trick questions.
  5. You must give the members many successes with their answers.  If a person gives a totally off-the-rail answer, rephrase either your question or his/her answer until you find the answer with which he or she agrees.
  6. When asking an opinion question, be sure that every answer is given validity.  No opinion is incorrect.  An opinion is owned by the responder–not the asker.
  7. Give the answers extra validity by writing the answers down on a board of some type.
  8. It is most important that the answering party knows without a doubt that the questioner loves him or her.  It takes time and a great deal of patience to truly show that you love your members.

It takes extremely secure people to be able to express their opinions, thoughts and emotions.  We must understand that most people within the disability community are not secure.  Many of them know the full range of their deficiencies better than anyone else.  They must be given a safe harbor to insure that they are able to receive the healing that the Holy Spirit wants to give through your ministry.

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chatEven though saying what we mean is difficult, it may be harder to mean what we say.  When working with people with intellectually disabilities, I’ve found that our sub-culture is actually less prone to say things they do not mean than other segments of the population.  Yet, this is a continuing problem within our society.

A good friend of mine tells me that his wife was constantly threatening to “leave and never come back.”  He learned eventually that this was only an idle threat; but even in knowing this, it put him in continual trauma.  Finally, he realized that the sense of drama which produces trauma was her true purpose.  This is when he learned to ignore the threats.

However, threats about almost everything is a part of many people’s lives.  A parent may tell the Bible study teacher, “If that happens again, my daughter won’t be able to come back to your program.”  A member may inform you, “I’m never coming back…” if I don’t get my way.

talking to each otherOne of the great life lessons is to mean what we say.  Our members who are mentally challenged are concrete learners.  They must have truth in everything they do, especially in their relationship with the Lord. I’ve found that even some people who claim to have a vital relationship with the Lord have a little problem with mangling the truth.

Understand that I’m not speaking from the lofty tower of innocence.  I’ve caught myself more often than I care to remember torturing the truth in my speech.  When we mean what we say, there is a release that comes for everyone with whom you must interface.

“I will go” becomes a sealed covenant.  “I can’t do that” releases you and the other person from future expectations.  “If you do that, I must punish you” is a committment that should not be violated.  This week there was a conflict between two members.  One member began to curse at the other person.  I had to pull him out and ask for him to apologize.  He refused.

argueThis refusal meant that I had to separate him from the others.  Once we were in a more private area, I could reason with him.  Within a few minutes, he was able to understand what was needed and what should be done.  He agreed and could be moved back to his normal seat.  My greatest danger  in this situation was threatening something that I could not or would not do.  It was essential to mean what I said.

Only the Lord’s strength and wisdom can help us to follow through on what we say.  Asking for his help always allows us to become the people of integrity that who can be the example we need to be for our members.

This is a comment from gbear I received the other day regarding support coordinators and an article that was reprinted about the current stranglehold on lawsuit again APD:

Sad, why would the state hire individuals as support coordinators who don’t know how to write an appropriate support plan? Seems it would be more cost effective to hire individuals who know how to identify needs, Case Manage, access other funding resources if needed etc. vs having other staff tell them how to do their jobs. It seems that if the state would decrease the number of staff who do not perform or know how to do their jobs, salaries and benefits could be utilized for actual services to the community.

Here is my comment:

Yes. It does seem sad. In defense of support coordinators, many of them are very good. But to use the words of the best support coordinators I know about, “Too many of them are down right lousy.”

The state give support coordinators at least a week of intensive training. Prior to that, they must have at least 2 years working with people who are mentally challenged. After that they have annual audits. However, the state has lawyers and CPA’s who work with them. No support coordinator is trained to handle this kind of expertise.

With that said, it is the JOB of a support coordinator to at least learn how to write a successful support plan. If your aren’t getting the kind of services that you think you need, check with other parents who are in Tier 4. Find out who they are using to write their support plan. Ask them if they will seek training from that support coordinator. If they won’t compley with your wishes, then you be pro active. Either switch SC’s to one who will be effective for your child or ask to pay for training from the support coordinator who is effective and them you train your SC to do his/her job more effectively.

Often my neighbors and I talk about the varmints that live in our attics.  We have tons of squirrels.  Then there are the raccoons and opossum which ravage our insulation with their nests and filth.

Putting out traps and carrying the rascals away only means that new animals take their place.  They rip open our soffets and hide cleverly in the warmth of our homes.

“There is no way to get rid of them,” I told a new neighbor during a recent conversation, “not as long as the people who live behind me are feeding them.”  This well-meaning very elderly couple attract the animals like mosquitoes with their peanuts, bird seed and cat food.  This has been going on for decades.  Obviously, the animals are smart enough to not hide in the offending couple’s house because they continue to be the neighborhood feeding station.

Within the mentally challenged (developmentally delayed/mentally retarded) community, there is a wonderful axiom that every person should all learn to live by.   If someone is harassing a member of The Special Gathering, a ministry within this cloistered sub-culture, they are taught to “ignore them and walk away.”

Of course, our members don’t always follow their own advice.  People who have symptoms of autism seem especially sensitive to hurts and offenses.  Arnold paces frantically reciting the hurts of the day.  “He called me stupid.  She tries to speak to me.  He won’t speak to me…”

I remember taking Michelle in the post office one Saturday when I was checking my mail.  Michelle is a college student who exhibits autistic tendencies.  Her diagnosis bounces from Asperger’s Syndrone to High-functioning Autism.  She has an off-the-charts IQ.

We had gone our separate ways because she wanted to get some stamps.  Suddenly, she began to scream.  I raced to her, calling out her name.  “What is wrong?” I asked when I found her in the deserted post office hallway, sobbing between her screams of “No!  No!  No!”

Within a few minutes, she had calmed herself enough to tell me, “The machine is out of stamps!  I wanted to mail this letter to a mail order company and they are out of stamps.   How could the post office do this to me?”  She has never used that post office again and she emphatically states that she “never will.”

However, ignoring the offender is a tried and true Biblical principal.  We are all familiar with the scripture that says, “‘Vengence is mine. I will replay,’ says the Lord.”  Solomon said in Proverbs 20:22, “If someone does something against you, don’t try to punish him yourself.  Wait for the Lord!  In the end, he will make you the winner.”

Each of us needs to remember that feeding the varmints of hurt and disappointment in our lives will only reap more and bigger hurts.  Walking away and ignoring the hurts rather than feeding them will always result in a better life.

Are there areas in your life that you are “feeding” what should be ignored?  Have you seen mentally challenged people who have benefited from this godly principle?

With the blistering summer sun beating me through the window of my moving vehicle, I maneuvered my car from the Easter Seals building back to my home. I was changed–moved beyond words or tears. My mind and heart questioned, “How could anyone experience the depth of love and grace I had just witnessed through the members of Special Gathering and not have the indelible finger of God write on his spirit?”

Everything in me says that I should have remembered the afternoon almost 20 years before when God had forcefully spoken to my heart through a small booklet written by Corrie Ten Boon called Common Sense Not Needed. It is a wonder to me that anyone could forget an encounter with God as forceful as that one had been; yet the years had forced me to believe that I had missed my calling. I had packed my dream away so completely that I had even forgotten God had given it to me. It was about six months later when I remembered the incident that had taken place in my living room.

I had met Dante Corrie at the home of Jamie Buckingham. She was a simple Dutch spinster who seemed stern and aloof but filled with a love that was beyond explanation. She taught the next night on the outdoor patio of my friend’s home. There no breeze to stir the musky, Florida sub-tropical evening. The mosquitoes swarmed around, freely feasting on their prey. But no one moved. We had come to hear the teaching of a hero from World War II and we weren’t disappointed. Miss Ten Boon had spent years during the war in a concentration camp because she and her family hid, protected and provided shelter for the Jewish people in Holland.

A few weeks later I had purchased Miss Ten Boon’s book, Common Sense Not Needed. I chose that book because it was the only book Miss Ten Boon had authored that my local bookstore carried. I came home and settled down to read. I remember exactly where it happened. It was at the end of the page. I began to cry–no weep with uncontrolled emotion. I could not monitor the tears. My heart seemed broken. In her book, Miss Ten Boon had recounted the story of her ministry before the war. She had a community wide ministry to people who are mentally challenged or developmentally delayed. As I cried, God spoke to my heart and said, “This is what I have called you to do.”

Though not audible, His voice was as real to me as though my husband or father had spoken. I was excited to begin my calling. I didn’t know how to begin or what to do. But I was assured that God would lead the way. Over the years, however, I came to believe that it was impossible for me to do what God had said I would do.

I did not know anyone who was mentally challenged. I didn’t have a family member who was mentally challenged. There was no one in my church who was mentally disabled. But without doubt, I knew God had spoken to me.

For several years, I tried to make something happen. One Sunday evening a young mother came to church with her young son who was autistic. He seemed to be about ten years old. The church service made him restless, uneasy and noisy. I asked his mother if I could take him to the play ground so she could finish listening to the sermon. She let me take him for that service but she never returned to church. I had forgotten to get her name or address. I never saw them again.

Charlie was the member of another church we attended. He was a high-functioning adult who was a stock man in a drug store. Charlie came to church every time the doors opened. For about two years, Charlie came to our home for supper once a week and then attended a Bible study my husband taught.

In my mind, I could never figure out how to conduct a Bible study class with a man like Charlie and the young autistic child who had attended church once with his mother. I knew God had called me. My only conclusion was that I had missed my calling because I could not figure out a way to do it. Gradually, I had packed my dream away in a secure part of my heart, regretting that I had not been able to fulfill God’s plan for my life.

In a way, I deeply grateful that I didn’t remember the encounter with Dante Corrie’s ministry as I drove away from Special Gathering. I had stopped trying to make the dream God had planted in my heart come to pass years before I stumbled into Special Gathering. But my faithful Father had not forgotten and he had been preparing me for one of the greatest and most exciting adventures in my life.