Shellie is a good friend who was also a volunteer with Special Gathering for many years.  She taught a Bible class and helped to transport members.  Shellie influenced three of her college-aged children to become involved with Special Gathering which is a ministry to people who are intellectually disabled.  Each school break, during their college years, they came to help serve refreshments or substitute in a Bible classes.

Today we are having lunch.  For me, it’s a big deal.  I find that it’s easy to surround myself with the same people because their interests and value are the same as mine.  These folks are usually my current volunteers at Special Gathering.  I love them and appreciate them so much that I value simply hanging out.

Even though Shellie is a successful business woman, she took time to incorporate people from our community into her life.  When Shellie and her husband moved to a new church, she kept her commitment to SpG because she loved our members and she found value in the work.  She attended other church function, of course, but Sunday mornings remained reserved for discipling and evangelizing people who are developmentally disabled.

However, when her husband took an adult Bible study class, the pastors of the church felt it would be beneficial for Sherrie to attend the class with her husband.  He agreed and asked her to come and partner with him in this endeavor.  Reluctantly, she followed the wishes of her husband and the elders of their church.

Over the years, our contact has become less and less.  Driving by her house one afternoon, I stopped and left my card.  She called yesterday and we arranged to have lunch.  I find that one of the great struggle I have is who do I fit into my schedule?  No matter what your occupation or ministry, each of us face this question.  I admit that as a widow my options are better now.  I don’t have to cater to a husband’s needs or desires.  Yet, I still need to put into place a workable system for including people who are “just friends.”

Because the mentally challenged community is a cloistered sub-culture, it’s easy to find my life revolving in and around the needs of this community.  Yet, I know that businessmen and women become equally enveloped in the culture into which they fit.

Lunch today will be a two hour break from my “norm.”  We’ll talk about our children and minister to each other in wholesome, simple ways.  We’ll share recipes and giggle while looking at pictures of new babies.  Having a friend who calls and says, “I’ve missed you.  Can’t we have lunch” is a big deal in any person’s life.  Don’t ever miss out on the opportunity to stop your day and break for a two-hour lunch.  You will rediscover a part of the Body of Christ that can minister to you in holy and whole ways.

Who is someone that you need to reconnect with?  How long has it been since you spoke to that friend that you once saw on a daily basis?  How can you reconnect with them?

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Several years ago, my friend who is a wonderful Catholic and an elder at Special Gathering, gave me a book.  I’m not sure of the title or the author because as soon as I finished it, I lent the book to another friend and it hasn’t returned home.

The book was written by a Quaker pastor, living in a small, upper New York State community.  While my views of many things were radically different from his, I have no doubts that this pastor is a deeply, dedicated believer.  As a Conservative, Evangelical Christian, I was fascinated by the characterization of my scriptural and traditional viewpoints as seen through the eyes of this liberal pastor.

While everything was crouched in delightfully, loving humor, I was stung more than once to see how others view a presentation of truths with which I am quite comfortable.  It was as though a light had been beamed on my attitudes and beliefs that exposed dimensions which were unattractive and downright ugly.

Having been raised in the South and because I lived through the 1960’s Civil Rights movement, I saw first hand the shock and wonder of many white Southerns who did not understand the discrimination that Black people had suffered under the Southern culture for two hundred years.  Looking back, there was little restraint from the “Ruling Class” of whites.  I believe that was mainly because the caucasion population was basically unaware of the awful discrimination under which the Blacks had suffered.  For generations, it was a way of life–not a mark of discrimination.  Those of us who were rising into adulthood during that decade embraced the changes.

At The Special Gathering we function within the cloistered, sub-culture of the mentally challenged community. We believe that we owe much to the Afro-American Civil Rights struggle.   Living in this environment and without pointing fingers at anyone else, I cannot help but wonder:

How much of what I’ve written and said in regard to the discrimination foisted upon mentally challenged persons could be viewed as hateful, anti-social rhetoric?

How loving am I in presenting my viewpoints regarding the hurts leveled against the population I serve?

Is it important to guard with our very lives the truths of the scriptures?  Is making the truths of scripture real to our particular sub-culture ever an excuse for not being true to the text?

When we are enveloped into a cloistered sub-culture such as the mentally challenged community, how often does group-think cause us to go places that do not make sense to other people?

How different do things that are said within our own sub-culture sound when heard by people not familiar with that sub-culture?

Prayer among FriendsPerhaps the most important thing I have learned from the computer age is the wonderful power of forgiveness.  I remember that one of the first things I was told about my computer was “don’t worry they are very forgiving.”  Interestingly, this is also one of the great lessons I’ve seen in action within the mentally challenged community. 

My first foray into the world of computers was with an Apple 2E.  My husband, Frank, had purchased it and our third-grade daughter, Carol, gave him his first lessons in turning on and using the machine. 

I had a red IBM Selectric Correcting Typewriter and I was reluctant to let go of my prize machine.  Then I got a job with a Christian magazine.  I was required to write at least 200 pages each month, in addition to numerous assignments with ridiculous deadlines. 

My husband convinced me one night after supper that I should try the word processor.  At 2am after completing an unheard of number of pages, I slipped into bed next to Frank and whispered, “I will never use my typewriter again.”  The thing I loved was that the computer made corrections so simple.  You just backspace and, WaLa, all was forgiven.

When I entered into the world of disabilities, I found the same forgiving and loving spirit.  Yes, people who are mentally challenged are people like everyone else.  However, their life experiences have taught them the great value of forgiveness. 

Maybe, it’s because their lives are so hard and so filled with missteps that they are grateful to receive forgiveness from others.  That is certainly the reason that they enthusiastically embrace the redemptive Christ into their lives and heart.

Maybe it’s because they experience so much mistreatment and misunderstanding that they have to forgive more than the rest of us.  However, I think the secret lies in what a mother told me several months ago.  We were talking about her family and some of the hurtful things they had done to her.  “Why do you continue to have anything to do with them?”  I asked.

“Oh, it’s too hard to hate and hold unforgiveness,” she said, while nonchalantly looking at her fingernails.  This dear mother had no idea the great secret of health, mental stability and happiness she had uncovered.  “It’s so much easier to love than to hate.”

My world was shaken.  Of course, she was correct but how had she discovered this wonderful promise?  I believe that the complexities of a hard life had taught her to seek for easy answers to life’s perplexing problems.  The mentally challenged community also seems to know the easy nature of love and forgiveness.  In Psalm 145 David confesses, “I have learned to not try to figure out things that are too high and hard for me.”

Perhaps that is the real attraction that people see when they venture into our cloistered sub-culture.  Maybe when we slip away from the crowd, there is a deep knowing that rings in our hearts,  I’ll never be the same person because I have experienced something genuine and deeply moving.  I have seen forgiveness walking in flesh and blood and I have seen the easy nature of love.

What have you learned about forgiveness that has changed your life and direction?