Carla is not adjusting well to this time.  It is an end of an era for her.  Carla  is a high functioning person with intellectual disabilities.   Both parents have died.  She became too ill to live in her own apartment any longer.  For health and safety reasons, Carla has been moved into a group home where she can receive medical attention and help with personal care.

Joseph is experiencing the opposite.  It is also an end of an era for him.  His mother’s health has forced his family to make a hard decision.  He, too, has been moved into a group home.  While living at home, Joseph was never allowed to dress, shave or clean himself.  He was told where to go and what to do.  At the group home, he is required to clean, dress and shave himself.  He must take part in the chores and activities of the household.  He is required to do his own laundry and clean his own room.

Carla’s personality is softly pleasant.  Her manners are tender and appealing.  Joseph’s manner is gruff and abrasive.  He never walks.  He struts, giving the impression that he thinks more highly of himself than he ought.

unhappy catWhile Carla finds group home living restrictive and oppressive, Joseph has never had more freedom.  Carla has fewer chores and responsibilities now that she no longer lives in her own apartment. Someone cooks her meals, helps her with her household chores when necessary.   Without even informing her, the staff completes the paperwork required by the government which she often hid rather than traverse through the unintelligible maze of questions.  Carla resents the assistance she receives.

The demands on Joseph have multiplied but his finds increasing freedom in this new arrangement even though it is wrapped tightly with chores and requirements.  Of course, Joseph has never been one to complain.  He takes life as it come; and he trusts the Lord to work things out for his benefit.  Joseph often prays out loud, seriously or happily asking God to help him.

Carla admits that she almost never prays.  The requirements of “religion” are much too difficult and confining.  Carla cannot grasp the concept of God being a friend–her friend.

Joseph’s cognitive level is far below Carla’s but his faith quotient soars far above most other people.  He prays and expects an answer “because God loves me.”  He believes that “all things work” for his good because “God said it in the Bible.  Therefore, it’s true.”

In short, Carla is miserable and has been for years.  Joseph is joyous. Each day is a welcomed adventure.

sitting on a porchEach of us come to times in our lives when things radically change.  We graduate from college.  We get married.  Our first baby is born.  The first child enters kindergarten.  Then poof.   In a few short days, she is entering college.  The children leave home.  The children come back home.  A spouse dies.

Our IQ does not determine the position of our misery barometer.  Through prayer and fellowship with our Heavenly Father and Savior, Redeemer, Friend Jesus our barometers are adjusting.  They determine the joy and love into which we motivate through life.  I am praying that my life will follow the example set by Joseph.  Even though, he is a young man with a lousy personality and low IQ.  Joseph has tapped into the life-giving force of the Lord Jesus.  His example gives my hope and joy.

The song, “Riders on the Storm,” recorded in 1971 by the Doors invaded my mind this morning.  Perhaps I’m the only person in the US who can’t remember ever hearing this song.

My curiosity peaked by the title, I had to look up the lyrics.  Like many songs, some of the lyrics didn’t make sense to me.  However, the chorus is stunningly applicable to what happened a year ago.

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm

There is such amazing hope and despair coupled in these lyrics that my imagination was captured.  The songwriter says, we are riders on the storm.  Not tossed or turned in the storm but caught up riding above the storms of life.  However, once the hope is given, there is great despair because we are born to be thrown alone and lost.

One year ago today, my husband fell and broke his hip and leg.  He came home from an extended stay in the hospital and rehab centers on February 14, 2011 and died May 10.  I was only 10 feet from him when he fell; but we were in different rooms.  I bust through the door to find him sitting on the shower floor writhing in pain.  I knew he had broken his hip.  My first thoughts were our lives just radically changed.  Nevertheless, I had no idea how much change had stolen through our doorway.

From that moment, together he and I became riders on the storm, embracing and repelling the future with all our strength.  We laughed and cried in the same breath.  As his dementia accelerated, each moment became a bitter/sweet memory that I knew he would forget as soon as the hour passed.  I felt bitterly alone; yet surprisingly embraced second by second by Frank, our family and friends.  God’s wisdom was clearly working in our lives while the mystery of tomorrow became more and more clouded.

Often, God uses the secular to teach us His truths.  Today, I’m grateful to the Doors for their prophetic recording.  I ask God to bless them abundantly by leading them to know him through His Son, Jesus their Savior and Lord.

What about you?  Has there be one song–perhaps even a secular song–that God has used to help you through difficult circumstances?  Would you ever be able to use this teaching with your members who are mentally challenged?  How would you share this teaching?

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.

Ethel was a Bible teacher at Special Gathering.  Additionally, she wrote many books for the mentally challenged community and they were published in our monthly newsletter.  Ethel and I shared a passion for writing and Special Gathering.  Therefore, we became good friends through our shared ministry concerns.  In addition, we both excelled at “going to lunch” and we practiced that part of our friendship often.

Ethel wrote for our monthly newsletter “Connecting Point,” and she was incredibly faithful in her efforts.  Even after she moved to Volusia County, Ethel always met our deadlines; and she wrote with great skill and feeling for the special needs population.
As a Bible teacher, Ethel could not be matched.  She taught the Scriptures with a keen eye for truth and clarity.  Her class was a verse-by-verse discussion study for our readers.  It has become the model for our leadership and readers classes.
My first view of Ethel came 22 years ago through Sarah, her daughter who was mentally challenged.  It was my first year at Camp Agape, our annual ministry retreat.  Sarah was my bunk mate.  I had the top bunk and she had the bottom.
On Sunday afternoon, after two days of camp, I thought I was too tired to climb to the top bunk.  Therefore, I decided to lay on Sarah’s bottom bed, thinking that she would never notice or understand.  I was wrong!
Sarah came into the cabin and jumped me.  “Get off my bed,” she insisted. “You can’t get on my bed!”  Ethel had taught Sarah well.  It is vital for our population to understand their rights and Sarah knew that I was an intruder and she wasn’t intimidated by me.  Ethel treated Sarah as an adult, and she allowed Sarah the dignity of being valued for being a child of the Lord.
One year, in touring our campgrounds, Ethel asked Sarah what she liked best about camp.  Immediately, Sarah said, “Pool.”
Shocked, Ethel said, “You don’t know how to play pool.”  Sarah walked over to the pool table and demonstrated to her mother that she certainly did know how to play the game.  Ethel laughed, “Guess she showed me.”
Ethel was never willing to compromise her faith.  Yet, she shared the message of Jesus with compassion and great love.  Her greatest legacy is her faith in Christ and love for all people but especially for the men and women who knew and loved her through her ministry within the mentally challenged community.

Some of the most active entries on this blog is our devotion that appears  each Sunday.  I get feedback from people who enjoy the devotion who don’t share it with anyone.  Others tell me that they use the devotion occasionally to teach or share with a group.  This week, I wanted to share one about two of my favorite subjects–the resurrection and my mother.

He Is Alive

Matthew 28:6

Central Theme:  Jesus is not dead; he is alive.

Introduction–Tell the story from Matthew 28:1-15  Two  women were coming.  There was an earthquake.  An angel appeared.  The stone was rolled away.  The soldier saw the angel.  They fainted  The women came up and the angel told them.  He is Alive!  Go! Tell the disciples.”  As they went back to the disciples, Jesus appeared.   Have a member read Matthew 28:6

I.     Before my mother died I struggled with my prayers for my mother.

  • A. She was an amazing woman, the best Christian I ever met.
  • B. I love her and I will miss her everyday.
  • C. But when she died, she went to be with Jesus.

1.  That will makes her happy.

II.     Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we have great hope.

  • A. I know that Jesus lives.
  • B. I know that Jesus has taken the stringer out of death.
  • 1.  Did you know that when a bee stings, it looses its stinger and dies
  • C. Jesus took the stinger from death and we don‘t have to worry anymore.

III.     Jesus was alive and the women knew it.

1.  His resurrection changed their lives.

Conclusions:  Jesus’ resurrection changes our lives, too.

In the early 1990’s when Nancy became a consumer at ARC in Vero Beach, Florida, she told her supported living coach, that her life goals were to bleach her hair blonde and go to California to become Marilyn Monroe. Bleaching her hair blonde was easy, getting her to California, proved harder.

Nancy was never a person who fostered small dreams or ideas.  Born in Charleston, West Virginia, Nancy was 15 years younger than her sister, Roxanne. But Roxanne took her everywhere. When I inquired about this, Roxanne said, emphatically, “Of course, I took her everywhere.  She was my little sister.”  Nancy was born with Down’s Syndrome; but she never allowed her disability drive her into a corner.  Perhaps “hanging” with her teenage sister fostered those large dreams and desires.

Nancy’s life in West Virginia revolved around swimming, summer camp, school, then ARC, the singer, John Denver, The Monkees and her best friend, Susie.  Nancy and Susie were together throughout their school years and at ARC.  Eventually, they became roommates.

When the unthinkable happened and Susie was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Susie was moved into a nursing home.  Out of compassion, her parents believed that it was best for Nancy that she not see Susie again.  But when Roxanne and Gary came to visit the family and heard, “We threw a fit,” Roxanne said.  The parents gave in and Nancy was allowed to see Susie.  Later, as the disease took its grip on Susie’s life, she moved back in with Nancy.  “Susie died in Nancy’s arms,” Roxanne reported.

As the health of her parents grew more frail, Nancy and her mother and father moved to Vero Beach.  It was here that Nancy revealed her desire to become Marilyn Monroe.  She adopted Star Wars and wrestling as a new passion.  Friday night was “Smack Down” Night.  Nancy and her friend, Annie, spent their Friday evenings with The Rock, Chris Jericho, The Undertaker and Stone Cold.

Her one enduring joy, however, was men.  Most men she found attractive; and she was convinced that nearly every men found her irresistible.  She often recited the men that she was soon marry.  However, in the middle of her list, she would stop and say, “No.  I think I’ll just marry Jackie,” who was her black cat.

One evening, Nancy and her roommate decided to go out to dinner.  They called a cab and told the driver to take them to The Patio restaurant.  They ordered dinner and wined and dined for several hours.  Finally, when the waiter came with the bill, he discovered that the two charming ladies had not brought any money with them. Undisturbed, Nancy said, “Call my supportive living coach, Diane.  She’ll take care of the bill.”

Fortunately, the restaurant owner did know Diane.  He called her and explained the situation.  Diane arrived, paid the bill and began an intense retraining program regarding appropriate behaviors in a public restaurant which included emphasis on the fact that you always have enough money with you when you go out to eat.

It was my privilege to carry Nancy to and from Special Gathering for about seven or eight years.  She and I would have great conversations about the Lord but Nancy didn’t always have her theology correct.  “I love Jesus,” she told me one week.  “But I’m not a Christian.”

Of course, I could not let that go without questions.  “Nancy, have you asked Jesus to forgive you for the bad things you have done?”  Yes.  “Have you asked Jesus to come into your heart and be your best friend and your boss?”  Yes.  “Then, Nancy, you are a Christian.

“No, I’m not,” she said with emphasis, “I’m an Episcopalian.”  Most weeks, she told me that she wasn’t a Christian, she was an Episcopalian.  Then some weeks, she was a Methodist.  I think she died an Episcopalian.

Nancy was never a weak person; but she wasn’t ashamed to go to the Lord for strength and comfort.  She often asked for prayer.  For many years, she sang in the Special Gathering choir.  She would share her faith wherever we sang by her great smile and winning ways.  “Nancy was always smiling,” so many people said after she died.

Joanne was her caregiver for several years before she had to go into the nursing home because of Alzheimer’s.  She, Annie, Laurie and Eric often visited Nancy as her health declined. Nancy always remembered Annie’s name and recognized Laurie.  She would smile and put out her hand reaching for each visitor.  Of course, Nancy never lost her ability to flirt.  Even at their last visit a few days before she died, Nancy threw kisses at Eric.

At last, her body gave out and she slipped silently into the arms of her Lord, who is also an Episcopalian and a Methodist.  She has left us but we have our memories.  Her smile.  Her joy.  And I will always remember our conversations about the Lord in the night as I drove her home from a choir performance or Special Gathering.

It is probably true that you will be asked to do a funeral for one of your members at some time in your ministry.  There are specific things which I have observed from pastors who are successfully able to capture the essence of the person and still glorify Christ in a funeral sermon or eulogy.  Here are some of those things which you may find helpful.

  1. First, find a hook.  This is something about the person that seems to embody their personality or mission in life.  It may be a phrase, a sentence or an observation.  Most often this should come from the family.  In trying to find a hook for one man that I had never met, every person I spoke to said, “He was a good man.”  I kept trying to find something else about this man until I realized:  This was a truly good man and that was what family wanted to said about him.
  2. Interview as many members of the family as possible to be able to grasp what is meaningful to them.  Ask probing questions.   What is the thing you remember most about Phil?  What did he do during his free time?  Tell me a little bit about his life.  When did he become a Christian?
  3. Everyone has some humor in his or her life.  Try to find it and use it.
  4. The deepest, most moving memories are best wrapped with a glimmer of humor, if possible.
  5. Don’t be afraid to share deeply personal things that the family has given you permission to share.  This is a time for them to hear their words echoing back to them in a positive message of hope.
  6. If the person is not a Christian, amplify some good traits.  Then emphasis that if she could stand before you today, she would want each person present to know Christ.  We know this is a true statement without saying things which are not true.
  7. Use a Thesaurus in finding different words to express what you want to say.  Don’t limit yourself or your imagination in your sentence structure or your vocabulary.
  8. Use Scriptures to say the things you desire to say about the resurrection.  Then don’t forget to speak about the hope of the resurrection of Christ in each sermon or eulogy.  That, after all, is why we have sermons at funerals.
  9. Keep it short.  Limit yourself to a maximum of 10 minutes of sermon.  I also try to limit the Scripture readings to five to 10 minutes.  Intersperse the Scriptures throughout the service.  Find my favorite Scriptures here.  

Remember, above all, you are speaking the heart of the family and the heart of Christ.  When the two are in harmony, it’s a wonderful union.  When they are divergent, God will help you to find ways to honor both.

God loves the broken hearted and desires to heal those who grieve.  It is a wonderful opportunity to show the love of Christ to people who are wounded and hurting.

If you are sharing with a family of a mentally challenged person who has died, this is especially important to remember and acknowledge their grief.  God wants to touch this family in a real way and you can be His instrument.

Here is a eulogy that hopefully will help you to see how these steps can be put together.

Eulogy

Leslie Ann 

          The Apostle Paul writes in the Holy Scriptures that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Proverbs reminds us that a merry heart is as good as any medicine.  On December 19, 1972, God gave to us an ambassador of laugher and giggles when Leslie Ann  was born to Priscilla.

Raised in a strong Catholic family, faith and commitment to the Lord were the backbone of her existence.  As a natural outgrowth of that love for the Lord, her first communion was a joyous time shared with her mother, grandparents, her Uncle Jack, his two children and the community of believers.

Later, as Leslie matured into adulthood, reaching out became an anchor of her commitment to the Lord as she endeavored to share her faith.  Each Christmas at Special Gathering, we collect gifts for the Haitian children.  Leslie was the first one to bring her gifts.  But she didn’t stop there.  Sunday after Sunday, she would bring toys and school supplies for the young children who have so little.

Of course, Leslie understood the value of money.  The best presents she received were always money or gift cards.  No birthday was complete without a card filled with big bucks. Yet, she never totally comprehended the complete concept.  After obtaining her first job came the wondrous first paycheck.  Excited by this new found wealth, Leslie wanted to put it in the bank as the first installment toward buying a new Corvette.  Somehow the fact that it was only $4 escaped this young financier.

Leslie had a knack for remembering names and addresses. She remembered the full name of everyone she met.  But phone numbers were her specialty.  She spent hours on the phone with her various boyfriends.  Mark from New Jersey was her first real boyfriend.  For more than ten years, they conversed every evening until it was time for them to go to bed.  Last July, when Leslie and her mother went back to Jersey, Mark begged them to come back in the spring because he needed a date to the prom.  “You know my girl’s down there with you,” Mark told Priscilla pensively.

Though she seldom complained, at times her disability would hinder her from doing the fun activities that the other family members enjoyed.  One day, Elaine, her step-sister-in-law, could no longer take her mournful expression as the other young adults scooted around on jet skis.

“I’ll take you,” Elaine volunteered.  Leslie was in her mid-twenties but not too old to giggle.  Unfortunately, in her enthusiasm, Leslie leaned too far and tipped over the jet ski.  In an effort to save herself, Leslie quickly grasped the closest thing to her–which was Elaine’s throat.

Her mother was following her in a boat.  She and the driver of the boat scooped Leslie up from the water within a few seconds.  And Elaine is still thankful.

Leslie never liked being left behind.  And she didn’t like losing when she played games.  After her great nephew, Colin, was born, she would spend hours coloring and playing games with him.  He was her little buddy.  But her competitive nature didn’t die easily and she didn’t enjoy losing, even to him.

Vincent, Colin’s dad and her cousin, was two years younger than she.  He, naturally, was her big buddy.  As children the cousins etched together a life-long bond.  They spent hours building towers with blocks.  After the construction was felled, they would head for the hallway and a ball game.  For Leslie, the fun with Vincent was never in the game or the competition but in the giggling.

About ten years ago, after moving from Jersey, Leslie began attending Special Gathering.  Later, she joined the choir. Her commitment to the choir was remarkable and we came to lean heavily on her strong–though never pitch-perfect–voice.

Every Saturday evening, she’d ask her mom, “Do I need to wear my choir uniform to Special Gathering?”  Her mom would explain that the choir wasn’t singing at another church, only practicing.  “Are you sure?”  Leslie would enquire suspiciously.

One of Leslie’s favorite songs was a selection from our choir.  Often before practice, we would sing it as our prayer.

Change my heart, Oh, God.

Make it ever true

Change my heart, Oh, God,

May I be like you.

 You are the potter, I am the clay

Mold me and make me.

This is what I pray.

Change my heart, Oh, God.

Make it ever true.

Change my heart, Oh, God.

May I be like you

As Leslie slipped into eternity last Saturday, I believe she met the Lord giggling.  You see, her disability and pains are gone.  She isn‘t hurting or afraid anymore.  (show the crystal bowl and the paper cup)

On the Friday evening that Leslie was admitted to the hospital, she was in agonizing pain.  Her stomach had ripped and her lungs were full of pneumonia.  She would code three times before they could get her into surgery.  Fighting frantically to save her life, the technician began taking X-rays.  Explaining to her what they were doing, the tech said, “We are going to hold up this piece of metal and take your picture.”

Leslie weakly nodded her understanding.  As the technician put up the metal sheet to her chest, ready to click the X-ray, Leslie said, “Cheese” and grinned for the picture.  With each X-ray she said, “Cheese” and smiled.  As we remember Christ’s ambassador of giggles, we cannot weep for her, though we will often shed tears for ourselves.  She would demand that we gratefully grin and say, “Cheese.”