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.”

I received the call at 7:30 that night.  John died at 6pm.  I was at Universal Studios Theme Park with a group of people who are mentally challenged.  There was no way for me to run over to help comfort the family because I could not leave the people who were at the amusement park.  So we talked on the phone for about 20 minutes.  His sister shared the pain and suffering he endured in his last hours.  I talked to her about the visits we had together in the last two weeks.

John started attending Special Gathering of Melbourne–a ministry within the mentally challenged community–about 10 years ago.  He soon joined the choir and helped each week to set up the room for worship.  A man of few words, he depended on his smile to portray his deep feelings of love, joy and satisfaction.  Two years ago, John went to the nursing home because he was expected to live no longer than a few months.  Two weeks ago, Hospice was called in and the family was told that the cancer which had been gnawing at his physical body for years was finally destroying his fragile frame.

On Wednesday of last week, I had gone into his room and softly touched his arm.  He opened his eyes and looked up.  His smile was gone. His eyes seemed larger because his face was gaunt and thin.

I knew his time was short.  “You’re ready to go home, aren’t you?”

John gently shook his head.

“You know it’s going to be a wonderful homecoming.  You’ll see your mother and father.  You’re going to be really happy.”

“I know,” he whispered.  I prayed for him and left.

Another member was convolesing in the same facility.  She’s a young woman who is confined to a wheelchair and doesn’t speak.  The next day I came back to visit both of them.  I knew Christine would want to see John; but I didn’t think it was useful to have her see him in the weak and sick condition he had been in the previous day.  Before going to her room, I stuck my head in the door of John’s room.  The room was bare.

Shocked, I went to the nurses’ station.  “Where’s John?”

“He’s in the television room, watching TV,” she said, grinning and pointing to the gray headed man sitting straight and tall in his wheelchair.  When I came into the TV room, he smiled and waved to me by lifting his fingers from the arm of the wheelchair.  After a few minutes, I wheeled Christine into see him.  She had a stuffed yellow chicken toy to give to him.  Together, they giggled and played with the chicken that cheeped like a biddie.

We prayed with him and left.  That was the last time I saw John but it won’t be the last time that I will see him.  He was smiling as he waved good-bye to us.

I think John is singing somewhere in heaven right now.  I can’t wait to see him healed and whole. I know from the reactions of our members when we talk about heaven that they look forward to the time that their minds will be made whole.  I often ask myself.  What will our members be like when they get to heaven? 

Who have you lost to death?  When you are with a person who is about to reach the threshold of death, are you able to talk to them about dying?  What do you say?

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/simplelife/#ixzz1zDb027J1

There are two stories in the Bible that have fascinated me all my life.  The first is a parable that Jesus told.  It is the story of a merchant who found an extremely valuable pearl.  After finding this magnificent pearl, he went and sold everything he had to purchase it. I was always taught that the pearl was the kingdom for God and that when we find this great pearl, we must give up everything to purchase this great pearl.  I wanted to be like that wise merchant and give everything to the Lord.

Then many years later, during my prayer time, the Lord spoke to my heart in a still small voice and said, “Linda, you are that pearl and I gave up everything to purchase you.”  During the past week, each time I think about Grace Renee, the Lord reminds me of the pearl of great price.  Again, the Lord has spoken to me, “I’ve brought my magnificent pearl, Grace Renee, home.

When Cindy, an ARC staff person, came into Special Gathering last Saturday, she pulled me aside.  At first, I was hesitant to be drawn away from eye and ear contact of the group, even though there was another volunteer in the room.  However, when it became apparent that something really bad had happened, we walked a distance away from the room and Cindy tearfully shared that “something is wrong with Renee.”  She didn’t know what had happened but she felt that perhaps, as Renee’s pastor, I could find out.

“Renee is very special to me,” she said.  Over the past two weeks, as I spoke with people who knew Renee they repeated often, “Renee was very special to me.”

Until you’ve been drawn into our community, it might be confusing to understand how an individual like Renee can steal your heart.  How can Renee’s suffering wrench your heart until you believe it will break?  Yet, Renee’s love and joy was a magnet for those of us who knew and loved her.  Joanne Semenuck knew her when she was in school.  She said, “She was the happiest young woman I ever met.”

Lorraine, one of the five residents in her home, said, “I love Renee.  I didn’t want her to go away and leave us.”  Everyone in the home said, “We are a family.  Renee is our family.”

Bessie Mariner, her support coordinatior, told me, “Almost every time I met with Renee she blessed me by praying for me.  She loved to pray.  I know that she knew the Lord in a powerful way.”

Small things about Renee were most endearing, like the quirky way she could sneak to get her way.  You didn’t know whether to scold her or hug her.  When one trick no longer worked, she would devise a different tactic to snare you into getting her way.

Renee also reminded me of a second story from the Bible.  This story is true.  In the last week of Jesus’ life, a woman came and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them dry with her hair.  Because of the dry, dirty conditions in Judea; and because everyone wore sandals, it was a custom to wash everyone’s feet as they entered a home.  But the host had neglected to do that for Jesus.  When this woman washed Jesus’ feet, it was a blessing that she could uniquely give him.  It was a splendid and deeply personal gift of love.  I believe that Renee often showed her love for the Lord in deeply personal ways and that love spilled out onto us.

Yes, we will miss Renee but mostly we will miss the times she washed away the concerns of the day with her antics and joy.  We will miss the way she reached down and personally knew what we needed; and without a word, her touch and smile helped to meet that need.

She was perhaps one of the weakest among us; but in so many ways, she was able to show us the Lord’s strength and power.

“But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again. They will rise up as an eagle in the sky; they will run and not need rest; they will walk and not become tired.”  Life is replaced with death.  Death is replaced by eternal life.

On Saturday, I learned that a member of the mentally challenged community had suffered a brain hemorrhage and had been placed on life support.  The decision was made to disconnect her from life support that afternoon while we were in the middle of our Special Gathering program.  Phone calls from grieving staff who had worked with her most of her life came quickly into my phone.  Because we were having Special Gathering at the time that things were progressing, I could have been in a bit of a dilemma.

However, the Vero supervisor, Diane, immediately understood and she filled in the vacuum this emergency created.  She continued the program without missing a beat.  This is the second time that a pending death has happened during our Special Gathering program.  While I would not consider leaving our members, there are several things that can be put into place.

  1. Training in advance is perhaps the most vital key.  Because of the emphasis on health and safety that has been put into place at Special Gathering, I knew that the staff understood the importance of keeping our members in their normal routine and carrying the load while I was a bit out-of-pocket.
  2. Cell phones are perhaps a program directors greatest ally during a crisis situation.  Standing far enough away from our members so that they can not hear a deeply personal and private conversation, I can still be in view of SpG members and observant staff.
  3. Choosing the right staff may seem obvious; but there is no doubt that it is an issue that needs to be reviewed often. Careful staffing selection is the key but that is a different issue for a different day.
  4.  I’m learning that not everyone can supervise or improvise.  Both are needed during a crisis situation by the person who is in charge of supervision.
  5. Keep your composure at all times.  If you and your supervisor remain calm, your members will be calm.  There should be time for weeping; but while walking through the valley of the shadow of death, it a time for peace and calm, not drama and chaos.
  6. Pray freely with people to whom you are speaking.  Don’t be afraid to ask, “May I pray with you?”  During personal crises, we all can become overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness.  Counter that feeling with a confidence in God’s ability to make every circumstance right.
  7. Assure the people on the phone that you will come as quickly as possible.  I had a van route to do.  Therefore, I could not get to the hospital even after our program ended.  I explained to the people who needed to know what my afternoon process should be so that there would be no misunderstanding.

Perhaps the most important thing you bring to the table is your relationship and confidence in the Lord.  What are some of the things you have learning during crisis, especially a death, during your program?

The week before Christmas and the next two weeks have always been a bit of whirlwind for our family.  We celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Day heartily.  Additionally, there are three birthdays and three wedding anniversaries crammed into those short weeks.

January 7 would have marked my husband’s and my 50th wedding anniversary.  But he tricked the family and died on May 10, 2011, avoiding a large party.  The children and I were trying to sort through how to make an 50th anniversary party work with my husband very sick, limited mobility and basically no desire for a big party.  He solved the issue.

It seems selfish to feel a bit of disappointment that we didn’t make our 50th wedding anniversary because it is certainly true that I’m very happy that my husband is no longer suffering.  But for me our anniversary date was accented with the first full day of deep regrets since he died.

Ours wasn’t a perfect marriage.  We’ve been told by several newlywed couples that Frank and I could learn a great deal about marriage by watching how they interact.  There were many days of self-made trauma and conflict.  While he did things that annoyed me and bruised my spirit, I never doubted his love.  Yet, because of his own childhood and deep insecurities, he was never able to fully accept mine.

Now, I know that he is healed and not hurting.  That makes me happy.  Of course, the party is over but a new page is beginning for both of us.  And it is good.

I am a real believer in delayed gratification.  In fact, as much as I love gifts, I love the anticipation even more.  As a child, I gave up the Christmas gift hunt.  The annual childhood adventure wasn’t hard in our house, because our home was small and there weren’t many hiding places.  But I loved the wait.

Daddy always locked the cellar where he spent hours working on new toys and refurbishing old favorites until they were like new.  Mother’s hiding job was harder because her sewing machine was in clear view.  We usually shopped with her when she bought the material for the mountains of new clothes she would make for us.

My last Christmas at home, Mother made me a wonderful new coat.  It was red with gusset sleeves and I thought it was the most beautiful coat I’d ever seen.  The fact that she made it added to its value for me.  I was married two weeks after Christmas that year so she spent added hours that fall working on my wedding dress and my trousseau.

I’ve always felt sorry for people who had to have Christmas or to get married without my mother.  She made all our clothes, working endless hours sewing and fixing and shopping.  That year, she planned the wedding, made my dress and my going-away suit.  She made the food for the reception and shopped for the cake.  My job was to pick out the bride’s maid dress patterns and materials, design my wedding dress and stand for hours for fittings.

After Mother died, I found that the gifts didn’t end.  At last I had the money to purchase the garden furniture that I’d been eyeing for about four years.  I took a small part of my inheritance and went to the store to buy the chairs, tables and couch.

Before I purchased them, I walked out of the store.  I knew that an era was over.  Thanks to mother’s careful savings, I wouldn’t be searching and saving for the perfect combo for my backyard garden.  I would have them.

I also knew that Mother’s gifts to me were almost complete.  I went to my closet and felt one more time my lace wedding dress, now faded with age.  The next day I returned to the store.  Over night, the set I wanted had gone on sale.  I was able to buy it at a huge savings.

I giggled as I purchased my garden set.  Mother’s gift giving wasn’t over.  When I sat on them perched perfectly under the shade of the gazebo.  I cried and laughed and thanked God for a wonderful mother who helped her children understand and cherish the wonder of His love.  I silently praised him for a mother who made elegant wedding gowns and who taught me to wait for better gifts and to love sales.

Nancy’s voice was sorrowful, “Linda, can we have lunch?  I just want to be sure things are all right with you.”  She is a friend and a fellow pastor.  Nancy, also a recent widow, has called me several times since my husband died just to be sure that I’m all right.

We sat for an hour, eating, laughing and crying about our husbands and our present lives.  Over the months of sorrow and grief, I’ve been upheld and supported by many people who have shown exceptional love.  Here are some things that I’ve learned about supporting others and thereby winning friends from the men and women who have loved me through my present situation.

1.  My friends listen.

2.  Again and again, folks allow me to talk openly about my sorrow without interrupting me.

3.  People aren’t afraid to laugh with a me about situations and events that have happened during the last year.

4.  My friends allow me to cry freely without embarrassment.

5.  They take time for me, even though their lives are hurried and busy.

6.  When appropriate, my friends–especially the men–don’t let me drone on and on about my past and present situations.

7.  People haven’t been afraid to give me advice regarding important financial decisions that I’ve had to make.

8.  Giving added support, there have been people who have been proactive about decisions that I’ve been hesitant to make.  Their support has even extended from advice to action when needed.

9.  Close friends have not been afraid to advise me to slow down when they’ve seen me rushing into life-changing decisions.

10. I’ve been assured of the prayers of my friends.  They’ve not been afraid to stop in the middle of a conversation, even in public, to pray for me.  They often say, “I’m praying.”  This gives me great encouragement.

People within the mentally challenged community and their families walk through sorrowful  health and death events.  These are some ways that you may be of help to them.  What are other things that you’ve experienced that also help?

This is an email I received from Bev Linder today.  I wanted to share this with you.  Brad had many physical disabilities and died a few years ago.

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Dear friends,
The following is one of the blogs on my website.  Many of you who receive this mailing may not be aware of my blog.  To view more blogs click here.
When I was home schooling Brad, I would sometimes go out of the house for a while and leave him doing his schoolwork.  He would invariably call me, and about 95% of the time, his first words were, “When will you be home, Mom?”  My answer varied–sometimes I had a bunch to do yet; sometimes, I had only one or two more errands; and some days I would say, “Guess what, Brad.  I’m driving into our driveway right now and should be walking through the door any minute!” Now Brad is in heaven…

 

…and while I was out today, I looked at my cell phone and I could almost hear him saying, “When will you be home, Mom?”  It struck me that Brad really is still waiting for me to come home, only now it is our eternal Home.  I believe with all my heart that our loved ones in heaven still love us and look forward to being with us just as much as we look forward to being with them.
The difference now is that I don’t know when I will be Home.  I may still have much to do on this earth; or maybe I only have a few things that God wants me to accomplish; or maybe I am just about to walk through that door!
And just like when I would leave Brad home when I did my errands, although he is looking forward to seeing me and others that he loves, he is not sitting around idly. When he was here, he was busy doing his school work.  Now, he is busy in heaven.  2 Corinthians 5:9 says, “Therefore we have as our ambition whether at home or absent (whether in heaven or still on earth) to be pleasing to Him.”  I have the same ambition as my son (and other loved ones in heaven)–to be pleasing to Christ in my service.
And I’ll be Home, soon Brad…not sure how soon, but soon!
Bev Linder
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