The complete title for this entry should be “The Effective Message for the Mentally Challenge Community and Everyone Else.”  Of course, this title is much too long.  Therefore, I had to shorten it.  Yet, I’ve come to believe that the way to peek the interest people who are intellectually disabled also works for everyone else.

When I did free-lance writing for a national Christian magazine, the editors were adament that there should be only one point to each article.  Naturally, this point acted like a root and many branches could be explored in the thesis.  However, the one point should always be the pivotal point that is examined.

Coming to Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community, I found the same philosophy was promoted as the correct way to share the Gospel to people who are developmentally delayed or intellectually disabled.  One point for each devotion or sermon given.

In our preparation, we begin with an attention-getting device which usually helps to explain the need.  Then the one point is given. And we are off and running.

Usually, I will tell the Bible story or explain the Scripture that is being highlighted.  Then I will branch into a brief explanation, followed by several examples which illustrate how this Scriptural principle applies to our lives.

Over the years, an interesting thing has evolved. I not only speak at Special Gathering but I’m often asked to share at local churches, women’s groups and civil functions.   When I speak to “normal” audiences, I find that the devotion I prepare for Special Gathering members works equally as well.  I may need to change the examples that illustrate the Biblical principle.  Nevertheless, this minor tweeking means little when a truth from the Bible is being taught.

We are told that the most terrifying thing to citizens of the US is being asked to speak in front of an audience.  Because this is true, I’m convinced that the one-point principle can take most of the fear from this situation.

It appears that my husband’s dementia has advanced to the Sundowner’s stage.  According to the website,

Sundowner’s Syndrome is the name given to an ailment that causes symptoms of confusion after “sundown.” These symptoms appear in people who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. Not all patients who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s exhibit Sundowner’s symptoms, however. Conversely, some people exhibit symptoms of dementia all day which grow worse in the late afternoon and evening, while others may exhibit no symptoms at all until the sun goes down.

Sundowner’s Syndrome largely remains a mystery to medical science, although there are several theories about why these symptoms begin at night. More and more studies are being conducted to try to determine the exact cause.

Last evening, when I arrived at the Rehab Hospital where he is currently recouping from surgery, my husband was extremely agitated and confused.  He believed that we were living somewhere together.  He didn’t know where the somewhere was; but he did know that he wanted to go home.  I tried to explain that we were in the hospital and that we could not go home until the doctor gave him the okay.  That didn’t satisfy him.  “You will never want to go home!  You would stay gone forever.  Take me home now!” he demanded. 

Over the years, I’ve fought the battle of keeping a balance between home, ministry and my relationship with the Lord.  I’m fully aware that my ministry can easily become my god.  As I drove to my next appointment after leaving the hospital, I still had Frank’s pleading words ringing in my heart, “You will never want to go home.”  As I drove in the cold silence, I began to review the past years.

In reality, I believe that I’ve kept a good balance between home and ministry.  Over the years, I’ve done this in different ways, depending on the needs of my husband and family.  Nevertheless, some things were pretty basic.

  1. Meals were always family times with china plates and napkins. 
  2. I asked people to never call me after 5PM when the family began to gather for the evening. 
  3. I’ve kept my evening appointments to a minimum. 
  4. Evening ministry was always my husband’s ministry efforts, not mine.  I supported him.  Sometimes I did more actual work than he did; but it was only to support what God had called him to do. 
  5. While our children were at home, I did not bring my work home but kept family time, family time.

However, I’m always cautious and concerned about keeping a balance between ministry and my relationship with the Lord.  The differences are subtle.  Yet, the subtleties can be deadly for our spiritual growth.   Here are some keys that I’ve learned from others who have helped me to keep on guard.

  1. I recognize that I am as vulnerable as the next person in allowing ministry to be my god.
  2. I keep ministry and my relationship with the Lord totally separate. 
  3. I allot a set-aside time for prayer and studying my Bible.  I pray in the morning and read my Bible in the evening.
  4. I keep my personal Bible study separate from my ministry study.
  5. Of course, I should be open to hearing from God during my private devotions about my ministry; but I don’t allow this time to be a part of my ministry.  In my mind, I build a barrier between the two.
  6. I keep my prayer and Bible study a private and personal meeting with the Lord.
  7. I’ve learned to listen to family and friends and their complaints regarding my ministry time.
  8. I really try to never fall into guilt regarding ministry time; but to be realistic regarding the time and energy I spend on ministry details.
  9. I’m continually looking  for ways to simplify ministry tasks, especially the ones that leave me exhausted.
  10. While I pray daily for The Special Gathering during my prayer time, I keep myself detached from the emotions of the ministry during this time.  I pray for all the Pastors of Special Gathering daily; but my prayer for myself is no different from my prayer for our South Carolina Area Director or our Executive Director. 

Can we always succeed in keeping our ministry from becoming our god?  Of course, not.  We will stumble into that trap at times.  Can we always keep our private devotions detached from our ministry needs?  No.  But God honors our efforts and our heart’s desires.  In fact, He may even allow us to fail so that we will see how dependent on Him we must be, even in our need to keep ministry and relationship separate.

My husband has often said, “The best defense is a good offense.”  In fact, during our many arguments over the years, I came to believe that axiom was indeed his life’s guiding principle.  Because my husband’s name is Frank Howard, and Frank attended Clemson University during at a time when their football team was winning games and being coached by the great Coach Frank Howard, I secretly concluded my husband stole the coach’s philosophy as his own.

This week in our weekly devotions during our chapel programs, I thought it was time to take the offensive in regard to a problem that I believe exists within the mentally challenged community.  (I am the Area Director of The Special Gathering of Indian River, a ministry within the mentally challenged community.)  During our devotion, the area we explored was the problem of taking offense. 

It has been my experience that our members seem to take offense over the smallest things. 

“Jamie didn’t speak to me this morning.  Well…yes…she was being rushed to the hospital but she didn’t even wave.”

“Did your hear how George spoke to me?   I’m never going to speak to him again.  He can’t use that tone of voice with me.”  Offensive, George merely said, “Hi!”

While our members completely forgive people who have greatly offended them, they seem to make sky scrapers out of ant hills when it comes to tiny offenses.  Then in the middle of delivering my oration, I realized, I do the same thing.  

I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have been hurt, offended and reduced to tears by the tone of voice someone used when speaking to me.  Then, I get a phone call the next day from that person asking for prayer because he found out his wife was critically sick. 

I will fret for days because Susie Mae Brown didn’t speak to me.  Only to discover that she didn’t even see me. 

In fact, everyone I know, no matter what their IQ seems to take small things and make them monumental obstacles.  In my study of Matthew 18 this week, it is pretty clear that all of us tend to fall down that rabbit hole more than we want to admit.  You remember the story Jesus told about the King who forgave his servant of a $2,000, 000 debt only to discover that the servant would not forgive his peer who owed him the price of a MacDonald’s Iced Tea and Double Cheeseburger. 

To be completely honest and lest I cause someone offense, you need to know that this was not where my sermon was originally headed for that morning.  I stole my devotion thought from our Executive Director, Richard Stimson.  You see, on the fourth Friday of each month, our area directors prepare the next month’s sermons and then we gather and preach to each other.  We broadcast it by video cam via the internet to the Area Directors who don’t live in the immediate area.  After each sermon, we critique the content and delivery.  Usually, I am too busy scribbling notes and stealing ideas to get involved in the criticism part of Sermon Prep.  This month my great acqusition was Stimson’s sermon about offense.   

To steal from Stimson one more time, sometimes no one is at fault.  It may only be a difference of opinion.  There are people that I don’t agree with a lot that I say or do but that doesn’t make them wrong or me right.  It only means that we see things differently.  Taking offense in those cases would be futile.   

Somehow, we need to begin to take the offensive with offense.  When our members gasped as they heard about the servant who threw his peer into jail, I knew they got the point.  Perhaps even more important, so did I.  Taking offense is a cruel task master.  Never satisfied, always hunger for more.

Has there been a time that you have taken offense and later realized that your anger was misdirected?  Have you noticed this tendency in your members?  Are they more guilty than other people you have known are?  Than you are?