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.

In the past weeks, I’ve been going over some of the key words in our covenant relationship with God.  Perhaps one of the most important words we use is grace.

Most of us have learned and maybe we even remember

  • God’s
  • Riches
  • At
  • Christ’s
  • Expense

This is great explanation of grace and the first one I could readily remember.  However, it is a bit churchy sounding for many people.

Then there is the wonderful explanation:  Unmerited favor.  I love this simple explanation that encapsulates this amazing concept in two words.

However, trying to explain grace seemed harder than I had imagined.  They didn’t grasp the whole acrostic idea.  And while unmerited favor seems simple enough, even the members who remember the two-word definition could not explain what it meant.

Therefore, we worked our way into another definition that they understood and fully appreciated.  Grace is receiving a gift we don’t deserve.

Receiving a gift we don’t deserve is not as catchy at the acrostic or as short as “unmerited favor” but our members understand it and have grasped its meaning.

puzzleEach year for almost 45 years, our family worked a jigsaw puzzle.  I loved those times and eagerly promoted the tradition by purchasing a new puzzle.

Yesterday, my day off, I once again got out the new puzzle I’d bought and began sorting the pieces.  The progress is a lot slower than in previous years when five of us gathered around the table to casually do the work of fitting the lines and colors into their alotted slots.

This year, as I’ve worked alone, I’ve been able to realize why our family loved The Christmas Puzzle so much.  We are a family of A personalities.  Frank, the head of the household, was AAA.  Therefore, every event progressed into a super personal competition.  Christmas was an especially trying AAA event.  But gathered around that silent but intriguing mass of unorganized pieces, we were all equal.  No one excelled.  Yet, even the youngest child was competent, valued and needed.

working puzzleWe waltzed in and out of the room during the day and evenings, drawn by the table.  We each worked our part without pressure, anger or expectation.  Everyone rejoiced when the other excelled because we knew that each piece neatly fitted into the puzzle made the portion we were working on easier to complete.

Only at the end when all the children competed to see who would put the last piece into the puzzle was there real competition.  All the siblings came to value that last piece; and they each hid an indiviudal piece so that they would be able to put into the puzzle that last prize.  It was a game their super competitive father easily let them win.

Often the jigsaw puzzle is used to explain the Christian life.  Often, we learn about the mysteries of life examining the lessons we learn from completing the puzzle.  For me The Puzzle was never a teaching tool.  It is a pleasant memory of how people should act and react to each other.  Helping, rejoicing in achievement and delighting in the pleasant company of each other.

arm in armOften, as a pastor, minster, helper, coach or mentor, the joy of The Puzzle escapes me.  Drawn by the need of the moment and the hurts of the past, my heart wants to fix people, especially our members who are mentally challenged.  However, usually it isn’t in the act of teaching that the greatest lessons are learned.  It is in delighting in each other and valuing the person that lessons are best transferred.

Through Jesus’ sacrifice, God’s grace is given freely, openly and without any pressure to deserve the gift.  In fact, we cannot ever obtain that most valuable gift of life eternal.  Grace is God’s way of eliminating competition and delighting in ME, not my achievements.

My prayer, as I’ve worked the puzzle alone this year has been that God will work the Puzzle Grace I’ve seen over the years into every part of my life.