Some say he could be one of the wealthiest men in the county.  His mother died about 10 years ago.  He has a beautiful home and a new car.  He has plenty of money.  There are two bankers and two lawyers who take care of his financial, investment and legal needs.  Unfortunately, his caregivers are not consistent and change frequently.  Fred is a 64 year old man who is in great health; and he is a part of the mentally challenged community.

Recently, we did a survey of sort with our members of Special Gathering.  We were at Camp Agape which is our annual spiritual retreat for persons who are developmentally delayed or intellectually disabled.  We had drawn a circular target on a piece of paper.  It’s the same kind of target used for darts.  There’s a small circle inside a larger circle, inside a larger circle.

We asked our members to put their best friends and closest family in the bull’s eye or smallest circle.  Then close friends and other members of their family in the other circle.  The final and largest circle would contain the people who work with them and they know in an informal way.  Perhaps people who are especially nice to them but may or may not be their friends.

Fred’s entire target contained two names.  They were in the bull’s eye.  Fred had written the name of one other member of Special Gathering and my name, Linda Howard.  When I saw his target, I cried.  My tears were from sadness and joy.

Of course, I was sad that this fine man.  How lonely it must be to feel that you have only two people on which you can depend.  I was struck that no amount of money can buy friends and loved ones.  And perhaps, his money and lawyers and bankers have insulated him from not only hurt but also genuine friendships.

But mostly, I cried that I have the honor to be a part of Fred’s life.  In the twenty years we have been friends, I have seen Fred grow spiritually and emotionally.

I had known Fred for more than five years before I saw any emotion from him.  He often laughs now and his smiles are frequent.  Fred will never be an overtly affectionate individual; but these days he usually will give me a sideways hug after our choir sings.  If he has a solo,  his grin is from ear to ear.  In the past four or five years,  while driving him around in the van for Special Gathering events,  I can hear him giggle.

We all reach from the dark to find hope, joy and satisfaction in life.  Being a part of the mentally challenged community does not erase the desire for love and acceptance.  I praise God that I’m a part of The Special Gathering and that God gives us the opportunity to reach out and find finger tips of hands that are also reaching.  Perhaps with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, I can even touch and be a significant part of a important life–a person for whom Jesus gave everything.

Is there someone that you have touched in a significant way?  Have you seen your members ministering to each other.  How have they been able to do that?

I am often surprised by the ability of the members of Special Gathering to “turn lemons into lemonade.” The other day I had a conversation with one of our SpG members. When he was 18 years old, this young man was in an automobile accident which left his body torn apart.  He is confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk or use his hands.  His continual spastic movements are awkward and tiring.  Yet, his attitude is whole and even holy.

As I drove the member to our Vero program, he bragged about what a wonderful and happy life he had and how much God had blessed him.  Had I not seen the radiant smile on his face, I would have thought that he was being sarcastic or playing a cruelty joke on himself.  However, one look at the joy and delight flowing from his eyes told me that this was a man grateful for life.  He is delighted to have a relationship with His God.

Often, as hard as life becomes for people within the mentally challenged community, there seems to be a thread of joy that weaves its way into the broken lives.  At times, it seems trite to say, “Christ makes a difference in our lives.” Yet, when you see the love of Jesus flowing into hurting people and then experience the love of Christ flowing from their lives, there is a thankful appreciation for what the love of God can do in our lives.

I received an e-mail from a young missionary from China today.  She just returned back from her home in Arkansas.  (Yes, Arkansas produces things other than presidential candidates and chickens.) 

I’d like to share part of her e-mail with you.

I got off the plane craving those little flat sweet bread things that a man and lady sell on the corner of the street outside my apartment building.  I looked for the big metal barrel that they use to cook the bread, but didn’t see it for the first two days that I was here.  Then after school yesterday, I spotted it.

Sure enough, there they were with the big ball of dough, seasoning, and the big barrel with the fire that they stick the flattened dough inside.  By inside, I really mean “to the side”…to the side of the inside.  I wish I could mail them home, but they wouldn’t be warm and some of the yumminess is in the coldness in which you receive them.  Coldness being the weather, not the service.  Not at all.  The people are so sweet and have huge smiles.

But yesterday, I noticed something different.  The man’s hands are so red and almost swollen.  He spends his whole life rolling dough to make “wu mai,” five mao or the equivalent of six cents in US dollars for one little bread.  His hands are red because this is his livelihood.  He stands out in the cold and then sticks his hands inside the very hot barrel to take the bread out. 

And so, my thought is this…What makes me so blessed that I have what I have?  I really can’t explain how seeing hard-working men like this man messes me up.  Seriously, it’s not justice.  I don’t work that hard and I don’t have to worry about having the things I need. 

I am warm and well fed.  I have clothes for my body and shoes for my feet.  I hope that my life is a picture of gratefulness and more than that I hope I never take what I have for granted.  “Lord, let me not get so wrapped up in comparing with those who have more than me that I forget how rich I really am.  Forgive me when I thank so backwards.  Help me to notice those around me and teach me how to love and give.”

How perfectly this explains how I feel each day because I have been honored to know a group of people who experience deep gratitude because of their deep needs and wounds.

Is there someone you know who has touched your life because of their generous and grateful spirit in the middle of deep needs?