A man who is gifted with a musical talent told me the other day that he would love to come and help me whenever I spoke at a church or a women’s group.  I laughed, “I don’t teach a many churches or women’s groups any more.”

He looked a bit shocked and inquired, “Why?  Don’t you want to teach in places like that?  I think you have a lot to give.”

“That’s not the point,” I said.  “There are hundreds of anointed people who want to teach at churches and women’s and men’s groups.  No one else does what I do in Vero or South Brevard.  I learned long ago to concentrate my efforts and energy where God has called me.  The Special Gathering and the mentally challenged community is where God has called me.”

Again, he inquired with surprise.  “No one does what you do?  That seems impossible.”

In reality, there are more than 70 churches who make Special Gathering happen through their prayer, volunteers and financial support.  As I drove home from the meeting, I was so grateful for the church community who continues to give to The Special Gathering.  These are the people who make what we do possible.  They allow us  and our volunteers to minister to the mentally challenged community–a people who are often overlooked.

Teaching our members the importance of Halloween can enhance their day and teach lessons of faith and sacrifice.  These are the trow meaning of Halloween.

Yesterday, I found a doll that I received at Christmas when I was in the fourth or fifth grade.  It was a “walking doll,” stuck back in a closet, I barely use.  These specialty dolls would walk if you held their hand and moved them in exactly the right way.

Walking dolls were the rage that year and every little girl got one.  Even though I was getting too old for dolls, I love it and I’ve kept it in the top of a closet for about 55 years.  She is a mess and certainly won’t ever be a sell-able item in years to come.

A good friend collected marbles all during his childhood.  Today, they are valuable collectibles.  However, his parents decided that these toys belonged to them–not him.  In fact, without consulting him, they gave the marble treasure to his sister.

All Saints’ Day costumes

All of us have special memories from our childhood.  Some are gifts and toys.  Most of them revolve about special days and events.  For me Halloween was one of those.  I grew up in the days that parents didn’t buy costumes.  All the children in the neighborhood got together and we made our own dress-up attire.  The guys wore their baseball uniforms or wore an eye batch and their older sister’s white blouse with their dad’s over-sized pants and became pirates.  The less creative girls, like me, were usually gypsies.

The candy was the super star of the day.  We cared little about what the day meant.  Yet, we loved getting that candy from neighbors.  By the time my children were at the trick-or-treat stage, creepy crawlers had moved onto the scenes because parents had started to manage the day and the event.  One home in our neighborhood was decorated.   Sears always had costume pajamas that I purchased for the children.  My daughter was always an angel.

All Saints’ Day light

In reality, Halloween is a transliteration of the two words Hallowed Eve or Holy Eve.  October 31 is the day before one of the most holy days of the Christian calendar, All Saints Day. On November 1, the church in the 1800’s took the day to remember saints who have lived and died to insure the spread of the good news of Christ’s death and God’s redeeming love.

I am often asked what I think about Halloween.  In short, I don’t celebrate the day.  However, I hate that playing with evil and a glorification of Satan has overtaken a holy time of remembrance.  Goulds and skeletons which celebrate death and slaughter are freely greeted.  Yet, the holy Babe who was laid in a manger and Holy Week are being outlawed.  After all, remembering God’s sacrificial love is much more dangerous to society than blatant evil.

Could it be that the Church has given away another holy time?  How many of us celebrate November 1, All Saints Day?  Wouldn’t a renewal of this holiday by the Church at least off set for Christians a holiday gone bad?

As many of you know, my husband died almost two months ago.  We had been married for 49 years.  It had been almost a decade since his first stroke.  I knew each time I left the house that when I came home, he could be gone.  Every time I passed his bedroom, I checked to be sure that he was still with me. Yet, like most couples who live with this reality, our lives together grew closer and sweeter, rather than separate and bitter.

Three weeks after his death, we had Camp Agape, which is our annual spiritual retreat with our Special Gathering members.  I cannot tell you much this spiritual retreat coupled with exhaustive work and relaxing fun healed me.  Special Gathering members are the most loving, caring people in the world. 

This past month has been a sober time of remembering and throwing away.  I’ve thrown away and distributed Frank’s clothes and possessions.  Additionally, I’ve sorted through my life to discard the things which have held me back from totally giving myself to Christ.  This process brought more healing for me.

I am also deeply grateful for the love that has been shown to me and my family.  The flowers, donations to Special Gathering, cards, food and gifts have been treasures that we will remember all of our lives.  Your many acts of kindness have made me realize how much simple expressions of love can bring healing to those who grieve.  I will never again underestimate the importance of a card or a phone call. 

I want to thank all who have prayed and help to support me during these months.  Thank you.

We can succeed if we obey God

Luke 5:9

Central Theme:  Obedience is the key to success with Jesus.

Introduction–Show a simple paper clip.  This was made by an inventor who was struggling with the big problems of his business.  But one day, sitting at his desk he found a piece of straight wire and he started to bend it.  Then he realized that it could be used to help papers stay together when he bent it in a certain way.  It was strong and it would work.  This inventor learned that sometimes it is the little things that make you very successful.  Have a member read Luke 5:9.

I.     Jesus got into a boat that was anchored on the shore.  Then told the boat owner–who was Simon and became Jesus’ disciple–to go into the deep part of the lake and fish (Luke 5:1-11).

A. Peter, James and John had worked all night and caught no fish but they obeyed.

B. They caught many fish.

C. Jesus told them that from that time, they would still be fishermen but they would catch men–not fish.  They would be fishers of men.

II.     Obedience must be in the little things.

A. As a child, the questions was “What if the communists came and took over our church. Would you deny Jesus?”

B. As an adult, I found that it was the little things that made me stumble.  It wasn’t the big things like denying Jesus when times were tough.

III.     All of the law of God can be wrapped up in 10 simple sentences–the 10 commandments.

1.  I wanted to do big things for the Lord but God required me to live a simple life.

2.  I was sure that my life would Count for God.

A.      It does but only when I obey in the simple things.

B.           Don’t cause confusion at work.

C.           Do the best you can in all your work.

D.      Be kind and considerate of other people.

Conclusion     Obedience gives us success with God.

It’s a guy thing.  I’ve never quite understood most of this passage of scripture found in John 21. You remember the incident that happened after Jesus’ resurrection.  First, the breakfast on the beach.  I think Jesus  invented going out to breakfast that morning.  Hey, what’s a good breakfast?  One egg and a piece of toast.  That’s a satisfying, filling breakfast.  How much does it cost?  $.35?  And it takes five minutes to prepare for a family of five.  (Trust me!  I’ve timed it hundred’s of times.)  That will satisfy almost all women.

Oh, no! Men want the Denny’s Grand Slam! What does it contains? 17 pieces of bacon, two slices of ham, fourteen scrambled eggs, 25 pancakes, and two biscuits slathered with gravy.  Enough food to feed Napoleon’s army for a week.

Women like to go out to lunch–not breakfast.  A salad, some iced peach tea and a four-inch piece of Kill-Me-with-Chocolate cake that you share with three other people.

Think about it. Everything about this passage in John 21:1-17  must be a guy thing.  Guys, you’ll love reviewing it.  Women, listen and learn.

Reviewing all of the things that had happened:

  1. Judas’s betrayal.
  2. The final passover.
  3. They slept while Jesus agonized in prayer.
  4. The soldiers appear to arrest Jesus and take him away.
  5. The disciples deserted him after his arrest.
  6. Jesus’ death.
  7. The resurrection.
  8. Now, he had appeared to them while they were in the upper room with the doors locked.

It was simply too much.  Peter and the disciples were on overload.  Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”  Fishing?  Really, fishing?

It’s got to be a guy thing.

Women, we would go shopping or for a quiet walk in the park to clear our heads.  But Peter wanted to go fishing.

And–uninvited–all the men wanted to go with Peter.  Uninvited, the men all piled into their own vehicles.  They simply invited themselves to go fishing.  Now, women love going places with other women.  In our favorite restaurant, we will even go to the public bathroom together.  But WE WAIT TO BE INVITED.  These men invited themselves.

It’s a guy thing.

It was the next morning and they had fished all night and caught nothing.  Fishing?  All night?

We won’t even go there because  it’s a guy thing.

Then they saw a man on the shore that they didn’t recognize and the man asked them, “Have you caught anything?  Throw your nets on the other side of the boat.”

What?  “Throw your nets on the other side?”  No woman would have done that.  The stranger didn’t say, “Go across the lake to my favorite fishing spot.”  He directed them to the other side of the boat.  The boat was not more than 8 feet wide.  If there are no fish in the lake after fishing all night, why throw your net on the other side of the boat?

It’s a guy thing.

Of course, the men did it. Why?  I don’t know, except could it be because another man told them to do it?

It’s a guy thing.

Women would be questioning, “The other side?  Has he lost his mind?  Who is this strange man? I don’t even have to walk to the other side of this boat.  I can toss the net on the other side standing in the middle.  Ladies, does this make sense?”

Of course, the men did it and after filling the net with fish, only John realized that Jesus was the man on the shore.

Again, it’s a guy thing.

Sorry, Men, but you sometimes don’t recognize the most obvious things.  After observing men and their fish for decades,  I think these men were so concerned about getting the fish into the boat that their brains went into tilt mode.  If this had been a group of women, they would have immediately known that it was Jesus on the shore.

Then Peter put on his clothes to jump into the water.  Two things. First, I’ve learned that men often take off their clothes to do work when they are alone with only other men.  Women never do that.

Second,  Peter PUT his clothes back on to jump into the water.

It’s got to be a guy thing.

We, women, would take off our clothes to jump into the water.  “Hey, I’m not getting these sandals wet.  And do you know how long I had to save to get this sarong?  Girls, meet me at the edge and BRING all my clothes!”

But when they got to the shore, Jesus had breakfast ready for them.  He had cooked it himself .  Jesus  invited the tired and hungry fishermen/disciples for breakfast.

Then, after they had eaten,  Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to confess to Jesus that he loved Jesus three times.  The exact number of times that Peter had denied Jesus.

A-h-h! That’s a God thing!

God is always gracious and loving to us.  No matter how bad our sins, he wants to forgive us and set us free.  Jesus came to the disciples where they were; and he showed them that he loved them.  He was especially gracious to Peter.  He even gave Peter the opportunity to make his bad mistake right.

That’s a God thing.

This was one of the first posts published more than four years ago.  It was also today’s entry at A Simple Life, my BeliefNet Blog.  

Shelly is a young woman in her early 30’s.  She is an avid writer.  Some of her articles appear in our monthly newsletter, Connecting Point, her own webpage and as a guest writer for this blog.  Terry’s passion is kitchen duty.  Anything that involves dirty dishes or grimy pots and pans presents a welcome contest for her.  Steve is stingy to a fault but he loves unconditionally.  When his girlfriend became sick, rather than dropping her, he became even more devoted to her and her growing needs.  Larry’s girlfriend has been faithful for almost 20 year.  Larry can muster up faithfulness for about 20 minutes, if she is in the room.

People within the mentally challenged community are sometimes lumped together as though they have one personality.  But they are individuals with individual needs and desires.

There are actually three personality types usually designated to our population.  The first is the congenial “Downs Forever Child.”  She is petite and wears an eternal smile.  Our Downs Forever Child (DFC) is compliant to a fault and loved by everyone.  She never gives anyone any trouble and is the perfect little person.

The second personality is similar to the DFC.  He is Forrest Gump (FG).  FG is tall and strong but shy and unable to effectively communicate with people but he is a sage with wisdom beyond his IQ.  He can be greatly misunderstood but things seem to happen for him that are wonderful because he is such a good, wise and kind person.  He is as gentle as a kitty cat and though people don’t understand him, in the end, everyone loves and admires him from afar.

The third personality is the Mice Killer.  He was made famous by the book, Of Mice and Men. MK is similar to Forrest Gump except he cannot control his emotions and therefore you never know when he might snap off the head of his pet mice or a pretty young woman he greatly admires.

Like all stereotypes, none of them are real.  People with Downs can be cranky and stubborn.  Forrest Gump isn’t a great fountain of wisdom hidden in the body of a mentally challenged individual.  And our population is seldom involved in crime, mass murder or mayhem.

The wonder of this population is that they are not phonies.  They don’t wear masks to hide their imperfections.  Henri Nouwen wrote about his experiences within the developmentally disabled community and in doing so, dared the church to become authentic in our relationship with the Lord.  We love to quote and read Henri Nouwen and his famous book, In the Name of Jesus. However, there are a few people I know who dare to live the Nouwen experience.  There is a family in our community who opened a group home in their house.  As their corporation grew, young couples moved into the different group homes and became a part of the mentally challenged community 24 hours a day.

Henri NouwenAnd there are others.  We have many faithful volunteers who come and live four days out of the year within this exciting cloistered, sub-culture at our Camp/Retreat held once a year.  Usually they come from curiosity or concern.  Some teenagers come, dragged there by their parents.  But they almost always come back year after year.  They work and play and clean messes and receive abundant love.  They learn the rich variety of personalities within the mentally challenged community and they come back for more.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have met?
Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/simplelife/#ixzz1QfWrDUiE

Is there a way to explain how to get ready for hurt and tragedy?  Probably not.  And if there is, I’m out of answers.  Today, I sat and listened to the nurse as she calmly talked about my husband being accepted into Hospice.  My typical reaction to most calamities is to become extremely calm.   Of course, there are other reactions that are happening within my psyche.  I usually don’t know the grief  has hit me until much later when I look back.

I’ve watched parents of people who are mentally challenged and marvel at their resilience in the face of crisis.  All parents of children with disabilities face daily concerns.  Some of them live with imminent and serious medical or emotional dilemmas. 

More than 20 years ago, I listened to a psychologist who explained that when he began to work with parents of children with disabilities, he found that they lived with incredible hope.  He believed that it was this hope that allowed them to continue decade after decade, expecting their lives to work out for their good.  Some years before, a group of people had worked with me for three years to publish a newsletter to people who were terminally ill.  I had learned something about grief.  The theme of our newsletter came from Romans 5:5.  “Hope does not disappoint.”

Though my husband knows he will now be under hospice care, he doesn’t really understand the implications.  However, he came from his room as the nurse and I reviewed options and signed papers.  “Am I going to die tomorrow?” 

She laughed.  “I looked but I didn’t see an expiration date on the bottom of your foot.”  Not sure of my husband’s reaction but she infused my spirit with hope. 

One parent–who has two severely disabled children and is also a pastor–said to me, “God is still in charge of our lives.  No matter how many trials and difficulties we have to travel through.”  Today, I remembered so many people who live in the state of expectation for good things to happen because they understand that God is their friend as well as their Savior.

I’m not ready for so many things; but ready or not…life happens.  Thank God for hope and that “hope never disappoints.”