Recently, I visited a neighboring Special Gathering program to practice our Christmas music.  It seemed like a good idea. However, it appears that I really messed up.  After the practice, I heard that I “put down” this great choir.  I was shocked because I was so completely impressed with them that I thought they were the best choir of the four with which I’ve worked.

In my attempts to compliment this choir, I assume I mixed up the names and somehow the result was that the choir felt insulted.  That was the last thing I wanted to do.  Fortunately, the choir members told someone; and I was able to straighten out the misunderstanding.

Communication is perhaps the most tricky thing that we do as Christians.  Often, when we are trying to show compassion, we are accused of being harsh or judgmental.  Our great intentions can be viewed as meddling or interference.

I wish I could give some great pointers that would direct you to a better way of communication; but, as my recent experience shows, I’m still a novice in this area.

I am encouraged, however, when I read the scriptures.  Two great Titans of the faith, Paul and Peter, became meshed in the lack of communication webbed tangle.  Paul rebuked Peter who sat with the Jews at a meal when Gentiles were also partaking at the meal.  This was seen as an insult to the Gentiles.  It was a pretty stupid move on the part of Peter and probably deserved rebuke.

Peter, on the other hand, wrote that Paul’s teachings were so complicated that, at times, even he could not understand what Paul was try to say.  This gives me encouragement, because I often find my eyes glazing over while reading Paul’s letters.  Even though, I’ve read them hundred’s of times, I’m still perplexed by what Paul actually meant by certain sentences and paragraphs.

There are a couple of things I have learned when communication turns sour and you are the offending party.

  1. Try to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.  Don’t let things linger.
  2. Don’t let our natural inclination to avoid confrontation interfer with the need to find common ground.
  3. Apologize.  Even if you are absolutely sure that the other person has misunderstood, you are partially at fault because your communication fell apart at some point.
  4. Be honest.
  5. Try to find common ground by assuring the person you did not intend to offend them.
  6. Find something that you admire about the other person; and let them know how much you respect them in this area.
  7. Be humble.  Allow yourself to take the blame.  In the scheme of eternity, this incident will probably not bleep on God’s Richter Scale.
  8. Don’t cower.  Even if you are the offending party, stand straight and expect respect by you actions.  It will not help your relationship to become a whipping boy for the offended party. While this may sound contratictory, humility does not mean that you become someone’s door mat.  In fact, it should have the opposite effect.
  9. Don’t expect men and women to react the same way.  Men will be brief and polite but their attitudes may seem dismissive.  Women will either want to rehearse the offense again; or they will want to rehearse your apology as a way of affirming you.
  10. I believe that face-to-face communication is often the best.  I learned many years ago that I am almost never offended when I am facing another person.  It is the rehearsal of the event or the process of routine thinking that magnifies the event into an insult.  Psychologists tell us that this is true with most people.

Will these steps erase all offenses?  No. But they may go a long way in helping you to mend important fences in your life.

Linda G. Howard

This is my opinion and reaction alone.  It does not reflect the opinions of Special Gathering or any other staff member or volunteer.

Since sarcasm is a staple in the life of my family, here are 11 reasons to NOT evacuate when a life-threatening storm is approaching.  I’ve had plenty of experience to accumulate reasons over the 45 years we’ve lived in a beach community.

I live in Florida on an island about a half mile from the ocean and 1 and 1/2 miles from the inlet waterway.  My family and I have faced repeated evacuations.  When our children were younger, we told them that they could bring one thing with them that they could not live without.  We had a hurricane box with needed supplies and food for a week.  We learned to pack a week of clothing in about five minutes.  We had a big supply of candles and a gas lantern.  We left our home at the first call for evacuation, long before the traffic jams or mandatory evacuation orders were given and house to house searches were performed by the police.

Each year, many others stay on the island.  Therefore, I’ve heard all the excuses for not leaving.  However, I’ve accumulated 11 reasons that I believe motivate people to stay in dangerous places.

  1. I have a death wish for myself and my family.
  2. Because I enjoy watching my home burn down to the ground should there be a gas leak that would cause a fire near my home, I won’t leave.  I know that 40 mile-an-hour winds cause fires to spread.  Yet, I assume that my life is The Great Exception and my home won’t burn down like the house down the street.
  3. Because I am much larger than my 1,500 square-foot house, I must stay to protect it.
  4. The possibility of losing my roof is common; but it certainly will not happen to me or my house.
  5. I am a thrill seeker and risking my life is the biggest thrill of a lifetime.  Riding a roller coaster is a small thrill. Watching trees fall onto my roof and trying to dodge broken glass is much more exciting.
  6. I am an intelligent person; but I am stupid when it comes to common sense involving my life and limbs.
  7. I truly believe that I am the strongest person who ever lived. I am much stronger than any storm a hundred mile wide pounding 90 mile-per-hour winds for 12 to 14 hours.
  8. Should I have to be rescued, I enjoy putting other people’s lives at risk.
  9. While I’m the first person to give lip-service to the heroes in my community,  I do not truly value the lives of our firemen and police officers.  Therefore, I will happily put their lives at risk so that they can rescue me in the middle of the storm.
  10. I can use my beloved pets as an excuse for my fool-hearty actions for facing dangerous, devastating conditions.
  11. The fact that I can take my pets with me and deliver them from danger does not make sense to me.  Even though almost all hotels will waive their restrictions on pets and keeping a pet safely in a car makes more sense than putting their lives in danger, they are such a convenient excuse why not use it and put their lives in danger also?

Of course, there are exceptional circumstances.  During Sandy, the floods were higher than predicted.  Yet, people who lived on these islands did not leave until their homes, clothes, shoes and outerwear were underwater.  They have not coats, food or water.  It is sadder than anyone can imagine.

However, when devastation can be seen approaching, isn’t it common sense to simply pack a bag and leave?

When faced with a problem and needing to confront a person in authority, here are some excellent tips for finding solutions:

1.    Be positive

2.    Be clear and stay focused

3.    Talk to the person who can make the difference

4.    Ask what happened and why

5.    Think solutions, not just complaints

6.      Keep within your own experience of the problem

7.      Write down beforehand what you want to say.  Include the list of issues and questions you want answered, in case you forget in the meeting.

8.      Focus on a way forward

This information was supplied by

The Family Cafe

1332 N. Duval St.
Tallahassee, FL 32303
United States

This is one of our most requested blogs.  It was published five years ago but it has been “stolen” by websites that deal with HOWTO questions.

We have had our third Fun and Games Night at The Special Gathering of Indian River.  They have all been a roaring success.  In addition, Special Gathering of Brevard had a similar party about two weekends before our event.

These are a few of my observations regarding the planning of such an event.

  1. Serving refreshments is essential.  Serving a meal is optional.
  2. Be sure that you have the evening well-planned.
  3. Over planning is always better than under planning.
  4. Games may be fun but you must be sure that they aren’t too complicated for your members.
  5. With large groups, you will have many people who can’t do the planned activity.
  6. Give them different options.  Plan more than one game going on simultaneously.
  7. Play your games at the beginning of the evening.  Then if the games are a bust, your members won’t leave confused or perplexed.
  8. Gifts are optional.  We gave gifts at our first two events.  At the third one, I had them but forgot to give them out in time.  However, everyone has told me that the third event was by far the best.
  9. Plan to involve all your volunteers and your program leader in all the activities.
  10. I’m convinced that the reason things have gone so well at our Fun and Games is because all of our program leadership were in the mix playing with the everyone.
  11. Find a CD of silly songs.
  12. Learn the movements that correspond to the music.
  13. “YMCA” is the national anthem for persons with disabilities.  Be sure to include it.  If your group hasn’t been introduced, do it today.  They will love it.
  14. “Hokie Pokie,”  “Achy-Breaky Heart,” “Do the Limbo,” songs from the movie Grease and Rocky, “The Twist,” “Electric Slide” are all essentials for any successful party where you intend to use movement songs.
  15. Use movement songs.  They are fun and you can participate.
  16. Ask your members can teach you the ones you don’t know,  They will love being the expert who is teaching you.
  17. Try to find someone who can teach line dancing.  It is relatively easy.  There is almost no human contact and it is great fun.
  18. Have a Christian chose your music selections.  Some of the music out there can wilt your eye lashes, if you aren’t careful.
  19. If you have the equipment, show a short (three minutes or less) DVD of your camp or an important event you desire to promote.
  20. Have some calmer games (Dominos or Spoons) set out for those who may want to sit and play games.
  21. Hoola Hoops are great fun.  If you can’t do them, that makes it even better.  We did them in two of our events. We weren’t able to find anyone who could do the hoola hoop but everyone tried.  More important, everyone laughed at ourselves and each other.
  22. Try to have more than one hoola hoop.  We had five at our last event.  Then our volunteers/leaders were asked to help people learn to do it.  The game went quickly and the members were all involved.
  23. Blowing soap bubbles is an activity that almost everyone can do. If you initiate the action, they will love it and not find it to be childish.

Mostly, have fun, get out there yourself and play, and keep it simple, simple, simple.

This weekend was more than exciting for me and the three choirs who gathered for our annual choir retreat.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our choirs go into churches helping to teach that a person who is developmentally disabled can have a genuine relationship with the Lord.

While we were at Word of Life retreat center, even the drivers and volunteers experienced a blessing from the Lord as they joined in the worship and study.  For me, it was especially thrilling.  Perhaps it was even life changing.

During this time, I realized something about myself.  I’ve loved directing the Special Gathering choirs more than almost anything I do.  I even say that the choirs are my hobby because they are too much fun to be work.  This Saturday, I realized that not only do I love being a choir director; but God helps me to draw from the choir members things which they may not know they can give.  Sure, that is the job of every director but I didn’t actually realize that God was working in this way with me.  It came as a bit of a shock.

We often talk about the importance of learning when to say, “No.”  But there doesn’t seem to be many rules about when to say, “Yes.”  I’ve been asked to consider whether I would be willing to take over all the Special Gathering choirs.  It will mean extra work but I’ve been excited about the prospect of doing this.  The question has been, should I say, “Yes”?  What are the markers that make a right decision easier to make.

I think God taught me how to establish clear markers in decision making during this retreat.  Here are some of the things I learned.

1.  Do you feel God’s pleasure when you are doing this activity?

2.  Are others blessed as much as you are?

3.  Can you see spiritual growth in others when you engage in this activity?

4.  Can you see spiritual growth in your own life when you engage in this activity?

5.  Are you given spiritual insight or revelation from the Lord when you are actively working in this arena?

6.  Does God speak to others when you are doing this?

7.  Do you sense that others take pleasure in helping you to perform this mission?

8.  Are you able to draw others into the circle of influence that this activity produces?

9.  Does this activity give you energy or do you feel drained from the effort?

If you can answer “yes” to most or all of these questions, God is probably in a positive decision.  Most of us won’t be asked to be choir directors; but all of us will face a decision which will demand an answer.  Perhaps these Yes Markers will help us to be able to know God’s will and purpose in our lives.

Is there something that you do that helps you to feel God’s pleasure?  Have you included it into your repertoire of activities?  If not, why not?

I admit that there are some things that I do pretty well.  These are things at which I work hard to do as well as I can.  They are also things I enjoy.  My list seems to grow as I get older.  I enjoy writing, gardening, children, playing, teaching and administration.

There are several things that I don’t enjoy, however.  One is waiting.  As much waiting as I’ve done in my life, you would think that I would have acquired a “likin'” for the process but I still rebel like a 13-year-old when I have to wait for longer than one minute.

There are some things that I’ve found that are worse than waiting, however.  Several of them are

  1. Having other people have to wait on me.
  2. Having the people who are waiting for me blow the horn of their car.
  3. Having my husband have to wait on me.
  4. Having my husband who is waiting for me blow the horn of the car.

Today, as our South Carolina program director worked to get three of her members ready for a day at Magic Kingdom in Disney, she was reduced to waiting.  “You would think that I’d be used to it by now,” she commented in passing.

Our conversation quickly deteriorated to the other times we have waited for our members.  It takes half a day to load a 15 passenger van with people, add luggage and you better plan to spend the day waiting.  A buffet line can take up to four hours, depending on whether the person in front of you wants everything, wants nothing or changes her mind 37 times before putting the first thing on her plate.   In essence, we decided that waiting is one outgrowth of special needs ministry that will either make you stronger or break your strength.

There are some things that you can do while waiting:

  1. Clean your fingernails.  Cleaning toenails is not recommended.
  2. Pick your teeth.  Picking someone else’s teeth is not recommended.
  3. Prayer at the beginning of the process is recommended.  Praying by the end of the process is not recommended because the prayers you will find yourself praying will not promote spiritual growth.
  4. Playing mind games is recommended.  Playing video or on-line games is not recommended.  The length of time you will spend playing the game while waiting will put you on such a high level that you will want to cancel the activity and spend the rest of your day playing games.
  5. People observing is recommended as long as you are not looking at your members trying to get ready.

If you are in special needs ministry, you will want to make a copy of this list and tuck it into a shirt pocket for easy reference the next time you are waiting.

Teresa’s personality is typically soft and placid.  Perhaps because she was raised by her father, her rough edges don’t usually emerge as irritability.  However, Aaron stands apart from everyone with his arms folded as if daring even the bravest of the brave to glance in his direction.

At Special Gathering, we have learned over the course of years to allow the unique personalities of our members to play out without judgement.  Yet, the people who are consistently irritable, or The Irritables, do present a unique disciple concern.

By the time a person reaches adulthood most of the roughest edges has been wore away.  Think of the rock caressed by the flowing waters of the bubbling brook which eventually becomes a smooth stone.  However, our members often miss the rubbing that others get for one reason or another during their childhood and adolescence.  Perhaps it is their limited mental capacity which doesn’t alow them to sort through complicated relationship interactions.  Perhaps there are overly protective parents who monitor every move.  Maybe their early training was too harsh and their personalities broke under the pressures presented to them in their daily life.

Whatever the reason, the moderating subtleties that mark the arrival of adulthood somehow seem to escape their grasp and our members are left with the emotions and reactions of pre-pubic adolescence.  Of course, their personalities, like other adults, continue to grow and mature but more slowly.

There may be no real keys to unlock the secrets coaxing the irritable folks in your program from their state of mind.  However, there are a couple of things that we have found that help.

  1. Harsh disciple will almost never work with these members.  This will only accelerate the irritation.
  2. Ignoring should probably be our first line of defense.  If Aaron can stand for a few minutes alone and apart, he can gain his equilibrium and slowly allow himself to be absorbed into the group.
  3. Laughter is the “Get Out of Jail” free card for most of our irritable members.  Of course, they don’t want to ever be the brunt of the joke but laughter is contagious for almost everyone.
  4. Observe what makes them most irritable and permit subtle changes, if necessary.  Marcie could never allow herself to become a part of the group during the first hour of our program.  This is when we have our large group meeting.  However, she was quickly and smoothly assimilated into the smaller group setting.  We allow her to sit in the very back of the room whenever the larger group is assembled.  But insist that she remained with her smaller group during the discussion and Bible study times.
  5. Allowing movement may release the tension that is evident.  When Tory visited a few weeks ago, she wanted to walk.  Before the program, we allowed her to walk the parameter of the gymnasium.  She and her caregiver had come an hour early.  By the time, the Special Gathering program began, she was able to stand in the back of the room quietly absorbing the action. 

The object is to allow the person time to become adjusted to her surroundings.  There is no magic bullet in regard to a perfect time.  Remember their irritability is not a personal, confronting or aggressive stand.  It is a measure of their instability while being thrown into an unfamiliar or overly active surrounding.

At times, nothing seems to work, except prayer.  Bathing each member with prayer during the week can work miracles in their lives and in the life of your program.

The Irritables will always be with us.  Learning to moderate their mood and allowing them to come to a place of peace is important.   It is also one of the many roles you play when you are teaching and leading a group of people who are developmentally delayed.