onboardplaneWhile traveling on a plane recently, I found myself seated next to a young woman who was attractive, prime, proper and aloof.  I don’t mind people who don’t want to talk on a plane because I like that alone time also.

However, she was clearly impressed with herself. Because I admire that in younger women, she caught my attention  Therefore, even though she wasn’t interested in speaking to me, questions flooded my mind.  I wanted to know her.  I quietly and silently prayed that somehow I could be a blessing to her.

I felt that she was a person who had newly acquired her positive self-image because there was still a bit of uncomfortable awkwardness about the way she sat straight and tall.  It was impossible to notice that she took out pictures of cosmetic sample and flipped through them several times.  I felt that perhaps she recently took a job that helped her to see how valuable she really is.

We waltzed a bit in our seats, shifting and maneuvering our computers, phones and purses to avoid contact.  She was the one who was leading each dance, while never allowing my eyes to meet hers.  My interest grew.

boarding passThen she lost her boarding pass and all the defenses and reserve melted.  Panic slipped into the space that had been occupied by self-assurance.

“I lost my ticket,” she said in broken but clear English.  I knew that she meant “boarding pass” for her next flight; but I didn’t see the need to correct her.

“Oh, I found one in the front pocket of my seat.  Perhaps, it was yours.”   No.  We searched together but we couldn’t find the missing boarding pass.

“Don’t worry.” I said, as her black and delightfully expressive eyes filled with tears.  Her look questioned me.  I explained the procedure to get another boarding pass.  But she didn’t understand.  I clarified several times.  Finally, she seemed satisfied.  She sat back in her seat and grasped her Gucci handbag.

“I don’t need to worry,” she reassured herself out loud.  “I can get another ticket.”  She smiled at me and I felt such love for her.  In that moment, it was as though God had given me another daughter.

I touched the sleeve of her elegant leather coat and prayed soft enough that only she, the Lord and I could hear,  “Father, help her find her ticket.  She needs to have it in her hands.”  Again, she smiled shyly.

Then she reached down on the floor, moving her hand between her seat and the wall of the plane.  “It is here!” she exclaimed, smiling from ear to ear. “I found my ticket.”

I settled down to resume our previous positions; but the barriers were broken for her and a flood of questions followed.  We spent the next 20 minutes getting to know each other as only two women who are strangers can do.  As we parted from the plane, we smiled and walked away.

There are times in our lives that God can reach out and touch us in such a powerful way that there is almost heavenly music in the air.  Others times, there is only a smile and word of reassurance needed to reach the heart of a person.  Yet, how important it is to grasp the moment, knowing that God alone can make hearts confident.  I’ve prayed all this week for this wonderful, young woman.  I hope we meet again in heaven.

gardengardenA couple of times a year I must dedicate several days to my garden.  I have a small yard.  Therefore, most of my back and side yards are devoted to my garden.  I’m not consistent enough with my yard work to be considered a true gardener; but I enjoy the fruits of my sporadic labors all year round.

Often in my pruning and pulling, I find a wilted perennial.  Usually, there seems to be no reason for the decay of the dying plant.  In sunny Florida near the ocean, we need water almost everyday for our growing ornamentals; but I’m pretty diligent about providing that.  Yet, the mystery is that these wilted plants often grow along side the healthy ones.

wiltedIn some plants that seems to be a deficiency in their ability to grow.  They are receiving the same fertilizer and water.  The share equally with the soil and sunlight; but they remain stunted until they are gone.

I remember a young man who was raised in a large family.  He told of an abusive childhood.  Finally, he left home, rejecting the opportunity to go to college as his siblings had done because he didn’t want to be obligated to his unforgiving and vengeful parents.  Yet, when you realized that this young man had been raised by godly parents and his six other siblings told a completely different story about their childhood, you knew something had gone badly wrong with this young man; and his parents probably were not to blame. There were obvious distortions in his life.

distortionsAs the man has matured, his attitude has improved but not totally changed.  The distortions in his life remain.  Wherever he goes, people are making his life miserable.  Employers fire him for no reason.  Women break his heart without regrets or scruples.  Hospital mix up his test results and give him the wrong medications which make him sicker.  Even though, the man rejected church in his youth, he has returned to his faith; but there is no joy in his relationship with the Father.

Several weeks ago, I revisited the parable of the talents as told by Jesus in Matthew 25.  We all remember the three employees who were given various amounts of money from their employer, a business owner.  They were expected to invest the money.  The first two did exactly what was expected of them, doubling the amount they received.

moneyThe third, however, buried his money with this explanation to his employer, “I know that you were a hard man and that you expect growth from investments, even where you don’t invest any money.  You want more for your labors than you are willing to make an effort to produce.  Therefore, I was afraid.  I buried your money and here it is.  I’m returning the amount you gave to me.”

His employer was outraged with his employee.  “If you knew that I was that kind of employer, why didn’t you take my money and put it in the bank so it would at least draw interest.”  The employer took away the money and gave it to the employee who had earned the greatest money from his investment.

The employer explained through is torrent of anger, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them”  (Matthew 25:29)  The employer fired the slothful employee and then had him arrested and sent to prison.

We know that the employer is God in this parable.  In reading the Biblical account, we find that the three men had the same employer but two expected goodness from him.  And that is precisely what they received.  The third employee, driven by indolence, sluggishness and laziness, expected exactly the opposite from the same man and that is what he received.

There are those who expect only the worst from God–and that is what they receive.  Like my wilted garden plant, they never learn to partake of the water, sunlight, warmth and food provided all around them.

Many of my friends within the mentally challenged community exhibit the exact opposite attitude.  Their IQ’s a deficient.  Their bodies may not function properly.  However, they grow and mature without distortions within their spirit.  The Lord in his mercy has graciously provided for all of us.  His blessings abound all during the day and night but often without reason we become overcome by doubts and fears.  Our spirits wilt in the presence of a gracious Lord.

My prayer is that I will command my doubting heart know the love of the Lord.  That I will demand for my whining spirit to look full into the sunlight of his love expecting and receiving the abundant blessings that surround me.

looking at her watchShe is never early.  Always late.  He cannot speak without using offensive or vulgar expressions.  “I’M marching to a different drummer” is her excuse for breaking all the rules and acting selfishly.  He only seems interested in hurting others, if he doesn’t get his way.

I’ve deliberately left out names.  Because we all can fit into any of those statements but for the mercy and work of God in our hearts.  In fact, even though we have come to Lord and asked for his saving grace, one of the greatest tricks of our enemy is to erase from our memory the place where we dwelt before God’s forgiveness entered our hearts and lives.

sitting in a boxWe’ve been told by the Lord, “Do this to remember me.”  Often to the Church, Jesus is saying, “Remember me so you can be reminded of the point where you started.  Remember where you were; and you still are a sinner.  You need a Savior.”

My heart desires to reach out and slap some folks I know.  They aren’t following the Lord up to my standards.  Or they are giving to the point of hurting the people they want to bless.  Their lives shout, “I need a Savior.”  Yet, their eyes are blind to their own needs.  They can see the fault of everyone around them.  Nevertheless, they cannot see their own needs and sins.

Others are like me.  We are born-again but we still walk through life succumbing to sinful desires.  Or there are those of us who have become self-righteous looking through our salvation binoculars at everyone who does not know the Lord as their Savior.  Carnal or baby Christians are an anathema to us.  We cannot understand why they can’t get their lives together.

We understand God’s amazing grace in our lives but we want to customize the way God’s deals with others according to our plan and our dictates.  We have forgotten our starting point.  We’ve become self-righteous to the core.

crossroadsPaul instructed the church to never forget from where we came.  The Lord wants us to lead by example; not proclamation. Each year, Special Gathering ministry takes about 175 people who are intellectually disabled on a four-day retreat experience.  In my first year at Camp Agape, one of the hardest things for me to learn as a new staff person was the principle of “leading by example.”  I wanted to tell everyone what to do and where to do it.

The problem is that telling is much easier than leading by example.  Nevertheless, God has given us an airtight way to overturn our self-righteous ways.  “Remember where we came from.”

Image Crossroads (C) by www.martin-liebermann.de“.

wordsTonight I had a pleasant surprise when I met a friend who is also a member of Special Gathering during my late afternoon walk.  My friend, M.J. was meeting with her reading tutor in the park. Her tutor explained that they often take a walk in the park to help  M.J. loosen up and prepare her for her next reading assignment.

At the time I saw them, they weren’t walking but M.J. was reading out loud.  I came on them at the end of her lesson; and by the time I reached them, they were preparing to leave.

It seemed interesting to me that M.J.’s teacher wanted to explain to me why they had her lessons in the park.  It is a very public place.  In fact, it was such a busy spot that I wondered if M.J. would be comfortable reading out loud with all the people who stroll through the area.

reading

Understand, I’m not questioning this tutor’s methods or abilities.  What I did question was the propriety of having an adult woman learning to read in this public park at a time when people are routinely walking their dogs, exercising and meandering through the area.  In conducting a reading lesson, it is logical that the student must read out loud.  Thereby, the teacher can access the effectiveness of her instruction.

child readingI’ve heard my friend read.  Her ability is at a kindergarten to first grade level.  I have my Master’s degree and I would be self-conscious reading aloud in such a public venue.  M.J. is a sharp, stylish young woman in her early twenties.  If comfortable in her surroundings, she can be boisterous.  But her typical behavior is shy and withdrawn.  I cannot imagine that she is able to function at her best while reading in the park.

Over the years, I seen men and women who are professionals use a lack of judgement regarding the feelings and emotional well-being of people who are intellectually disabled.  My concern is that this is another case of a well-meaning teacher finding an atmosphere which puts her student at a disadvantage.

Am I overreaching and overreacting?  Or do you think another place would be more appropriate to hold a reading lesson?

chatEven though saying what we mean is difficult, it may be harder to mean what we say.  When working with people with intellectually disabilities, I’ve found that our sub-culture is actually less prone to say things they do not mean than other segments of the population.  Yet, this is a continuing problem within our society.

A good friend of mine tells me that his wife was constantly threatening to “leave and never come back.”  He learned eventually that this was only an idle threat; but even in knowing this, it put him in continual trauma.  Finally, he realized that the sense of drama which produces trauma was her true purpose.  This is when he learned to ignore the threats.

However, threats about almost everything is a part of many people’s lives.  A parent may tell the Bible study teacher, “If that happens again, my daughter won’t be able to come back to your program.”  A member may inform you, “I’m never coming back…” if I don’t get my way.

talking to each otherOne of the great life lessons is to mean what we say.  Our members who are mentally challenged are concrete learners.  They must have truth in everything they do, especially in their relationship with the Lord. I’ve found that even some people who claim to have a vital relationship with the Lord have a little problem with mangling the truth.

Understand that I’m not speaking from the lofty tower of innocence.  I’ve caught myself more often than I care to remember torturing the truth in my speech.  When we mean what we say, there is a release that comes for everyone with whom you must interface.

“I will go” becomes a sealed covenant.  “I can’t do that” releases you and the other person from future expectations.  “If you do that, I must punish you” is a committment that should not be violated.  This week there was a conflict between two members.  One member began to curse at the other person.  I had to pull him out and ask for him to apologize.  He refused.

argueThis refusal meant that I had to separate him from the others.  Once we were in a more private area, I could reason with him.  Within a few minutes, he was able to understand what was needed and what should be done.  He agreed and could be moved back to his normal seat.  My greatest danger  in this situation was threatening something that I could not or would not do.  It was essential to mean what I said.

Only the Lord’s strength and wisdom can help us to follow through on what we say.  Asking for his help always allows us to become the people of integrity that who can be the example we need to be for our members.

I am often surprised at where blog entries go and even more surprised where they do not go.  It seems that each time I plug into another venue (Facebook, Pinterest, etc.), there are new readers.  At this point, other than the US, the country where this blog is most read is Australia.

Because my emphasis is the lives of people who are mentally challenged, I’m also aware that the pool in which I’m swimming is pretty limited.  However, it isn’t unusual for me to get 150 to 200 hits a day.

When I began blogging six years ago, I could not find anyone else who was doing a daily blog or even a monthly blog in the area of intellectual disabilities.  However, today almost everyone who is in disability ministry is blogging.  This is a very good thing.  The more voices, the more people have the opportunity to understand the wonderful world in which we live and serve.

In addition, people with disabilities, especially those people whose disability is within the autism spectrum, are blogging regularly.  If you haven’t seen any of their blogs simply google “Aspergers” and you will find some excellent places to learn about this interesting personality spectrum.

Blogging is a way of self-publishing and having access to a world-wide audience at no expense to you or your reader.  By blogging each day, you are able to push your blog up to the forefront of the Search Engine World.  By keeping your blogs interesting and thoughtful, or humorous and pithy, you will be able to gather an audience, no matter what your subject area.

My purpose and message has been to simply introduce people to folks who are intellectually disabled and the fact that they can have a vital and real relationship with the Lord.  This past year, I’ve not kept up my daily vigor.  However, people still come and people still read.  For that I am most grateful and humbled.

7talkingTwo of my good friends are also members of Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  They are going through extremely difficult times. Last night I spent a good deal of time with them.  It was a fun outing; but my purpose was to extend our friendship.  Also, I hoped that they’d be willing to share a brief glimpse with me into their pain.

It happened.  Several off-handed remarks were passed along by both young women.  Mentally, I paused for a few minutes and took note.  I wasn’t able to be alone with one of the women. But after everyone had been taken home; and we were riding alone in the car,  the other one shared openly.

sharingI asked a question, reminding my friend, Lyleth, of the remark she had made.  Lyleth jumped in feet first and shared the painful poison residing in her heart.  I reminded her of God’s promises.  She clinched her lips and shook her head.  Her silence screamed resistance.

C. S. Lewis wrote,  “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962, pg 93.)  Explaining God’s love to a person who is mentally challenged is often less complicated than trying to penetrate the heart of a smarty-pajamas who has life figured out.  However, the kind of deep, penetrating grief that these women are experiencing is never easy to explain in logical or Biblical terms.

megaphoneYet, the hardship of pain often leaves us mute and disturbed because of our own inadequacy to understand or embrace deep hurts of the past or present.  Watching the anguish of my friend as she faces what will be the death of all she truly loves, my heart was wrenched because of my inability to reach out and heal.

After I dropped her off, I went Wal-Mart even though it was after 10PM.  I needed to pace and debrief my spirit.  I walked for an hour pushing my cart  in the security of the lighted building, praying and asking God to release my friends from the uncertainly and pain that the future holds for them.

I came home still uneasy, hurting for my friends whose pain will only increase in the months ahead.  However, during the night, God did a wonderful miracle in me.  I was able to release them into His care.  He is the only one who can heal and bring true growth.  His megaphone not only alerts us; but the pain He announces has a wonderful way of teaching, healing and releasing.