Several times a year, the Volusia County locals are treated to lots of tourist traffic because of the Daytona speedway.  For more than five years, my full-time position with Special Gathering, a ministry within the intellectually disabled community, was in Volusia County.  I worked primarily in Daytona and DeLand.  These are racing cities.  NASCAR rules the city of Daytona because of the income it provides.

Every resident of Daytona understands what it means to drive a marathon.  Driving 500 miles at top speeds of 150 to 170 miles per hour is not a sprint.  It’s a gut-grueling marathon.  Paul tells us that our lives in Christ are to be viewed as a marathon, rather than a sprint.

I was reminded last week of how our life-long marathons should be run.  During the time that my husband’s life was being gently pulled from us, our family gathered around the table waiting.  Conversations about life and lives wove in and out.  Carefully threading the warp and weft of dialogue, we found our family’s lives being woven into the lives of others.
One life was South Carolina’s former Lt. Governor Andre Bauer.  Cheryl, my husband’s sister sat with us and started talking about our wedding.  Slightly changing the subject, she asked, “What happened to Jill Westbury?  She was really kind to me in your wedding.  I always wondered what happened to her.”
The Westbury family had been our next-door neighbors most of my childhood.  Jill and I were playmates until high school.  When Jill married, she began using her first name, Sandrea.  She became Sandrea Bauer.  Relating what I thought was an interesting twist, I shared, “She and her husband moved to Columbia.  And Jill’s son was best friends and college roommates with my neice’s huband.”
“Her son’s name was Andre; and,of course, he became lieutenant governor of South Carolina,”  I topped my story with what I thought was an interesting tidbit.
My husband’s family had lived in Columbia for many years; and I knew that Cheryl would be interested in this hometown trivia.  My sister-in-law, Cheryl, laughed.  “Oh, the story doesn’t stop there,” she chimed into the discussion.  ”Remember the teenager who mowed my mother’s lawn?”  she asked.
Sure, I remembered.  An extremely handsome young man had started mowing Mrs. Howard’s yard when he was a young teenager.  She was a widow by then and this teen was very kind to her.  She was disabled and found it hard to walk.  The teenager began running her errands also.  He did all her grocery shopping.  By the time he was in college, the teen was driving a new sports car; but he continued to pop into her house to make sure that she was all right.  Because none of the family lived in Columbia, we were extremely grateful but equally leery of this college student who seemed to have more than a passing interest in Mrs. Howard.
Was he taking her money?  The daughters often checked her banking accounts to insure that nothing was wrong.  Nope.  The teen was paid for the lawn but not the errands he ran two or three times a week.  He seemed to be genuinely interested in her well-being.  For more than ten years, he took a caring. active interest in my mother-in-law.
Cheryl smiled with satisfaction, pressing both hands against her upper legs to give her statement more emphasis, she reported, “That young man was Andre Bauer.  We found out that he did similar errands for all the elderly folks in the neighborhood.  By the time, he was in college, he was doing their grocery shopping, without charge.
“Later, as lieutenant governor, Andre’s signature issue was helping the elderly and disabled in the state of South Carolina,” she said.  “He took what he learned from the neighbors he served as a teenager and used it to benefit all of the state.”
His is a true Good Samaritan story.  This is the kind of marathon life that Christ expects us to live.  Andre Bauer has lived his life helping and nurturing others–not for political gain; but as a man who genuinely cares about his neighbors who need his help.  Of course, he has made mistakes and verbal blunders but flat tires are expected in a marathon.
Sitting that night with family and friends, everything became a bit of a blur for me. Yet, the marathon race of Andre Bauer’s life is notblurred at all.  This is a man who understands the meaning of the marathon.

Regarding special needs ministry, there must be the marathon mentality.  Our lives can no longer be short-term mission trips but long-term commitment to the communities we serve.  After telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked the religious leaders, “Who was the good neighbor?”  We must answer the woman or man who helped those in need.  The one who ran life’s marathon while stopping to reach out and touch those in need.

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My son lives on the North Shore of Hawaii.  He is a champion surfer.  The North Shore is where many of the massive waves originate that we see in the movies and on posters.  He calls his father and me several times a week to give wave updates, chat and exchange notes on friends and family.

“Mom,  you must see Soul Surfer,” he told me the other evening.  I didn’t comment.  I sat a bit shocked.  He is not into syrupy and my impression of the movie was that this Disney film fit into the to the Disney stereo-type frame.  “I cried all the way through it.”  This time I was speechless.  My son doesn’t cry at movies. 

Then he explained.  “The filming is magnificent.  Only a surfer could really understand how good the wave scenes are.  But it’s the story.  Mom, it’s the story.  Bethany’s story.”

He continued, “On the North Shore, none of the surfers say, ‘I can’t.’  If the waves are massive and ‘I can’t’ is used, everyone will chime in together, ‘Bethany Hamilton surfs these waves with one arm.  Don’t you dare say, I can’t.’

“And,” he said knowing his next words would peak my interest, “Disney didn’t play down her relationship with the Lord.  The movie told it like it is.”

In case you’ve been a bubble for the past years, Miss Hamilton is a young woman who lost her arm to a shark while surfing as a teenager.  A surfing prodigy, she believed that her life-long dream of becoming a professional surfer was gone.  But her faith kept her going in that direction.  She now holds national titles in surfing. 

As a child, in our church in Charleston, it was engraved on my mind, emotions and spirit, standing to sing, There’s room at the cross for you…Though millions have come, there is still room for one.  There is room at the cross for you.  

Now, I live in the world of disabilities.  Perhaps, I understand more than most the vast difference the crucifixion of Christ can make in a life.   As area director for Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community, I’ve seen the powerful effects of the cross in people’s lives. 

Surrendering my life to the God “who would rather die that live without me” is a life-changing event.  It doesn’t mean that a surfing prodigy won’t ever be faced with the dangers of the ocean.  It doesn’t always mean that arms will grow back that have been knawled by a shark.  It doesn’t mean that Julie will ever learn to read.  It doesn’t mean that MaryAnn will ever be able to say, “Mama.”

It does mean that God will use the sacrifice of Christ to forgive our selfishness and transform our lives.  Additionally, because of the resurrection, we can become a champion surfer who has one arm and who inspires people across the globe to never say, “I can’t.”  We can become new in him, loving the unlovely.  We will be given the strength to walk one more step when we are aching tired from caring for a child with a disability.  Because of Jesus’ great sacrificial giving, we can become new creations, children of God.

What mounting challenge are you facing today?  How has the sacrifice of Christ made a difference in your life?  What motivates you when everything in you screams, “I can’t”?

When our daughter, Carol, was 14, she had a good friend in California.  They had met on a Teen Mission trip.  Her friend wanted her to come for a visit in California.   She even bought Carol a plane ticket.  Arriving early that morning, she and I sat in the airport waiting for the time for the aircraft to load.  Just before Carol boarded the plane, she realized she had lost her ticket.

We went to the airline clerk to ask what needed to be done.  She curled her lips in a frown.  ”Nothing,” she said, “you can’t get on the plane without a ticket.”  Then she smiled, “However, what’s your name?”  Carol told her and she grinned, showing her teeth, “Someone found your ticket and turned it in to us.”

All of us have gotten ready for a trip or extreme effort only to have something bad happen along the way.  But few of us have confronted the type of betrayal that Jesus faced on his journey to our redemption.  The scriptures tell us that on the night before his crucifixion Jesus understood that one of his disciples would turn against him, turning him over to the authorities.  Jesus even knew the person was Judas.  Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt for Jesus to have one of his closest friends turn him in to be killed.

After Judas had left the Sadar celebration, Jesus had prayed for the disciples and The Church.  Then he took his disciples to a garden.  Judas knew where the garden was because Jesus and his followers went there often.  Judas brought soldiers and guards to the garden along with the Jewish leaders.  They had lights and weapons.  Jesus asked, “Who are you looking for?”  When the temple guards told him, Jesus said, “I am he.”  The guards and Temple leaders fell to the ground.  Simon pulled out a sword and cut off the ear of one of the men.  Rebuking Peter, Jesus healed the ear.

The soldiers arrested Jesus and took him away.

Jesus had 12 close friends.  As was the custom of the day, they lived with him and learned from him.  They heard God speak through him.  They had come to understand that this man was truly God–the Messiah–their long-awaited deliverer.  Yet, one of them was so evil that he brought the Temple leaders to Jesus so that they could kill him.

There are going to be people in our lives who are going to hurt us.  Friendship is risky.  People will turn against us.  One study says that we can only have 35 friends at one time in our lives.  Of that 35 there will be 10 to 12 people who will share a close relationship with us.  But does your friendship extend to Jesus?  Do you consider yourself one of Jesus’ closest friends.  If he were living in your town, would be one of the 12?  Could you give up everything to follow him?

Each of us has a responsibility to love Jesus with all our hearts and minds.  I cherish the fact that the apostle who has been used the greatest in fashioning Christ’s church was a man who never met Jesus when the Savior was living on earth–Paul.  They never shook hands.  It wasn’t Paul’s privilege for them to touched heads as Paul opened the sacred scrolls and Jesus explained the meaning of a passage in the plain language of the people.  Paul wasn’t present that last, holy night when the 12 men shared their last meal.

Yet, Paul had an intimate relationship with Jesus.  From Paul’s writings, we know that he comprehended the heartbeat of this Savior.  He felt the guiding hand of the Jewish Messiah as Paul traveled into distant lands.  He was embraced by the comforting arms of his Lord as he sat in prison.

People within the disability community value friendships more than most.  For that reason, it is vital that teach that Jesus is a friend that will remain closer than a brother.  Holy Week is the time to share this great truth with them.

Judas was a friend who betrayed Jesus.  However, Paul’s life teaches us that we can have an intimate, loving relationship with the Friend, Jesus.  And Jesus will help us to remain loyal to him because he loves us more than we could ever imagine. 

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