family celebrationRemembering is a vital Christian discipline that is either ignored or taught in an off-handed, casual manner.  Most of us know that routine thinking is defined by psychologists as remembering what happened in the past and rehearsing how we would change it if we could relive the event.  Perhaps that is the reason why Christians disregard the command of Jesus to “do this to remember me.”

Why should such a common event as remembering become a Christian disciple?  But isn’t God the redeemer of all things, especially those events and objects which we take for granted, find most common or deem less valuable.

family preparing for deploymentOur memories are an essential part of who we are.  Family events often mean sitting around the table rehearsing past joys and sorrows.  We laugh again and again at Uncle Billy’s comment about Vero Beach.  We delight in Tarah’s antics telling about the ordeal of preparing for her husband’s deployment to Afghanistan. We use our dinner napkins to wipe away the tears when our laugher turns to piercing loneliness as we joke about Mama’s long, convoluted prayers that each year kept us from eating our Thanksgiving dinner until it was cold.

We know that these are times of joyful sorrow that make our hearts grow with love and appreciation for each other.   Yet, that experience is not often shared among the church family.  One of the highlights of my Christian life was when The Tabernacle Church of Melbourne hosted their 25th anniversary dinner.  It was a time of remembering and sharing the joys and hidden sorrows of a congregation that had grown into a family.

I believe that communion was to be more than a ritualistic handing out of the cup and bread.  It was to be more than the sharing of the “host.”   It was to be a time of true remembrance and celebration.

community churchOf course, there are times that our hearts are filled with the cares and concerns of our world.   We approach communion with a need for more time, more energy and more resources.  We don’t have the time, energy or resources to “rehearse” that joyful night which ushered in the heart-bending sorrow of a crucified Savior.

Working in the mentally challenged community for 24 years has taught me many lessons.  One is the value of remembering.  Saturday night, as I stood beside Keith’s hospital bed with two of his caregiver, our conversation slowly ambled toward Chris, Grace, Tom and so many others.  Young people who were snatched from us too soon. Keith slept because his medical emergency was over.  Relieved that he would go home, we hugged each other with sweet memories and conversation of our loved ones who have gone to be the Lord.

Perhaps turning these moments into a traditional ceremony will only take away the value.  Yet, it is apparent that the Lord wants to become a vital part of the joys and sorrows of remembering.

rememberPerhaps one of the greatest virtues and joys of a Christian is remembering.  We often overlook the command that Jesus gave to us during the Lord’s Supper.  He said, “Do this so you will remember me.”

remember meTime and time again in the Old and New Testaments we are instructed to remember.  Many of the emotional and mental hardships we experience in our daily spiritual walk stem from neglecting this discipline.  Ignored or passed over without much thought or meditation, we stumble day after day because we forget the grace, mercy and promises of God.

From the beginning, when Eve took the first bite of that forbidden fruit, a large part of her problem was not remembering.  She had forgotten the promise and instruction of God.  She didn’t completely remember what God had told her and Adam about eating the fruit.

Again and again as the people of God fail to live for him, it is too often a remembering problem.  Deliberate sin is not as much a concern for most of us as neglecting the small things.

clean the garageAs my big project for 2013, I’ve taken on the task of cleaning out the garage. That messy cavern holds years of work, hopes and dreams of my late husband.  It was his shop, his hideout and his sanctuary.  As I scrub, paint, sort and toss, I remember that so much of his life revolved around a great dream of changing the world through a machine that produced unlimited energy.  He didn’t accomplish his dream; but he never forgot it.

I remember that I believed in that dream because I believed in him.

One of the virtues I’ve observed within the mentally challenged community is their ability to grasp and hold tight to the simple, good things of God.  They remember their first communion.  They remember to prepare their offering envelop for Sunday morning.  They remember a small gesture of love and forgiveness.  They remember…

The Lord has a plan (a dream) for my life and your life.  We can believe in that marvelous dream when we remember and trust in Him.

It was the annual gathering of Special Gathering members.  Each year nearly 200 mentally challenged people meet in Vero Beach at Life for Youth Camp for Retreat Agape.  For almost 30 years, we have met there from Friday morning until Monday morning each Memorial Day weekend.  It’s a gloriously fun place for our members who are intellectually disabled.  There are water-slides, a lake for boating and swimming, go-carts, putt-putt golf, a game room, crafts, bingo and a petting zoo.

Our morning and evening chapel services are as loud and roudy as a spiritual retreat is supposed to be.  Yet, there is a great deal of love shared as the members of Special Gathering reconnect with people from other cities.  Christ’s love flows freely as we praise and worship the Lord, ministering to each other.  This year, powerful things were accomplished during our chapel services.  We know that because the enemy of our soul was busy causing disruptions and distractions.  The overhead projector went out just as we began our Saturday night service and one member became agitated and headed out the campgrounds, planning to walk home which is 75 miles away.  The air conditioner went out for the Sunday morning service; and there was a huge thunderstorm at the climax of the Sunday night worship.

The climax of Retreat Agape is always our Sunday evening worship service.  We end this service with the Lord’s Supper.  Yet, as the thunder began to roar violently overhead, fear raced through the members with squeals and moans of concerns.  We had to end our service abruptly, giving the bedtime medications in the chapel.  Then we raced to the cabins sharing umbrellas and raincoats.

A pastor of a local church who was volunteering had agreed to help us with the Lord’s Supper.  He looked at me inquisitively, “What happened?  We aren’t having the Lord’s Supper?”

“Flexibility is the key to doing ministry within the disability community,” I said to him, laughing.  “Fear took over the emotions of our members; and there is no way we should continue the service.”

Sometimes,we simply have to make the best with what is dished out to us in our lives as well as in our ministries.  There are events that seem to ruin even the greatest of spiritual experiences.  I, honestly, do not understand how the Lord will use this disruptive thunder storm for our benefit; but he has promised that all things will work for our good.  Therefore, we know that God will use it.

There are thunders storms that attack our lives, changing our plans and even our destiny.  Our husband or wife dies.  We lose our jobs.  We are forced to do things that seem hard.  Our children don’t respond in ways we desire or planned.  Flexibility can help us to walk into deeper water in the love of Christ.  Using flexibility to make-do when life throws us off kilter can harden and strengthen our relationship with the Lord, teaching us to love the Lord more than we ever thought possible.

At Brevard Achievement Center (BAC) in Rockledge and Melbourne, Florida, the staff have found an excellent way to communicate and reward the people who are developmentally disabled that they serve.  They take them out to lunch.  Occasionally, Special Gathering staff is asked to join them.  I love being invited to be a part of that time.

I believe that the meal serves as more than a place for your body to be nourished.  Traditional worship found in the Bible centers around the meal.  The Jewish celebrations took place in homes, involved an elaborate meal and family fun.  The Old Testament feast of booths was a seven-day family camping trip which celebrated the fall harvest. 

The Lord’s Supper or communion was instituted by Jesus after he and his disciples had shared a family meal.  Whenever an angel appeared, in the Old Testament, they were offered a meal.  Most of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection, involved or took place during a meal.

There is a purpose behind this.  Barriers are broken down during meal time.  People bond in a unique way.  Our members also respond in a unique way to sharing a meal together.  During our parties, we decorate and have table cloths and good food.  Our members are extra careful and incredible grateful. 

Each time we have a party during Special Gathering, it centers around food.  I’m sometimes asked by volunteers, “Why do we always have to eat whenever we do anything special?”

My response is usually,  “Have you ever gone to any party where there is no food?” 

Perhaps the most holy time in Christendom–communion–revolves around a meal.  In our churches, we have sanitized communion, packaging the grape juice and pressing the bread.  In the process, I believe we have lost a good portion of the meaning and joy because we have eliminated the meal.  Yet, in ministering to people who are mentally challenged I’ve found that they have the ability to make every occasion festive. 

How have you found that meal times are important to you and your members?  Do you have a certain time that you make sure that you share a meal with your members?  Do you ever have one-on-one meals with your members?