Nora came to Special Gathering the day I preached about Micah’s simple principles which are:  Be fair, love to do kindness, live humbly before God.  She didn’t hear the devotions, however.  Nora had been invited by a member who lives in a nursing home.  A well-dressed, attractive woman, by the time I was able to speak to Nora, she had become extremely uncomfortable with her surroundings.

Evidently, she did not realize that the member who invited her was mentally challenged.  If she did realize it, she certainly did not know that Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We have choir practice before church.  Therefore, when Nora and our member seated themselves in the chapel, I wasn’t able to greet her.  After choir, I turned to Nora and said, “You are so very welcomed.  We are really happy to have you.”

In a loud voice and with a stinging curtness, Nora proclaimed, “I’m a volunteer at the nursing home.  I’m not like all these people.  I don’t belong here.”

Even though at least 15 Special Gathering members sat in the chapel area, we all chose to ignore her insult.  “Well, you are still extremely welcomed.”

“No!” she spoke more loudly than before, “I’m not like these people.  I don’t belong here.”  With that proclamation, she left the chapel area. 

Our host church is extremely gracious.  But because they also use the building during this time, we don’t have access to the entire facility.  We are limited to the chapel area, our Bible study class and the bathrooms.  Nora was determined to put as much distance between us and herself and she started roaming away from the our area.  A staff person approached her and explained, “I’m sorry.  We aren’t allowed to roam the halls.  You must stay in our designated area.”  Nora balked loudly with wounded passion.

For two hours Nora made herself miserable because she was determined to prove that she “didn’t belong” with us.  Everyone smiled and continued to be gracious to her.

As we leave SpG each week, for safety purposes, our supervisor asks that everyone stay in the hallway and that no one leave until the appropriate van or car comes to the drive through.  Then the supervisor can safely mark the members off the attendance list when they leave.  As I went to get my van, I heard the supervisor say, “Wait.  You need to stay inside until the van comes to get you.”  I looked around and Nora was heading out the door following me to my car.  I turned to explain to her that everyone must follow the same rules at Special Gathering.

“That’s silly.  Everyone does not follow the same rules,” Nora said, on the verge of tears.  “I’ve told you again and again that I am not like these people.  I don’t belong here!”

I knew that I could probably win the argument and verbally strong-arm her back into the building.  Yet, the words of Micah came pouring from my spirit bouncing back into my brain.  I had told the SpG members that the Bible doesn’t say that we are to be kind if everyone is kind to us.  God didn’t say that we should be fair to all the people who are fair to us.  “We are to be kind and fair, even if people aren’t fair or kind to us.”

My own words then echoed from my head into my heart.  I felt the compassion of the Lord.  This lady had repeatedly humiliated and insulted the SpG members.  She had loudly spoken her belief that she was superior to every other person in the room because she didn’t have our disability.  Yet, through my anger and hurt for my members, I could finally hear her pain.  I reached out to touch her arm,  “We know.  You are different from us,” I said as gently as I could. 

Nora withdrew her arm from my touch and glared at me.  I headed for the car; and she followed.  Michael always sits in the front seat because he travels an hour with me back to the Melbourne area.  I knew that Nora would try to take the front seat.  Michael walks with a large walker that surrounds his body.   It is difficult for me to handle.  I debated.  Will I make Michael get into the back seat, or will I ask Nora to go there?  For a moment, my anger sprang back.  It’s a big pain for me and for Michael if she rides in the front seat.  My mind went through the loading process.  Nora leaving the car.  My opening the back hatch of the van. The walker falling on my foot as it tumbles from the car.  My opening the walker.  Wrestling to get Michael out of the back seat.  Putting him in to the front.  Closing the walker.  Struggling to wench the walker back into the rear of the van without it falling out. 

I looked at Nora standing outside the front door waiting for me to unlock it.  I can be kind, I thought again, even if she isn’t.  I opened the locked door to let her in to the front seat of the vehicle.  “It was a big mistake.  I’m not like these people,” Nora mumbled.  I smiled and put the car into gear.

There will be times that kindness, fairness and humility are hard.  Bob Mumford, a well-known preacher in the 60’s  once talked about how difficult it is to get your blessing out of the church into the car.  I knew that in her self-pity Nora had not been blessed; and she had worked hard to be sure that everyone else wasn’t blessed.  Yet, Michael smiled, “Sure,”  he would ride in the back.  “Of course,” Diane would sit behind her friend.  “No problem, ” Janie and LaVonne would crawl into the rear seats. 

Through Micah, God gives principles for life.  Through Nora, the members of Special Gathering were able to walk in a practical way into kindness and then leave, living humbly before God.  It’s a wonderful blessing to minister to a people who may not be able to read but understand in practical ways God’s love.

Working and living within the mentally challenged community, I’ve learned to appreciate the value of simplicity.  For more than 20 years, I’ve worked to sift the things of God into simple teaching and uncomplicated principles.  God speaking through the prophet, Micah, told us that he demands from us three straight-forward requirements:

  1. To be fair,
  2. To love kindness
  3. To live humbly before God.

While almost everyone understands fairness, kindness is one of those squishy, mushy words in our vocabulary that has nearly lost its meaning.  When I prodded the Special Gathering members in Vero to “name some acts of kindness,” the first three people said, “Be kind.”  Yes, these are mentally challenged individuals.  However, answering this type of question is a weekly exercise for this class of higher functioning people.  Every Saturday, they fill a black board with their answers to this type of inquiry.

Simply expressed, kindness involves the small things in life that help or enrich others.  A gentle touch.  A meaningful smile to a friend across a room.  Opening the door for a person whose arms are full of knickknacks, books or boxes of papers.  Watching a football game with your teenage son, even though you hate the game.  Gently and carefully brushing the tangles from your daughter’s hair.  It is that crayon colored picture which you post on the refrigerator.  Kindness is tender remembrances that last a lifetime.

Once the Vero members realized that I wanted specifics, their answers become clearer.  One member said, “Kindness is sitting next to someone so they won’t have to sit alone.”  It made me remember a Wednesday night years ago.  

I had to attend the weekly prayer meeting in our church alone.  Usually my husband was with me, but he had to work that evening.  I came into the sanctuary and realized that I would have to sit by myself.  There were other three women sitting by themselves.  

I saw Lynn but I wasn’t going to sit with her because she always sat alone on Wednesday nights.  I thought, she likes to sit alone.  I thought about Gladys who was by herself.  She must enjoy sitting alone, I thought.  She is always alone.   I had the same thoughts about Bernice who was stationed in her normal place sitting in the fifth pew from the front, next to the aisle–always alone.  I felt sorry for myself because I didn’t want to sit alone; and everyone else either had someone to sit with or they wanted to sit alone.

In a most unusual turn of events, that week, I got a phone call from Lynn, one from Gladys and another from Bernice.  Each woman confessed, “I don’t  think I’m ever going to come back to church on Wednesday evening.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I always have to sit alone and I hate it.”

The Holy Spirit softly spoke to heart, “No one wants to sit alone.”  Kindness is finding the single person in our midst and making sure that he or she never has to sit alone.

As the members of Special Gathering filled up our blackboard with simple acts of kindness, I was struck with the strength of this unpretentious, uncomplicated principle.  Kindness can be practiced by the weakest and the most foolish or the most sophisticated, knowledgable Christian.  In the hands of a loving God, kindness becomes tender touches which morph into gigantic acts of love that change lives.

The words from the Lord that Micah preached tell us that there are three things that God demands from us.

  1. To be fair,
  2. To love kindness,
  3. To be humble before our God (Micah 6:8).

Most of us understand fairness.  There is an instinctive, gut reaction when we are treated unfairly.  Of course, if we can define what is unfair, then we can know what is fair.  However, should we still not understand fairness, all we need to do is look to Jesus.  He said, “Treat others in the same way that you would like to be treated.”  I don’t want people to steal from me.  Therefore, I know that I should not steal from others.  When gossip hurt me badly years ago, I worked hard to deliberately eliminate gossip from my conversation.  I didn’t want anyone to be hurt as I was by false and loose talk.

However, fairness almost never means equality.  Working within the mentally challenged community, we come to understand that it is important to be fair to a person with disabilities but seldom are their lives equal.  As an example, when a family divides an inheritance, it may seem fair to everyone that the person with severe disabilities will receive more than the other members of the family.  Depending on the circumstances, it could also prove to be more fair that the disabled person should receive much less than the other family members. 

 When I became the parent of more than one child, I learned quickly that fairness is almost never equal.  Our first two children were a boy and a girl.  All three of our children’s  personalities were vastly different.  What one child may deem as a slight, the other could consider a compliment.  

Employers also understand that being fair almost never means being equal.  Each employee must be treated according to her unique needs and desires, talents and giftings. 

As the leader of a ministry within the disability community, fairness becomes an important principle.  We quickly learn that there are no cookie-cutter personalities.  People within the mentally challenged community represent a wide diversity of needs and concerns.  Fairness must always be the ruling factor, rather than equality.  While most of our members love to be hugged on Sunday morning when they arrive at Special Gathering, Eric and Kim do not want to be touched.  Pam loves attention and craves being used during the services to pray or help minister.  Steve sits in the back seat and dreads being pointed out in any way.

Again, God is able to pin point an important principle that allows us to show God’s love in a way that is simple and–with God’s grace–attainable.