There are two stories in the Bible that have fascinated me all my life.  The first is a parable that Jesus told.  It is the story of a merchant who found an extremely valuable pearl.  After finding this magnificent pearl, he went and sold everything he had to purchase it. I was always taught that the pearl was the kingdom for God and that when we find this great pearl, we must give up everything to purchase this great pearl.  I wanted to be like that wise merchant and give everything to the Lord.

Then many years later, during my prayer time, the Lord spoke to my heart in a still small voice and said, “Linda, you are that pearl and I gave up everything to purchase you.”  During the past week, each time I think about Grace Renee, the Lord reminds me of the pearl of great price.  Again, the Lord has spoken to me, “I’ve brought my magnificent pearl, Grace Renee, home.

When Cindy, an ARC staff person, came into Special Gathering last Saturday, she pulled me aside.  At first, I was hesitant to be drawn away from eye and ear contact of the group, even though there was another volunteer in the room.  However, when it became apparent that something really bad had happened, we walked a distance away from the room and Cindy tearfully shared that “something is wrong with Renee.”  She didn’t know what had happened but she felt that perhaps, as Renee’s pastor, I could find out.

“Renee is very special to me,” she said.  Over the past two weeks, as I spoke with people who knew Renee they repeated often, “Renee was very special to me.”

Until you’ve been drawn into our community, it might be confusing to understand how an individual like Renee can steal your heart.  How can Renee’s suffering wrench your heart until you believe it will break?  Yet, Renee’s love and joy was a magnet for those of us who knew and loved her.  Joanne Semenuck knew her when she was in school.  She said, “She was the happiest young woman I ever met.”

Lorraine, one of the five residents in her home, said, “I love Renee.  I didn’t want her to go away and leave us.”  Everyone in the home said, “We are a family.  Renee is our family.”

Bessie Mariner, her support coordinatior, told me, “Almost every time I met with Renee she blessed me by praying for me.  She loved to pray.  I know that she knew the Lord in a powerful way.”

Small things about Renee were most endearing, like the quirky way she could sneak to get her way.  You didn’t know whether to scold her or hug her.  When one trick no longer worked, she would devise a different tactic to snare you into getting her way.

Renee also reminded me of a second story from the Bible.  This story is true.  In the last week of Jesus’ life, a woman came and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them dry with her hair.  Because of the dry, dirty conditions in Judea; and because everyone wore sandals, it was a custom to wash everyone’s feet as they entered a home.  But the host had neglected to do that for Jesus.  When this woman washed Jesus’ feet, it was a blessing that she could uniquely give him.  It was a splendid and deeply personal gift of love.  I believe that Renee often showed her love for the Lord in deeply personal ways and that love spilled out onto us.

Yes, we will miss Renee but mostly we will miss the times she washed away the concerns of the day with her antics and joy.  We will miss the way she reached down and personally knew what we needed; and without a word, her touch and smile helped to meet that need.

She was perhaps one of the weakest among us; but in so many ways, she was able to show us the Lord’s strength and power.

“But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again. They will rise up as an eagle in the sky; they will run and not need rest; they will walk and not become tired.”  Life is replaced with death.  Death is replaced by eternal life.

Her smile filled her face and your heart.  She grinned and everyone felt the need to sing.  Small in statue with straight black hair, Lorna was born with a genetic disability know as Downs Syndrome which causes developmental disabilities or mental retardation.  Though she was not a quiet person–jabbering, laughing and giggling–Lorna was the type of person that you could lose in an emaciated minute.

Not that Lorna wandered away or was mischievously hiding, she simply seemed to evaporate into the walls.  Lorna was a member of The Special Gathering Choir and I was the fledgling director.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We have eight programs dotting the eastern coast of Florida and South Carolina.  We are a community-based program involved in classic ministry:  discipleship and evangelism.

We also feel that it is important to help educate the Church to the spiritual needs of mentally challenged persons.  The choir helps to bridge that gap for us.  When the choir sings in local churches, our members show that they have a valid ministry to the Church.  In addition, the Church is able to witness first hand that individuals who are developmentally delayed can have a significant, growing relationship with the Lord.

I came to know and love Lorna during my years as the director of her choir.  I always positioned her directly in front of me, in the first row.  There were several reasons.  First, her amazing face and delightful smile made the choir an instant success with our audience, even before we opened our mouths.  Second, her singing ability didn’t accurately match her fantastic smile.  I tried to use my body to block some of the monotone chords she produced.  The third reason was to help me keep track of her.

It wasn’t that I ever actually lost Lorna; I just sometimes could not find her.  Often, we would travel to churches in other cities or counties.  We are sponsored by 60 local churches in Brevard County, Flordia.  We received frequent requests to sing in churches and at community events.

I would load the choir onto a borrowed van and we would head out to sing.  On occasion that meant going after they had worked all day in the sheltered workshop.  We would have supper in a fast-food restaurant, arrive at the church, go to the bathroom, then hurry to find the place where we were to sing.  If we were quick enough, I could wedge in a few minutes of rehearsal time before we were scheduled to sing.  Every time we moved, I counted heads to be sure that we had not lost anyone.  The choir had 12 members but usually I could only locate 11 heads.  “Where’s Lorna?”

“Behind you” was the usual response.

For me, Lorna became the hidden treasure:  The great pearl that Jesus spoke of in his parables in the New Testament.  In Matthew 13:44, he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.  One day a man found the treasure, and then hid the treasure in the field again.  The man was very happy to find the treasure.  The man went and sold everything he owned to buy that field.

“Also the kingdom of heaven is like a salesman looking for fine pearls.  One day the salesman found a very great pearl.  The salesman went and sold everything he had to buy that pearl.”

Knowing Lorna, this interesting parable came to life for me.  Often we speak of giving up everything to obtain the great pearl, God’s kingdom.  But I came to understand that we give up nothing, but our sin and misery.  It is Jesus who gave up everything to gain a treasure and a pearl that he considered more valuable than all the riches of heaven.  We are his pearl of great price.  For me, Lorna became a symbol of the mentally challenged community because like her, this group of people is often unseen and lost to the world.  Sadly, even the church has not discovered the wondrous glamour of this great treasure.  They remain a cloistered sub-culture, moving, working, play, dancing.  Unseen, unknown.

But Jesus knows where Lorna is.  He sees and values her great worth.  In fact, he gave up everything he had–even his life to possess her. 

Each of us has the opportunity to become his treasure.  For the Bible says that all of us are of great worth to the Lord Jesus, from the greatest–such as Lorna with her big heart and wonderful smile–to the least–a silly, novice choir director who couldn’t seem to keep a finger on her greatest treasure.

Have you found someone who teaches you lessons from the scriptures by the way they live their lives?