lghIt’s been a year since I posted.  In February 2013, I decided to take a year off for a sabbatical rest.  I had posted almost every day for six years.  The seventh year became my year of rest.  The Lord prescribed this year of rest during the Aquarian Age that the Bible was written.  This was before it was known that crops should be rotated.  That year rested the fields and the farmers.

field of flowersEvery seven years, I’ve practiced this “year of rest.”  Of course, I continue to do my normal work; but I didn’t take on extras.  And I didn’t continue the extra activities in which I had engaged during the last six years.

It was about 40 years ago that I took the first sabbatical. In that year, I became so horribly bored that I started writing.  The year after my first sabbatical ended, I  had three books published.  Two of them were best sellers in the Christian publishing world.  I’m not sure how the Lord may change my ongoing ministry during the next years.  Perhaps there will be no changes.

I have learned an important thing.  Disability ministry is too important to be ignored.  I plan to continue to write about issues that effect members of our ministry and the intellectually disabled community.  In the sabbatical year, I’ve learned this blog is beneficial.  In fact, there are still approximately 100 hits each day–a pleasant surprise.

It’s good to be back and I hope you will join me as I continue to blog.

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last supperAfter the men had gathered for their last supper together, Jesus made a shocking statement to his followers.  In the light of who he was–mighty God, the Messiah, the Christ and Savior of the world–Jesus’s announcement is a total departure from the relationship mankind had previously experienced with God.  He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13 and 15).

building friendshipAs we contemplate and meditate on this astonishing declaration, our hearts must swell with joy and acceptance of our new exalted position of Friends of God.  This friendship must change us, however.  We come to understand the depth of the riches of God and the depth of his love for all people, releasing us to love in a new way.  Friendship has become a holy endeavor, initiated by God and perfected in His love and sacrifice.

With that in mind, as we approach people, there are some caution signs attached to friendship.  Here are nine Don’t’s of developing a committed friendship.

1.  Don’t wait for others to reach out to you.  Our lives must be an extension of God’s heart that is always ready to receive the broken-hearted, the lovely and the ugly alike.

2.  Don’t share just facts with your friends.  Share feelings.  Let people know YOUR joys and sorrows.  Your hurts and misgivings.

rejected friendship shirt3.  Don’t expect everyone to like you.  I learned that people either love me or hate me.  There is no in-between.  This became a valuable lesson in maturity.  I’m no longer hurt by folks who don’t know me but who reject me.  It’s a fact of  my life.  And harshly speaking, it is a fact of your life.  Not everyone wants to be friends with us.

4.  Don’t expect your friend’s friend to be your friend.

5.  Don’t be quick to voice your own opinions.  Some–perhaps many–things are best left unsaid.

6.  Don’t harbor unforgiveness or bitterness over offenses.  Peel away the hurt of a careless remark.  Stomp until dead the pains of neglect that come into every friendship.

7.  Don’t share negative information about others.

8.  Don’t expect a friend to be your source for love, significance or security.  Only God can give you that.

9.  Don’t let a friend take the place of the Lord.

In dealing with persons who are mentally challenged, it is vital to understand that they often do not have the cognitive ability to understand the fine nuances of friendship.  This means that certain boundaries may be necessary for you to set.  In the opposite direction, you may experience that their responses to  your friendship overtures may be overlooked.  Friendship with a person with special needs is a great privilege and joy.  Their friendships are worth taking the time and energy to develop.

Robert Lewis StevensonRobert Lewis Stevenson expressed an important sentiment regarding friendship.  He said, “So long as we love, we serve.  No man is useless while he is a friend.”

Jesus, however, lifted friendship to a new and holy level when he spoke to his disciple before they moved quickly to the Garden of Gethsemane.  This was during a time of great joy on the part of the disciples.  Jesus’s Messianic processional into Jerusalem had occurred only four days before.  Yet, Jesus knew that within 24 hours he would die one of the most cruel deaths known to mankind.

last supperDuring the passover supper, Jesus spoke.  He said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”  (John 15:13 and 15).  While the world values and understands the importance of friendship, Jesus put it into a different category.  He is our friends.  We are the friends of God.  We have access to the most confidential communications that develop within the Godhead.  At this point in time, friendship became a holy act of God’s love extending into the world.

In addition, because we are friends with God, his love through us can embrace every individual.  Therefore, we can be lavish with our friendships.

Studies and common sense tell us there are three levels of friendship.  They are casual, close and committed.  Casual friends are people with whom we have only occasional contact. Nevertheless, there are common interests.  We are probably concerned about each others’ personal problems.  Yet, a lack of contact determines that there is little that we can do for each other or about our daily missteps or misgivings.

The second level is close.  With these folks, there is regular contact.  We are willing to be vulnerable, though there may be little opportunity to test that vulnerability.  There is some shared knowledge of abilities and character qualities.  You share interest with a close friend.  In addition, there is sensitivity to the likes, dislikes and weaknesses of each other.

In a committed friendship, the two friends enlist each other to devoting quality time.  There is mutual value in this nonverbal contract.  While the qualities of a close friendship exists within a committed relationship, there is also freedom to correct flaws.  Each person experiences the joys and risks of transparency.  For a committed friendship, there is mutual enrollment at this level of friendship.

friendsWithin the mentally challenged community, there is often a lack of intellectual ability to distinguish between a casual friendship and a committed friendship.  Relationship boundaries are blurred.  I don’t allow my members to call me “Mama” or “Grandma.”  These titles denote a closeness that I can never achieve in their lives.  I’m not their parent and I never will be.

When a man or women within our cloistered community attends five or six days of retreat or camp, they almost always will be paired with a volunteer whose intellectual abilities falls within the “normal” range.  The volunteer’s main task during the week is to become friends with the person who is mentally challenged.

It becomes an important week within the life of both the volunteer and the person who is intellectually disabled–but it is not a time in which a close or committed friendship can be developed.  After a week of “hanging together,” sleeping in the same cabin and sharing mealtime, there is a bond that issues into a friendship but unless it is taken to the next level, it can never progress beyond the boundaries of a casual friendship.  This does not mean that the volunteer cannot feel a sense of value that will change his life forever.

It is much like a short-term missionary experience.  We vacation in another country, working hard while experiencing the joy and sorrow of a people for a week or two.  Then we go home, leaving the consequences, the commitment and hard day-to-day endeavors to the people who live in the country where we visited.

As we approach Camp and Retreat Agape that is held at the end of May, there is an anticipation of the work that lays ahead.  There is also knowledge that lives will be changed.  We see our members leaving camp who have renewed their vows to the Lord through the worship experiences.  We ask our volunteers to hang out with our members,though no one is assigned to any particular person.  Therefore, the friendships which develop and deepen are typically within the membership.  Our members “hang loose” with each other and talk for hours.  They fish and share the joys of catching the big one.  They do things that may be off-limits to them most of the year.  They drive go-carts and go on boat rides, play pool, work on crafts and traverse the water slides.

Friendship is a delicate ballet of hard work, commitment and time.  Within the confines of the Church body, friendship should not be taken lightly because of Jesus’ injunction to us.  “You are no longer servants.  You are my friends.”

who's ya daddy“One year at Camp/Retreat Agape our theme was “Who’s ya Daddy?”  Of course, it was a bit of a spin-off from the current culture in which some children do not know who their father is because they live in a one parent household.

Our purpose was to help remind our members that their Father is God.  We want them to understand they will never be without a daddy when they accept Jesus as their Savior.  They are adopted into the household of God because of Jesus’ shed blood.

The idea actually came from my son-in-law.  His father is a bishop in the Mennonite community.  He recalls that each morning as he and his brothers left for school, they were reminded by one of their parents, “Remember who your daddy is.”  The unspoken theme was “don’t do anything that would bring shame to your dad.”

This gentle reminder has become a chorus that often sings through my heart and thoughts during the day.  Especially when I’m tempted to do or say things that will bring shame to my Father God, my spirit gently whispers, “Remember who your daddy is.”

surferPerhaps one of the saddest scenes I can remember was one morning when my husband and I went out to breakfast.  It was a school day and the high school surfers often gathered at this spot after their morning surf and before school.  Four young men sat in a booth with wet hair and muscles that bulged through their T-shirts.  When a group of men in their early 30’s came in, I saw that the eyes of one blonde teenager drawn to them in a longing, melancholy way.  He stared at the men with an obvious sorrow.

In typical workmen fashion, these thirty-something men were busy planning their day.  They were completely unaware of their surroundings.  One of the teenagers nudged the blonde surfer, “Isn’t that your dad?”

“Yep,” the teenager confirmed without taking his eyes off his father.

“Go, tell his hello,”  a third teenager commanded the blonde surfer.

father and sonRather than following the orders of his friend, the surfer bowed his head in shame.  “I can’t,” he wistfully mumbled ripping his stare from his father and directing it to his hands that rested in his lap.  “I don’t think he knew me.”

We must never wonder if our heavenly Father is aware of us because his tender compassion surrounds us each moment.  As we remember who our Daddy is, there is an equally strong imperative to know that God’s love will never leave us or forsake us.

climbing without ropesEach of us has been given a plan for our lives.  For most, that blueprint remains a mystery and a puzzle.  We wander back and forth unsure of our footing or grasp.  Much like a mountain climber who has no safety rope or pick, we inch our way through life fearing each move.  There is challenge and fear because we know that one wrong move will plunge us to a certain death.

Yet, there is little doubt that God has a plan for our lives.  It is an inexpugnable promise that glares from every page of the scriptures.  God’s direct intervention our lives is a glorious road map that leads to an abundant life.  It remains a mystery to me why we so often forget the guiding Hand that desires to nurture, lead and guide us, falling instead before the idols of selfishness, doubt and uncertainty.

roadmapGod’s plan for our lives must be the destination of our travels.  Twenty years before I was asked to be on staff at The Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, the Lord told me his plan.  I was reading Corrie ten Boon’s book about the ministry she had before the war.  Dante Corrie was the pastor to people in her community who were mentally challenged.  God spoke to me as I read, “This is what I’ve called you to do.”

Twenty years of training lay ahead of me before I was to do this work; yet, He never forgot his plan for me.  I must admit that I tried to bring about God’s plan and failed miserably several times.  Then after 15 years or so, I decided that I had missed the Lord and would never be able to fulfil God’s true plan for my life.  I put the plan on a top shelf and forgot.  While still following God’s direction, I forgot the plan.  But God didn’t.  He continued my training.

When His time came, I was introduced to Rev. Richard Stimson, founder and executive director of Special Gathering and I came to the ministry to write a book for him.  From the moment I walked into my first chapel program, I knew that I’d come home.

The book was never published; but I never left.  After a few months, the Lord gently spoke to my heart, “Remember.  I told you this is what I’d called you to do.”  I feel the Lord allowed me to forget that calling because when I remembered, it was another firm confirmation that I was walking in God’s plan for my life.

direction signCounselors are told that the best thing you can do is to allow a troubled person to talk.  In so doing, the person discovers for herself the true reason from her distress and the answer to the problem that lies deep inside of each person.  Of course, as Christ followers, we desire to know God’s plan for us and not our capricious way.  But we each know.  It may be hidden and lost in the training.  Perhaps, in frustration or fear of failure, we put in on a shelf, waiting for God’s timing.

But God does not forget.  If we are desiring to follow him and we love his ways, God will continue to direct us into his plan..into his way.  Then at the right time, he will nudge us and whisper into our spirits, “Remember where you are going.  This is the way.  Walk in it.”

crumpled paperEach day begins with prayer and either household errands or blogging.  As much as I enjoy writing, the daily household demands of living often interfere with what I feel God has called me to do.  The author of thousands of magazine articles and more than 40 books, Jamie Buckingham often said,  “Writers write.  That’s why they are writers.  Publishing may or may not happen.”

Shelly is a writer.  Many Sundays she sticks a poem or article into my hands and says confidently.  “I knew that you would want to read this.  It’s the best work I’ve ever done.”  After I hug her, she walks away satisfied that someone else appreciates her writing efforts.

the writerEric has a different writing style.  He takes a Scripture and then applies it to his life.  I must ply his works from him one finger at a time.  They are neatly handwritten in pencil.  I always receive a nugget from his scriptural commentary that I’d not seen before reading his manuscript.

Even though Shelly and Eric are intellectually disabled, they have dedicated themselves to sharing from what God puts in their hearts.  Shelly’s poetry has been published and republished.  She has been asked to speak at a high school English Composition Class.  There is much to learn from her poetry.

Eric’s works are equally provocative.  However, he is less likely to share his works with others.  His personality is more private and reserved.

On the other hand, Jeremy wants to write and talks about it often.  Yet, he never seems to be able to put onto paper the many ideas that swim through his fertile mind.  Jeremy is by far the most able of the three to put into a readable form his thoughts and idea; but Jeremy lets the tasks of the day get in his way.

There are four things I see which hinder Jeremy that Shelly and Eric do allow to work against their writing.

1.  As I said before, Jeremy is a busy person.  He flits from one thing to another.  While he says that he really wants to write, he never seems to find the time.  Therefore, it never gets done.

2.  He wants someone to work with him.  He wants a class.  Shelley and Eric simply write.  They don’t need a teacher or tutor to inspire them to put pin to paper.  They are writers and writers write.

3.  Jeremy wants his works to be as close to perfect as possible.  Perfection works against the writer, as it does in almost every area of life.  No matter how many times I go over a piece, I can never seem to find all the mistakes until I hit the PUBLISH button.

4.   There is passion in Jeremy but not for writing.  He desires to teach and he is willing to prepare to make it happen.  A writers passion much be writing, first and forever.

Jamie BuckinghamAs Buckingham said, “Writers write.”  We can’t help it.  It is born and bred into our DNA.  Sharing the Gospel of Jesus is perhaps the main reason the Lord has given many Christians a passion for writing.  Each time, I get an article, teaching or poetry from Eric or Shelley, I’m impressed with the value of the written word which shares God’s love for us or our love for God.

praying on her kneesPrayer is an eternal mystery that haunts even the most devote warrior in God’s kingdom.  For Frances, prayer was her bread and drink.  She spent her days and nights in supplication to the Lord.  I earnestly believe that it was the prayers of Frances that turned our nation back to the Lord in a great way in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

Of course there were many others who also prayed and sought God but I experienced first-hand the result of Frances’ ministry.  I sat under her teaching and walked hand in hand with her during her times of struggle.  I also saw her confidence in prayer.  I rejoiced in what God was accomplishing through the hours spend listening, speaking, loving and even wrestling with a holy God.

tent meetingsWhile TV pundents often proclaim that everyone was stoned during those decades, there was an underground movement that consisted of late teens and young adults whose hearts pled for God to change them and our nation.  My husband and I were part that movement–the Jesus Movement.  We led a vibrant and holy group of teenagers whose sole ambition was to find a deep relationship with Jesus.  They gathered under tents and in churches.  They fasted and held all night prayer meetings.

While the focus beamed on the teens and the other young men and women who led this army of teenagers, it was the matrons and masters of prayer–such as Frances–who had plowed the ground, planted the seed and rejoiced in the harvest.  Their battle was hard-fought.  They struggled and wrestled with the enemy of our souls on their knees, weeping, laughing and facing that dreaded enemy with grace, courage and valor. The power of the Holy Spirit never failed them.  The Father’s love always embraced them and assured them that his great destiny would save even the most horrible reprobate.

These prayer warriors didn’t possess the advantages of social media, blogs or the Internet but their prayers had world-wide and lasting effects.  Somehow, Christian leaders from around the world heard about Frances and came to her humble home for prayer.  They delighted in staying in the home of Frances and her husband. eating her food, laughing and enjoying fellowship long into the night.  But they came for prayer–recognizing her vital connection to God that brought success in ministry.

joanFew of us have been given the grace Frances possessed in determined, steadfast prayer.  Yet, all of us can seek God with the grace God has given to us.  Frances died stubbornly, without fanfare.  She resisted death even after her strength and vigor had been long spent.  I asked her oldest daughter, “Why does she struggle, resisting death so strongly?”  She believed that Frances clung to a desire to be on earth when the Lord returned.

Was this woman of God perfect?  No! Was she a warrior who helped to change the world for Christ?  Yes!