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.

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My learning philosophy with pretty much every project is that I endeavor is to learn as much as I need so I can do the job and leave the other stuff to people who compose, fix and invent things.  That is especially true with the computer.  As examples, I don’t have to have all the music memorized to lead the choir in their first rehearsal of a song and I don’t need to understand the transfer of electrical currents to turn on a light switch.  Usually, my life philosophy serves me will.  That is until I try to invade a world where I need to understand more than I know.  Like blogging.

Our executive director gave me a wonderful gift after I’d been blogging for about a month.  It’s a manual on blogging.  Excited and happy, I immediately started reading it.  I underlined and tried to memorize as I went along.  You see, after a time of blogging, I realized that I know so little about the Internet and it’s terminology that I don’t even know what I don’t know.  That, of course, means that I don’t know enough about what I’m doing to know what I need to know.  Therefore, by ability to learn is hampered because I need to know how to do what I need to know.  If you are confused by all this, imagine how I feel.

After a few hours of reading my rich treasure manual, I needed to put it down–for a few days.  This was a fatal mistake.  When I picked it up again,  I’d forgotten to mark the page I was last reading but that didn’t matter to me at the time.  Because I’d underlined key passages as I went along. I was confident that I could find my way back to my place.  The only problem.  I somehow didn’t remember one thing I had read.  I needed to begin from page one.

The acronoms were particularly troublesome.  I could not remember even one of them. This time reading through I wrote out each acronym that I came to.  Therefore, I was not only remembering what the acronym means but I’ll understand the sentence better.  My philosophy in reading is the Lemony Snicket Theorywhich is similar to my life philosophy.  I skip the words I don’t understand and usually the context of the material will help me to understand the sentence and the words I didn’t understand. This is not true in blogging.

While I’m  into my fifth year of blogging, it has been only one year since I’ve become confortable inserting pictures.  In the process, WordPress, the website that hosts my blog has made adding photos much easier.  Additionally, I’ve learned to find my pictures from Google Image.  Then I download them onto my desktop and then use them in my blog.

Jesus said that we should never begin a blog unless we understand enough about the Internet so we can estimate the amount of time it will take us to complete each daily article and draw traffic to our web entry.  Sure, I am paraphrasing but you get the point.  I’m not a quitter but I sure wish I could sleep through the learning process, the way my choir often sleeps through rehearsals.

As I venture into a fresh project, I find I have much in common with my mentally challenged members.  It’s easy for me to lose interest in the new things as they become more complicated.  But that is childish, not child-like.  Struggle helps us to learn and survive.  Forcing, Nancy and Lucy, members of the choir, to stay awake while we’re doing the hard work of rehearsal is beneficial.  Likewise, rereading those first four chapters will embed them into my brain.

Have you found, like me, that you are sometimes enthused to start a new project only to become totally disinterested when it’s a bit harder than you anticipated?   Is it possible that we are more like members of my special needs choir, than we are different?

Last April, I signed a contract with BeliefNet to write and publish a daily blog. I fully understand the complexity of writing something every day because I’ve written this daily blog for almost six years.  I know the joys and strains of this fascinating medium.

In fact, this entry has been written and rewritten four times.  (I’m feeling a bit like Jeremiah, the prophet.)  Each time I finished the entry, I saved it as a draft and the finished work disappeared.  There were several reasons why I didn’t copy it by the third time I lost it.  However, that’s another blog.

Yesterday, after my great losses, I was ready to throw in a wet towel and forget writing the other blog.  It didn’t seem worth the time or energy.  Then a kind editor, Sharon Kirk, wrote me several times trying to encourage me, even though I had not told her my thoughts of blog murder.

Each time I’ve decided to stop this entire process, something has happened to abort my intentions.  In short, I believe the Lord’s hand holds me here because of the joy.  You, the reader, is the greatest joy for me and every other writer.  It takes an enormous ego to think you have enough to say that others should read your thoughts.  Readers verify the notion of a writer’s ego.  Therefore, it is a joyful event when I realize someone actually reads my words.

A second reason is because there is a great need to help people understand this great population.  At times, someone stops me and lets me know that their hearts have been touched and turned toward the disability population. This makes it worth the energy and effort.

Another reason I continue is the joy of expression.  This isn’t an ego thing but a marvelously humbling understanding that there are times that the Holy Spirit has spoken throw my faltering words.  Speaker and author, Iverna Thompkins once said that you know a thought is from the Lord when that thought is smarter than you are.  It’s the same with the written word.  Rereading sometimes produces massive rewrites.  Yet, there are marvelously happy times when rereading speaks to my heart in a unique way.  Then I acknowledge that the Lord has seen fit to invade my heart and life though the words written.

Each day, there is a sense of anticipation that perhaps today may be the day that the Lord again chooses to use the words written to touch another person’s heart.   Therefore, in spite of the frustrations, I’m back again today.  God has me here and I’m joyfully happy about this.  And tomorrow is another day.

If you are reading this, you have probably thought at some point in your life.  I can write better than this and I actually have something to say.  If you are in ministry, you have probably longed to be able to tell your story in a way that will communicate the joy and love you have for the people you serve.

While the number one fear in the U.S. is public speaking, my experience has been that everyone would like to be able to write “their story.”  It has been said that each person has at least one book in them.  After my first book was published, I was astonished at how many people came up to me and said, “I can make you a $1 million.  All you need to do is write my book.” 

Some of these folks I knew personally and unless I’d missed something extremely adventuresome, their book would be a small bedside table volume read to put you to sleep.  Of course, a few people said, “I read your book.  If you can get that book published, I figure anyone can get published.” 

After a couple of years, I learned to smile pleasantly and say, “Hey, the best thing for you to do is learn how to type.  It’s your book.  You are the only person who can adequately tell it.”  It wasn’t merely a way to get the person to leave me alone.  This was my honest assessment.

Over the years, I’ve broadened my advice.  In fact, it is remarkable how many people make the exact, same mistakes. Here are a couple of suggestions you might be able to use.

1.  Be sure that you actually have a story to tell.  There must also be a point (or a lesson) to your tale.  A good question to ask yourself, “What is the lesson I learned from this incident?”  Then be sure that you make that lesson the point of your adventure.

2.  Writing is a skill.  Learn the basics of grammar and punctuation.  You would not even attempt to mow the lawn without some rudimentary knowledge of lawnmowers and grass.  However, we often feel that we don’t need to know the rules of the English language.  You don’t have to be a perfect grammarian.  You do need to know what the regulations are and how to apply them.

3.  Learn how to type.  Sure, you can get up to about 30 to 40 words a minute with the hunt and peck method.  Yet, anyone who can type that quickly without proper training could be typing at 120 to 130 words per minutes if you would take a class and learn the correct positioning of your fingers for typing.

4.  In elementary school, when you were being taught to give a speech or write a paragraph, you learned:  Tell them what you are going to tell them.  Tell them.  Then tell them what you told them.  The same applies to everything you write.  There must always be what is called a “take away.”

5.  Remember the reader comes to the page with absolutely no knowledge of what you are going to say.  You must explain clearly and exactly all the details of your story.  I ask myself, “If I knew nothing about this, would I understand what I’m talking about?”

5.  There are certain words you don’t use.  They are just, very and so.  There are many wonderful words that are equally as effective as these three sorrowful excuses for descriptives.

6.  Unless someone is screaming, “Fire!”  Do not use an exclamation point.  Never, never use two or three exclamation points.  Let the words you use give the emphasis, not the misusage of a punctuation point.

7.  When you break grammatical rules, do it for emphasis, not out of ignorance.  And do not start a sentence with “and” unless you are doing it to make a point.

8.  Do not use the same word twice in a paragraph.  The English language has many thousand’s of words that can and should be used.  Repeating the same word again and again is not necessary and it is boring.

9.  Buy a Thesaurus and use it.  There is a Thesaurus on every word computer processing program.  Use it.

10.  Practice your writing skills in everything you write.  Don’t be sloppy when you write anything. 

11.  Reread every sentence you write several times.  Prose should flow as beautifully as poetry.  There is as much a rhythm in your favorite novel as there is your favorite poem. 

12.  “Good writing is rewriting” is a phrase repeated often at writer’s workshops.  You should expect to rewrite whatever you write at least four or five times. 

13. Read your finished product out loud.  Change what doesn’t flow.

14.  Show.  Don’t tell.  Use descriptive verbs and adverbs to give your writing action and color.  She didn’t walk into the room.  She waltzed into the room.  She hopped into the room.  Or she sauntered into the room. 

Of course, there is much more.  But those are for another day.  Remember writing is a skill.  Learn the rules.  Practicing your skill allows the talents and gifting to flow.

What is a writing principle that I didn’t include?  What is a rule that you see ignored often?

In the past two years, there have been more than 48,000 views of this weblog.  Of course, this is NOT a lot of views.  Even some of the least successful blogs get 10 to 12 thousand hits a day.  Yet, within our small pond called the mentally challenged community, these are effective results. 

An interesting evolution has appeared within the past six months with this blog.  Because of the volume of material written on Special Gathering Weblog, this blog is now being quoted in many items that appear on the Internet.  Whole articles are being lifted and used.  Most of them leave out the Christian part; but they have the dignity to reference and direct people to the site. 

People who teach webinars on how to have an effective ministry weblog have told me that there are several things which will draw readers and keep them coming back.  Most of these principles could be lifted from The How-To Manual of Effective Writing.  But there are some differences.

 First, you should not use your blog as a promotional tool for your church or ministry.  Keep that information on your website.  Occasionally, I’ve mentioned and even promoted various aspects of The Special Gathering ministry.  Mostly, this has been done because I’ve had a request from someone to post information about something that is happening.  However, the cardinal rule is that this space is to teach people “how to and what is” ministry within the mentally challenged community–not a promotional tool.

You must also remember, this is not a church newsletter.  For years, I’ve worked within the church and I know how effective the church newsletter can be.  I also know how ineffective a newsletter can become. From the time I was 15 years old, I’ve been responsible for getting out a church newsletter in one form or another.  One pastor I work for has written the same weekly newsletter article for over 40 years now.  It begins, “We had a wonderful worship time Sunday morning…”  I don’t need to give you any more information because you, too, have read this article in one form or another for decades.  Even worse, you may have been WRITING this article for five, ten or forty years.

There are effective ways to communicate the good news of Jesus but retelling the things that didn’t happen at that wonderful Sunday worship is not one of them.  Drawing examples from real life brings alive the effectiveness of Christ’s redemptive power.  The parables are short vignettes snatched from life that teach.  In addition, we keep referring to them because they sting with reality. 

Max Lacado’s books burst on the Christian scene about a decade ago.  His heart warming stories were modern-day parables that burned into our hearts and memories the vitality of how Christ’s promises are daily resurrected in the life of a Christian. He reminded us that Christ continually changing our lives and the lives of those folks we encounter.

These are only three things which make a weblog effective.  First is DO NOT use your blog as a promotional tool for your ministry or ministry activities.  Second, your blog entry should not become a newsletter-type article.  Third, keep it vital and chocked full of reality by using everyday examples and illustrations.  Simple rules but effective.

It is probably true that you will be asked to do a funeral for one of your members at some time in your ministry.  There are specific things which I have observed from pastors who are successfully able to capture the essence of the person and still glorify Christ in a funeral sermon or eulogy.  Here are some of those things which you may find helpful.

  1. Find a hook.  This is something about the person that seems to embody their personality or mission in life.  It may be a phrase, a sentence or an observation.  Most often this should come from the family.  In trying to find a hook for one man that I had never met, every person I spoke to said, “He was a good man.”  I kept trying to find something else about this man until I realized:  This was a truly good man and that was what family wanted to said about him.
  2. Interview as many members of the family as possible to be able to grasp what is meaningful to them.  Ask probing questions.   What is the thing you remember most about Phil?  What did he do during his free time?  Tell me a little bit about his life.  When did he become a Christian?
  3. Everyone has some humor in his or her life.  Try to find it and use it.
  4. The deepest, most moving memories are best wrapped with a glimmer of humor, if possible.
  5. Don’t be afraid to share deeply personal things that the family has given you permission to share.  This is a time for them to hear their words echoing back to them in a positive message of hope.
  6. If the person is not a Christian, amplify some good traits.  Then emphasis that if she could stand before you today, she would want each person present to know Christ.  We know this is a true statement without saying things which are not true.
  7. Use a Thesaurus in finding different words to express what you want to say.  Don’t limit yourself or your imagination in your sentence structure or your vocabulary.
  8. Use Scriptures to say the things you desire to say about the resurrection.  Then don’t forget to speak about the hope of the resurrection of Christ in each sermon or eulogy.  That, after all, is why we have sermons at funerals.
  9. Keep it short.  Limit yourself to a maximum of 10 minutes of sermon.  I also try to limit the Scripture readings to five to 10 minutes.  Intersperse the Scriptures throughout the service.  Find my favorite Scriptures here.  

Remember, above all, you are speaking the heart of the family and the heart of Christ.  When the two are in harmony, it’s a wonderful union.  When they are divergent, God will help you to find ways to honor both. 

 

God loves the broken hearted and desires to heal those who grieve.  It is a wonderful opportunity to show the love of Christ to people who are wounded and hurting.

 

 

If you are sharing with a family of a mentally challenged person who has died, this is especially important to remember and acknowledge their grief.  God wants to touch this family in a real way and you can be His instrument. 

 

 

Here is a eulogy that hopefully will help you to see how these steps can be put together. 

 

Eulogy

Leslie Ann  

 

          The Apostle Paul writes in the Holy Scriptures that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Proverbs reminds us that a merry heart is as good as any medicine.  On December 19, 1972, God gave to us an ambassador of laugher and giggles when Leslie Ann  was born to Priscilla. 

 

          Raised in a strong Catholic family, faith and commitment to the Lord were the backbone of her existence.  As a natural outgrowth of that love for the Lord, her first communion was a joyous time shared with her mother, grandparents, her Uncle Jack, his two children and the community of believers. 

 

          Later, as Leslie matured into adulthood, reaching out became an anchor of her commitment to the Lord as she endeavored to share her faith.  Each Christmas at Special Gathering, we collect gifts for the Haitian children.  Leslie was the first one to bring her gifts.  But she didn’t stop there.  Sunday after Sunday, she would bring toys and school supplies for the young children who have so little.

 

          Of course, Leslie understood the value of money.  The best presents she received were always money or gift cards.  No birthday was complete without a card filled with big bucks. Yet, she never totally comprehended the complete concept.  After obtaining her first job came the wondrous first paycheck.  Excited by this new found wealth, Leslie wanted to put it in the bank as the first installment toward buying a new Corvette.  Somehow the fact that it was only $4 escaped this young financier. 

 

          Leslie had a knack for remembering names and addresses.  She remembered the full name of everyone she met.  But phone numbers were her specialty.  She spent hours on the phone with her various boyfriends.  Mark from New Jersey was her first real boyfriend.  For more than ten years, they conversed every evening until it was time for them to go to bed.  Last July, when Leslie and her mother went back to Jersey, Mark begged them to come back in the spring because he needed a date to the prom.  “You know my girl’s down there with you,” Mark told Priscilla pensively.

 

          Though she seldom complained, at times her disability would hinder her from doing the fun activities that the other family members enjoyed.  One day, Elaine, her step-sister-in-law, could no longer take her mournful expression as the other young adults scooted around on jet skis. 

 

          “I’ll take you,” Elaine volunteered.  Leslie was in her mid-twenties but not too old to giggle.  Unfortunately, in her enthusiasm, Leslie leaned too far and tipped over the jet ski.  In an effort to save herself, Leslie quickly grasped the closest thing to her–which was Elaine’s throat. 

 

          Her mother was following her in a boat.  She and the driver of the boat scooped Leslie up from the water within a few seconds.  And Elaine is still thankful.

 

          Leslie never liked being left behind.  And she didn’t like losing when she played games.  After her great nephew, Colin, was born, she would spend hours coloring and playing games with him.  He was her little buddy.  But her competitive nature didn’t die easily and she didn’t enjoy losing, even to him. 

 

          Vincent, Colin’s dad and her cousin, was two years younger than she.  He, naturally, was her big buddy.  As children the cousins etched together a life-long bond.  They spent hours building towers with blocks.  After the construction was felled, they would head for the hallway and a ball game.  For Leslie, the fun with Vincent was never in the game or the competition but in the giggling. 

 

          About ten years ago, after moving from Jersey, Leslie began attending Special Gathering.  Later, she joined the choir.  Her commitment to the choir was remarkable and we came to lean heavily on her strong–though never pitch-perfect–voice.

 

          Every Saturday evening, she’d ask her mom, “Do I need to wear my choir uniform to Special Gathering?”  Her mom would explain that the choir wasn’t singing at another church, only practicing.  “Are you sure?”  Leslie would enquire suspiciously.

 

          One of Leslie’s favorite songs was a selection from our choir.  Often before practice, we would sing it as our prayer.

 

          Change my heart, Oh, God.

          Make it ever true

          Change my heart, Oh, God,

          May I be like you.

 

          You are the potter, I am the clay

          Mold me and make me.

          This is what I pray.

 

          Change my heart, Oh, God.

          Make it ever true.

          Change my heart, Oh, God.

          May I be like you

 

          As Leslie slipped into eternity last Saturday, I believe she met the Lord giggling.  You see, her disability and pains are gone.  She isn‘t hurting or afraid anymore.  (show the crystal bowl and the paper cup)

 

          On the Friday evening that Leslie was admitted to the hospital, she was in agonizing pain.  Her stomach had ripped and her lungs were full of pneumonia.  She would code three times before they could get her into surgery.  Fighting frantically to save her life, the technician began taking X-rays.  Explaining to her what they were doing, the tech said, “We are going to hold up this piece of metal and take your picture.”

 

          Leslie weakly nodded her understanding.  As the technician put up the metal sheet to her chest, ready to click the X-ray, Leslie said, “Cheese” and grinned for the picture.  With each X-ray she said, “Cheese” and smiled.  As we remember Christ’s ambassador of giggles, we cannot weep for her, though we will often shed tears for ourselves.  She would demand that we gratefully grin and say, “Cheese.”

Today, I’m finishing up The Special Gathering’s monthly newsletter to our members, Connecting Point.  We named it that because we wanted our members to be able to connect with God, their local Special Gathering program, the community and each other.  It also has become a tool that we use to connect Special Gathering, which is a para-church ministry, to the congregations in our area.  At Special Gathering, our mission is to evangelize and disciple people who are mentally challenged.

Connecting Point is a pretty ambitious project each month.  There are twelve 8×11 pages.  However, we do pad the issue with three pages of puzzles and a cartoon page.  The post office also helps.  The postal rate we use to send it, requires that we employ at least a 20 point font.  There is a Bible study page and story page.  For years, one of our Bible teachers has authored the continuing stories for us.  She is E. Williams.  Ms. Williams is also a parent.

Each geographic area, which generally consists of two programs, formats their own front page, back page and two calendar pages.  These pages are personalized and oriented to the needs of the local groups.  The other eight pages are generic.  

Perhaps of all the things we do, this could be the most effective, other than our chapel programs.  Our members love receiving mail each month.  They especially delight in having their articles in the newsletter, seeing their names in print and finding our mistakes. 

If you would like to be added to our mailing list.  Just comment to this article.  Our e-mail address is lhoward@specialgatherings.com  Or our snail mail address is P. O. Box 6002, Vero Beach, FL  32961. 

What is the most effective tool you use to communicate with your members?  Have you been able to use the internet effectively to reach mentally challenged persons?  If so, what tools are you using to do that?