A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

Big plans or new toys

posted by Linda G. Howard

By the time I was born, my father had started several successful businesses.  As a teenager, he was an ice man, selling ice to many people in his small town.  After he married my mother, he started a grocery store with a brother.  When misunderstanding threatened to ruin the relationship, he moved away from the store and established a restaurant.

As the population of the area around the restaurant deteriorated and the market changed, he moved closer to our home and began an ice cream parlor.  He and Mother worked long, hard hours in each business.

When Dad left the business world, he took a civil service job.  Through every venture, my parents kept their hearts focused on a bigger picture than the hardships of the day.  They did without many of the toys that people think are essential to their lives.  When our parents died, they left an inheritance for their children.  They had no debts, only assets and savings.  Yet, what they left for us was more than money in a bank account and a paid-off home mortgage.

Perhaps their greatest heritage for us was their ability to see beyond today and into the future, trusting God to orchestra our lives.  They taught us a myriad of lessons in delayed gratification, even though they never used those two words.  Often, when someone has left Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community for one reason or another, we don’t grieve because we know that they will be back and when they come back.  Our mission is discipleship and evangelizing.  We will be here waiting and welcoming them.  We will be here for years in the future.  We plan to continue ministry now and from now on.

Discouragement is part of life; but it isn’t the most important part.  Patience is a hallmark virtue of life in Christ.  Waiting for God to move means rewards from our Sovereign Lord.  My parents’ life wasn’t exciting or thrilling.  However, their legacy is.

Waiting and other distractions

posted by Linda G. Howard

I admit that there are some things that I do pretty well.  These are things at which I work hard to do as well as I can.  They are also things I enjoy.  My list seems to grow as I get older.  I enjoy writing, gardening, children, playing, teaching and administration.

There are several things that I don’t enjoy, however.  One is waiting.  As much waiting as I’ve done in my life, you would think that I would have acquired a likin’ for the process but I still rebel like a 13-year-old when I have to wait for longer than one minute.

There are some things that I’ve found that are worse than waiting, however.  Several of them are

  1. Having other people have to wait on me.
  2. Having the people who are waiting for me blow the horn of their car.
  3. Having my husband have to wait on me.
  4. Having my husband who is waiting for me blow the horn of the car.

Recently I watched The Special Gathering of South Carolina program director.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is evangelism and discipleship for people who are developmentally disabled.  The SC director was working to get three of her members who are visiting our home in Florida ready for a day at Magic Kingdom in Disney.  She was reduced to waiting.  ”You would think that I’d be used to it by now,” she commented in passing.

Our conversation quickly deteriorated to the other times we have waited for our members.  It takes half a day to load a 12 passenger van with people.  Add luggage and you better plan to spend the day waiting.  A buffet line can take up to four hours, depending on whether the person in front of you wants everything, wants nothing or changes her mind 37 times before putting the first thing on her plate.   In essence, we decided that waiting is one outgrowth of special needs ministry that will either make us stronger or break our strength.  While this list may not be spiritual, it is benefitial.

There are some things that you can do while waiting:

  1. Clean your fingernails.  Cleaning toenails is not recommended.
  2. Pick your teeth.  Picking someone else’s teeth is not recommended.
  3. Prayer at the beginning of the process is recommended.
  4. Praying by the end of the process is not recommended because the prayers you will find yourself praying will not promote spiritual growth.
  5. Playing mind games is recommended.
  6. Playing video or on-line games is not recommended.  The length of time you will spend playing the game while waiting will put you on such a high level that you will want to cancel the activity and spend the rest of your day playing games.
  7. People observing is recommended as long as you are not looking at your members trying to get ready.

If you are not in special needs ministry, these rules are easily adapted to almost any waiting process.  Therefore, it is recommended that you  make a copy of this list and tuck it into a shirt pocket for easy reference to read the next time you are waiting.  Additonally, it will give you an eighth thing to do while you are waiting.

The Dignity of Risk

posted by Linda G. Howard

I direct two choirs as one of my tasks as area director of The Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community. During one of our choir practices, I asked the choir to vote on which songs they would like to sing when we perform at a local church. We were currently rehearsing about five songs.   We will sing at a large Presbyterian church and we will be ministering at their 10:30am worship service.  To my amazement, as we went through the list, they didn’t and even with encouragement they wouldn’t raise their hands to tell me their choice.

When Tim spoke out that he liked the second song best, everyone chimed in to agree with him.  I was surprised–not at their selection but in their hesitation to raise their hands regarding their personal choice.  These are men and woman who are the leaders in our ministry in Melbourne.  They are intellectually disabled but they are our deacons.  During our prayer time, they are  the ones who stand at the front of their peers and pray for the member who request prayer.  They are part of our praise team.  They lead singing, read the scriptures and greet visitors.

Yet, they were hesitant to give their opinion regarding their choice in a musical selection.  Once again they were exhibiting their need to please people who are in authority.  They didn’t want to be wrong and not please me.  They were refusing to take the risk of offending me.

I can only vaguely imagine the intimidation that my friends have endured that make them too afraid to give me their opinion.  I am their friend and they know it.  Additionally, these 13 men and women are not timid wallflowers.  They are forward looking individuals who laugh and joke and seem to express their opinions with ease.  Now, I wonder.  How much are they hiding?  How much of this self-confidence is another set of learned behaviors exhibited to impress the outside world?

Each day I realize that there is much to learn about unlocking the potential of these men and women of God.  Nevertheless, I see all of humanity as I stare into their faces.  As much as we may want to deny it, their simplisitic faith and uncomplicated processing doesn’t make them less like people who are “normal.”  If any thing, it exposes more of our humanity than we want to confess.

God make humans to be people who take risks.  It is part of what give us dignity.  Often, our community has been push into a corner and denied their God-given right to take risks.  However, I could not help but put myself into their faces and remember all the times I’ve not wanted to take a risk because of fear.

Over the past three years, I written a daily blog about The Special Gathering ministry.  One of the Google searches that is most requested is a definition of the dignity of risk.  This is a phrase that is often used within the intellectually disabled community.  After 22 years of ministry within this community, I believe that a good definition is:  Dignity of risk is the moving away from a safe place, in order to fully experience the self-respect and self-esteen of being a human being.

Taking risks is one quality that moves humans from the animalistic realm of instinct or habit. Therefore, anyone denied the ability to take risks cannot fully understand or experience their true humanity and is consequently denied true dignity.

Fact or fiction

posted by Linda G. Howard

Working and living within the intellectually disabled community, I found that there are many common bits of misinformation and urban legends that haunt our population.  These distortions diminish all of us.  Here are a few of the most common misunderstandings.

  1. They don’t understand insults or compliments. The fact is that they love compliments and completely understand insults.  Their feelings can be hurt and they are as sensitive as any other person.
  2. They are dangerous and cannot be trusted. While they are people and can do harm to themselves and others, in reality, our population is usually eager to please.  In addition, they are much more apt to harm themselves than someone else.
  3. They are over-sexed individuals, especially the men. Most developmentally disabled women want to have babies; but they are not usually interested in sex for any number of reasons.   Men who have had sexual experiences are always more aware than men who have not experimented with sex.  However, in most cases, the hormones of men and women who are mentally challenged are not underdeveloped.
  4. Individuals who are mentally challenged are loud and unpleasant. The personalities of people who are mentally challenged are as varied and complicated as any other people’s group.
  5. All people born with Down’s Syndrome are sweet and compliant. While there are those with the typical personality attributed to a person born with Down’s, they too have a variety of personality types.
  6. People who are mentally challenged are God’s special children.  This usually means that they are exempt from sin; and they are given a “get-out-of-jail-free card” in regard to the judgment of God.  The reality is that they need salvation and discipleship just like everyone else.  There are some people who will never obtain an age of accountability because their IQ is extremely low.  Yet, we have seen exceptionally low functioning individuals eagerly accept the claims of Christ, and their lives change as a result of their salvation experience.
  7. They can never understand the plan of salvation because their minds are too simple. Everyone can understand “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  This is the essence of God’s salvation plan provided by Jesus.
  8. People who are intellectually disabled are especially gifted in spiritual areas. As with other people, there are women and men who hear from God in unique way within our population.  Nevertheless, there are also people who don’t even care about the things of God.  They are no more gifted than any other person who care nothing about God.
  9. When you meet one mentally challenged person, you have met them all because they are all just alike. This community is extremely diverse.  Not only are their personalities different but they also have disabilities that are varied and different, adding texture and interesting flavors to their uniqueness.
  10. Medication should be given to modify every behavior. Medications are important and they are a wonderful gift for modern man.  Nevertheless, discipline can be learned by our population.  At times, habits are formed; but they can be broken by godly teachings.

There are other misunderstandings that float through the larger population regarding this interesting sub-culture.  Yet, God has made every person uniquely his treasure.  It is up to us to turn our hearts and lives over to this loving Father.  Is there an interesting person who is mentally challenged that you have met?  What are some of their characteristics that interest you?

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