Her brown hair is short and it sports a utilitarian style. Her uniform was clean and pressed with precision. Last year, she held an important position with the Federal government in Washington, DC. She has a Master’s degree in management. Yet, through no fault of her own, she is now working for less than $12 an hour, doing the same job she did while she was in high school. Her new job puts her in close contact with Special Gathering members.
Yesterday, as I approached her, I could see the tears reaming her eyes. “How are you?” I asked.
“I can’t believe my life has come to this,” she said, marking a check list and reviewing the things that needed to be done to keep the people she oversees safe. She turned away from me so that I could not see the lone tear that pierced her left cheek.
I took her in my arms and hugged her. We had bonded from the first time we met because she is a devoted Christian and she attends the same church that I’ve had close connections with for years. Her greatest concern isn’t the amount of money that she is making. It is that by working with our members on Sundays, she is not able to attend her church. I’ve invited her to come to Special Gathering, instead; but she isn’t able to break away and come.
As our members bounded away from her a few hours later, I couldn’t help but contrast their lives with this caregiver’s. I also saw myself in the caregiver’s position; and I wished that I could more easily identify with my members. These past two weeks have been a struggle for me. I can identify with the middle-aged woman who found her life in shambles. No, my situation isn’t as tragic as hers. However, circumstances have definitely changed.
Is there an answer for me and for her? I saw that the answer was slapping me in the face. Our members have the same concerns of any other adult. They have bills to pay. They have boyfriend/girlfriend issues. They have problems with the people the work with and the people with whom they live. Their bosses aren’t always fair. They have health issues. Their aging parents have delicate health concerns. But they bound from place to place happy to be alive.
Sure there are those within the mentally challenged community who live with depression. Others are just plain aggravating or even mean. But as a population, they have so much that could be distracting and oppressive; and yet they determine to see the best for themselves and for their families. Add a relationship with Lord and we find the most positive and resilient people I’ve ever met.
Here are several things that I’ve found that the mentally challenged community does that helps them to maintain their mental stability in the face of trauma.
- They continue to laugh at themselves and with each other. Laughter is still the best medicine.
- They maintain a close-knit community. They work together, dance together, play together and vacation together.
- They are repeatedly trained to walk away from offensive situations, rather than stew about misunderstandings. This is a great skill that we should all practice daily.
Each of us are able to make decisions that can and should alter our lives. Most of these decisions are simply deciding to allow God to fight our battles and laugh in the face of hard circumstances. Of course, keeping in daily contact with the Lord, family and Christian friends can help change our lives in the middle of difficult circumstances.
A green apple isn’t edible. However, a small, green apple may be perfectly shaped and formed. Nevertheless, it is not ready to be eaten. If I decide to eat this small, green apple, I will probably get a stomach ache.
Over the years, Eric’s parents have constantly commended the training he has received from Special Gathering. Likewise, Brent’s mother worked hard to manage his behavioral concerns. After attending Special Gathering for a few years, a drastic overhaul happened in his life. She gave all the credit to the teaching that he received each week at Special Gathering.
Brent and Eric still have issues that are unresolved in their personalities and actions. But they are still green apples.
Arthur is equally dysfunctional in his behavior at work. No one can get along with him. However, all these co-workers agree that Arthur has radically changed for the better since he has been attending the Bible study at work. Barb looses her temper with her family and friends. She knows that she is wrong; and she has started to read her Bible each day, looking for answers to her temperamental behaviors.
Arthur and Barb still have issues that are unresolved in their personalities and actions. But they are still green apples–growing in the Lord.
Arthur, Barb, Brent and Eric have stories that are amazingly similar. All four struggle with behavioral issues. But they are also very different. Arthur is the CEO of a large company and Barb manages a local restaurant. Eric and Brent are part of the mentally challenged community.
The acorn that falls from the mighty oak tree is very different from the tree that it will become. The sapling which springs from the acorn is not nearly as beautiful or stable as the tree that it will become 20 years later.
The Christian life is a growing experience. As disciples of Christ, we will never become totally ripe fruit until we are in heaven. The acorn does not even resemble the tree it will become. It is the same with the members of Special Gathering. As much as Brent may change, he is still miles from the goal of being transformed into the image of Christ. Eric loves the Lord; but he still falters in his execution of the disciplines of the Christian life.
Yes, Arthur–the CEO–and Eric–the Special Gathering member–are dissimilar. Yet, in comparison to the acorn and the oak tree, there are more similarities than there are differences.
We went to the beach early so the children could play a bit before the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. It was Monday morning. The launch was scheduled for 9:23 AM.
On Tuesday the week before, Frank, my husband of 49 years had died. Because of his commitment to Christ, we knew he was running through heaven. The week had been a blur of tears and laughter. Family and friends came by the house to drop off food or cards. They all lingered for a moment making sure that I was all right. Bitter-sweet times washed through our home like a reoccurring flood of healing balm.
Our children, three grandchildren and I had spent much of Saturday sorting and dividing things that the grandchildren wanted to have as a remembrance of their Grandpa. He and I had often talked about what each child would want to have.
My husband was a NASA scientist who worked for 45 years on the space program. A good friend of Frank’s had called to accept our invitation to speak at his memorial service. His colleague said, “Frank was a true engineer. He always came with concrete numbers and mathematical proof for his conclusions. There was no guessing or using his instinct when designing systems that related to the space program.” Therefore, this final launch of the Endeavour held more significance for our family than for some of the people dotting the beach.
It was a perfect day and the bird lifted from its perch, ascending into the blue sky without a hitch. The rest of the children and grandchildren had to return to their work. But my daughter, her husband, their two children and I walked the two block to the ocean to view the spectacle. And we were not disappointed. My daughter had wrapped her arms around both of her children as we walked and said, “This is an important moment in history. But it is even more important for our family because Granddaddy devoted most of his career designing and working on piping that fuels the shuttle.”
As we watched the silent speck rise effortlessly into space, my eight-year-old granddaughter said in a loud voice, “Goodbye, Grandpa.” Then she repeated it again and again as tears traced my cheeks. I quietly wept for the loss of the man and engineer that I love.
God is so good to his children and He knows what is best for us far better than we know ourselves. For me, there was no greater tribute to my husband than that lovely voice speaking tender words as the vehicle disappeared, “Goodbye, Grandpa.”
Even though I don’t feel that old, I’ve not only lived through the last Ice Age but now I’ve also been able to navigate through the deadly specter of Global Warming. However, all this has been replaced by another haunting danger, Climate Change.
If you are old enough, you remember that there was an environmental scare that began in the early 1970′s which proclaimed that our waste and living habits were causing the earth to usher in the next Ice Age. Then a decade or two later, we were accosted by Global Warming. Now it appears that in these few short years, I’ve passed through these threats only to be battling Climate Change.
Frankly, I was just getting used to the cold when Global Warming was ushered into the environment. The past few years of Florida’s freezing winters make me almost yearn for the good, old days of Global Warming.
Before all the environmental scares asking us to conserve energy and eliminate waste, I was reusing and repurposing everything that passed through our household. In the 1960′s and 70′s, my children and the teenagers in my youth group used to mock me because I was constantly “reusing” almost everything. I was a cheapskate because paper grocery bags were carefully folded and securely tucked between my water heater and the wall waiting for their next life. To some observers, I was a hoarder when jars and bottles were put under the sink for another day’s journey. When old newspapers were used to wrap broken glass and other garbage so that the trash wouldn’t hurt anyone or smell, I was mocked with yucks and ughs.
Medicine bottles, egg cartons, plastic containers were valuable commodities resurrected into different objects because of their reuse. We even repaired our TV’s and stereo sets rather than buying new ones. I recovered old furniture. A sharp butcher knife became our lawn edging tool; and my scissors were a magical piece of equipment with multiple purposes that saved us from buying objects that were “purdy” but we really didn’t need.
Now the schools and all forms of media shout to the world about waste and that is a great thing. However, it kinda annoys me. This is the same group of folks who mocked my efforts to make do, rather than replace.
In the same vein, it was people of my generation who forced institutions for people with intellectual disabilities to close because these parents said to the professional community, “My daughter (or son) is part of our family and we won’t put her away. She will come home with us and she will be raised by us.” The families were mocked and ridiculed for their naive thinking by many people who believed they knew what was best.
The actions of these loving families saved our nation billions and billions of dollars over the next 40 or 50 years. Additionally, their children have become the employees who are THRILLED to do the jobs that no one else will do. As a result, the mentally challenged community has become taxpaying citizens.
Yet, in the time of budget cuts, so many things are being defunded or replaced with less and less. The mentally challenged community understands the situation that we have made for ourselves through waste and fraud. They know that things are changing and their services will be reduced. As a community, they are more than willing to do their part. However, in some states, when many other line-items in the state budget are increased in the newly passed legislature, the budget for these courageous men and women with disabilites was greatly reduced.
Perhaps it’s time to remember the billions of dollars that have been saved by these careful, loving parents and reclaim the heritage that they fought to make possible for their children.