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A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

The Kiss–a Resurrection Miracle

posted by Linda G. Howard

After Special Gathering chapel service on Sunday morning , James, whose disability is within the autism spectrum, came up to shake my hand.  Because it was Resurrection Day, we had abandoned our usual worship format.  The chairs were arranged in a circle.  We sang,

Celebrate, Jesus, celebrate.

He is risen. He is risen.

Come on and celebrate

The resurrection of our Lord.

I had shared a devotion retelling the amazing story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Then we dismissed to take part in the pancake breakfast given by the youth department of First United Methodist Church of Melbourne.

It was obvious that James was overwhelmed with emotion this morning.  He grabbed my hand, gently pulled me toward him.  Then in a clumsy, lovely and awkward way, he kissed me on the cheek.  Then he did it again and again and again.  Four times James kissed me.

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Unless you know James and unless you are familiar with the symptoms of autism, you cannot understand what a gift and miracle those four kisses are for me and for James. In the ten years, I’ve known him, neither his staff nor I can recall anyone that James has kissed.

The autism spectrum is a wide range of symptoms that span a wide variety of anti-social, personality disorders.  For James as with many people whose disability is within the spectrum, personal contact is extremely difficult.  Yes, they have deep, stirring emotions; but their ability to express those emotions with personal contact can be vastly limited.

When and if they instigate contact with another person, it is fine.  However, they can be repulsed and may even be terrified by contact with someone, if they do not initiate the touch.

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After James kissed me, he left to join the other members standing in line for pancakes.  Erik, a good friend of James’ who had been his staff person in the group home where James lives, came up to me.  ”What was that all about?” he asked in a protective and concerned tone.

“He kissed me.  Four times, he kissed me on the cheek.”

Immediately, his anxious look turned to a broad smile.  ”He did what?”

“He kissed me.  Four times,” I held up four fingers, adding emphasis to my claim.  ”He kissed me four times on the cheek.”

Erik grinned and turned to other duties.  ”I have my resurrection miracle,” I said as he began to turn away.

Again, Erik’ smile overcame his face, as he turned back to me.  ”I’ll say you did.”

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I remember the day James reached out and touched my extended finger in a sacred, quick touch.  A miracle of tender care occurred that morning.  Some months later, James came up to me.  He took one finger out of his ear, stopped humming for a split second.  Then he extended his hand to shake mine.  Again, I knew a miracle of love had happened joining James’ heart to mine.

Within the disability Christian community, mighty miracles happen almost every day.  They come in the form of a touch, a handshake.  But the resurrection miracles often become a kiss on the cheek.  Indeed, Jesus has come that we might have life and that life comes in abundant love.

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The motivation of work

posted by Linda G. Howard

For years, Andy has worked with Wal-Mart.  He was considered a profitable and cooperative employee.  Then the management changed.  As a result, the new manager and Andy didn’t click.  Eventually, when the store needed to trim their employees, Andy was laid off.

He was a hard worker who doesn’t like sitting and watching TV.  He doesn’t play video games.  He likes to work.  When his family came to me regarding their problem with Andy, I was amused as they explained their dilemma.  Without other work, yard care has become his speciality. We have one day a week when trash and rubbish are picked up.  This included leaves, yard trimmings, branches and limbs.  Garbage pick-up is different days.

When the trash man comes, Andy insists that something must be in the container.  He has trimmed their trees until there will soon be problems.  With equal enthusiasm, he has trimmed the neighbors’ trees and bushes.  Still there are days that his parents must allow him to trim bushes which don’t need to be trimmed so there will be something for the trash man to collect.

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“Is there somewhere that he can work, a volunteer job?”  the family asked.  “Maybe the church can use him.”  Special Gathering meets at a large church with lots of needs.  Later that week, the building superintendent–at the church where we meet–was asked if they would be able to have Andy come once or twice a week to police the building, picking up trash and leaves.  He and his father wanted to do this as volunteers.

The superintendent almost jumped with joy.  A long time member, George, had come every morning for 25 years to pick up trash and leaves.  When George had a stroke, he could no longer come.  A big void was created.  The church was in dire need of a person to come and help with this job.

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Andy is not the only person within the special needs community who reacts to a loss of job in this way.  In fact, he was not even the exception.  Usually, people who are developmentally disabled want to work.  Occasionally, people with disabilities are looked on as freeloaders.  Yes, they do receive Social Security benefits.  Nevertheless, they desire to work and pay taxes.  When they are not able to find a job, they are willing to volunteer for and pick up the slack in the organizations that have value to them.

Each of us need to feel value.  Jesus said, “Love your neighbor, as you love yourself.”  Isn’t the meaning clear?  We can measure the amount of love we have for others by the volume of love we have for ourselves.  This teaching seems to stand against the other teachings of Jesus.  Giving ourselves away is a central theme of Christianity; so how could Jesus mean what he said?  Perhaps, the translator made a mistake.  Maybe, the gospel writers weren’t standing it the correct spot on the mountain while Jesus spoke to clearly hear his words.  Could it be that a mouthy sea-gull flew over the mount as Jesus spoke, thus garbling his words?

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The most logical explanation is that Jesus meant what he said.  As a person, I need to love the face in the mirror to be able to fully and truly love other people.  In the same way that people with disabilities feel better about themselves when they become valued members of their community, each of us need the same spurring to react to my neighbor in kind and loving ways.

Does this sound too simple to be effective?  Do you think this is the end of the formula to self-worth, or merely a small step forward?  Do you believe that I’ve completely missed the point?  If so, what did Jesus mean by this declaration?

 

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The Call

posted by Linda G. Howard

Larry wasn’t at our He Is Alive! Party the Saturday before Resurrection Day.  I wondered because Larry never misses Special Gathering of Vero, a ministry within the developmentally disabled community.  Our mission is evangelism and discipleship.   However, our supervisor told me that she had been told that Larry wouldn’t be at the party.  Larry’s mom had been in the hospital for a small speck that had been found on her brain. Yet, I’d been told that things were good and that she left the hospital without surgery.

When I received a voice message yesterday from his mother, Jackie, I was sad because I knew that this wasn’t a good sign.  In honesty, I waited for an hour to respond; because I wanted to prepare myself for what I would hear from her.

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Neither of us planned on developing a friendship.  But Saturday after Saturday, Jackie and I exchanged pleasant information about family and Larry.  The result, we have become friends.  She appreciates how much Larry loves the Lord because of his faithfulness to Special Gathering.  I love her willingness to bring him each week, on time.  She’s never late to pick him up after the chapel services.  As we have gotten to know each other, a genuine love has developed that goes beyond our mutual relationship with Larry.

In short, in the week between appointments with the local doctor and the Orlando specialist, the tumor’s size has doubled.  They believe that it is cancerous and the growth is alarming.  We talked for a few minutes; and she filled me in with all the details.

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Then I asked her about her relationship with the Lord.  I felt that she was a Christian but I wanted to be sure.  ”Yes,” she assured me.  ”I know the Lord.  He is my Savior.”

For a few minutes, we cried together.  I’m sure that she could not tell that I was crying and I know that I’m supposed to maintain a more ministerial aura.  However, there are some people who worm their way into your heart and eat that veneer with their love.  Jackie is one of those people.  After our conversation, I was thankful that she had called on Resurrection Day because the joy and hope of new life was burning in my spirit.

The assurance of life eternal is the result of Christ’s resurrection.  The Bible tells us in Roman 8:11, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”  No matter what the outcome, Jackie is in the Lord’s hands.

What are some of the good things you have had happen on Resurrection Day?

 

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That’s the Wrong Answer

posted by Linda G. Howard

One day while training a new Special Gathering staff member, I asked him if he would clean up a mess left by our members in one of the Bible study classroomes.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged (intellectually disabled) community.  Our mission is evangelism and discipleship.  This new staff  told me, “I don’t clean up messes like this.  I’ve paid my dues.  I did that in my other job.  I don’t have to clean up other people’s garbage now.”  That was the wrong answer.  Obviously, he didn’t last long in Special Gathering.  One of the hallmarks of  ministry for Christ is that we  always “get to clean up the messes.”

It is true that when we take 200 members on a spiritual retreat for four days at Vero Beach, the Camp Agape directors have found that it is not a good stewardship of our time to be tied up for an hour or two in “mess fixing” the nasty bathroom accidents.   That is because during those times, other circumstances rise from the abyss; and that is when real emergencies seem to happen.  We’ve learned that many times emergencies can be averted by a simple word from a director.  Therefore, we ask people who feel it is a privilege to do this type of work.  (Yes, Martha, there are other people out there like you.)

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In the life of Christ, I believe it isn’t the task that is important.  It is the attitude that dictates godliness.  That is true in all of our lives.  When our attitude becomes one of  true servanthood rather than haughty eliteness, God will bless us and it becomes a joy to be the servant of others.

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