A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

“She wanted to talk to me!”

posted by Linda G. Howard

A Special Gathering member would call me every night at 8PM to say, “Hello.”  Our conversations went something like this.

Peter:   UHH!

Me:  Peter, how are you?

Peter:  Good.

Me:  How was your day?

Peter:  Good.

Me:  That’s wonderful.  Well, Peter, thanks for calling and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Peter:  Uhh!

He called every day for about seven years.  His parents told me that his phone call to me was the highlight of his day.  After each phone call, he would rush from his room announcing with a shout, “I just talked to Linda Howard!  She wanted to talk to me!”

That was 22 years ago and Peter was one of my first introductions to a wonderful cloistered sub-culture that we call the mentally challenged community.  From these men and women who are developmentally disabled, I’ve learned many wonderfully simple truths from the scriptures and from their uncomplicated lives.

It’s been an amazing journey.  Hope you will join me learning about and living with some of the most uncomplicatedly, simple folks who live out Christ’s principles with humility and love.

The Benefit of Simplicity

posted by Linda G. Howard

Two years ago, Special Gathering pastor, area director and elders met together to investigate what our members who are mentally challenged need to know and understand about the Christian faith and theology.  It was boiled down to three things that are found within the liturgical worship.

  • Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:
  • Christ has died.
  • Christ is risen.
  • Christ will come again.

For our members, we added short sentences of explanation of the three statements.

  • Why did Christ die?
  • To take away my sins.
  • Why is Christ risen?
  • To prove that we do not have to fear death.
  • Why will Christ come again?
  • To do away with evil forever!

At each chapel worship service, we repeat this simple declaration.  During the past few weeks, these proclamations have become extremely personal to me.  Though my husband does not have a disease, his body is slowly shutting down.  While it won’t be tomorrow or even next month, he is dying.

A month ago, I knew this but I could not have written it or even admitted this fact to myself.  However, over the past weeks, the simple phrase that I repeat twice a week at Special Gathering worship:  “To prove we do not have to fear death”  has grown in my heart.  Slowly, it has been transplanted into my every day life.

Each night as we say good night, my husband and I have a simple conversation of a sentence or two.  Part of what is happening is that he sleeps 24 hours a day.  He is no longer able to carry on a conversation, even with me.  Nevertheless, it is apparent that neither of us are afraid of death. While I’ve not feared death, I have feared being left alone.  But that is gone.

What has replaced the fear is a sweetness that is hard to explain.  Peace reigns in our home, especially in his bedroom.  Sure the work of caring for him is hard.  Additionally, it seems to never end.  But the sweetness that we are experiencing brings its own benefits.

“To prove we do not have to fear death” has become the essence of our daily life.  It  is a profoundly simple promise that has transformed our life.

Vindication

posted by Linda G. Howard

Mike has suffered more in gossip and mistrust than anyone I know.  He has lost his ministry, started another, nearly lost this one.  Sure, Mike has his personality quirks and problems like all of us; but he had not fallen into sexual sin, stolen money or done grave misgivings.  Yet he had lost friends, family, associates, his life savings and his reputation over a process of five years.

I’ve expected any day to hear that he has decided that it’s too hard; and he has gone completely into the secular world to gain back “what the church locust hath eaten.”  But I receive his church email twice a week and I marvel.  There is no hint of reprisal or resentment.  Mike has never lashed back or sought revenge.  In fact, he has paid off debts that he did not owe while others have profited in the millions from his hard work.

If the story sounds familiar or even much like what you have lived through, welcome to the real world of hard spiritual growth.  I am convinced that God is not the author of this kind of hardship.  Nevertheless, He is the redeemer of vindication.  I’ve seen so many others travel down this highway.  The circumstances are always different but God’s vindication is the same.

I, first, saw my mother pick up her bruised reputation and walk sorrowfully down this road.  I asked her one day how she could take the hurts  and lies thrown at her and not retaliate.  “Honey,” she said, sadly, “when you’ve had as much said about you as I have, you’ll learn that reprisal does no good.  God takes care of me and my reputation.  I don’t have to do it.”

Much later, I had to pack my scarred bags and do some traveling down that road of Bruisingandhurt Boulevard.  It was not easy; but I learned the hard way that God brings vindication.  As leaders, there will be times that even those you hold close to your hearts will turn and walk away.  There are principles that work in circumstances like this.

  1. As much as possible, keep your heart pure before God.
  2. While there is some dispute about how forgiveness works and I don’t understand it all.  As an act of my will, I repeatedly forgave those who had wounded me.
  3. Cast away the hurt and resentment.  I mean physically pick up that pile of junk and toss it away from you.
  4. Ask God to bless those who despitefully use you.
  5. Look for opportunities to be gracious and kind to those who have hurt you.
  6. But give it time.  Time will heal the wounds that are so raw now.
  7. Learn to wait on God.  His timetable is almost always a lot slower than ours.

As David left Jerusalem fleeing because of the rebellion of Absolom, there was a relative of Saul who cursed and jeered at him.  David would not let his men punish this man in any way.  David had been wrong and he was suffering the consequences of his sin.  Yet, the jeers of Saul’s relative had not been part of what God had promised as judgement.  Even so, David took his unjust slander.

Vindication will come.  However, even more redeeming is the process. God will teach us valuable lessons.  And it seems we can only learn them walking down that hard road of misunderstanding and abuse.  Is that road too hard for you at this time?  Remember God’s love never fails even when we do and all those around us that we trust forsake us.  What are some of the things you have learned during hard times of misunderstanding?

We are not born rude

posted by Linda G. Howard

Last month, I accompanied three Special Gathering members and our South Carolina Special Gathering program director on a Disney cruise.  It was a great time of fun and fellowship.  At 6 feet 4 inches, one of the members, Tony, is the “gentle giant” that usually lives in a mythical land.  He literally runs from confrontation and arguments.

Tony’s size commands attention.  He is developmentally disabled, excitable; and he gets loud when he is excited. His voice is as high-pitched as his body is tall and broad.  The entire package means a large, large man who has a female voice who speaks loud and excited.

During the cruise, we were able to play an onboard mystery game.  The object of the game was to find, arrest the criminal and recover stolen property.  You discover clues by going from place to place on the ship uncovering the clues from different pictures hanging on the wall.  As we were beginning our game, a group of older, middle school teenagers were in front of us.  Understandably, they were a bit startled by Tony’s large size and shrill voice.  Unfortunately, the fun-making began.  They were not laughing with Tony but AT him.  Tony heard and understood but chose to ignore them.

As we traveled throughout the boat gathering clues, we seemed to be with them each time we landed at a clue station.  After about four encounters, their rudeness and laughter became more and more hateful.  Finally, when they stepped out the door to the outside, I followed them.

In my calmest and most pleasant voice, I called to them.  They turned and faced me still enjoying their latest joke about Tony.   Their visages carried the smart-aleck smirks that only young people discovering themselves can muster.  Again, attempting to be more than pleasant, I tried to marshal up my most syrupy, vocal tones, “You know, my friend was born with his disabilities.  He had no choice in the way he acts.   He cannot help the way he looks or acts.  You, on the other hand, have chosen to be rude.  You weren’t born that way.  You can change.  You don’t have to be rude.”

Their smirks changed to indignant wonder that someone who would dare to confront them.  However, one young man’s face blanched with genuine shame.  He fixed his eyes on his sneakers.

There are ongoing questions about how to treat rudeness from the public when leaders are with our members.  One school of thought says, “Ignore.”  Another says, “Confront.”   I probably fall on both sides of fence, depending on the situation.  I would have ignored these young people had they quickly tired of their sickening jokes.  Yet, because their bad behavior continued to accelerate, I wanted to let them know that they were being inappropriate.  Therefore, I confronted them about their actions.

Titus says, “Do not allow anyone to despise you.”  I looked into the nuances of the Greek in that passage.  The translation is very clear.  It simply means, “Do not allow anyone to despise you.”  All people have times when we are faced with the bad behavior from others aimed at us.  How we face these times may each be different depending on the circumstances.  Yet, there are times that we must stand up and say to another person, “You weren’t born rude.  You can change.”

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