A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

The Do’s of Friendship

posted by Linda G. Howard

smile of friendshipSince there are three levels of friendship–causal, close and committed–it should be our goal to move as many friendships as humanly possible from a causal to a committed friendship. There is means that there are at least 10 things that each of us can and should do in nurturing a friendship grow.

building friendship1.  Recognize you need friends.  It’s the first step that leads to better and more secure friendships.

2.  Look for others in need of a friend.  This may mean reaching out to people whom you might otherwise pass over.
Ask God to bring a faithful friend into your life.

3.  Be approachable by smiling at others.  At times, I’ve been to that I look stern when I’m not aware of my expression.  This means to me that I must be more aware and adjust my facial expression.

4.  Speak to others by name.  Learn names and say the name often.
friendship

5.  Listen attentively to others.

6.  Look at the face of the speaker and keep your eyes on the face of the person speaking.

7.  Give genuine compliments and encouragement.  Get caught noticing the good things in a person.

8.  Ask open-ended question.  Is your daughter feeling better?  How is the job?

9.  Help others verbalize their feelings.  You don’t seem quite yourself today, are you feeling all right?

10.  Look for the kernel of truth in your friends’ criticism.

I’ve learned a great deal about friendship living within the mentally challenged community.  In general, these are people who give of themselves without reserve.  With the slightest encouragement, you become their friend for life.  Yet, shifting on the other foot, they find interacting with their peer may be more difficult.  Within Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we endeavor to help our members establish valued and long-lasting friendship with their peers.

Friendship

posted by Linda G. Howard

Robert Lewis StevensonRobert Lewis Stevenson expressed an important sentiment regarding friendship.  He said, “So long as we love, we serve.  No man is useless while he is a friend.”

Jesus, however, lifted friendship to a new and holy level when he spoke to his disciple before they moved quickly to the Garden of Gethsemane.  This was during a time of great joy on the part of the disciples.  Jesus’s Messianic processional into Jerusalem had occurred only four days before.  Yet, Jesus knew that within 24 hours he would die one of the most cruel deaths known to mankind.

last supperDuring the passover supper, Jesus spoke.  He said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”  (John 15:13 and 15).  While the world values and understands the importance of friendship, Jesus put it into a different category.  He is our friends.  We are the friends of God.  We have access to the most confidential communications that develop within the Godhead.  At this point in time, friendship became a holy act of God’s love extending into the world.

In addition, because we are friends with God, his love through us can embrace every individual.  Therefore, we can be lavish with our friendships.

Studies and common sense tell us there are three levels of friendship.  They are casual, close and committed.  Casual friends are people with whom we have only occasional contact. Nevertheless, there are common interests.  We are probably concerned about each others’ personal problems.  Yet, a lack of contact determines that there is little that we can do for each other or about our daily missteps or misgivings.

The second level is close.  With these folks, there is regular contact.  We are willing to be vulnerable, though there may be little opportunity to test that vulnerability.  There is some shared knowledge of abilities and character qualities.  You share interest with a close friend.  In addition, there is sensitivity to the likes, dislikes and weaknesses of each other.

In a committed friendship, the two friends enlist each other to devoting quality time.  There is mutual value in this nonverbal contract.  While the qualities of a close friendship exists within a committed relationship, there is also freedom to correct flaws.  Each person experiences the joys and risks of transparency.  For a committed friendship, there is mutual enrollment at this level of friendship.

friendsWithin the mentally challenged community, there is often a lack of intellectual ability to distinguish between a casual friendship and a committed friendship.  Relationship boundaries are blurred.  I don’t allow my members to call me “Mama” or “Grandma.”  These titles denote a closeness that I can never achieve in their lives.  I’m not their parent and I never will be.

When a man or women within our cloistered community attends five or six days of retreat or camp, they almost always will be paired with a volunteer whose intellectual abilities falls within the “normal” range.  The volunteer’s main task during the week is to become friends with the person who is mentally challenged.

It becomes an important week within the life of both the volunteer and the person who is intellectually disabled–but it is not a time in which a close or committed friendship can be developed.  After a week of “hanging together,” sleeping in the same cabin and sharing mealtime, there is a bond that issues into a friendship but unless it is taken to the next level, it can never progress beyond the boundaries of a casual friendship.  This does not mean that the volunteer cannot feel a sense of value that will change his life forever.

It is much like a short-term missionary experience.  We vacation in another country, working hard while experiencing the joy and sorrow of a people for a week or two.  Then we go home, leaving the consequences, the commitment and hard day-to-day endeavors to the people who live in the country where we visited.

As we approach Camp and Retreat Agape that is held at the end of May, there is an anticipation of the work that lays ahead.  There is also knowledge that lives will be changed.  We see our members leaving camp who have renewed their vows to the Lord through the worship experiences.  We ask our volunteers to hang out with our members,though no one is assigned to any particular person.  Therefore, the friendships which develop and deepen are typically within the membership.  Our members “hang loose” with each other and talk for hours.  They fish and share the joys of catching the big one.  They do things that may be off-limits to them most of the year.  They drive go-carts and go on boat rides, play pool, work on crafts and traverse the water slides.

Friendship is a delicate ballet of hard work, commitment and time.  Within the confines of the Church body, friendship should not be taken lightly because of Jesus’ injunction to us.  ”You are no longer servants.  You are my friends.”

Partial payment

posted by Linda G. Howard

Today I finished the final payment for a set of storage cabinets that I asked All Around Handyman and Lawn Service to do for me.  They are beautiful enough to have in my home; but they are in the garage.  When Matt began the work, I wasn’t familiar with his work; and I wrote out the first partial-payment check with a bit of concern.

Sure he had given me a great price and I really needed some cabinets or “something” to hide all the things I work with in Special Gathering, which a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  My husband and I had put together scraps and parts from old lumber to make his garage serviceable.  But as the years, as his health failed, my Special Gathering ministry items slowly took over parts of the shelving.

Our gardening necessities were hanging here and yonder.  He had more saws and sanders and gizmos than I dare to list.  There was a need for some kind of order.

When my husband died almost two years ago, I quickly cleared out all his clothes, medical equipment.  The children and grandchildren sorted through his professional items and took the aerospace and NASA momentos that they wanted.  I cleaned out his office.  But the garage…

That was the place where his heart lay.  For more than thirty years, he worked on an invention that he believed would change the world.  He died before his dream was realized.  I never wanted to romanticize his work but I also found that I could not clear it away.  I could not throw out the scraps and books that contained his life’s dream.  Until January.

With the new year, I knew it was time to set out on a one-year project to get the garage organized and cleaned out.  After working about a month, I realized that I must have a better system. I called Matt of All Around Handyman and Lawn.  He came and gave me a reasonable estimate for servicable and workable garage cabinets.

He took three days to complete the first phase of the project.  I watched with amazement at the skill, care and joy with which he worked.  He is a craftsman.  On Wednesday, just as he had promised, he completed the job.  I had no concerns when I wrote him the final payment.

Matt is a Christian man who started a risky adventure this year with his new business.  I believe that his abilities and painstaking focus will make his successful. I feel that even though I’ve paid him for doing the work, I am the one who has received the greatest blessing.

Whether we realize it or not, each day we can make a partial payment for godly blessing in the lives of the people that we encounter.   That grumpy cashier may need prayer.  My friend, Maria, always leans over the counter of a rude cashier or salesperson and whispers, “I know you are having a bad day.  I’m going to pray for you.”  She has even been known to slip an extra $10 into his hand if she believes that God is telling her to do it.  This wouldn’t be extraordinary except Maria is as poor as a stray cat.  There are times that she must stretch her meager pay check to buy groceries for a day, wondering what she will eat the rest of the week.

The other day I received a card from Betty, a member of Special Gathering.  It was a lovely Hallmark thank you card.  She carefully printed in large irregular letters, “I want you to know I love you very much.”  From another woman, this would be a welcomed ditty.  From Betty, it was a heart-felt and unusual expression of love.  I’ve known her for 25 years, but I’ve never known Betty to speak of any sentimentality.  I felt God was saying to me, “This is partial payment for the hours you’ve spent with her teaching, guiding and loving.”  I wept because of the love that she had given to me in that note.

As I looked at the finished cabinets today, I felt mixed emotions.  The Lord and Matt had given me a partial payment of godly blessing.  I loved the cabinet and I enjoyed filling them with all my Special Gathering stuff.  But there was a tinge of regret that my husband was never able to have this when it was his garage.  Then, I quickly realized that in a strange way, Matt’s wonderful cabinets were as much for Frank as for me.

As I closed the door to the garage tonight, I asked the Lord to thank Frank for this gift–partial payment from him to me given with love.

Remember where you are going

posted by Linda G. Howard

climbing without ropesEach of us has been given a plan for our lives.  For most, that blueprint remains a mystery and a puzzle.  We wander back and forth unsure of our footing or grasp.  Much like a mountain climber who has no safety rope or pick, we inch our way through life fearing each move.  There is challenge and fear because we know that one wrong move will plunge us to a certain death.

Yet, there is little doubt that God has a plan for our lives.  It is an inexpugnable promise that glares from every page of the scriptures.  God’s direct intervention our lives is a glorious road map that leads to an abundant life.  It remains a mystery to me why we so often forget the guiding Hand that desires to nurture, lead and guide us, falling instead before the idols of selfishness, doubt and uncertainty.

roadmapGod’s plan for our lives must be the destination of our travels.  Twenty years before I was asked to be on staff at The Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, the Lord told me his plan.  I was reading Corrie ten Boon’s book about the ministry she had before the war.  Dante Corrie was the pastor to people in her community who were mentally challenged.  God spoke to me as I read, “This is what I’ve called you to do.”

Twenty years of training lay ahead of me before I was to do this work; yet, He never forgot his plan for me.  I must admit that I tried to bring about God’s plan and failed miserably several times.  Then after 15 years or so, I decided that I had missed the Lord and would never be able to fulfil God’s true plan for my life.  I put the plan on a top shelf and forgot.  While still following God’s direction, I forgot the plan.  But God didn’t.  He continued my training.

When His time came, I was introduced to Rev. Richard Stimson, founder and executive director of Special Gathering; and I came to the ministry to write a book for him.  From the moment I walked into my first chapel program, I knew that I’d come home.

The book was never published; but I never left.  After a few months, the Lord gently spoke to my heart, “Remember.  I told you this is what I’d called you to do.”  I feel the Lord allowed me to forget that calling because when I remembered, it was another firm confirmation that I was walking in God’s plan for my life.

direction signCounselors are told that the best thing you can do is to allow a troubled person to talk.  In so doing, the person discovers for herself the true reason from her distress and the answer to the problem that lies deep inside of each person.  Of course, as Christ followers, we desire to know God’s plan for us and not our capricious way.  But we each know.  It may be hidden and lost in the training.  Perhaps, in frustration or fear of failure, we put in on a shelf, waiting for God’s timing.

But God does not forget.  If we are desiring to follow him and we love his ways, God will continue to direct us into his plan..into his way.  Then at the right time, he will nudge us and whisper into our spirits, “Remember where you are going.  This is the way.  Walk in it.”

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