A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

Wilted

posted by Linda G. Howard

gardenA couple of times a year I must dedicate several days to my garden.  I have a small yard.  Therefore, most of my back and side yards are devoted to my garden.  I’m not consistent enough with my yard work to be considered a true gardener; but I enjoy the fruits of my sporadic labors all year round.

Often in my pruning and pulling, I find a wilted perennial.  Usually, there seems to be no reason for the decay of the dying plant.  In sunny Florida near the ocean, we need water almost everyday for our growing ornamentals; but I’m pretty diligent about providing that.  Yet, the mystery is that these wilted plants often grow along side the healthy ones.

wiltedIn some plants that seems to be a deficiency in their ability to grow.  They are receiving the same fertilizer and water.  The share equally with the soil and sunlight; but they remain stunted until they are gone.

I remember a young man who was raised in a large family.  He told of an abusive childhood.  Finally, he left home, rejecting the opportunity to go to college as his siblings had done because he didn’t want to be obligated to his unforgiving and vengeful parents.  Yet, when you realized that this young man had been raised by godly parents and his six other siblings told a completely different story about their childhood, you knew something had gone badly wrong with this young man; and his parents probably were not to blame. There were obvious distortions in his life.

distortionsAs the man has matured, his attitude has improved but not totally changed.  The distortions in his life remain.  Wherever he goes, people are making his life miserable.  Employers fire him for no reason.  Women break his heart without regrets or scruples.  Hospital mix up his test results and give him the wrong medications which make him sicker.  Even though, the man rejected church in his youth, he has returned to his faith; but there is no joy in his relationship with the Father.

Several weeks ago, I revisited the parable of the talents as told by Jesus in Matthew 25.  We all remember the three employees who were given various amounts of money from their employer, a business owner.  They were expected to invest the money.  The first two did exactly what was expected of them, doubling the amount they received.

moneyThe third, however, buried his money with this explanation to his employer, “I know that you were a hard man and that you expect growth from investments, even where you don’t invest any money.  You want more for your labors than you are willing to make an effort to produce.  Therefore, I was afraid.  I buried your money and here it is.  I’m returning the amount you gave to me.”

His employer was outraged with his employee.  ”If you knew that I was that kind of employer, why didn’t you take my money and put it in the bank so it would at least draw interest.”  The employer took away the money and gave it to the employee who had earned the greatest money from his investment.

The employer explained through is torrent of anger, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them”  (Matthew 25:29)  The employer fired the slothful employee and then had him arrested and sent to prison.

We know that the employer is God in this parable.  In reading the Biblical account, we find that the three men had the same employer but two expected goodness from him.  And that is precisely what they received.  The third employee, driven by indolence, sluggishness and laziness, expected exactly the opposite from the same man and that is what he received.

There are those who expect only the worst from God–and that is what they receive.  Like my wilted garden plant, they never learn to partake of the water, sunlight, warmth and food provided all around them.

Many of my friends within the mentally challenged community exhibit the exact opposite attitude.  Their IQ’s a deficient.  Their bodies may not function properly.  However, they grow and mature without distortions within their spirit.  The Lord in his mercy has graciously provided for all of us.  His blessings abound all during the day and night but often without reason we become overcome by doubts and fears.  Our spirits wilt in the presence of a gracious Lord.

My prayer is that I will command my doubting heart know the love of the Lord.  That I will demand for my whining spirit to look full into the sunlight of his love expecting and receiving the abundant blessings that surround me.

The Don’t’s of Friendship

posted by Linda G. Howard

last supperAfter the men had gathered for their last supper together, Jesus made a shocking statement to his followers.  In the light of who he was–mighty God, the Messiah, the Christ and Savior of the world–Jesus’s announcement is a total departure from the relationship mankind had previously experienced with God.  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).

building friendshipAs we contemplate and meditate on this astonishing declaration, our hearts must swell with joy and acceptance of our new exalted position of Friends of God.  This friendship must change us, however.  We come to understand the depth of the riches of God and the depth of his love for all people, releasing us to love in a new way.  Friendship has become a holy endeavor, initiated by God and perfected in His love and sacrifice.

With that in mind, as we approach people, there are some caution signs attached to friendship.  Here are nine Don’t’s of developing a committed friendship.

1.  Don’t wait for others to reach out to you.  Our lives must be an extension of God’s heart that is always ready to receive the broken-hearted, the lovely and the ugly alike.

2.  Don’t share just facts with your friends.  Share feelings.  Let people know YOUR joys and sorrows.  Your hurts and misgivings.

rejected friendship shirt3.  Don’t expect everyone to like you.  I learned that people either love me or hate me.  There is no in-between.  This became a valuable lesson in maturity.  I’m no longer hurt by folks who don’t know me but who reject me.  It’s a fact of  my life.  And harshly speaking, it is a fact of your life.  Not everyone wants to be friends with us.

4.  Don’t expect your friend’s friend to be your friend.

5.  Don’t be quick to voice your own opinions.  Some–perhaps many–things are best left unsaid.

6.  Don’t harbor unforgiveness or bitterness over offenses.  Peel away the hurt of a careless remark.  Stomp until dead the pains of neglect that come into every friendship.

7.  Don’t share negative information about others.

8.  Don’t expect a friend to be your source for love, significance or security.  Only God can give you that.

9.  Don’t let a friend take the place of the Lord.

In dealing with persons who are mentally challenged, it is vital to understand that they often do not have the cognitive ability to understand the fine nuances of friendship.  This means that certain boundaries may be necessary for you to set.  In the opposite direction, you may experience that their responses to  your friendship overtures may be overlooked.  Friendship with a person with special needs is a great privilege and joy.  Their friendships are worth taking the time and energy to develop.

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.”

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