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Having a place to worship and belong is important to many people, including those people living with disabilities. But we must never lose sight of the Big Audacious Goal, which is to introduce people to Jesus! The goal for those of us working in disability ministry is not inclusion, but I do believe people becoming active members of a congregation can be a by-product of a person coming to Christ.

So, my fellow workers in the kingdom, I challenge you to remember why we do what we do and that is to bring people to Christ and to help them grow deeper in their walk! It is not about inclusion or a person with a disability, it is all about Jesus!

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Recently, a fellow ministry worker was sharing with me some of the new things she was doing in her very traditional church. One of those new things included helping a bunch of very cool adults (I have met them, they are a fun bunch) with intellectual disabilities participate in the sacrament of communion. She was sharing some of the staff and volunteers concerns.
Can they really take communion?
Yes, they understand what it is to be in relationship with Jesus.
Do they understand the significance of the sacrament?
Yes, they have been taught and we have practiced in our classroom?
What if…something goes wrong?
I snickered and stated something may go wrong. Then my mind drifted…

I over the years I have worshiped in places where it was customary to move out of the pew and move toward taking the elements. As a child, the small white wafer was placed on the tongue and I swallowed the wafer, and there was never an issue. But because, of safety, a wafer is now often placed in ones hand. This can often bring me to a place of dread, will I be steady enough to pick the wafer or bread up, will I drop it…. What will happen…and the juice… Over the years, I may have worn more juice then swallowed it.

Because of my hand coordination my preferred method is intinction, a method where the bread is dipped in the juice or wine. Because it is bread, so the pieces are normally larger and I have better control over these things. But oh…those small little cups, that are often over filled. I see the tray coming and I want to run or hide, or have the cups pass me by…I have dropped full trays…and have left places of worship with red stains on my clothing, feeling mortified, ashamed and left out of one of the most important traditions we have as Christians! I have had better meaning people point out the stains on my clothing, bringing more embarrassment. I have cried on many occasions, feeling it was so unfair this beautiful sacrament, had been marred because of my physical limits…

I began to tell my colleague about spilling and her very quick wonderful reaction was the blood of the Lamb washed you. My perception…of all of those spills changed with that phrase…for I am glad I am made clean by Jesus blood…. And with that I will go boldly to the communion table in the future. Do you come to the table boldly!

Transition

It’s been a while since I have written. Over the last several months I have begun to write blogs, but have not been able to complete a thought! Transition is difficult. It reminds me a bit of the first time one moves from the kid’s table to the adult table during at holiday. Remember being excited to be at the table with all the grown-up’s but yet not knowing or understand all the rules at the table or even how to contribute to the conversation. My move from Florida to Illinois feels very much like that transition I made years ago from Grandma’s card table to the dining room table with the best silver.

The biggest difference in this analogy is when I moved from that card table to the dining table is knowing the people around the table. At my new table, I know no one and no body knows me and I feel lonely, a first in 15 years. So, although I know that I belong at the table, after all, the Heavenly Father placed me at the table, I am still trying to find my place and my voice.

My hope is that, I will begin to share some of the lessons God is showing me during this time…. I am just grateful, for a God who walks through life with us and knows what is on the other side of the transition.

Individual Support Plan, Person centered planning, Rights for people with Intellectual and developmental disabilities! Sometimes my head swirls with all of the terminology- after all it is important to ensure we are political correct, right? Even though these terms are familiar and I believe in these concepts, I have a stronger belief we as society are missing the bigger picture.
Ten years ago, my dear brother in Christ, Jim Hukill, challenged me on a long held belief. Like any strong advocate, I believed and strongly promoted “person-centered” planning for persons living with Intellectual and Developmental disabilities. Jim, asked, “How does this line up with your walk with Christ?” After all person centered planning is about self, and living as a follower of Christ demands, I am not the center of things, but, rather, the Christ is smack dab in the middle! This was a concept John the Baptist understood, and even shared with his follower’s “I must decrease, so the He may increase.” I have made that shift in my thinking and can still do great person centered planning when called to do so, but my preference is to help someone plan their life with Christ in the center….Your will be done not thy will! I know not everyone is a follower of Christ, but for those who are, is it not the responsibility of Christian community to help an individual needing support to begin advocating for a Christ centered approach to life. If so, what does this look like in a world that now takes more time to destroy Christian thinking?

Note to Northland

Here is a note, I sent to the Northland staff this morning regarding my upcoming transition. God has used Northland and it’s people to shape me over the years…today, I am excited about the next steps in my life!
The last several months here at Northland have been eventful for many of us. When the ELT and elders began to talk about the up coming changes at Northland, I began personally began to ask God, where do I fit into the plan here at Northland. Access Ministries has a foundation, but there is so much more to be accomplished to serve those with disabilities. I began to realize my call to ministry was not to Northland like many of you, but rather to a people group, those living disability. My desire began to grow to reach beyond the doors of Northland.

So In October when the news came, Northland no longer needed me as Access Minister, I was not surprised God had already been working in my heart about reaching other churches. Like many people was concerned about how I would pay the bills. My desire for along time was to consult with other churches and help them to figure out how to serve one person or family with disability at a time, but the Question was, how would I get paid doing what I felt God was calling me toward. Would I get serious about developing Table Ministries, a business I set up to do consulting a few years earlier but I had no peace about moving in that direction.

God was way ahead of me, of course. Over the years, I have connected with many people and organizations throughout the United States doing faith and disability work, including Bethesda Lutheran Communities. Bethesda’s mission is to enhance the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They work with adults primarily, which is my first love in this community. I have been hired as a Ministry Consultant. It is in many ways the perfect position in that over the past it has been Bethesda philosophy to take care of the spiritual needs of the people they are serving, taking the responsibility of off the local church. They are shifting toward a model that I fully embrace, that of people truly being enfolded into the life of a local congregation. My position will consult with congregations and help people with disabilities become part of the congregation and to equip staff who support these individuals in their group homes to feed folks spiritually. God has created a passion in me for both of these areas and as I write, I am excited about what is next…

Next, is a move to the suburbs of Chicago…where this position will allow me to pour into 160 residents, living in group homes in the suburbs and Springfield and to work with a many new churches. Leaving Central Florida and Northland seems difficult. Northland has embraced, loved and supported me in many different ways in the past fifteen years. I walked through though the doors a very disconnected person, with no desire to be connected to anyone, found connection by accident in Singles Ministry, found purpose through Global Outreach, especially as a Missionary Living in England, where I realized the people group I am called to are those with disabilities. Wherever I go, a huge piece of Northland and her people will go with me….and I know now what it is to feel connected. Thank you to each of you who played such an important part of this journey…you helped me to grow into a person who is passionate about God and his people…words will never express my gratitude.

As we all embark on this new season, I will be praying for each of you!
Merry Christmas!
Laura Lee

Prodigals at the table

Most of my adult life I have been an advocate for disability concerns. As someone who works in ministry, I no longer wavier from the call on my life, but rather, spending time thanking God he pursued me, when I truly wanted to elude the call and Him. In my lifetime, I have advocated for fair treatment of those living with disability, found affordable assessable housing and recently have advocated for full participation in the life of the church. I know God desires all of us have access to the banquet table in heaven.

This week my heart has been heavy for another group of people, the prodigals or those who once followed hard after God but have now decided to take another path. It is easy to become the self-righteous older brother in the story of the prodigal son in the book of Luke, and forget the God who desires to redeem all and restore us back into fellowship loves us. We need to be advocates with Jesus for these prodigals who need to make the table complete.

I am praying that they know there is room at the banquet table and they would find their way back to the table. For those of us who are already comfortable and sitting at the table, we need to pray and pursue the prodigals for they too are welcome to come and join us.

History

In the process of reading background material for my dissertation I have accumulated weird information. This weekend, I was reading about the history of disability, focusing on the North American’s view of disability. Over the course of history people with disability have not been viewed in the most positive light, people with intellectual disabilities, were idiots, fools, cursed by God and often shunned. Most of us are aware of this information.

To my surprise, long before the European’s graced the North American continent Native American’s saw people with disability in a different light. Many tribes saw a person with limitations, yet found jobs within the tribe to match those person’s abilities. A person with an intellectual disability may have become the best water hauler the tribe had. Every person within the tribe community was celebrated because of the gifts the gods had given them.

The apostle Paul in the New Testament of the Bible reminds us we are all part of one body, and each part of the body has a distinct purpose. The body of Christ is not whole until all are apart of the body. This includes people with disabilities. Are we looking at how a person with a disability can enhance your faith community?