Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
1 Peter 4:8-10
"Are you new to the area?" The woman asked. Articulate. Knowledgeable. Her interest and caring apparent in her eyes and welcoming smile. She was talking to my daughter. She told us about a group, a group she was a member of - People First, and wrote the name and number of a contact from the address book in her purse, on the back of a folded flyer she also carried. "I'm President," she said. Of course she was...
They meet on the third Thursday of every month. This group of adults - intellectually challenged adults and their counselors, and their drivers, and their sponsors. The purpose of People First, of the meetings, is self-advocacy. Standing up for independent and assisted living, for job situations - with and without job coaches, for transportation services, for respect in the community. Ages vary, as do cognitive and social abilities. There are officers. There is protocol. Structure, organization, enthusiasm.
We attend the meetings together, Sierra and me. They begin by bringing in the flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Then they read the minutes from the previous meeting - old business, treasurer's report. Then new business. Protocol. Structure. Organization. Enthusiasm. When a suggestion is made for a vote, all hands go up. When the issue is discussed and calls for another vote, all hands go up. During one meeting, the council decided they wanted to sing a club song. All hands went up in the vote. Lyrics were distributed. The council stood up in front of the assembly. A-one, a-two, a-one, two, three, four.... I never heard so many tunes and timings sung at the same time. One gentleman sitting near us looked at me in panic - I don't know the words! He couldn't read the lyrics on the paper in front of him. Sweet sincerity.
Well meaning. Kind. Caring. Sometimes gossipy. Some from area group homes, some with roommates in apartments, some living independently. Some, like Sierra, living at home. Readers and non-readers, verbal and non-verbal, mobile and not - with obvious assistants and coaches, or without. On one end of the spectrum - using cellphones, showing pictures, texting, working on the internet, applying and receiving grants. On the other end - non-communicative with multiple physical disabilities and complications. All together, meeting for a common goal. Respect in the community.
Does God appreciate our efforts like I appreciate the efforts of this group? Is he surprised sometimes by unexpected abilities, like pulling out an address book and writing down a contact and number? Is his heart warmed by welcoming kindness and friendship, dancing strangers with something in common at a Christmas celebration? Is he joyfully amused by our own singing and praise? By our sincerity and enthusiasm - raising our spiritual hands to every suggestion, recommendation, and proposal. Does he sit back and sigh at our gossip?
Sometimes, simplistically, I picture God trying to get his message across to us. First, like the Princess and the Pea, the message is an annoying bump under twenty mattresses. I'm pretty good at ignoring those messages. Then it's a pebble, thrown against the bedroom window. Yeah, hard of hearing - doesn't work. Then it's a brick, then a boulder, then an earthquake. I've learned the hard way that waiting around for boulders and earthquakes is not the way I want to live. I'd rather get the message a little sooner - preferably at the pea stage - under the mattresses...
Respect in the community. Respect, after all, comes down to treating others the way you want to be treated. They do that, my daughter's group. They are kind, helpful, forgiving, and accepting. The Golden Rule. Love God. Love one another. It doesn't really get any simpler than that.
God, thank you for your infinite love and grace. Thank you for these new friends, these uniquely-abled teachers who carry your message in their actions.