As you know, if you’ve been reading, for quite some time, I’ve occasionally been presenting installments called “Mama’s K.I.S.S.” This is number 36 of a list of one hundred ways we train our kids to have servant hearts. K.I.S.S. is an acronym for “Kids In Service Suggestions”.
Today’s suggestion is simple. Find ways for your children to be around and serve people with intellectual disabilities. Whether it’s elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer’s or younger people with any number of challenging disabilities, your children will grow leaps and bounds in servant-heart development if you will be sure they attend to the needs of those with challenges of the mind.
Some of the most memorable rides home from worship that my children experienced in their young years were on the days when we stopped to pick up “Crippled Danny” and take him to the store or to his little apartment in Jasper, Alabama. Now I know that it is not politically correct or perhaps even kind in today’s climate to refer to a man as “Crippled Danny.” I’m keeping it real as I confess that this is what we called this friend. It was his nickname in town and it did not occur to us, at the time, that this nomenclature was not the best. I can recall Glenn and I talking often about the fact that it was a good thing for our kids to get to know Crippled Danny. It was good for them to sit beside him in the back seat of our car and laugh with him about the things he had been doing as he hobbled around the town that day. It was good for them to help him get the things he needed at the store and to get back safely to his apartment. It was good to talk to them about how that Danny’s little legs were underdeveloped, but that his greatest disability was in his mind; that people who could never think like grown-ups would always be around us and they would always need our help. It was important to talk to them about Matthew 25 and how serving people who cannot think “right” (you have to put it in the vernacular of kids) is every bit as important as serving people who cannot walk, talk, see or hear.
As your kids grow there will be lots of opportunities to minister to people with challenges of the mind or emotions. They will be on the pew in front of you, in the grocery line behind you and on the bus beside you. (If you don’t find them there, check out a local Alzheimer’s care facility or nursing home.)
One more of our most precious opportunities was to have a sweet association with one of our brotherhood’s great elderly preachers during his recent years of mental decline. Sometimes his wonderful caretakers, his daughter and her husband, would need a day or a night out of the house or even out of town. A time or two it worked out so that we were in town and privileged to have this wonderful servant of God stay with us. What a privilege for all of us and especially for our teenagers to be able to hear the same stories again and again and watch the same magic tricks over and over. I can remember one of those weekends having a large group of Freed Hardeman University students spending the weekend at the same time that this friend was spending the night. It was the most precious thing to watch them listen and laugh with him patiently and then to watch him sing along with them till about two in the morning. It was a joy to think about the transference of this beautiful singing to that place around the throne where there will be no debilitating differences in age, stamina or ability. (I remember the elderly gentleman enjoying this singing so much that he just did not want to go to bed. I told him that he needed to go ahead and take his night-time meds because his usual bedtime had long since passed. His reply was “No, I take my medicines when I go to bed and I am not going to bed yet.”)
So go ahead and make sure your kids are serving and enjoying some people who have memory or intellectual challenges. Do it early in their lives so they will never develop or recognize any stigma attached by peers to associating with these wonderful people. Loving the Lord our God with all of our minds means sharing those minds–gifts that we deserve no more than those who are handicapped–with those who may need extra help. When we love Him in this way with our minds, we are guaranteed to love Him more every day with our hearts, souls and strength, too, because this kind of sharing is both selfless and demanding. Your kids will be better for it.