Trauma Healing for Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD): Pastoral Perspective

Author: Chaplain Kristian Carlson, M.Div. (Assemblies of God Theological Seminary), Th.M. (Duke Divinity School)

God brings healing in pastoral care through friendship.”   Dr. Anna Kate Shurley

Liz Carlson, The Author’s Sister, who lives with IDD

The Views of this Post are the Author’s and Do Not Reflect Endorsement by the Department of

PART 1: The Prevalence of Trauma Among Those with IDD and a Faith-Based Healing Paradigm

In this post I want to talk about the prevalence of trauma among those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and share a healing model which draws insights from theologian, and elementary school teacher, Dr. Anna Kate Shurley. Her paradigm is called the pastoral friendship group model.

Christine Kelly, a Canadian disabilities scholar, writes about the ethics of accessible care. In one of her articles, the reality of abusive care caught my attention.[i] She supported a disabled man without IDD, Killian. [ii] As Kelly shared about Killian’s vulnerability of needing daily support for living, to include help going to the restroom, she wrote, “the potential for daily practices of ‘care’ to veer into pain and oppression is high… the abusive side of care cannot be removed from academic and public understandings.”[iii] Sadly, studies show that abuse of those with IDD is common.[iv] Shelly Rambo, a trauma theologian, explains the complexities of trauma, how it continues and “persists in the present.” In the aftermath some feel “sad all the time.” Trauma is like “an encounter with death…a radical event, or events, that shatters all that one knows about the world and the familiar ways of operating in it.” [v] Trauma’s serious impacts and its prevalence lead me to wonder if churches are ready to be agents of healing alongside traumatized persons with IDD.

I know firsthand a little bit of how trauma and abuse are commonly experienced by those with IDD. In high school at age 17, my sister Liz’s beloved special education teacher, Linda Baisch, died by suicide.[vi] I will never forget hearing the shocking announcement that came that October morning over the school intercom of her death and then seeing my sister’s tears, red face, and swollen eyes, full of inexpressible anguish. Trauma may arise in those with IDD from indirect sources, like the sudden death of loved ones, it may also come directly from abusive behavior of family or care providers.

My sister Liz has chosen not to marry. She has someone special to her heart, Michael, an autistic man from Virginia Beach. Twenty-five years after they attended school together and youth group, he still calls her and sends flowers on occasion (via his mother). But Liz has also received unwanted attention from people which has scared her. She loves to be dropped off at the Post Exchange Shopping Center in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. She will shop, buy a drink or lunch snack, wander the stores and relax enjoying some autonomy.  One day, a man approached Liz and acted inappropriately to her, rubbing her shoulders and asking her to come to his home. My mother could tell when she picked up Liz, that something was wrong. Liz, with effort, explained what had happened. Thankfully, she was never a victim of worse abuse. But many children and adults with IDD are.[vii]  In the next section I want to explore some excellent clinical therapies for IDD persons who have suffered trauma and discuss ways that pastors and Christians can minister in Christ-honoring, trauma-informed ways to IDD persons.

Part 2: Exploration OF Trauma among those with IDD and a Call to Respond to Their Needs

              The prevalence of trauma is likely much higher than most pastors understand. The issue presents a justice issue that Christians should consider. The National Child Trauma Support Network (NCTSN) cites a report that, “Children with developmental disabilities are twice as likely as those without IDD to experience emotional neglect and physical or sexual abuse; twice as likely to be bullied; and three times as likely to be in families where domestic violence is present.” [viii] Not only are such individuals more dependent, but they are likely to be more physically and emotionally vulnerable. A leading disabilities researcher, Dr. John Keesler, warns that incidences of trauma are being missed among those with IDD. They may lack verbal speech. They may appear behaviorally to act out in disruptive ways. They may feel ashamed, or uncertain of the words to use to describe their experience. He advocates for “trauma-informed-care” due to the “prevalence of trauma” across the IDD population and the potential that it is the “root cause of an individual’s distress.” [ix]  

Thankfully, first line trauma-specific treatments for persons with IDD exist and have been shown to be effective. They include Trauma-Focused CBT, child–parent psychotherapy, exposure therapy, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapies. [x] In addition, clinics are emerging around the country with specific focus on treating IDD children with trauma. NCTSN has released a tool kit engineered specifically to help “clinicians disentangle what might be symptoms of trauma from behaviors related to IDD.” [xi]  But Dr. Keesler cautions that ineffective therapies–medication and behavior supports– have been predominately used among the IDD population to address trauma.[xii] 

The availability of trauma-informed care for children and adults with IDD is a justice and access issue for the Church. [xiii] Scholar and Rabbi Julia Watts Belser mourns the frequent subjugation of the bodies of the disabled and warns that too often the church hasn’t been “physically accessible or socially hospitable”: the healing site that God intended. [xiv] Perhaps what inhibits pastors and Christians from ministering to traumatized individuals with IDD is fear from lack of training, but also a subtle ableism, which perhaps unconsciously, has a low estimation of such persons’ ability to experience healing.[xv] Trauma Theologian Kathy Black urges us to action, “Where are the leaders today who are willing to stop and model attention to and respect for those on the margins?” [xvi] Dr. Barton concurs, adding that the Bible’s call for justice motivates Christian communities to “confront injustices related to access and disability.” [xvii]  In the concluding section I envision a model which could help advance traumatic healing resources at churches that is widespread and easily accessed by those with IDD and their family in Christ. [xviii]

Part 3: a Path Forward

Dr. Judith Herman, a foundational thinker in complex trauma care, explains the trauma recovery steps. They begin with a healing relationship and safety, then progress to remembrance and mourning, and into reconnection. Dr. Keesler advocates that providers learn trauma-informed care (TIC) to “reduce further harm and begin the healing process.” [xix]  The foundations of such care—safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment—are nourished in “positive human relationships.” [xx] While Keesler wrote not for churches but for the therapeutic community, the foundations of TIC he encourages match well with insights from disability theologian Anna Kate Shurley’s pastoral friendship model. Her model adapts well to trauma-informed ministry settings.

Her description of intentional small groups within a congregation called “Pastoral Friendship Groups” (PFG) seems ideal for the healing and safety needed by traumatized IDD adults. She explains that in pastoral friendship, “Christians engage one another gladly in the practices of mutual sharing, listening, and assisting. They do so… [from] the koinonia that is central to Christian care.” [xxi] In these groups, “members may acknowledge losses, traumas, or grief they have suffered and share what they need in order to experience healing.” [xxii] Other practices of the PFG meetings might include, “lament, intercession, reciting the Lord’s prayer, and singing together.” [xxiii] Shurley argues that, “Not even the most profound intellectual disability can keep a person from participating in a loving, caring, pastoral friendship.” [xxiv]

Insights from other disabilities theologians could be incorporated into Shurley’s friendship group model. PFG “leaders” could weave into the ethos of their ministry alongside IDD brothers and sisters the ability to “remain” in the difficult in-between spaces of trauma.[xxv] Please see Appendix 1 for trauma-informed principles which might support pastoral-friendship groups led among those with IDD who have survived trauma.

It is important that pastors not just refer out persons with IDD who experience trauma. If all therapeutic care for IDD adults with trauma flows from medical and social work providers but not from Christian community, significant spiritual needs will be unmet. Having a fantastic therapist, or participating in a 12-week trauma small group, cannot replace life-long Christian community. [xxvi]

Conclusion: The Witness of our IDD Sisters and Brothers

I would like to close with a story of a traumatic incident which happened to my sister Liz.  I share the story to illustrate how beautiful prophetic insights, needed by the Church, can arise after trauma is experienced by those with IDD. These people of God brighten the witness of the Church and underscore the mutuality of pastoral friendships. Shurley explains, “People with intellectual disabilities…need to hear the good news that God has equipped all of God’s saints for ministry-including them.” [xxvii] A scholar and parent of a child with IDD, Jill Ruth Harshaw, writes in accord: “Persons with intellectual disabilities (must be) recognized as those who have something important, even vital, to say to the church and to individual believers who seek to live an authentically Christian corporate and personal life in an increasingly volatile world.” [xxviii]

My sister Liz experiences significant mobility problems due to large motor skill difficulties and the heavier weight of her body. When my parents were away from home one day, she tripped on a rug when the flooring bowed under her.  She fell and hit her face on a wooden end table. The fall was so hard that it broke a piece of the table. In this traumatic event, as her face was bleeding profusely, her tooth jammed deep in her gum, and her upper lip severely cut, she felt God’s near presence. Privately she later told my mother that God said to her, “Do you trust me Liz?” She answered, “Yes.” She then told my mom that she felt an angel help her get up from the floor. What a witness to my family of God’s healing, constant presence! This is the kind of rare testimony that will edify the Church.

There seems to be the possibility for truer witness in the Church if we will love well the persons with IDD in our midst who have experienced trauma. This witness will act with the compassion of the Samaritan; it will use the healing hands of the Great Physician; it will speak with the tenderness of the Lord who called his own, “friends.” Pastors, who are trauma-informed in this way, will help churches to “think trauma”[xxix] as they engage those with IDD and equip Christians to minister with these beloved fellow women and men of God.

Auntie Liz, beloved by 28 nieces and nephews–is also a woman admired by many for her faith, joy and wisdom


*Barton, Sarah Jean. 2021 “Access and Disability Justice in Theological Education.” (Article currently in    


*Barton, Sarah. “Discipleship and Disability Class: Pastoral Care and Practical Reflections Mini Lecture.”

PDF, Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC, March 1st, 2021.

*Barton, Sarah. “Discipleship and Disability Class: Implications for Christian Ethics Mini Lecture.”

PDF, Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC, March 15th, 2021.

*Berne, Patricia. “Ten Principles of Disability Justice 1.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 46, no. 1 (Spring,

2018): 227-230.

*Belser, Julia Watts. 2015. “Violence, Disability, and the Politics of Healing: The Inaugural Nancy Eiesland

Endowment Lecture”. Journal of Disability & Religion. 19 (3): 177-197.

*Black, Kathy. 1996. A healing homiletic: preaching and disability. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

*Harshaw, Jill Ruth. 2010. “Prophetic Voices, Silent Words: The Prophetic Role of Persons with Profound

Intellectual Disabilities in Contemporary Christianity.” Practical Theology 3 (3): 311–29.

*Herman, Judith Lewis. 1997. Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.

*Keesler, J.M. 2020. “Trauma‐Specific Treatment for Individuals With Intellectual and Developmental

Disabilities: A Review of the Literature From 2008 to 2018.” Journal of Policy and Practice in

Intellectual Disabilities, 17: 332-345.

*Kelly, Christine. 2013. “Building Bridges with Accessible Care: Disability Studies, Feminist Care

Scholarship, and Beyond”. Hypatia. 28 (4): 784-800.

*Novsima, Isabella. “A Nonverbal Mission: An Apophatic Missiology from the Trauma Experience of

Women with Intellectual Disabilities in Indonesia.” International Review of Mission, vol. 108, no.

1, June 2019, p. 78+. Accessed 5 Apr. 2021.

*Rambo, Shelly. Spirit and trauma: theology of remaining. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press,


*Shurley, Anna Katherine Ellerman. 2017. Pastoral care and intellectual disability: a person-centered

approach. Waco: Baylor University Press.

*Swinton, John, and Bethany McKinney Fox. 2019. Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the

Gospels and the Church. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

*Trauma and Intellectual/Developmental Disability Collaborative Group. “The impact of trauma on

youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities: A fact sheet for providers.” 2020. Los

Angeles, CA, and Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.     

developmental-disabilities-a-fact-sheet-for-providers Accessed April 5, 2021.

*The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. “Intersection of Trauma and Disabilities: A New Toolkit for

Providers.” Spring 2016. “Spotlight on Culture NCTSN Factsheet.”

Accessed April 5, 2021.

*The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. “Facts on Traumatic Stress and Children with

Developmental Disabilities.” Adapted from Trauma Treatment Standards Work Group. Accessed April 5, 2021.

*Wong, Alice. 2020. Disability Visibility. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

APPENDIX 1:  Trauma-Informed Care Principles for Pastoral Friendship Group’s among Traumatized Persons with Individual and Developmental Disabilities

Interdependent Community

Kathy Black explains how healing emerges from “interdependent Christian Community” and happens when the well-being God offers is experienced.” [xxx] She notes how healing of inner wounds leads to well-being and peace.

Each Person is a Gift [xxxi]

Being in friendship groups with traumatized persons with IDD will likely be a long-term healing process. Dr. Barton writes that “it can become easy in stressful or serious situations to focus on problems or deficits.” [xxxii] She advocates a ‘strengths-based approach’ in disabilities work. Pastoral friendship groups could take Barton’s idea and apply it in healing ways to traumatized persons with IDD. Focus on each person as a gift! One must persevere to see their strengths in the midst of their loss, confusion, and perhaps non-verbal cues of pain.

Appropriate Physical Touch Can be Healing [xxxiii]

Black writes, “God can transform our lives through the healing touch of an interdependent community of faith.” This reminds me of my friend Michael’s question to me, “Will I ever get a hug again before Jesus comes.” Michael has moderate to severe autism. The restrictions of the pandemic have kept him from the physical touch at church and in public that sustain him. Bethany Fox explains that at her church, each person has different levels of touch with which they feel comfortable. Attendees wear corresponding color name tags to explain this. In a trauma-informed group, sensitivity to need for appropriate touch or no touch would be very important. But given that so many adults with IDD are especially sensory in communication, there is no doubt that touch be healing in the safety and koinonia of Pastoral Friendship groups.

Healing is Possible

“Recognizing wholeness”, a principle of disability justice points to such healing and seems crucial to developing a trauma-informed pastoral care model for those with IDD. [xxxiv] Jill Ruth Harshaw’s thought pushes us to consider how even those with profound IDD can experience healing. She explains, “The crucial factor here is not human ability or disability but the accompanying presence of God.” [xxxv]

The Beauty of Each Person

Another principle of disability justice is “Collective Liberation”: “A world in which every body and mind is known as beautiful.” [xxxvi]  How broken and isolated must be the hearts and minds of those with IDD who have experienced complex trauma, especially from attendants and family members whom they trusted and depended upon. What courage and difficulty to voice, or show without words, their pain, and hope for healing.  

Compassion and Empathy

Kathy Black writes, “Whenever we struggle in life, God sits beside us & helps us cry.” [xxxvii] Fox, who pastors among persons with IDD, advocates for “presence with compassion.”


What does the traumatized person with IDD want? How do they perceive healing?  Bethany Fox reminds us that Jesus asked those to be healed what they desired.[xxxviii]  Fox offers seven principles for healing which could inform Pastoral-Friendship care being developed by a church.[xxxix]  Her reminders are insightful: attend to the body in healing and transformation,   remember how healing will impact and open doors to transformation of the larger community, clarify identity, and finally, enlarge imagination.


[i] Kelly, Christine. 2013. “Building Bridges with Accessible Care: Disability Studies, Feminist Care

Scholarship, and Beyond”. Hypatia. 28 (4): 784-800. Dr. Kelly writes from a Feminist and Disabilities perspective.

[ii] Kelly, Christine. “Building Bridges.” 786. Kelly writes about the “about entangling quality of the gendered politics of care.”

[iii] Ibid, 790-91. Kelly writes further, “These moments are awkward because they make us acutely aware of the layered power dynamics inherent in our female/male, disabled/ nondisabled, and clothed/unclothed embodiment that we more typically prefer to ignore, as it brings the abusive potential of care uncomfortably close to the surface.”

[iv] Trauma and Intellectual/Developmental Disability Collaborative Group. “The impact of trauma on

youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities: A fact sheet for providers.” 2020. 2. Los

Angeles, CA, and Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.

[v] Rambo, Shelly. Spirit and trauma: theology of remaining. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press,

2010. 2-4.

[vi] I have mentioned my sister Elizabeth “Liz” Carlson in a previous paper. She has significant intellectual and development disabilities likely stemming from partial paralysis of her brain at birth due to a lack of oxygen. Her teacher, Linda, was a compassionate friend, and light to the young people she served at Cox High School.

[vii] Rambo, Shelly. “Spirit and trauma.” 2-4.

[viii] The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. “Intersection of Trauma and Disabilities: A New Toolkit for

Providers.” Spring 2016. “Spotlight on Culture NCTSN Factsheet.” 1.

[ix] Keesler, J.M. 2020. “Trauma‐Specific Treatment for Individuals With Intellectual and Developmental

Disabilities: A Review of the Literature From 2008 to 2018.” Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities. 343.

[x] Keesler, J.M. “Trauma‐Specific Treatment.” Keesler goes on to explain specifically what these first line treatments involve.

[xi] The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. “Intersection of Trauma and Disabilities: A New Toolkit for Providers.” Spring 2016. “Spotlight on Culture NCTSN Factsheet.”  Diane M. Jacobstein (Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist/Senior Policy Associate, Georgetown University) explained that “until this year, no tools existed to help clinicians disentangle what might be symptoms of trauma from behaviors related to intellectual and developmental disabilities. The toolkit for providers is called, ‘The Road to Recovery: Sup porting Children with IDD Who Have Experienced Trauma’.

[xii] Keesler, J.M. “Trauma‐Specific Treatment.”  Keesler cites two studies, “Furthermore, despite a lack of evidence, psychopharmacology and behavior supports have been the dominant modes of treating trauma sequelae within this population due to a lack of trauma-specific treatments (Barol & Seubert, 2010; Fuld, 2018; Willner, 2015).

[xiii] Barton, Sarah Jean. 2021. “Access and Disability Justice in Theological Education.” 1. Barton notes access as a disability justice issue, “Accessibility proves a pressing area of needed investigation and intervention.” 


[xiv] Belser, Julia Watts. 2015. “Violence, Disability, and the Politics of Healing: The Inaugural Nancy Eiesland

Endowment Lecture”. Journal of Disability & Religion. 19 (3). Quoting Eisland Belser writes, “The history of the church’s interaction with the disabled is at best an ambiguous one. Rather than being a structure for empowerment, the church has more often supported societal structures and attitudes that have treated people with disabilities as objects of pity and paternalism. For many disabled persons, the church has been a “city on the hill”—physically inaccessible and socially inhospitable.” 185.  She shares the thought of Jasbir Puar that, “Bodies bear the consequences of ethnic, gender, and class marginality…a pervasive experience of subjugated bodies. Disability is central to the corporeal architecture of domination.” 191.

[xv]  Belser, Julia Watts. “Violence, Disability.” 194.  Belser addresses that “ableist notions of disability as a pitiable state overwrite the resilience, the grit, the agency of disabled bodies.”

[xvi] Black, Kathy. 1996. A healing homiletic: preaching and disability. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 186.

[xvii] Barton, Sarah Jean. “Access and Disability Justice” 7. Barton cites Jennie Weiss Block.


[xviii] Belser, Julia Watts. “Violence, Disability.” 187. “But this is the power of eschatology: to dare us to dream, to unmoor our hope from the fetters of the feasible.”

[xix] Keesler, J.M. “Trauma‐Specific Treatment.” 343. He explains that professional licensing and graduate level training is not required to learn trauma-informed care principles.  It is something that “all…providers” can provide.

[xx] Ibid, 344.

[xxi] Shurley, Anna Katherine Ellerman. 2017. Pastoral care and intellectual disability: a person-centered

approach. Waco: Baylor University Press. 95.

[xxii] Shurley, Anna Katherine Ellerman. “Pastoral care”, 100-101.

[xxiii]  Ibid, 102.

[xxiv]  Ibid, 94.

[xxv] Rambo, Shelly. Spirit and trauma: theology of remaining. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press,

2010. “Remaining” is a key idea of Rambo’s in ministering to those who have experienced complex trauma.

[xxvi] Wong, Alice. 2020. Disability visibility. New York, NY: Vintage Books. Part Two of Wong’s book (85-89) features Ricardo Thornton. Thornton (a man with IDD) testified to the Senate after growing up in a state-run home, “There’s no such thing as a good institution.” Many persons with IDD are all too familiar with the deficits of institutional care.

[xxvii] Shurley, Anna Katherine Ellerman. “Pastoral care”, 100-101.

[xxviii] Harshaw, Jill Ruth. 2010. “Prophetic Voices, Silent Words: The Prophetic Role of Persons with Profound Intellectual Disabilities in Contemporary Christianity.” Practical Theology. 317.

[xxix] The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. “Intersection of Trauma and Disabilities: Tookit.” 1.

[xxx]  Black, Kathy. 1996. “A healing homiletic.” Black succinctly writes, “God wills our well being.”

[xxxi]  Shurley, Anna Katherine Ellerman. “Pastoral care”, 99.

[xxxii]  Barton, Sarah. “Discipleship and Disability Class: Pastoral Care and Practical Reflections Mini Lecture.” PDF, Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC, March 1st, 2021.

[xxxiii]  Black, Kathy. 1996. “A healing homiletic.” 176.


[xxxiv]  Barton, Sarah Jean. “Access and Disability Justice” 10. Barton cites Berne et al., “Recognizing wholeness: ‘People who experience access and learning barriers are whole people. This principle of disability justice frames each individual, whether disabled or nondisabled, as ‘full of history and life experience…composed of their own thoughts, sensations, emotions, fantasies, perceptions, and idiosyncrasies.’”

[xxxv] Harshaw, Jill Ruth. “Prophetic Voices” 314, 316.

[xxxvi] Berne, Patricia. “Ten Principles of Disability Justice 1.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 46, no. 1 (Spring, 2018). 229.

[xxxvii] Black, Kathy. 1996. “A healing homiletic.” 186.

[xxxviii] Barton, Sarah. “Discipleship and Disability Class: Implications for Christian Ethics Mini Lecture.”  PDF, Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC, March 15th, 2021. Barton cites Dr. Bethany Fox’s Chapter 5 from “Disability and the Way of Jesus.”

[xxxix] Swinton, John, and Bethany McKinney Fox. 2019. Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the

Gospels and the Church. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. Rev. Dr. Fox, Founder of Beloved Everybody Church, offers this excellent list of “Seven Marks of Healing in the Way of Jesus. 1.“Positive Reception by the Person Receiving Healing 2. “Attention to the Body and its Healing/Transformation.”3.“Presence with Compassion 4.“Impact on and Transformation of the Larger Community.” 5.Clarifying Identities” 6.“Transformation on Multiple Levels 7.“Expanding categories and enlarging imagination.

[i] Shurley, Anna Katherine Ellerman. “Pastoral care”, 90. “Pastoral Caregivers are not healers; they are agents of God’s healing though the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Lemonade Stand

Hanging out with my niece and nephew is awesome. It’s eye opening, energizing and taxing physically because of their youth and vibrant imagination! One minute we are talking about the value of telling the truth, the next about farts, doing the Dab, and dancing to Crazy Frog or Michael Jackson’s “Bad” on YouTube.

It’s been a busy year, I’ve become a dad, done a ship deployment, and begun a challenging new assignment. So having their parents & them visit this summer from Minnesota was special, sharing new aspects of our life, and a great change of pace. Sometimes it’s a little tough to shift gears between work, being a husband, dad or host, but I wouldn’t miss it to see them.

Their first 4 days I spent away at San Clemente Island for training, so when I came back I knew it was Uncle Time!

That next afternoon I took them to Dairy Queen. On the way home, tummies full of Oreo, M&M & Reese’s Blizzard, we stopped at a big local GasMart called the NEX.

I gave them each $2 and said that this was their budget to find something they liked. E., my nephew, quickly settled on a candy Pushpop but wanted to double-check the cost. I said, “It’s $2”, he corrected me, “Actually it’s $1.93, Uncle Kristian.”

M., my niece, wanted to spend her $2 on a couple poster boards to help advertise a lemonade stand. We proceeded to the register for the big purchases.

E. must have taken three minutes to pay using at least 18 pennies and assorted coins. The patient cashier with respectful diligence counted and stacked them and gave him his Pushpop. Carrying the candy and big posterboards we walked out of the NEX.

Let me be honest. E. & M. had been enthusiastically talking about this stand for what seemed hours. E. wanted to offer free rides in my ’95 Nissan Pickup as an attraction. He had helped me wash it, prepping it for sale the day before.

He was sure that rides would bring in the kids.

M. was more concerned about offering multiple flavors, like pink lemonade, and using fresh squeezed lemons and real sugar. She suggested we sell it for 10 cents.

You know sometimes you don’t realize you are getting old and too logical, but this happened to me during the lemonade stand planning cell meeting we had there riding around in my Red Ford Taurus.

I told M. that she had to sell cups for at least a quarter. After all real lemons would be involved!

In my heart I was just playmaking and thought,

They don’t even live in this neighborhood, and we don’t know the neighbors well, who will come?

My logic carried on, maybe this will happen in 3 or 4 days when I have a weekend…but probably the idea will fizzle out.

I asked them, “what’s pink Lemonade made from?”

E. said, “I think it has Grapefruit in it.”

Then I thought of the girl three houses down who already had a monopoly on the lemonade market. (I think she sometimes used a megaphone and coercion that the Marines would get you if you didn’t make a purchase.) No, we can’t compete with her, things could get ugly.

Fast Forward. That next morning I put on my boots and Type 3 working uniform, and noticed an unusual quiet emanating from our back patio. Yes silence has a sound all its own to a parent!

And there were M. & E. working, they had mostly knocked out their initial promotion poster boards…and they looked good!!

I confess I still wasn’t a believer. I gave them a hug and some cheap but well-meant words like, “Wow, great poster boards, so much detail and excellent marketing too”, and left for work.

I came home that afternoon to a surprising scene.

There they were, with customers!! Rocking that lemonade stand.

I rolled my window down.

“I’d like one! Looks delicious!” I wanted to act like a stranger to add to the vibe of excited customers.

“Can you make change?” Handing my niece a $5 dollar bill. She said “Sure!” and went right for the petty cash jar that was formerly our coin savings bank, once located on the Kitchen Counter.

Her sign read, “LEMONADE. 10 Cents!”

“Just give me $4 back”, I called out from my car.

Now a young boy came, stoked to see Ice Pops available too, for 10 cents.

Man!! They had held out on me regarding their marketing strategy. It was so hot in San Diego. What a stroke of genius.

Then my nephew said to me and to the boys gathered. “Hey, do you want a Bible? They’re really cool!”

What? Giving out Bibles? E. had literally raided this Chaplain’s garage and taken out my “Daily Strength for The Battle” Devotionals by Chaplain Scott McChrystal and was sending handfuls of them away to kids and families who stopped by.

Umm, yes he’d skipped asking permission to give out these little books (written to shore up military families with stories and truth from God’s Word) but I don’t blame him. Should we ask permission to give away a Bible book not being used?

As my vignette here comes to a close, I must say that I got into what they were doing that afternoon! I felt like Robin Williams back in Neverland, almost like a young Peter Pan, who’d learned to fly again. It was invigorating and fresh to my Spirit.

How had they pulled it off? It was ice cold. It was tart and zinged! It had the right balance of sugar, yummy and sweet. They had brand new plastic cups–where had those come from?

And the stand of books were all laid out in neat rows.

I want to make an observation, M. & E. did more outreach to my military housing unit in 2 hours than we’d done in 3 years! My eye had been on my shipmates back onboard the Cruiser; my heart focused on my wife, a new mother, and our sweet joy, little Isak.

But where I saw inadequate planning and resources, not enough time, not a large enough market–this 7 & 9 year old duo saw fun, opportunity and a whimsical “what-if-wouldn’t-that-be-so-cool” childlike kind of dream to bring to life no matter what!

They met tons of kids in those two hours. They made good money. People gave way more than 10 cents. One guy handed a $5 and said “Keep it!”

He got it. I on the other hand didn’t really until it was done.

They shared and showed Jesus’ love so naturally.


My devotional time with the Lord has been a little scarce as a new dad. So I guess, knowing that, He mercifully threw in some lessons from the Lemonade Stand to help me along. Here they are.

“Love your Neighbor”, is part of the greatest command from Jesus. And I need to do it. Like E. & M did to our whole neighborhood that afternoon.

“Out of the mouths of infants You have ordained praise.” Forgive me Lord for missing Your hand moving through these children. You are awesome and bigger than my adult-minded limitations. Give me “Faith Like a Child.” And may I always give a seat at the planning table, or a microphone, to children to help lead us on mission (trips) and in worship.

Bibles are cool. They are God’s Word. And without shame E. gave them out. Wow. I want to be like that.

“He will give you the desires of your heart.”

May I be more tuned to the Holy Spirit when he puts zany ideas in my son Isak’s mind (or in my wife’s heart or mine), not crushing them with self-protecting cold hard logic…let me dream a little and tread carefully on what could soon become Holy Ground trimmed out with a Lemonade Stand.

*I want to dedicate this story to Romina, M. & E.’s mom. She was the force that God’s Spirit used to bring dreams to life.

**If you enjoyed this reflection check out Bob Goff’s book “Love Does”. A mentor, pastor Sean Wiles, recommended it. It’s about whimsical, Holy Spirit-led, unlikely and amazing happenings in his life worth hearing.


Night Ops With 2-D Jesus


Aboard ship, plastic and metal are sorted and sent off-ship to be disposed of, but due to limited space we cast the bio-degradable excess food and paper waste overboard.

It’s kind of a cathartic heave that we call “Night Ops.” It has a finality to it, and is often done under the cover of darkness.

The Jesus Christ we meet in the book of Mark is so compelling that we must cast overboard the oversimplified Jesus we may have come to hold on to. The real 3-D Jesus, means to do away, lightning fast, with our misconceptions of Him and His kingdom. It’s not to shock us, but there’s fire in His eyes. It flows from the purity of His love that will not be muted, redirected or dampened. He must be for us the true Savior. There’s no domesticating Him, no making Him docile. For Jesus knows that such a 2-D Savior can’t save.

A 2-D conception of Jesus may come from Christmas and Easter stories we know.

The Miracle Baby in Bethlehem…
Or the picture of the Suffering Jewish Messiah we see on the cover of Time and Newsweek every Easter.

If we grew up in Sunday School or have read the Gospels, our conception is fuller.
He fed 5000 with just 5 loaves and 2 fish.
He walked on water!
He healed the blind…
Was betrayed by Judas one of His most trusted friends.

But, I have a feeling, that over the years, our understanding of Jesus has flattened, become more comfortable than the true “Jesus”…he’s 2 dimensional. Not quite real-life.

So, my friends, you know those habits we want to kick during deployment?

carrying high debt on plastic,
living over-weight,
reversing animosity or coldness that’s come to harm our love relationships…

Let’s consider kicking another even more destructive pattern. Let’s do night-ops with the 2-D Jesus! Throw him far, and fast over the side for good.

Now’s the time to do it! As we get into the groove of early Deployment, we can recalibrate and correct. If we don’t, the sinful patterns in our lives that harm us and our loved ones will remain unreached.

But if we “night-ops” the 2-D Jesus, we’ll truly say hello to the real Jesus,
powerful, active,
even revolutionary and surprising…and be met by Him, in the pages of Mark as we study. Then experienced in real life, worshiped and obeyed, known intimately by us as God’s revealed only Son.

2-D Jesus can’t save me, or you. He’s too pliable, soft, conventional to be trusted as CO of your life, but the real Jesus is worthy to be Master. He’s Lord of Eternity. Let’s look for Him friends, and not settle till we do. If we do I’m convinced our faith will spring to life—

3-D Jesus will come to visit us and bring His Kingdom Life to the passageways, workspaces, ladder wells and berthing of this 567 foot warship that for over half a year of our lives is now home. He’s here. Present to change our lives for eternity.


As we set out studying Mark, here’s some background.

John-Mark wrote between 55-65 CE, most likely from Rome where he was a respected Church leader. He is describing the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that took place just 20-30 years before in Ancient Palestine.

Mark was a mentee of Peter’s, and a relative of Barnabas, a critical leader of the early church who was a close associate of the Apostle Paul.

Mark was bilingual, comfortable in Greek and Hebrew language and culture. His name reflects that, John being Hebrew and Mark, of Greek origin.

His Gospel often explains Jewish backgrounds to events, and translates the Aramaic words that Jews would have known. In this, we can sense that Mark wants to translate to his Roman audience who Jesus is.

Rome had a warrior culture based on ethics and law. Commoners could rise to great levels of leadership. You’ll notice in the book of Mark there are no genealogies pointing out Jesus’ pedigree to show a well-connected heritage. Jesus is the humble Son of Man.

Jesus, Mark wants us to see, is full of action. 18 miracles are recorded, while the parables mentioned are only 4.

This Jesus speaks and means it.
He confronts the powers that be.
Stirs the pot.

Awes his disciples and the crowds. He would have impressed many Romans too. John-Mark writes assured of this.
Some themes of Mark are how the cost of discipleship will involve suffering but lead to victory and freedom.

When we observe Jesus’s surprising authoritative actions we should ask “Who is this man?” And…as we find ourselves surprised by His actions or reactions, also ask, “did I know this about Jesus?”

Our Text for Today: Mark 1:21-28

Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—The Holy One of God!”

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!”

And when the unclean Spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him.

Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him.”

And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.”

As we meet Jesus, early on we find–He’s got guts! Jesus didn’t go into the Synagogue the way the establishment might expect a bright new teacher to break the ice, methodically and respectfully building a name for himself, quoting lots of great Rabbis and giving his own unique spin. No, the Jesus, Mark introduces us to, went in to smash tablets!

Here in the synagogue, in his first public appearances, He’s not the soft spoken, gentlemen scholar…

Don’t picture Jesus pushin’ up rounded glasses on his nose, wearing a long robe and nasally offering up some words hesitatingly:

“I think maybe we’ve begun to stretch just a little too far our understanding of Sabbath requirements…

You know, why don’t we, ahem (nervously)

Consider a slight, ahem,

Course correction to our theology…and remember its, uh,

important to do good on this date, the Sabbath, too.

And remember, ahem,

(clears throat searching for approval from the prying eyes of the encircling Scribal Lawyers and impassioned towering Pharisaic Rabbinical Teachers)

Why the Good Lord made this day in the first place.

But NO. This won’t be Jesus’ way. He’s not political. The Real Jesus, 3-D Jesus is forthright.

With a few words and big deeds, Jesus upends these debaters–Scholars and legal geniuses, steeped in Judaism’s ever expanding oral tradition. He knows how to get his point across and he does it boldly, fearlessly. It’s love. But in a love-way we’ve never known.

Pure as fire.

Pure as the gaze of One who has no ill-intention, whatsoever. But who will not be derailed, distracted, moved even an inch from the truth, the surgical seismic shift that the Kingdom brings.

No, with a SHOT across the bow he speaks out!

STRETCH OUT YOUR HAND! Healing done. (Mark 3:1-6)

DEMON. OUT! And QUIET! Unclean Spirit tears outta there. (Mark 1:21-28)

Nope, this is not the Swedish Jesus with the Beauty Sash that Pastor Rob Bell warned us about. This is the Jesus who can save lives, even Yours and mine.

     NOTE: ‘A shot across the bows’ derives from the naval practice of firing a cannon shot
    across the bows of an opponent’s ship to show them that you are prepared to do battle. A
warning shot, either real or metaphorical.

One Scholar says that there’s such fast movement to Mark, from scene to scene; immediately this, then THAT happened…(42x “immediately—euthus” in Greek is used) it’s as if Mark is breathless and can barely contain the news. Because it’s not meant just for Him, for Jerusalem and Israel who first heard it, or just for Rome…it’s news of the in breaking of the Savior for everyone. The Heaven’s are rent. All is changed. The Lord has come down. (Isaiah 64 and Mark 1:9-11.)


The next 4 weeks we’ll look at the 16 chapters of Mark’s Gospel. Four each week. We’ll get close up to Jesus, where His troubling and surprising actions can force us to consider who He really is. And what His Lordship in our own lives, aboard Bunker Hill, are to mean.

From the first four chapters I encourage you to think about the following surprises of Jesus’ Kingdom way and Kingdom message.

-His Confrontational Lordship

(Mark 3:20-30 Searing, Fearless Return of Fire to the Powerful Opposition)

-His Unlikely Choice of Followers

(Mark 1:16-20 the Four Fishermen, Mark 2:13-17 The Tax Collector)

-His Rare Determination and Intentionality

(Mark 1:35-39) I must go to other towns…

-His Willingness to Break with Tradition

(Mark 3:1-6, Healing on Sabbath)

(Mark 2:23-27 Picking Heads of Grain on the Sabbath)

-His 3-D Humanness & Personality

        (One of the Key Functions of God giving us 4 Gospels…is we receive not four ancient
        “photos”of Jesus but four Holy Spirit-breathed portraits, supernaturally designed to                  bring out the texture in the personality of our Lord. )

-Surprised by Indignation:

(Mark 1:40-41) (NIV)

-His righteous Anger:

(Mark 3:1-6)   (Pharisees’ Stubborn Lack of Mercy, Hardened view of God’s Torah)

-His Being Impressed by others’ Faith:

(Mark 2:1-12)

-The Wide Inclusion of All in His Message

(Mark 2:13-17 Eating with Tax Collectors and Sinner)

-His Culminating Messianic Entrance –Rejected though Perfect in Time and Space

          (Mark 1:9-11)

         At His baptism, the scene perfectly portrays God’s prophetic promise fulfilled. He
has come down to rend the heavens (Isaiah 64:1-5)

        We also encounter a suffering servant to lead Israel (Isaiah 40:3) (Malachi 3:1)

Challenge: Read through the first 4 chapters of Mark this week.

Prayer: Lord, I’m doing some Night-Ops as I begin deployment (or whatever new faith-demanding venture you’ve begun). I’m chucking the 2-D Jesus that can’t change my life or save me. That 2-D Jesus is going deep down with a cannon-ball crash into the South Pacific. Instead, I’m getting on my knees, imploring you to reveal to me the Real Jesus Christ, revealed by John-Mark in Your Word. This Jesus, though I’m frightened to commit to it, I will serve and obey, if only You’ll reveal Him to me by your loving, HOLY, ever-present Spirit. Amen.