Joni and Friends

A Different Kind of HARD

Posted by on Jul 29, 2013 in Extraordinary Everyday People, Friendship, Joni and Friends | 4 comments

 outside w chair

 

 

We came because we agreed to be teen group leaders for Joni& Friends Family Camp. Families affected by disabilities came for retreat and respite from their unique lives. The connection was life changing.

 

During the month prior we wrestled to prepare meaningful curriculum, but truthfully, the task seemed impossible with the diverse nature of our group. Over and over we found ourselves saying, “It’s too hard – it can’t be done”. We wanted to throw in the towel and admit defeat.

 

However – after meeting Lori, Barbara, Haley & Brian, along with many others, our definition of hard completely changed.

 

cynthia

 

 

Hard is knowing your husband who is blind and limb-less would literally die if you didn’t feed him. Hard is dressing a son with cerebral palsy who’s 6ft tall. Hard is realizing you’ll never dance at your daughter’s wedding because her particular disability will probably prohibit marriage. Hard is explaining to healthy young siblings why people stare at their brother all the time. That’s hard.

 

No – planning activities for one week out of a year was not hard, it was an honor.

 

Our week was filled with contradiction and challenged perspectives. Many preconceived ideas were obliterated the first evening we welcomed families to camp and into our hearts. It was apparent we had much to learn.

 

 

 worship camp style

 

Want to know what hard really looked like last week?

 

Our STM’s, meaning short term missionaries who served one-on-one from sunup to sundown – AND who paid $400 to do it; taught us about hard. We had several STM’s in our group who spent 10+ hrs a day with someone who couldn’t talk to them. While their friends were engaged in activities – they sat silently beside their camp friend stroking a back or keeping a discreet distance. They were challenged to find ways to enter into their camper’s world discovering keys to unlock connection and develop relationship.

 

Ask any teen if that’s hard. Better yet, ask the parent of the silent teen what it’s like the other 51 weeks of the year.

 

friends for life 

 

Other STM’s ran after their camper with ADHD or autism all day long, clocking between 5-13 miles per day. They chased, laughed, collected banana slugs and loved. Some never finished one meal sitting down all week because their camp friend chose to eat on the run. I wonder what dinner time looks like the other 51 weeks of the year in the homes of these active teens.

 

Last week was a short pause from the hard reality families affected by disabilities face every day.

 

sarah

My husband and I won’t be using the term HARD so flippantly anymore.

 

I only hope I can be as gracious as the STM’s were when small hiccups occur in my day. I hope I can treat people with differences with the same respect and kindness I saw the STM’s and parents give.

 

043

 

Hard for me, will be accepting the challenge to model what I saw.

 

true love

 

“Then Jesus said, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-24

 

 

 

 

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Freedom to be Complete

Posted by on Jul 28, 2013 in Freedom, Joni and Friends, Love | Comments Off on Freedom to be Complete

Of all the lessons I learned at camp I think observing true freedom at a deeper level was most impactful. From mealtime to worship – the environment was saturated with raw and wonderful freedom.

 emma's parents enjoying a meal

 

I certainly didn’t miss planning meals during the week of camp. Three times a day we filed into the dining hall for another incredible feast. There was a sense of wholeness and family at mealtime. I was enriched to share my table with people in wheelchairs and individuals requiring assistance to eat. It was surprisingly comfortable and right.

 

Freedom during assemblies and worship was phenomenal as well. Kids were free to be themselves, noise and all. Amazingly, what seemed to be a recipe for chaos brought a refreshing liberty instead. We were free to be the complete body of Christ – every member fully accepted for who they were.

 

camp worshi[p

 

Freedom is more than lack of restraint. It’s expressive, energizing and inspirational. Webster defines freedom as, “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance”.

 

One afternoon I watched a teen with Down syndrome spend a full hour talking into a cold microphone. He and his STM occupied an empty gym as Scotty spoke nonstop. Scotty is an orator and has something to say. I was envious of his unadulterated claim to such freedom.

 

Freedom doesn’t worry about what others think.

 

Camp fostered freedom through acceptance and the absence of judgment. Unfortunately people with disabilities aren’t always accepted and are often unfairly judged. Freedom gets stolen.

 

 

 jenny feels the bunny

 

We have the power to give freedom. I’m challenged by Scotty’s audacious ability to say what’s on his mind. It’s time we welcome people with differences into our everyday world so we’re free to be complete. We are not complete without the full spectrum of people groups we are as a society. All people need to be included; the crippled, lame, the blind and the different.  We’ll never be truly free until we’re all present and able to participate in all aspects of life together.

After all, they are us.

 

Freedom becomes comfortable the more we walk in it. I learned that at camp.

  

friends

 

Will you join me? Will you look for opportunities to empower people with disabilities to act, speak and be included without hindrance? Without ALL, we’re not complete.

 

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Pursuing Freedom

Posted by on Apr 18, 2013 in Children, Joni and Friends | Comments Off on Pursuing Freedom

 

“Dare to love and to be a real friend. The love you give and receive is a reality that will lead you closer and closer to God as well as those whom God has given you to love” Henri Nouwen

 

 

It’s much easier for me to share about my faith than it is to share about myself. Even typing these words bring a lump to my throat. I have a feeling I’m not the only one who thinks this way.


After all, I have nothing but wonderful things to share about my faith – my God and my Savior. Just look at him! He’s the star-breathing, magnificent creator of all we see and all we can’t see. Who wouldn’t brag about him? He doesn’t just love, he is love. He’s mysterious, yet approachable. He’s perfect.

 I, on the other hand, am deeply flawed. No one knows me like I know myself – so I choose to keep certain things hidden. I don’t think it’s wrong to filter what we publically share since some information is best left unsaid and some of no interest at all. But the crippling effect of hiding and self-protecting is unhealthy and wrong. We all want people to like us but when we cower behind a false persona or hide our scars and broken places we cheat ourselves of truly living. I can attest to this.

Merging our hidden places with who he says we are creates the key to walking in freedom and open relationships. Jesus tells me I am his. Even before I knew him, he invested in me. His investment bandages my ugly wounds. He cares enough to spend time with me, wooing me out of my place of hiding. He wants me to be free.

It’s easier to come out from hiding in the moments I truly believe what he says. The lure of walking in freedom becomes stronger than the need to self protect. There’s nothing more beautiful than someone who knows they’re loved just as they are.

I have a few heroes in my life who know this kind of freedom. They’ve encouraged me to come out and play – to accept myself, to share myself. Their lives are proof the benefit of openness and honesty outweigh the perceived risk of exposure.

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