Do not grieve (JAF Camp 2016)

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I just recently finished serving a week at Joni and Friends Southern Oregon Twin Rocks Family Retreat. This is my fourth year serving at this camp that caters to family with disabilities. These are families who fight for their loved ones so they can get proper medical treatment, education, and spiritual care.

These families travel across the nation to participate in four days of camp on the Oregon Coast, because there isn’t something like it where they live. While more Joni and Friends retreats are being set up, the need is so great that the demand overtaxes the supply. There are families who plan their whole year around these four days, that is how important it is to them.

This camp is a place where the campers can be kids, and families can focus on just loving each other rather than being on the defense against other people’s curiosity and advice. Here they are eagerly anticipated and accepted. They are not considered ‘other’ or ‘different,’ they are simply seen as someone to love.

Short-Term Missionaries (STMS) are volunteers who come and serve these families. They are all age ranges, from 10-80 at least, who are so eager to love on these campers that they save up all year to attend. This is not a camp where volunteers put in a few hours of work in the kitchen to have a free fun time. No, this is a place where STMS are paired with a single camper and their duty is to be their friend for the week. It’s a place where they are truly missionaries whose mission is to show these campers that they are deeply loved, exactly for who they are. We have STMS who do bake sales, garage sales, mow lawns, build birdhouses, and numerous other things, to raise money, because this retreat is that important to them. $450 is a lot of money for a 13 year old to raise, but they do! And now many of them are raising about that much money again, so they can serve in the next week of camp as well. The STMs love it just as much as the families do.

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All of our camp volunteers (STMS) Nearly a 100 kind spirited people giving of their time and money to serve

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Our whole family camp! Campers and STMS together

This year our camp verse could be found in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But, the verse is right in the middle of a sentence. What the actual sentence says is, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” 

Nehemiah is an amazing book full of God’s mercies and work. It’s about the Israelites getting to go back to the Promised Land, after being put into the chains of slavery due to their sinfulness. It’s about a pagan king who listened to the voice of God and allowed his cup-bearer to leave and build the walls of Jerusalem once again. It’s about the eagerness of the God’s people hearing the words of the Lord once more. It’s about the joy of finding God after years of silence (on the side of the people).

In this section of Scripture, we find the people hearing the Word of the Lord for the first time in years. They were weeping because they hadn’t heard it for so long. But, this was a time to celebrate. The Word was available once more. It was being read from early morning till midday. And the people stood to hear it.

Do not be grieved. Don’t be grieved that before you didn’t understand the Word. Do not be grieved over the past deeds, because now you have the way to make your slate clean. Do not be grieved.

It is a time to rejoice! To revel in what the Lord has done! He has done the unimaginable and it must be savored. He has brought the Israelite nation out of slavery and out of their sin and has brought them back to their forefathers’ Promised Land. The pagan king funded the rebuilding of Jerusalem! How amazing would it have been to be there, to walk back into that land that was your father’s and know that you could come home.

Nehemiah is telling these people who were weeping over the loss of time and of the Word, to not grieve, to rejoice, because that joy of the Lord is your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Rejoicing and reveling in the Lord gives you strength.

These families with disabilities know what it is like to grieve. Some days, it may feel like they can never find anything to rejoice, but then the joy of the Lord strengthens them. And this camp gives them that strength.

But, at the same time, these families know how to rejoice over the little things. Things that might seem inconsequential to us, but are major milestones for their loved one. And this camp helps them rejoice over them.

Joni and Friends Family Retreat is an experience like no other. It is hard to use words to describe it adequately, because there isn’t one thing similar to pull from to compare. It is often compared to Disney, as being the happiest place on Earth, because at camp, the campers can just be kids. No expectations to fit into any mold that one may insist on being the perfect one. No trying to remember the arbitrary rules of society so that one can be accepted. No acting a certain way so that you won’t be laughed at. No explaining why you do things differently than others, why you walk the way you do, or why you can’t speak.

These people at camp, they understand. They look at you, and see simply, you. You. The one God declares Beloved. You, who God created with great love. You, whose beauty can be seen as God intended, rather than as a mark against the plastic perfection of society. You, whose talents are marveled at, whether you can sing or draw, or throw a ball, or take your first walks on screen. You, you are celebrated for being you.

Here your ticks are accepted. Here sounds that are voiced are cheered. Here you can run because its just so much, and we will run with you, rather than force you to stop. Here your mask can be left at home, and the real you can be let out to enjoy the world as it was meant to be. Here people rush to meet you. Here hesitation and fear have no place as you are loved. Here people will share their food and their space. Here the need for quiet is understood, but so is noise, and what a joyful noise to the Lord we make together! Here miracles happen on a regular basis, voices are found, friendships are made, love is given. Here, angels tread and God blesses those he calls his.

God’s love for you is your strength. He knew you when he placed you in that womb. He knew your life would be difficult, but he knew he wanted you. You were not a mistake. He rejoices in you, every minute of every day. He knows you and loves you just as you are. He gave you spiritual gifts to bless this world, don’t let anyone get between you and worshiping your Father. Share your gifts!

I know a camp where we are eagerly awaiting to celebrate them…

I highly recommend Joni Eareckson Tada’s biography if you have never heard about this ministry. Joni- An Unforgettable Story

http://www.joniandfriends.org/store/product/joni-unforgettable-story-discount/

You can also follow her radio/video series, many of which can be found here:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/

For more information about Family Retreat, please see:  http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/

For more information about volunteering at a Family retreat, please see:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/

His Language is Spoken

I had the extreme pleasure of attending Joni and Friends’ first ever Global Access Conference recently. I am still struggling to put into words what I learned and to describe who I had the joy of breaking bread with while learning about their ministries around the world.

One thing that I can say with all certainty though, is that God is moving mightily among these people whom the world considers worthless.

I’ll be talking about it for some time, I am sure. I’d love for you to enter into the conversation with me, and perhaps it might get you thinking about your own church as well as your own interactions with those who are disabled.

The first topic we will look at can be found in the panel session I attended called “Learning to Speak Their Language,” which was about how to interact with children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

One of the attendees asked a question that is a common query in churches: “What if they can’t understand the Gospel?”

The panelist, who was a mother of a child who is non-verbal due to autism, said something that really struck me: “The Holy Spirit knows his (her son’s) language.

What a beautiful response! It totally wiped away any scientific, theological, or medical argumentation regarding what is human knowledge (in my mind). It brings it down to the most basic of beliefs–God knows my heart.

Theologically, we have decided that there has to be a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ where we verbally recognize that we are sinners and are in need of God’s forgiveness. In many instances, when someone says they want to believe, we tell them that they need to repeat after me, an example of such a pray can be found on The Blessing House website: Lord Jesus, I come before you and confess that I am a sinner. Jesus, I believe that you died on the cross, and that Almighty God raised you from the dead. I pray that you forgive me of my sin, and be my Lord and Savior. In the name of Christ Jesus I pray this request. Amen

This is based off of verses such as Romans 10:9 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We must first acknowledge that while having a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ is not wrong, it is not Scripture based. The only prayer that we are told to pray is the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. There is no description of the prayer that we are supposed to say in repentance and acceptance of God’s forgiveness. There are no motions that we are supposed to do, no assigned person we are to do it in front of, nothing we are told to do but: Confess and believe.

Now, it does say to confess with your mouth. This can be a hang up for those who are non-verbal due to illness, or some form of disability. But, it doesn’t have to be! Because, as God tells Moses, who is attempting to get out of the duty that God has set before him, in Exodus 4: The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

To echo the mother at the panel session: God made you and he knows your language. He knows your language even if you have never spoken before. No matter the language your heart speaks, God created it: Sign Language, Hiri Motu, Korean, Inuktitut, and English or the roughly 6,500 other languages in the world. The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is proof of that:  There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Why do we put human limitations on what God can do? Why do we make rituals take the place of the beauty of God’s encompassing love and forgiveness?

God knows your heart.

No matter your ability, God knows you. If you in your heart of hearts ask for God’s love and forgiveness, I cannot deny your salvation because you didn’t come to him the way I did. It is not my place to deny your salvation. It is my job to love you as a beloved child of God, and teach you the Gospel so you can know him.

Even if I believe that you might not understand, I am still tasked with the duty to tell you of God’s love and sacrifice to save YOU. Because when you stand before God’s throne, you will be judged just as I will, no matter the limitations that humans have placed on you. God will judge your heart to see if you have been made clean by his Son’s blood.

The Holy Spirit speaks your language and it is love.

So, to all the Christian believers out there, I urge you: Do not hesitate to reach out and speak God’s love to all you meet. No matter if you think they might or might not understand, God knows their heart. Do your duty with love and tell of God’s sacrificial love.

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Teach Me to Love

Racism.
A nasty word that gets the dander up around the world.
As it should.
I’ve been watching America become more restless and more divided as accusations of police brutality are reported on while African- American men are being buried.
I watch churches and ‘well-meaning’ Christians be part of the divisions, as angry words are thrown like daggers at their brothers and sisters.
Ferguson and New York, two towns that have created waves across America.
Two men died, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But, they aren’t the only ones.
The spotlight is being shined hard on those with a badge.

Does racism play a part in these deaths? I don’t know.
Does it play a part in the trials of those held responsible for the deaths? I don’t know.
Does it play a part in the everyday life of thousands of people? This, I do know.
Does the church need to step up and really face this issue head on? YES

I’ve been quiet about this issue, not because I’m afraid of working on it, but because so many people are adding their voice. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what you really think when you get everyone else’s opinion. But, silence can be even more damning that misspoken words.
There is so much anger right now.
Righteous anger is good, anger bound in hate is not..
No matter what type of video or reports come out, I do not know exactly what happened because I wasn’t there. I can’t say if an officer defended himself or acted out of hate. I can’t say if the men who died acted in violence or if they were innocent.
There has been accusations on both accounts.

I refuse to add to those accusations.
Adding to them will not help anyone. It just causes more anger.

So, the question I ask myself is this: “What does God want me to do?”

He wants me to love. Love people on both sides of the argument. God does. He commands his followers to do the same. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

There are no distinctions on who to love and who not to love. There is no command to not love someone. It is a blanket command to love EVERY single person that you come in contact with. “One another” does not mean to love the person who looks like you, talks like you, prays like you. God makes no distinctions. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.…(John 3:16-17)”

So why do we decide that God doesn’t mean “THEM”? Why do we, believers, decide that we live in a “Us vs. Them” world? It isn’t God who is causing this hatred, this distrust in our hearts. It’s not just our interactions of white vs. black. It’s all interaction with all races. I’ve heard some people honestly say that racism is only against the ‘black’ population… No.

No matter what color of skin you might have, what culture you might come from, what ethnic identity you might declare– you will have people hating what you ‘stand for’ in their eyes. We are surrounded in a world that ‘-isms’ us to death. And you and I will always be hated by somebody for something.

We do not live in a world that is ran by God’s command to Love one anotherBut, that doesn’t mean that can’t be one who does. I cannot influence one other person to love those that their history says to fear, if I do not live in love. 

The news with all of it’s fear, makes me honestly look at myself. What do I believe? How do I react? Am I fearful of the unknown? Do I believe in stereotypes? Do I let other people’s fear influence my relationships?

The only way the world will change in reaction to racism, sexism, class-ism, etc… is if individually we change. The only way that is going to happen is if we ask God to create that change in us, in all of it’s uncomfortable, painful, awkward, grace.

If you allow me the grace to change, will you be my friend? The only way I will learn, is if you help me understand. Teach me. Perhaps, you and I can change the world, if we look through each other’s eyes.

God loves you. He loves me. I pray we can both love each other. All lives matter. Because God has created us equal. No man has the power to say we are not royalty, for we are God’s children.

Because Satan lets me sleep

Why is it so hard to stay awake in church?

I can’t be the only one to think this. I can rule out boredom because even in the midst of a very intriguing sermon, I still find my eyes closing, my head nodding. I could say it’s because of the horrible back pain that makes it nearly impossible to sleep through the full night. That during the week, I can’t sleep as deeply because I’m at work, always having to be ready and aware of my client, so exhaustion just catches up with me when I’m sitting for an hour and a half in a warm room.

I could say that.

But really? There is a better answer, a truer answer, an answer that shines the light on the depth of the question.

It’s rather simple in its complexity.

Why do I fall asleep in church so easily? Because Satan lets me sleep.

What better way for Satan to disconnect me from learning more about God?
What better way for the Scripture’s truth not to sink into my mind?
What better way for me to not be a part of the Body of Christ’s worship?

Satan lets me sleep at the most horrible time because he doesn’t want me to learn about God. He doesn’t want me to bring God’s wisdom into both my mind and my heart. He doesn’t want me to remember what I learned, to pay attention and really dig into what I know.

Now, I’m not a demon alarmist. I do not think a demon is behind EVERY SINGLE one of my bad actions.

As I have said more than once: I can walk myself all the way into Hell by myself without the help of any demon, but walking to the gates of Heaven, I need the blood of Christ, the helping hand of the Holy Spirit, and an abundance of faith and grace to get to the Father’s side.

I don’t think that I need Satan tempting me at every turn or influencing me.

I am perfectly capable in all my broken sinful ways to cause problems all on my own. But, I do think that if there something directly hindering our ability to learn about God and the Gospels, Satan probably has his fingers in it.

He doesn’t want us to learn ways of keeping him out of our heads. He wants to continue to be the prince of lies in our conscience, and how do you do that? Extinguish the light that the truth brings.

Satan and his minions work overtime on Sundays, I’m sure.

Don’t you find it odd that Sunday is the day you sleep past your alarm?
Sunday is the day that is the ONLY day to get anything done?
Why waste two hours at church when you can be running errands or cleaning your house for the following week?
In a family situation, Sundays seem rift with tensions, parents yelling at each other for not getting something done. Children cranky because their sibling hit them, dogs getting lose, cats making messes. Parties seem to be held on Sunday and you have to travel.

THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING ON SUNDAY!

It’s a choice.

A choice to get up in the morning, a choice to put a smile on your face, a choice to pray instead of yell. A choice to stay awake during the sermon and not get annoyed with the children who are squirming in the pew in front of you.

We have the free will to allow Satan to control us and keep us from hearing the message or the free will to listen.

I’m choosing to do some more prayer before I go in to the service, and hopefully with more discipline I can stay awake this Sunday.

Just because Satan lets me sleep, doesn’t mean I have to.

A class is born

I’m starting to get nervous- but in a good way. I’m starting to see the fruition of six and half years of hard work. Sweat and tears, paper cuts and headaches, frustration and elation are finally coming down to the creation of a class.
It all depends now on how many people are interested in this class on this campus. And I pray that we are ready for it.
Disabilities is such a hidden topic. It makes us uncomfortable and causes us feelings of guilt. Do we want to be told how badly the church is failing in the aspects of actively doing ministry with the disabled? Not really. We might not even want to recognize that we as Christians (since we are all one Body after all) have caused harm to those who are considered disabled. We have ignored them, we have emotionally harmed them. Now, it’s time to change.
I think God is wanting me to stir up the pot on this campus. He has made me come back to this topic continually in six and half years of classes. I don’t think I’ve gone through one semester without visiting this topic in one class or another. If you’ve ever been in a graduate level class you know how hard that is to do. Teachers tend to want you to stretch your knowledge, and not to be able to recycle stuff you might already know.
I chose a topic that isn’t talked about and God kept bringing it up again. It’s a topic that needs to be talked about and God is getting the conversation started.
In some ways I might be like a dog with a bone. It’s an important bone. But, unlike that dog, I want to share it with everyone who wants a bite. I want people to jump on this bandwagon and create change!
The only way the church will start working on change is for the people who lead it to be aware that change needs to happen. How do these leaders know that change needs to happen? They are taught by professors who are aware that something needs to happen. And how does the professor even know to teach about this type of topic? Someone starts talking about it. (Usually a student who won’t let the subject go 😉 )
Get the conversation started.
The only way to get people talking about it is to speak up.
This is so hard for me- so introverted that you have to pry me out of the corner with a crowbar- to speak up.
But, I know this is important. It needs to be talked about. The universal church needs to wake up, just as much as the local church. The only way to do this is to give the new leaders the tools to get into the mess and shake things up, and the only way to do this is to tell them that this is a need.
This class, I hope it causes the conversation to start. I have no clue where it will end up but at least it will be started.
If Jesus Christ saw the glory within the blindness of a man (John 9), why doesn’t the church?
If you never had a reason to think about this topic, you won’t be ready for the family with a child who is considered different in the eyes of man that walks into your church.
Have you thought about it?
What do you think the Bible says about disabilities?
What does your family teach?
What does your church teach?
Are you ready to talk about it?
I am.

“You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God; I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:14

“He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14

“Having no expectations shows pity, which shows sadness, sorrow & regret. A child with a disability needs support. Stand behind him, champion and back him! Believe in him and have expectations! They inspire hope, excitement, eagerness and success! Which would you want others to give you?” – Joan Scanlon-Dise

“I was slightly brain damaged at birth, and I want people like me to see that they shouldn’t let a disability get in the way. I want to raise awareness – I want to turn my disability into ability.” – Susan Boyle

World Walking

Today, I met Erik. Erik and his dog, Nice are taking the world on a walk. So far they have walked over 5,000 miles. According to his website blog (www.worldguy.org), the duo has walked in at least 30 different states as well as in Washington, DC. Erik says that they average around 10 miles a day. This recent walking goal is to walk from Washington state to Oregon. He and Nice have been doing this for 5 years now.
So, you might wonder. Why in the world does some guy decide to walk with his dog all across the country?
Not only is he walking with his dog, but he is also walking the world. This huge rubber ball has a way of catching one’s eye. Painted like the world with the Worldguy’s website address on it, it rolls along beside Erik and Nice. It’s also the reason I stopped to talk to him, I just had to know what in the ‘world’ he was doing.
I caught up to him when he stopped at the town’s library to rest and I did something I very rarely do– started a conversation with a stranger. “I just have to ask…” I said.
Erik smiled and said that he was raising awareness for Diabetes and that he was trying to get people to get up and take a walk.
He allowed me to take a picture of him with his walking buddies as he told me where he’s walked and why he was doing it.
His mother, Gerta Bendl, a Kentucky legislator, died from complications with diabetes when she was 56. Erik (50 years old) decided to get the word out about diabetes and let people know about the disease.
So he walks the world and his dog, stopping to answer questions and posing for pictures. As I wished him safe and well on his travels, Erik said, “Take a walk with a loved one and live healthy.”
I encourage you all, if you see a world rolling on by with a dog and a man- stop and talk to him. Offer him a honk of the horn, a wave, or a handshake– for trying to keep you healthy and aware.

Do you have a passion or a desire that you would be so willing to walk across the country to raise awareness for?

Shaking the Community

My little community is hurting yet again. We seem not to be able to get past the tears before another reason to cry becomes known. This last Friday, a young child’s life was lost. An 8 year old boy fell into the river and his little body was found an hour later.
The sorrow that settles upon our hearts at the loss of such a young one is great.
Though I personally never met this little boy, my mom worked closely with him in the Special Education class.
The little boy had a severe form of autism. He couldn’t speak, but he could get his point across. His little body had scoliosis which caused great pain. But, he still found reasons to laugh.
I grieve for the mother and sister who had to say goodbye so abruptly.
I grieve for the teachers who will have to explain to the kids who were in class with him, that that little boy won’t be coming back.
I hurt for the rescuers who found him, nearly all the volunteers who rolled out for the call. They who have children of their own, who went to the same class as this little boy.
Our community is hurting, yet again.
We are left with a decision:
We can turn our backs on God– because He took the little boy too early.
We could turn our backs on those close to us– because it’s just to hard to say goodbye.
We could protect ourselves by not feeling.
Or…
Or we could run harder towards God–so He can comfort us.
Or we could face those people we’ve forgotten—so we can say I love you.
Or we can feel more deeply, speak more clearly, and hold on a little more tightly—so we can break our heart so it can grow bigger.
Yes, our community is tired. Just like so many other families and communities across the world are tired right now. We feel like we are limping along, too broken, too worn, to care anymore. But still, the tears fall.
God is shaking this community to the very base of our understanding.
He is shaking us to wake us up.
We all woke up in 2007 when we had that flood. When the waters went past their usual flood zone and hit homes that were never touched before, we woke up. We grasped our fellow man’s hand and helped each other rebuild. We became a community that could rely on each other again.
Have we fallen asleep again? Instead of flood waters, are tears the way God is trying to make us wake up?
God has called home some very special saints from my community. People who were doing the work of God, and it makes me wonder. I wonder, what special work did they complete that God called them home now? And are we doing God’s work?
I pray that we learn the lesson God is teaching us.
I pray that the message is received and we pass it along.
Lord, please make us not fear love, but rather seek after it. May we love as You love us- unconditionally, with great fervor, and without stopping. May fear be far from us so that we can speak loudly of Your saving grace. May we speak without fear to those who are lost. May we speak with clarity of the sacrifice You made for us. Shake us Lord, so that we don’t think that we’ll have another day to tell the Story. Make us see that this life is so fleeting, and that there is only one life that is eternal- and that is the one in You. Make us see You and You alone. Take over our hearts, our bodies, and our mouths, so the truth will be told. Make us Your instruments, O Lord. We praise You for Your love is abundant and never ending. Amen
Shake us Lord. Shake us awake before it is too late.

John 11:25-26 “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 5:24-30 Jesus said, “I assure you: Anyonewho hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life. “I assure you: An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have life in Himself. And He has granted Him the right to pass judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment.“I can do nothing on My own. I judge only as I hear, and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”