Bad Day Blues

I am having a bad day. 

It’s an accumulation of numerous things totally out of my control. Things have negatively impacted me to the point that I either want to scream or cry out of sheer frustration. But, because I am at work and will continue to be with my client until 9:30 am tomorrow, I do not have those outlets of releasing my frustration open to me.

I have been told, on the rare occasions that I vent online (in other words, I am frustrated because A, B, and C), that I need to “Love Jesus more,” “I need to learn more forgiveness,” or that “this is a time to practice love more.” 

Even when I try to describe what went wrong to someone in person as I try to work through it, I’m told to get over it, or that obviously that person or situation needs more prayer.

I don’t vent much. And when I do, I try very hard, even in my frustration to be focused on the situation, not the person.

So let me just lay it out there, when you are having a BAD DAY, having someone chide you for not loving enough does not make it better. It makes it worse. 

Especially when it has nothing to do with loving someone more! Or when it is someone ELSE who is the one who is harming YOU!

I sometimes think that as a society we have split people into certain categories. Group A can complain and whine and over dramatize every little thing. Group B has to be the one to always comfort and ask questions and NEVER show that you have a bad day and make sure to buck up. On rare occasion, you have Group C that can be fluid.

I’m tired of putting that blasted mask on. I have the right to be honest about myself. I shouldn’t have to hide. I have bad days and some days are HORRIBLE. Some days blend into a week and make you feel like you can’t see the light ever again. 

But: bad days don’t mean I stop loving my family, my friends, my church, or my job. Bad days don’t mean that I’m turning my back on God. Bad days don’t mean that I hate everyone. 

Bad days simply mean that things aren’t going the way I had hoped and planned for. It means that things and people totally out of my control are negatively impacting me. It means that the verbal abuse that I can usually shake off simply got to me this time. It means sometimes it is easier to focus on this little thing that is bugging me than blow up about the big thing that no one knows about. 

I want to tell you– it is OKAY to have a bad day! It doesn’t mean you are a horrible believer or person. It means you are HUMAN. 

Sometimes I have to remind myself of this truth.

But–it is NOT okay to abuse another person (or animal) because your day wasn’t as pretty as you had planned. It is not okay to ruin another person’s day with physical or verbal abuse. It’s not okay to emotionally destroy someone just so you can feel better. That just makes you a bully. 

It is okay to expect someone to listen. Sadly, in this day and age it’s hard to find someone willing. Especially someone is is willing to not say, “Well my day was worse so what do you have to complain about?” (I cannot tell you how many times this happens to me! I swear if I can get through my story without someone hijacking it with theirs it’s a miracle!) 

Most of the time I don’t want a solution, because there is no solution! I just want someone to listen. I want to release the pressure in the cooker that is my life before it explodes. 

I honestly think we all want that. 

I am frustrated. I am having a bad day. I don’t need to be chided by someone who has no clue what else I am dealing with. News flash–no one is perfect! 

I have hope that tomorrow will be better because I have faith in the One who is creating tomorrow. I have hope that my bad day or week doesn’t equal a horrible life. I have hope that things can change. 

I have love for those people who are frustrating me because I know a God who loves me despite how annoying I can be. And I know He loves them just as much. 

And guess what? I still think it’s okay to say you had a bad day! You can be disappointed when things don’t work out the way you had hoped. You can be frustrated that people have lied to you and still love them! Your job can make you want to pull out your hair and you still have the right to say you love it!

Do something to help you smile.

If it’s wearing crazy socks, do it. If it’s petting an animal or eating your comfort food, do it. If it’s binge watching a show that let’s you cry or laugh, don’t let someone make you feel guilty for it. Go for a walk, read a book, color a picture, build a model. 

Take care of yourself. 

It’s okay to have a bad day, just don’t let it make your life bad. 

You are loved. Never forget that.

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/

To be Remembered

“To be Remembered”

Today was flower day.
I took my client, who is just a couple of short months away from being 100, out to the two cemeteries where her family resides.

Like always, it was errand day, where we were out and about getting groceries and other needed items. I had a car full of groceries and cemetery day is usually a two or three hour process. I squelched my sigh as best as I could, trying not to think of the food that was rapidly thawing in the surprisingly muggy weather.

I took her to a local store where I could get the car close to where the flowers were kept. Peering through the chain link fence, she asked me to look at the pretty red Daisies that had caught her attention.

“They have to be in bloom. I don’t see any geraniums, do you? They last longer.” She looked anxiously through the fence.

As I parked the car, I assured her I’d take a good look around and make sure to choose the nicest ones.

She had mentioned only getting a flower for her husband’s grave so I double checked, “Just one? Or do you want to do your parents?”

“I want to do my sister’s. Then there is my son’s…”

“Want me to get 10 then? Like usual?” At her nod, I left the car with her laughter following me as I shouted, “Don’t let anyone steal you!”

I took time to look through all the flowers, making sure to pick the nicest, fullest, brightest plants.

As we went to the cemeteries, I was reminded that she’s nearing 100. 100 years of love and death. She pointed at homes along the roads we were on, family members who lived in those homes are now in the cemeteries we visited. 100 years of family and friends. A 100 years of joy and sorrow.

So as I placed the chosen flowers on her family’s graves, I took the time to clean the dead leaves and cut grass off of the stones. I pruned the flowers that we had put on the stones at Easter that were still blooming and made sure to collect any trash.

And I stood in for my client.

I cared for her family in her stead. As she stifled her tears of being the last of her family, I became her feet. I represented her love as I became her hands.

I could have rushed through putting the flowers out, but it was a moment to remind my client that she is known and she is loved.

We all want to be remembered.
We all want to know that we will be missed.
We all want to be known.
We want someone to care.
And ultimately, we want someone to miss us when we are gone.

In our care of our cemeteries, we are telling each other how we will remember our loved ones. And sadly, we don’t necessarily do it very well. Hundreds, if not thousands, of local cemeteries are disappearing as nature reclaims the land. Loved ones of ages past are disappearing from sight and memories.

So, I will be my client’s feet, as she expresses her love to her family. I will take the time to show respect to people I have never met. Because I want to be remembered as well.

I could have rushed through the day, but it was more important to care for my client and her heart. Groceries can wait.

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The Art of Losing (Memories)

I finally got the opportunity to watch the recently released film “Still Alice.” I highly recommend this film, as it may give you the ability to understand some of the sheer terror that people face when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

As a caregiver, I have worked with clients in various stages of this horrid disease. It was remarkably well displayed in “Still Alice.” The film follows a renowned linguistics professor as she discovers that she has Early Onset Familial Alzheimer’s Disease at just the age of 50. Alice is a very intelligent, hardworking woman whose very life is defined by words, but she slowly starts to lose the ability to speak her beloved words. It follows Alice and her family for a year, and you can see the quick progression of the disease to the point where she can barely talk.

What I love about this film is not only the amazing portrayal that Julianne Moore does, but how they show the range of emotions that the family members have regarding the ‘loss’ of their mother and wife. You have the denial in the husband as well as distancing, the fixer in the son, one daughter wants to remember for her, while the other daughter accepts it and learns to live in it. There is so much emotion displayed in this film; the fear, the acceptance, the fight for a life that is familiar.

At the beginning, when the diagnoses is given, Alice says something to the effect that she wished she had cancer. Cancer is acceptable, people will put on ribbons, run in marathons, and do fundraisers for you. You become a vision of inspiration. But, Alzheimer’s? It’s shameful, something to be hidden. No one wants to discuss it and friends start to fade away.

We fear mortality. We fear the loss of self. And in our fear, we distance ourselves from those who are in the midst of something we dread. Think about it. You know someone with a loved one who is becoming forgetful, they are worried about the outcome of tests and meetings with caretakers. In their stress, they stop contacting you, or whenever you do talk to them, it’s all about the struggles they are going through. You start dreading the phone call. You don’t want to hear about it.

Your grandma starts forgetting the stories she has told you, just 30 minutes ago. You start to ‘correct’ her, but it makes her worried. She stops talking. Because you always say, “You’ve already told me that.”

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are diseases that erase self. They make you forget who you were, who you are now, and who you could have been in the future. It makes you forget the ones you love, and the very ability to make your body work. Some people call it the “Second Childhood.” You become dependent on others for the very things that you once took care of for your children.

Your children take care of your intimate needs as your mind forgets the ability to do certain movements. Your spouse who looked forward to an exciting retirement with you instead has to keep track of your wanderings and pills. You become the dreaded burden you always feared.

Alzheimer’s is a demeaning disease. It’s full of angst and fear. As well as intimate demands.

But.

Alzheimer’s can also be an awakening for your family. Personalities can be changed because of this disease. One of my clients whom numerous people attested to be a very hard woman, became extremely sweet in the midst of the disease. Family members were able to connect to her in a way that they were never able to before. Forgiveness was found as untold stories came to the light.

There can be a beauty in the midst of losing.

“Still Alice” uses a quote from the poet Elizabeth Bishop who said: “The Art of Losing isn’t hard to master: so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost, that their loss is no disaster.” I encourage you to live in the losing with your loved one. Do not put upon them the fear of remembering, by correcting them thirty times a day about the things they forget. Many of them already know they are forgetting. Reminding them does no good. 

Follow the meandering stories the best you can. It won’t be easy, but remember, what you are going through is nothing compared to the labyrinth in their minds.

Don’t hide them away as if they are a shameful secret. There will be times that too much stimulation will be hard for them, but hold their hand, read them stories. Engage them in life. Life may look differently for them, but they are still a part of it. Don’t remove them from the time they have among your family.

See things anew through their eyes. Sometimes the simplistic beauty of a flower becomes enrapturing. Looking at each individual petal can take all day, enter into that discovery with them. Maybe this is the time God has given you both to smell the roses they were too busy to see before.

Remember, if you meet one person with Alzheimer’s, you have only met one person with Alzheimer’s. The disease reacts differently to every brain it inhabits. Learn what is best for each person differently. Remember, that they are not the disease, they are people who still dream and hope, acknowledge that desire in them.

I have worked in private homes, adult foster homes, as well as retirement centers. No matter where I go, I see a person who deserves my respect and their dignity. It’s easy to get caught in the ‘doing’ stage and think they are moving too slow, that you have things to do. So you start shoving them into clothes, quickly scrubbing them in the shower, making them eat quicker, etc… When there is a lot to do, it’s easy to see a person as an object and move them where they need to be, rather than see them for a scared nervous man or woman who is uncertain of the next step.

I always think, how would I want to be taken care of? Like no matter what is wrong with me, I’m still someone of worth. I am still me. My self-hood is not contingent on my ability to remember your name or how to put on my pants. If I breathe and my heart still beats, I am still me. Treat me as human and worthy of your respect.

 On my good days, I can, you know, almost pass for a normal person. But on my bad days, I feel like I can’t find myself.-Dr. Alice Howland

There will be bad days. But, there will be sweet moments as well. As the disease runs it’s course, and the memories it eats run dry, there will be come a time, a week or a few days before their eyes close for good, that clarity is found. For a few hours, you will have your loved one back. The one you remember from years past. Cherish that time. It is the final goodbye.

Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s is a hard job. It’s even harder when that person is someone you know and love. It will make you weep and make you scream. But, if you allow love to guide you through it, it can be very rewarding as well. Find support groups, make your family get involved, and take moments in the day to remember who you are. Take a walk outside, or read a book. Take a breather. You will love them better when you take care of yourself.

I highly recommend the movie “Still Alice.” I just got the book, but I’m sure I will be recommending it as well.

My shoulders are tired

Last night, I watched “Moms’ Night Out,” and I highly recommend it. I understand this woman! I won’t give it away, because you HAVE to watch it. Suffice to say though is that there are three women who are beyond stressed out with their families. One in particular just can’t get a hold of life anymore and either needs to take a night off or is going to mentally break. Fun and hilarity ensue.

Now, while I am not a mother obviously, I am on that stress precipice where I will either explode leaving emotional debris everywhere or where I will cause equal damage by throwing up my hands and literally walking away.

But, right now, I am stress paralyzed. I totally concur with the movie–it’s a real thing.

I’m not getting respite on any of my three fronts. I can’t run to church to escape the tensions at home and work. I can’t hide at home on my days off to recover from work and gear up for church. And work is no longer a happy experience where I can focus on something to take my mind off of church and home.

And before you give me the supposedly sage advice of finding a new church or job– that is not going to fix anything. The idea of running away from the blessings God has given me, is not hardwired into my DNA. The opposite is. I care too much for the people involved to just leave when things get rough.

Running away– while a nice thought when your jaw aches from biting down on the harsh words that want to spill forth–never solves anything.

I think there is enough broken relationships in this world to prove that.

I am a fixer. I am a counselor. I am a listener. I am a caregiver. These are aspects of my core personality. I can’t change who I am. It is not in me to say, “I can’t handle any more, so don’t tell me anything else!”

I have been so consumed by the stress, that I, who process things by writing, haven’t written anything in many weeks. Which, let me tell you, adds more stress because what in the world am I stressing about?! I don’t know, because I can’t write it out. Argh!!

I always like to say that I don’t worry. Worrying will not change the aspects of the future you are concerned about. Staying up late at night chewing on your fingernails won’t change how much that doctor’s bill will be. Nor will it affect the flight that a loved one will be on as if your worry will be the cushion that will keep that plane from crashing.

Nah, I don’t worry. I stress! Totally different in my book.

I don’t care if Webster’s Dictionary says worry is a synonym of stress. You can’t believe everything that is written okay?

Webster’s says that stress as a noun means: “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” While worry means “give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.”

Sure, I dwell sometimes. But, everything that is concerning me, isn’t even about me! It’s about people I love and am worried concerned about. How can I be there in the moment for them? How can I encourage them? How can I represent God’s love in the tension? How is it going to affect the community, family, client?

I’m not trying to control the world. I’m not even trying to change my little sphere of influence.  I just want answers to be given so people aren’t waiting for the next shoe to drop. So I don’t feel as if I have the weight of these people’s fear crushing my back.

My shoulders are tired from the burden I carry.

The unknown is scary. We do not know how to ready ourselves for the hidden threat. We don’t know if we need the shield or the first aid kit, if we need knives or bullets. We don’t know how to protect each other from the masked intruder who is right outside our peripheral vision. That dark entity that could possibly be holding a sharp knife that is ready to rip our lives apart. We’re in a constant state of readiness, waiting for the attack. Sometimes it happens and we can expel the adrenaline. Other times, we are in the fight/flight response with nothing to do. But be ready. Be alert. Be exhausted…

Sometimes, I feel as if I gather other people’s worries, fear, concerns, hurt, anger, as an attempt to get them through the problem. As if I am trying to protect them from that sick twisted emotional bomb by holding it for them. As if I want to throw myself on that grenade in a brave Steve Rogers act, so others have a chance to live. As if sacrificing my peace of mind will keep someone else sane.

I must think highly of myself.

We, or maybe I should just say, I, get this convoluted idea that if I work my butt off, I can protect people from…well, from life. I can keep my friends from finding out that their beloved parent has cancer. I can keep my parents from worrying about their financial existence. I can keep my grandparents healthy. I can keep my brother and his wife safe in Texas from the floods. I can keep gossipers from harming my church family with their vicious vitriol. I can keep my client safe from her anxiety. I can keep my community working together for the betterment.

(Humm, psst! Ranelle, you know, that sounds a lot like worry.
Nah…it’s stress, you don’t know what you are talking about. Shhh!)

I don’t have a messiah complex. I don’t have a hero complex. I don’t have a martyr complex. Believe me, I don’t aspire to be Captain Steven Hiller who takes on the alien ship with a nuke strapped to my ship.

I KNOW that the weight of the world is NOT on my shoulders. That the happiness of those around me is not my job. I KNOW this. But, still. I have a desire to make sure that if I can, I can keep them from shedding tears. I can keep the anger at bay.

I need to live in the Swedish Proverb, “Not my monkey, not my circus.” Or in BBC’s Sherlock’s Detective Inspector Lestrade’s motto: “Not my division!”

Don’t borrow trouble. You can be concerned, but ultimately, it’s not your job to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the world. God gave me the heart to love people, but he has also told me that I have a limit on how much I can take on. It is all in God’s hands. I need to stop taking my loved ones out of his hands, thinking I can do a better job at caring for them. Because, obviously I can’t.

Where I grow weary and exhausted with the strain, God never does. Where I get exasperated and frustrated by their actions that just cause more pain, God just continues to love. When I don’t know the whole story, God does and still loves. Where I make mistakes in the course of helping, God never does. God is the only perfect caregiver there is. I am a pale broken imitation. But, still God uses me.

So, today is a day of self-health. I am dating myself. I am finally writing, here in the park on a pretty day. I am taking a breath. I had my comfort food, aka Tacos. (Yumm) And I will go watch a movie. I will go home to play with my dogs and be snubbed by my cats. I will simply be. Try to keep from mind the problems that Sunday will bring, that Tuesday will hold. I will unclench my jaw and rotate my neck. I will shed this weight and put it where it belongs, in God’s hands.

When I start to take it back, I will say a prayer instead.

I will learn how not to worry the problem like a nasty mosquito bite. Checking in on it every few minutes to see if it still itches. I will pay attention to God’s police line, where it says “DO NOT ENTER” and in smaller words “IT’S NOT FOR YOU TO WORRY” (I mean…stress.) I won’t sneak under the tape and rob my loved ones back into my hands.

If you pray for me…I would be eternally grateful.

“No one can pray and worry at the same time.”– Max Lucado

Matthew 11:28-30– “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Luke 12:25- “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

Hope Overflowth- Reflections on Joni & Friends Family Retreat

Joni & Friends Twin Rocks Family Retreat, 2014

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How do you describe one week out of your year that manages to change your perceptions, your attitude, your spiritual health, as well as teach you compassion, joy, and hope, all while giving you a peace that you so very rarely are able to get in the ‘outside world?’

I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out.

I had the wonderful pleasure of serving at Joni & Friends’ Twin Rocks Family Retreat (Oregon) again this year. I was already planning on what supplies I needed to gather for next year, before that camp was even done. I do believe that I officially have gotten the bug for this amazing ministry. Serving at this camp has a way digging it’s way into the heart, and promptly enlarging it, much like the Grinch’s did when he found out the meaning of Christmas.

I have always had a passion for awareness towards disability. But, this camp, it continually shows me that my passion is so small in comparison to the deep passionate love God has for his children. He also uses it to force me to learn and grow with every exposure to people who are considered very different from me. Well, at least different to me by the world’s consideration. He uses it to teach me, that in my brokenness, I am still loved.

I wish I could show the emotional peace that came over these parents and campers of special needs as they stepped onto the campus. Campers who are caught within their disability and seem to have little awareness of their surroundings, relaxed and smiled. The frantic energy that comes with some levels of autism seemed to lessen it’s ferocious grip on young minds, loosening the tongue so they were able to communicate more than they usually do at home. Parents who are exhausted from any small amount of travel due to their need to be extremely diligent of their loved ones, are revived. Parents who have become cautious around strangers due their protective attitude regarding their child, feel free to laugh and shed tears with other parents who understand.

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Hope seemed to infuse these precious people as soon as they came through the loud welcoming crowd at the entrance to the camp. Here, hope was given out as if it was candy. There was no need to hold on to it as if we were misers, wanting to build up our pile of gold. Instead, we shared it, we showed it, we gave it away. It was because God was filling us with that joy and peace that only were given to us by him. We were, as our motto was this year, ‘overflowing’ with hope. Because we were overflowing, we felt no need to keep it to ourselves.

Our Bible verse can be found Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

I think it was the perfect verse for these weary travelers through this life. Our speaker did a wonderful job of showing that this hope is not a wish that we make. But rather this is a hope based off the knowledge that God is good, that he has only the best of plans for us, that he has proven himself trustworthy. Our hope is not on the outcome, but rather based on the very God we pray to.

To hear that from the lips of Brian, whose doctors had given up on, due to an accident that left him with 3rd degree burns on 97% of his body, carried more weight than it would from a pastor of ‘normal typical’ means. Here was a man who by all rights could have become very bitter by what life has supposedly given him. Rather, though I’m sure it took time and prayer, he became a man who spoke passionately about the God who loves him. To see this man, his wife, and his children, so vocal about God’s love and grace in the face of such a horrid accident, was eye opening to my own responses to the situations of my life.

The hope that God provides has the power to change lives. It is not about wishing vaguely on something that we thought would help us. Godly hope is about trusting God to keep us and not forsake us. He never will.

These parents and campers see that hope more clearly than most of us do. The typical person is stuck on what we think is important, while these souls are focused on just surviving the day sometimes. It’s not that they are closer to God than we might be, but there is that possibility that they might have some of the blinders that we have, removed.

Another wonderful thing to see at camp is the willingness that these strangers have to get involved in the joys and struggles of other families. I believe we had nearly half of our camp families new to the ministry this year. These families who had never been exposed to each other, welcomed one another with love.

That love was echoed throughout the volunteers who come and give of their time and money to serve these families. We have families who travel all the way from Pennsylvania, just for the joy of serving. We have 20-somethings who save all year to go to two or more of these retreats, just for the chance to make a difference. We have teens who by all rights should be goofing off at the beach, working hard to bring laughter to a child who is shut off from the world. We have 70+ year old who should be enjoying her retirement, chasing after a boy with a big smile on her face. We have leaders, who they themselves should be there for respite , due to family members with special needs, plan for this week all year long, and work themselves to exhaustion just to help.

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This camp is run off of love. If you have never experienced this short of love that is so sacrificial in nature, you are truly missing out. This is what God’s love looks like. This is what the church should look like, where everyone can come as the broken mess they are and find acceptance. Nobody comes to this camp with everything perfect, because that is not what this camp is about. This camp is about offering hope to weary people. It’s about showing them that they are not alone in their love for their children, nor in their willingness to fight for their right to enjoy life. It’s about a beautifully sang song having just as much excitement and clapping as does a boy who throws a ball. It’s were whatever talent you bring, is used and accepted, because God gave you that talent. No matter what it might be.

This camp is about rejoicing in exactly who you are right this moment. Not about trying to force you into some mold that will never fit. No one fits into those molds, we just pretend a little better that it doesn’t chaff or pinch. Never try to fit in. Every person is born to stand out and shout loudly of the Creator God. That’s what I love about this camp, it helps us learn how to rejoice in those differences.

So I urge you. Give hope to a weary family near you. Tell them about Joni and Friends’ Family retreats!!

Please look at Joni and Friends website for more information regarding the amazing ministries available through them (including the Wheels for the World, Family Retreats, Cause 4 Life, etc…) 

Joni and Friends is celebrating 35 years of disability ministry- listen to Joni Eareckson Tada’s radio program which can also be found on the website. 

You can read about my first experience serving at a Joni and Friends’ Family Retreat last year here and a revisited post here

Where I am

So this last Friday was graduation for my former school. It’s already been a year since I walked across the stage to pick up my diploma and shake the hand of my dean of students.
A year.
I am so totally not where I thought I would be, but I think I am where I should be for this moment in time.
Right now as I write this, my uncle is in surgery to remove a large golf ball sized tumor from his frontal lobe. We don’t know what will happen, we don’t know how he will come out of it. Life is uncertain.
My mom is facing another surgery next month, this time to repair a hernia due to all of her other abdominal surgeries. Life is uncertain.
I’m finally in the process of trying to get to the bottom of my own health issues, which might take a bit of time. I finally will be seeing a specialist come next Monday. Life is uncertain.
I do not know where I will be when another year comes around. Right now, I do think I am where I need to be. I’m with my family. I’m working, and I am actually healthy even with all the oddities that are going on.
God is Good.
No matter what, no matter when, no matter where.
God is Good.
All the time.
And all the time, God is Good.
Life kicks us some times, sometimes it feels like we can’t get ahead no matter how hard we try. But we have to remember, Life is under no obligation to treat us well.
Life is uncertain because it is not written for us, only God has our instruction manual. He isn’t keeping us in suspense because he’s mean. We have to learn how to trust in the moment no matter what that moment might look like.
Admittedly, sometimes that’s easier said than done.
It is hard to trust God when you have no clue what is around the bend. But, for me at least, it’s easier to wait for that reveal when trusting God, than it is without him in my life.
I’ve been on both sides of the faithful/ non-faithful waiting games. I know God has it totally in control, whatever happens is by his design. My family is in his hands.
My uncle does not have a relationship with God, so I know going into the surgery early this morning had to be nerve wracking, because how do you have hope when you have nothing to hope in?
Ultimately, that is what I was worried about. My uncle, having major surgery when he doesn’t know God. This is versus my mom, having major surgery, again, who does have a relationship with God. My concern is vastly different between the two. I know exactly where if something were to happen, where I would see my mom again. I also know where my uncle could end up, and that does scare me.
But, God is good.
God gave us the freewill to choose where we wanted to end up. It is ultimately up to us where we find ourselves. We can rail against God, saying he’s evil, when he laid it out there exactly what he wanted from us.
It’s not about doing a fancy ritual with lots of sacrifice, it’s not about doing so many ‘works’ to earn our way into the gates, it’s not about following all the rules so we look perfect- all the old ways don’t get us no where. The gates will not be opened for us if we look good to other humans, it’s all about what our souls look like to God.
Are they dipped in the blood of the sacrificial King?
Do we make the conscious decision to accept that sacrifice?
That’s what we have to do, just accept the love that the sacrifice represents.
Such a simple decision that can change your life and your eternal destination.
Why don’t more of us make that decision? Why don’t we all? Because we think we know better than God.
A free gift, given to all. Accepted by few.
Make a choice. Don’t blame God for your decision, all you have to do is accept. Where you end up is up to you. Heaven or Hell? Life or Death? Accept the gift or deny the sacrifice.
What’s your choice?