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/

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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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Global Access–For All

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In a week’s time, I will have the privilege of attending the Joni and Friends’ Global Access Conference in California. It is the first of its kind and they are expecting a thousand attendees from 44 countries.
A thousand people who are in the midst of working to change the church in regards to disability ministries.
A thousand people who understand the importance of spreading the Gospel to all people, no matter their ‘ability.’
I look forward to the opportunity of talking to these men and women who have caught the vision already. Men and women I won’t have to try and convince of the importance of ministering to the disabled. I look forward to the opportunity to learn from these veterans.
I’ll get the chance to sit in workshops like, “Christ, Demons, Disability,” “Disability and Bioethics,” and “Using Every Spiritual Gift: People with Disabilities Ministering in the Church.” I get to hear Joni Eareckson Tada and Nick Vujicic, two influential people in my faith as well as my passion for this topic, not to mention being able to hear three authors whose books were literally Godsends when I was working on my thesis.
The beauty of being able to worship with men and women who the world decrees different, and being able to join with them to create a difference is staggering. I am so excited to be able to participate in this learning experience and be able to add my voice.
God has given me the amazing gift to be able to go to this conference. I can’t wait to see what comes from attending.
God has blessed me greatly.

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A Crossroads on a Precipice

We all make plans. Even those of us who like to shoot from the hip and make rash decisions, ultimately make plans. I think it’s built into our DNA to plan for the day and our lives.

I probably like to plan a little more than my average friend. I like to know where I am going and how long it might take. Throughout the last few years I have had a plan of where I think I’ll end up in the long run. Chaplain in a hospital. It’s why I thought I went and got my Master’s, it’s what I’ve seen myself doing for quite awhile.

Now, it seems as if God is starting to reveal a different plan.

When we get so caught up in our little charts of how our lives will go, we tend to lose the awareness of how God is doing his own planning. Right now, God is removing my blinders.

I have made the decision that I will be going to the first ever Joni and Friends’ Global Access Conference and I think I’ll get a better grip on where I’ll go from there.

To be honest, the idea of change scares me too death. I hate the idea of failure. I’ve had so many of shakes with failure in school, even though I was able to surpass that thanks to God. The idea of possibly walking away from a solid job to do a ministry that doesn’t pay? The idea of trusting God to provide financial care?

Nope, no reason to to be worried.

So I continue to pray and ask that God reminds me continually that the only thing I need to be concerned about is doing God’s will. Right now, I am continuing to work as I get ready for February’s Conference and spending more time on my knees as I wait for God to show me the rest of the road before me.

I’m stepping onto the crossroads on the precipice. Indiana Jones’s style, the crossroads- well, bridge- is invisible, and it’s got to be in trust and faith Indy

that I make that first step. It’ll be a doozy, but I know it will ultimately be worth it. Just got to force my foot to move first.

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And as always, prayers are desired as I make that step. 🙂

Check out this amazing conference that will be held in California! Global Access Conference

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