Spruce Lake

"...with God all things are possible..."

“…with God all things are possible…” was the theme for Joni and Friends Family Retreat this year.  My family and I volunteered the first week of July with families who are affected by disabilities.

"Blue Glasses team" after the "Amazing Race" Scavenger Hunt

"Blue Glasses team" after the "Amazing Race" Scavenger Hunt

For these families, everyday brings challenges:

getting a full night’s sleep,

dressing a paralyzed adult,

feeding lips unable to move,

lifting in and out bed or wheelchair or car

listening to a voice garbled by throat restrictions

“with God all things are possible”

Being matched with my camper, Heather (my camper, not her real name) was enlightening. Heather is a 24 year old young woman in a wheel chair who has limited use of her hands.  Being with her for the week at camp, I caught a glimpse of Heather’s life.

From 7:30am to 8:30pm over the span of the week, we experienced camp together.  Eating meals together, I experienced the struggle to reach the cafeteria counters, the challenge of balancing the food tray, the frustration of not being able to take the stairs…and that was just breakfast.

Esther and camper

Esther and camper

Each day, we studied Bible lessons together, did crafts, sang praise songs and navigated her wheelchair over the grass for the outdoor chicken BBQ -- these normal camp activities took on whole new meaning when I experienced them with Heather.

Nothing deterred Heather…not the cafeteria counters, steep sloping driveways, grassy knolls around the BBQ, nor the room entrance steps. Nothing deterred her.

Her love of the outdoors and for wheeling around camp, demonstrated her desire to use her God-given abilities to their full potential.  Committed to not allow her disability hold her back, during the year, she co-teaches a second grade class and started a candy business to local stores in her hometown.

“…with God all things are possible…”

Phoebe, camper, Leslie

Phoebe, camper, Leslie

The last night of camp, the campers participated in a talent show.  Heather chose to sing the song “I am a promise, I am a possibility.”  Seeing Heather sing this song from her wheelchair truly confirmed that “with God all things possible.”

That is a truth we can claim, knowing God has the victory over whatever disability or brokenness we are experiencing in our life.

“…with God all things are possible…”

Sebby and friend as "Secret Agents"

Sebby and friend as "Secret Agents"

Would you consider joining us in July 2016 to volunteer with Joni and Friends Family Retreat Camp?   If you might be interested, pray about being part of what God's doing in the midst of the brokenness of the world, specifically by engaging with people with disabilities. 

Are you willing to believe ‘with God all things are possible?”

Please consider believing ‘with God all things are possible’ and join us as we respond to His call to be willing to serve the families at Joni and Friends Family Retreat Camp 2016.

1st Place team-Amazing Scavenger Hunt-Wally,jr and his camper friend

1st Place team-Amazing Scavenger Hunt-Wally,jr and his camper friend

Marcia with camper

Marcia with camper

Wallace making new friends

Wallace making new friends

 Esther Larson, 2015

A Mennonite, Lady Gaga, a truck driver and Joni Eareckson Tada walk into...

So we’re at this camp. I’m wearing a t-shirt. I’m eating Gushers for lunch. In other words, I’ve found myself in a world apart from Manhattan. Where us greedy, selfish, ambitious able-bodied New Yorkers rarely think about people who can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t tweet, can’t swallow on their own.

Here in Pennsylvania I’ve received an education and a half about disabilities, about compassion, and about how much we’re given that we never even stop to think about.

Danielle and Marcia 'crafting'

Danielle and Marcia 'crafting'

 Just because I can’t speak doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to say” – Michael’s wearing that t-shirt here at Joni’s week-long summer camp for families with disabilities (He can’t say anything to me but Michael definitely has something to say.

What he has to say is what Lady Gaga sings, “God makes no mistakes.” Indeed, these children with cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and traumatic brain injuries are not mistakes.

But it would be naive to think their lives don’t come with challenges. 80% of marriages end in divorce when a disabled child arrives. Siblings can quickly feel neglected when their disabled counterparts require so much time and attention. Parents grieve in knowing their child will never make it to high school, never make it down the aisle, never establish a Twitter account on which to mock the world.

Which is why we’re here this week. The volunteers here will give massages to the fathers, manicures to the mothers, lattes to the siblings, and outdoor activities (fishing, swimming) to our campers. We’re from all across the East coast – truck drivers, writers, lawyers, and Mennonites united in love for a community that’s often ignored and maligned.

Honestly, I’m scared to death.

Wally,jr and camper

Wally,jr and camper

Mostly because I’m surrounded by people who aren’t scared at all. Filled with inexplicable joy, these volunteers face what looks like an end and see instead a face. A personality. People who can’t speak but have plenty to say.

Before camp started, my mom & I drove to “Popcorn Buddha” for some snacks and got a lecture from some guy with a beard about how he makes “compassionate and contemplative popcorn.” Saving the world. One bag of white cheddar popcorn at a time: )

But his use of the term “compassion” got me thinking about the people here this week. Because there’s no performance review for compassion. No one gets a bonus for changing a disabled person’s diaper or engaging in a conversation with someone with Alzheimers.

Margaret and camp 'buddy'

Margaret and camp 'buddy'

But by being the literal hands & feet for the disabled this week I’m reminded that there is hope. A hope that remains the same whether we’re in a wheelchair, in the midst of struggle, or can’t speak.

Because we all have something to say and that something is this – God makes no mistakes. He’s created us in his image. And He loves us no matter how able bodied or disabled we may be.

Danielle taught me that.