Friday, July 2, 2010

More than Imagined...

We have been home from Family Camp for a week.  Our family had the incredible experience of being able to attend a Joni and Friends Family Retreat.  It certainly was a mountain top experience for our family.  It is incredibly hard to explain why Family Retreat is so special but I'd like to try.

First, it is a place where all the families that attend are affected by disability in some way.  Many have children with special needs but there were also families where one parent was the disabled person.  So right there it was a level playing field.  For once, we were not the different family.  We were not the family who stood out because of our very visible disability or tried too hard to fit in by downplaying our situation.  We were just like everyone else and that made us special.

Second, these camps are 'staffed' by volunteers called Short Term Missionaries (or STMs) whose reason for going is to bless one of the families who attends by serving them.  The STMs pay their own way to camp and are then matched or assigned to their families.  Our family was blessed to be assigned 2 STMs.  These girls, Monica and Cindy, were amazing.  They met our car the first day and just started serving our family right away.  It was such a gift to be with them.  They always smiled, helped without being asked and allowed Mark and I to have a great time.  On the last day, John asked if they were coming back to camp with us next year.  So sweet!

The first night we all gathered in the Main Building and all the families were seated with their STMs for the Welcome Session.  As the announcements were being read and information was being given, the Director of the program started reading off each families name that was there.  And a program staff member walked in carrying a banner with each family name on it.  Let me tell you, I was sobbing when they did this.  It was so amazing to be honored.  They did not give us our banners but at the end of the week had our STMs sign it and write a message to us.  Now each year that we attend they will hang our banner for the week.

Third, we were blessed to attend the same week our Lead Pastor, at Willowdale Chapel, Greg was the Camp Pastor.  He and his whole family attended camp and his two high school aged daughters were STMs.  Every morning he gave a message and it was spot on.  He truly has a gift and it was amazing to hear him speak each day.  Of course, many of his messages had me crying.  But that was a good thing.  I had many revelations last week and was able to talk through some things that have been bothering me or that I have had bottled up for a long time.   Being there with Greg also allowed him to get to know Mark and our whole family better.  His wife Deann is equally as awesome as he is and spent a great deal of time with Grace.

Finally, it allowed me to connect with other women walking the same (or at least a similar) journey as me.  We had men's and women's break out sessions and the women's sessions were great.  We met in a tent sort of off to the side and had a great time of fellowship, crying, laughing and music.  I was truly blessed by the experience.  And formed deeper friendships with the 3 other women from our church.  It also helped me to feel that I wasn't the only one.  One of the leaders said the first day that our lives are colored by chronic grief.  And it is so true.  I'm not sad or brokenhearted everyday but the pain is there in the background and it does color much of what I do and say.  It is also a heavy burden so it was nice to have some quiet fellowship with God and to draw deeper to Him.  I am so thankful for my faith and the fact that I am walking this journey with God carrying me at times.

And what post about a family vacation would be complete without pictures?  So here are some pictures from our week.

The theme was a storybook theme.  So each night they had something relating to books or characters.  Well, Luke just about freaked out when he saw the Cat in the Hat.  And he followed this woman EVERYWHERE, all week long even when she wasn't in costume.  Like everyone at camp she was great and let him hug her a hundred times.  He kept saying 'I love you Cat in the Hat'.  He is so sweet.

An action shot of Luke

One day they had a cookout and games.  
John had 2 snow cones and cotton candy.  No wonder he loved camp :)

Here he is participating in a Horton hears a Who game

Grace telling us she is hungry by signing eat.

The kids with our awesome STMs

This is a group shot of everyone who attended from our church.  There were four families there as campers and (I think) 12 STMs.

After rereading my post I don't think I was able to describe just how incredible Family Retreat was.  I left so much out but suffice to say, we are planning on going back next year.  And I would encourage any family affected by a disability to check out the Joni and Friends website for more information.  It was certainly hard to come back to the real world after being away and treated so well.  I cried leaving the camp. 

I hope everyone has an awesome weekend.  And check out Hannah's blog for more FFF posts.


Melinda said...

That camp sounds incredible, and just what you needed! So glad you and your family had the opportunity to go!

Hannah said...

I think when things are so special and touch your heart like this camp obviously did, it is hard to put it into words. I am glad you had an opportunity to experience it.

Gardenia said...

I can tell through reading your post that the camp was a real positive for you and your family. Sometimes, we need to connect with others in similar circumstance in order to feel understood, in order to have breakthroughs in our hearts and minds. I will pass this website on to a friend. Thanks for sharing.

Anna said...

What a wonderful time away for you and your family Anne! That is such a good idea and great to hear it was so helpful, refreshing and encouraging for you all.
I have so much admiration and respect for Joni and love reading one of her devotionals 'Pearls of Great Price'. She is such a godly woman.

And had a look at your church website and it looks like a great church with so much happening which is wonderful.

Take care and thanks for sharing,