Every year I try and come up with the words to describe just how amazing JAF Family Retreat is, and every year I fail. It is just too difficult to describe the many ways our family has come to love this camp and to long for it during the year.
The best thing about camp is the total acceptance that our family gets. No one stares at us. No one has "helpful" comments or tips about Grace's behavior, and my failings as a mom. No one laughs at Grace or at us. No one finds anything different or special about our family at all.
I also love the fact that for 5 days, I don't have to shop, plan, cook, serve, or clean up any meals. There is no housework to be done. No emails or phone calls to make or return. We have five days of being taken care of by the volunteers who come to serve our family. There is programming to allow Mark and I to worship together and then in our mens and womens groups. Mark and I got time to hang out and talk without distraction and it was good. We laughed a lot and I needed that.
Every year we are assigned the most perfect Short Term Missionaries (STMs) for our family. This year was no exception. Grace was assigned an amazing mom named Vivian, who was at camp with her husband, and two sons. It was fun to see them bond during the week. As the days went on, Grace got more comfortable with Vivian and allowed her personality to shine through. Luke was matched with a high school student named Liam, who was with his HS youth group. This was a perfect match, and gave Luke a number of STMs to hang out with. Liam's best friend Nate was at camp and Luke decided he looked like Peter Parker, so Luke followed him everywhere. It always makes me happy when my boys can see older boys serving, loving others and modeling Jesus to the world.
Ever since we have been home, Luke has told me that he misses Liam about 12 times a day. I always reply, me too, me too. Hopefully, we will be able to see Liam again as he goes to school about 40 minutes from our house.
Grace got her annual hair cut at camp. I love all the little extras that you get at camp and all the ways that people find to serve our families. Grace can't go to a salon because of the noise and the lights and all the people and the noise. So it is great that she's a girl and can go a whole year without a haircut and still look cute. This is the third year that Denise has cut Grace's hair. She always tells Grace how great she did, even though she cries and screams during the whole thing. And then she allows me to ugly cry on her shoulder as I try to express my thanks for her donating her time and her gift of cutting hair. I don't think I am able to express adequately how much this means to me. But I do know that she probably needs to change her shirt after I've cried on her shoulder.
John has been a part of the middle school program for two years now. This means that he doesn't have an STM assigned to him. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to bond with any of the kids in his programming so he was at loose ends a few times. But this allowed Mark and John to spend two afternoons together playing mini golf and pool. It was a great time for them to hang out and bond over learning to play new games. I think it was the highlight of John's week.
The camp had a new zip line this year, that was open a few times during the week. I was able to sign up with my adventure loving son, Luke. He was so pumped about going on the zip line. He has always been to young or too little to go on other courses. The camp required you to be 10 years old but they let Luke go since he is about 5 months away from turning 10. We had originally planned on going down side by side, but one of the lines got tangled and so we had to go separately. Luke wanted to go first and he wasn't scared at all. In fact, when he was part way down the line he turned around, waved to me and said 'Hi Mom'. It was classic Luke. I wished I had had a camera to snap his picture, because his face was lit up with the biggest smile ever. Once he was unhooked, it was my turn. I kept both hands on the tether and didn't wave to anyone. It was SO fun. We both wanted to go again.
I was able to reconnect with moms that I had met in previous years and meet some new ones. It is always so encouraging to talk to other moms of special needs kids. All the typical barriers are gone at camp and it is so easy to be honest, open and transparent. Many tears were shed in my womens groups and I loved it. I told Mark it is the one week a year that I give myself permission to feel everything and therefore, I cry a lot. Every morning worship had me crying. But they are good tears. Tears of mourning and acceptance and grief and healing and pain and joy and longing. Some of the women were calling them camp allergies, but not me. I'm happy to call them what they are because it is the one place I can be totally truthful about my journey and totally loved for my journey. It's a little slice of heaven here on earth and I can't wait to go back next year...