For year I’d yearned to go to Joni and Friends Camp. I’d see it advertised on the website and feel a tug on my heart. The problem was, five years ago, the closest one was in Northern California. Then I discovered that there was one to be held in Rockaway, Oregon at Twin Rocks Friends Camp and this new location was only an hour and a half from my house!
It might as well have been 5,000 miles, because I couldn’t drive and I had a great, big scooter, which is difficult to transport. But this time, I was determined not to let that stop me! Two friends of mine, one of which was also in a scooter, and I decided to take the bus from Downtown to Tillamook, then transferred to another bus that would take us right to camp. When we arrived I was overcome by the joy and excitement that greeted us!
Joni and Friends Family Camp is held across the U.S. and in several other nations. Often neglected and ignored, people with disabilities are impacted by the thousands from this camp experience. At Joni and Friends Camp each person is celebrated! New friendships are formed, there are fun and games for everyone, as well as the opportunity to hear a message of hope that Christ offers.
A few years ago, one of my newer friends came to camp for the first time. She heard of God’s love and the next year, when she returned, she accepted Him as her Lord and Savior. She is now a powerful witness for Him, as well as a significant part of the Portland Chapter of Joni and Friends.
Getting to camp that first year was a challenge, but I’m sure glad I took it! A whole new world opened up for me when I decided to get on that bus. Don’t let life’s challenges stop you, but instead let them lead you to new opportunities.
For some reason I’ve been thinking about dryer sheets and the fresh fragrance of the air after a rain shower in the middle of the hot summer day. These seem to be very random thoughts, especially after my wonderful week at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference. So I thought, what do these two things have to do with anything? Then I realized the fresh scent is the encouragement from friends that are on the same journey as I am. It is the smiles, the victories, and the struggles we’ve shared together that bring encouragement to everyone along the path.
One of my dearest friends, April McGowan, was presented the Cascade Awards Writer of Promise Award. Besides enjoying her writing, she inspires me, because each day she struggles with an immunity disorder that could keep her from living life to the fullest. Instead, she lets her struggles bring a richness and depth to her writing, as well as her relationship with others. Receiving her encouragement, and the encouragement of others, seems like a breath of fresh air.
Before the conference I was excited, because this year I didn’t have an agenda other than to see friends and learn. The input I received from others gave me new hope and I appreciated how they looked at my writing with new eyes.
As I get ready to go to the Joni and Friend’s Family Camp it is my hope that I can encourage others the same way that I have been encouraged this past week.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15.
Sometimes we are filled with passion toward one cause or another and it directs our path and our decisions. Other times we just live moment-to-moment with a hunger in our hearts to do something that matters to someone.
Last night we were going around and sharing problems within my small group and trying to let the Lord re-frame our circumstances into positive experiences and I was just squirming in my seat. We’ve all been in a place where we don’t know where we belong or we can’t see the bigger purpose of why life is turning out the way that it is. Life is a continual journey, we are always on our way somewhere, but there are times that we feel stagnant and root-bound to a space that is too small for our growing desire to produce something great. There is something really satisfying about sharing our lives and our talents with others around us.
This past weekend, I met two men who were both in the prime of their lives when tragedy struck and changed their course forever. One man was involved in a diving accident more than thirty years ago and the other was diagnosed with ALS just a few years ago. They are both currently in a long-term care facility and I had the privilege of spending some time visiting with them. I was deeply impressed with how hopeful both of these men were given their circumstances. My visit with these men was like finding a quiet stream after having been hurried along on the highway of life with so many others who are rushing to get to where they want to go.
These two men accept service gracefully for their various physical needs, and also serve others with their friendly and welcoming attitudes. I’m sure they have struggled with finding their purpose and meaning like all of us have, but I can see that they have worked through their grief over what has happened in their lives and now they are profound instruments of grace and hope to others.
Psalm 104: 16 “The trees of the Lord are well watered,the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.”
I can remember the yummy chicken dinners that my mother prepared in her pressure cooker; at the end of the process, the chicken was tenderized. A pressure cooker works using a combination of pressure and steam to cook food quickly. There is a valve to control the steam and a certain amount of steam is let off to alleviate some of the pressure at different times in the cooking process.
A lot of us have different coping mechanisms to alleviate some of the stress that we feel, and sometimes one of those is Facebook. It connects us just enough to let off some steam and alleviate the pressure quickly. Even though we feel better when we let off steam, it doesn’t last for long. We need to have the courage to stay involved in the process of discovering why we’re upset and ‘stay on the burner.’
Yesterday, I was presented with some unexpected news and now I have to weigh the pros and cons about how to deal with this issue. I need to stay on the burner and deal with this, and there will be consequences either way, but in the end, I know that it will lead to my heart being tenderized.
We live in a society where sometimes we don’t share the important things; we would rather stay in safe conversations. Oddly enough, though we live in a society connected through cell phones and Facebook and so many other websites, we live in isolation. That disconnect is making us lonely as a society.
It is risky to share what is really going on because there is always a high probability that people are not going to understand; even your closest friends might not understand. That is why we make choices about whether or not to speak up and be authentic or just live lives on the surface. No matter which way you choose to go, there are always losses. It could be a loss in friendship or a loss of security. Telling the truth disrupts your life as it is now, but when we have the courage to go through the process of being tenderized, we gain strength and freedom.
Fifteen days ago, I got a call from my son-in-law, Vince, that my daughter Rachael was in labor! It was unexpected because Hannah was not supposed to arrive for another three weeks. I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep all night. The whole next day I carried my phone everywhere and there wasn’t any news for hours and hours. I tried to pass the time watching the last U.S. World Cup game with friends, but that was no match for what was really on my mind that whole time! Then I got a text that labor had slowed down and that Rachael and Vince had actually taken a nap while I had sat on pins and needles waiting! Later that night, as I was getting ready for bed, I got a text saying, ‘Hannah Mae is here!’ So instead of going to bed, I went to see my precious granddaughter.
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to go through the hard times that we have in life if we knew what happiness it would bring us in the future? I had no idea how delightful it would be to hold Hannah when I was chasing my own little two year old so many years ago. At the time, it was exasperating, especially because I have Cerebral Palsy, and there was no way I could catch Rachael! But right now, holding my granddaughter brings me nothing but joy.
My little granddaughter, Hannah Mae, was in such a hurry to join this world, that she was born three weeks early. Although her parents could hardly wait to get her home, her little lungs were not quite ready, so she spent the first 10 days of her life in the NICU. I was quite proud of them as they patiently waited for her lungs to get stronger and three days ago their wait was over and she came home!
Just like my daughter Rachael had to go through a long and hard labor to bring Hannah into this world, and then wait to bring her daughter home we all have to go through many difficult experiences, but often without the understanding that it is these very struggles that produce the beautiful gifts and skills that God wants to give to us that will lead us to future joy! What gives you the strength to hold onto God’s promise of future joy during your hard times? Have you developed a way to hang onto the hope that God offers us in every difficult circumstance? Please share these in the comments below and spread His joy!
Joyce Meyers was talking last week about how Satan is a deceiver, and she went onto say that there are nagging thoughts in our mind like, “You are not good enough, or you are not performing well enough,” that are most certainly from Satan. It caused me to think about John 10:10 in a completely new light. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
When my focus is wrong, negative thoughts eat away at me and rob me of my peace of mind and creativity. Some thieves, are blatantly overpowering, others are quiet yet just as disruptive. Thoughts that start with the phrase I wish or I should are like a leaky faucet; always in my mind and always needing attention.
I’ve realized that when I hear these phrases, it’s because my focus is wrong. Just like it is important to take care of the plumbing in your house, it is necessary to interrupt the lies that want to filter through our minds. Even one drip at a time raises your water bill, so it is important to take care of fixing that leaky faucet. Acknowledging that my focus is wrong is the first step in receiving the grace God has given me to move forward.
As I watch my daughter and my friend Jill prepare to have their babies, I have a similar sense of anticipation over the growth of our Joni and Friends Portland Area ministry. I find myself thinking, “Is anything I can do to help this to be more fruitful?” I can always think of things I should be doing better, but I have to press through the drudgery of the everyday by looking at the promise of things to come!
For example, I keep meeting people who are like-minded in both my passion for disability ministry and my writing! The encouragement we share in these relationships help to break the spell of negative thoughts that creep in so quietly, but are as loud as a sonic boom if left alone!
As we get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July and we hear the fireworks booming, let us look for ways that we can dislodge our negative thoughts and quiet them with the encouragement of God and others!
I’ve been doing a lot of waiting lately. Sometimes waiting can be torture, and sometimes it can be exciting! Farmers like my father and my brothers have planted seeds in the ground and then waited for months and months to see how the crop would turn out. On one hand it is exciting to think of what may come up and on the other hand, it is nerve-wracking because they are dependent upon this crop for their livelihood.
Several months ago my daughter and my son-in-law announced that they were having a baby in July! They told me in December, and at that time, it seemed like so far away. But here we are today, about 5 weeks away from the birth of their precious daughter. This wait has been exciting more than anything else.
Another thing that many of my friends in the Northwest are waiting for is the Joni and Friends camp at Twin Rocks. Some of the people returning to camp have had such a good time that they start counting down the days months in advance! But in order to make the week a success, there is another group working to put the events together. I am in charge of recruiting volunteers for Pampering Day and a Couples Dinner. This wait has been similar to the farmer’s wait in that all I can do is tell people about it, and try to plant those seeds, and then see what happens from there. Some people may be too busy, and others won’t be interested at all, and that can be discouraging. But on the other hand, some people jump on board right away. The more people I ask, the more likely it is that people will say yes.
With all the waiting that’s been going on, I’ve been thinking a lot about Moses in Exodus 32. The Israelites waited for years and years to be led out of bondage and into the Promised Land. They were RIGHT THERE, but God told Moses to go up to the mountain to hear from Him. While he was gone, they waited and got afraid; eventually taking matters into their own hands. The results were disastrous on many levels. The Israelites missed out on hearing about the plans that God had for them because they chose not to wait on God’s timing.
Waiting isn’t optional, but our attitude is. We can either grumble and complain which usually leads to bitterness, or we can enjoy the process of developing the skills we need as we move forward. Sometimes we don’t know why we are waiting, it’s only when we look back that we see how God was shaping us for the tasks at hand.
What are you waiting on right now? Are you digging in your heels and taking matters into your own hands, or going with the flow?