Well, Denis and I have been back from Joni and Friends Family Retreat for a little more than a week now. I've had some time to adjust back to "regular life", quite a let down after such a joyful and impactful experience. So here's a bit of a report from our fabulous week at camp:
Saturday, August 28, 2010
There are many ways that this year's experience at Joni and Friends was very different from last year for me. I'm very thankful that I was able to share the "duties" with Denis. It was such a relief for me to have him there, since he has a different set of skills than I do. His skill set is better suited to the sorts of issues that come up at camp, so I really liked being able to have him to defer to. That's a pretty selfish reason to be glad to have him there... It was also wonderful to get to share the experience with him, because the Joni and Friends family retreat experience is so impressive and Denis didn't get to go last year.
Another thing that was different this year was that we were involved in the planning. We had access to the campers' health information, so we had a much better idea of what kind of situations we needed to be prepared for. We planned the first aid kit from the ground up, so we knew what was there. I also had a much better idea what sort of supplies we should carry with us. Now being more prepared was a very good thing, but it wasn't exactly reassuring. We had some campers with some significant health issues, and it was a bit scary being aware of them... But actually not any more scary than NOT knowing, which is how I felt last year. :o)
Praise goes to God, of course, that we did not actually have any significant health issues arise. The worst injury of the whole week was just a minor thing that only require arrangements made for a tetanus shot. We were kept busy though, with little things. Cuts, sprains, bandaids, little things. Those little problems gave us the opportunities to interact with people, which is really one of the greatest blessings of being at Joni and Friends. When we get to soothe a boo-boo for someone, we get to be a small blessing to them. I'm grateful that so many little things came up, because that meant getting to be involved with the campers.
This year, I felt more a part of the action - less on the fringes. Some of the highlights of my week:
1. interacting with some of the adult campers with disabilities
2. getting thumbs ups, smiles and waves from some campers affected by autism spectrum issues
3. helping a visually impaired camper figure out a better way to use her blood sugar meter
4. being invited by some teens to do the macarena dance with them at the talent show
5. seeing my friend who has Down syndrome blossom with all the attention and encouragement
This family retreat was the first one to take place in Oregon, or anywhere in the Pacific Northwest in about 20 years. The majority of the campers and STMs (volunteers) were new to Joni and Friends family retreats and did not know what to expect. One family feared on the first day that they would get kicked out because their son was pouring water out on the stage during the first worship session. What they didn't know is that at Joni and Friends family retreat, that's OK - it's normal even. God moved in powerful ways this week as families were blessed by the acceptance, rest, love and celebration of their kids offered by everyone at retreat. I also heard reports of how God worked in wonderful ways in the young adults with disabilities group.
My overall statement about Joni and Friends retreat this year is - what an honor! What a privilege to be just a small piece of what God did there. what we did was very little - but what a joy to be a part!